Australia to cease all bilateral aid to Pakistan (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Australia would cease all bilateral aid to Pakistan, including support to programmes helping poor women and girls, as the funds were being redirected to meet new commitments in the Pacific, according to the latest Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) report.

The report titled ‘Aid Program Performance report 2018-19 on Pakistan’ said Pakistan bilateral aid programme will be reduced to 19 million Australian dollars in 2019-20, and will fully phase out during 2020-21.

“However aid to Pakistan will continue through DFAT’s regionally and globally funded programs, including Australia Awards scholarships,” it added.

“Against this backdrop, the aid program will focus on consolidating the achievements of Australia’s 70 year history of development assistance to Pakistan. Our modest ongoing aid footprint, drawing on funds from our regional and global programs, will centre on a small number of areas where Australia can make the most difference in Pakistan,” the report noted.

The key objective of Australia’s aid to Pakistan has been assisting women and girls with a focus on education, increased access to quality reproductive health and gender-based anti-violence services.

The report said that Australia’s development priorities had changed and that the aid funding was being redirected to meet new commitments in the Pacific.

“We have commenced responsible wind down planning, focusing on consolidating gains and ensuring the sustainability of results. Australia will continue to deliver aid in Pakistan through regional and global programs, such as the Australia Awards.

“We will focus on areas where Australia’s technical expertise and policy experience can add the most value to addressing Pakistan’s long-term development needs. This includes aid investments and policy engagement in gender equality, water resources management and humanitarian issues,” it added.

Pakistan is one of the poorest countries in Asia and was placed 150 out of 178 nations on the most recent United Nations Human Development Index, which ranks countries according to health, education and income.

Australia’s overall foreign aid budget has been slashed by 27 per cent in real terms since 2013 and now makes up just 0.82 per cent of federal government spending, an all-time low.

Australia “will continue to work with Pakistan on areas of shared interest, including through trade and investment, community links, defence cooperation, human rights and gender equality, and regional security,” a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was quoted as saying by the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.

The report described the security situation in Pakistan as “volatile” and said tension between Pakistan and India over Kashmir culminating in military exchanges in February 2019 were high.

“There were reductions in violence in Punjab and Sindh provinces, but an increase in terrorist activity in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan where a number of Australian funded aid programs operate,” it said.

Pakistan was moved to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) ‘grey list’ in February 2018 and needs to show progress on its action plan to avoid a potentially damaging ‘black-listing’ in October 2019, it added.

(PTI)