Pakistan is the world’s second largest Muslim country by population, and was one of the first main partner countries for Norwegian development aid.

Facts about Pakistan

The flag for Pakistan
Life expectancy
The flag for Pakistan
GNI pr capita
The flag for Pakistan
Percentage poor people (below 1.25$)
The flag for Pakistan
The flag for Pakistan

Norwegian development aid to Pakistan began in the late 1960s, and Pakistan became one of the main partner countries for Norwegian development aid shortly after.

From 1947 the country consisted of two exclaves: West Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). In 1971, demands by East Pakistan for secession led to a civil war with significant humanitarian costs for the civilian population. After India took the side of East Pakistan, the war ended with the establishment of Bangladesh as a separate state. Norway discontinued its aid to Pakistan during the war, and reintroduced it in 1973.

Artificial fertiliser and telecommunications equipment

Altogether 85 per cent of Norwegian development aid in the years 1969–1984 consisted of commodity assistance. Commodity assistance entails that the donor country pays the costs of goods that the recipient country purchases. Artificial fertiliser from Norsk Hydro constituted the bulk of goods that Pakistan received.

However, Norwegian companies also provided modern telecommunications equipment to Pakistan as part of the commodity assistance. Radio links that improved internal telephone communications in Pakistan, mobile communications equipment for civilian authorities, as well as other telecommunications equipment were provided.

Commodity assistance was a simple method of providing development aid, and did not require the establishment of an extensive administrative apparatus.

Controversial development aid and the Cold War

From the time of its independence in 1947, Pakistan was an electoral democracy, but has undergone several military coups and periods of military rule. In 1977, General Zia ul-Haq seized power in a coup. Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was imprisoned and later condemned to death and hanged. Zia’s government, which lasted until he was killed in a plane crash in 1988, was criticised for widespread breaches of human rights. There was a move in Norway to stop or reduce development aid, but the Willoch government opted for it to continue.

As an ally of the USA, Pakistan played an important strategic role during the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union. Pakistan’s international importance was further strengthened after the Soviet invasion of the neighbouring country of Afghanistan in 1979. According to historians specialising in development cooperation, Pakistan’s leanings towards the West constituted an important reason for the continuance of Norwegian development cooperation. The fact that Pakistan had assumed a major humanitarian burden by receiving several million Afghans who had fled from the war in their homeland also played a part.

The growth in aid to Pakistan ceased in the mid-1980s and from 1995 it was no longer a main partner country.

Civilian and military government and terrorism

Benazir Bhutto, daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, became prime minister after the elections in 1988. This introduced a period of democratic elections and civilian leaders that lasted until 1999, when General Pervez Musharraf seized power. In 2001, Pakistan regained an important strategic role when the USA attacked the Taliban regime in Afghanistan as a response to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York in the same year. Musharraf opted to side with the USA, despite the long-standing alliance between the Taliban and Pakistan. Pakistan thereby retained its significant development aid from the USA.

Musharraf formally transferred power back to elected civilian representatives in 2002, but continued as president until 2008. Since Musharraf’s departure, the country has been governed by civilian politicians, and thanks to its economic growth Pakistan became a middle-income country in 2008. The proportion who live below the poverty line, as determined by the country’s own authorities, fell from 52 per cent in 2004 to 30 per cent in 2013.

Emergency assistance following natural disasters

In the 2000s, Norway provided emergency assistance to the victims of two humanitarian disasters that affected Pakistan. In 2005, more than 79 000 people were killed in an earthquake whose epicentre was in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and many more were made homeless. Neighbouring countries were also affected by the quake. Norway provided comprehensive emergency assistance following the earthquake, and was one of the largest international donors. The Pakistani authorities, particularly the military, were primarily responsible for the disaster relief work.

Five years later, in 2010, Pakistan was once again affected by a natural disaster. Flooding along the Indus River destroyed houses, roads and agricultural land throughout the Indus River Valley, affecting 20 million people. Norway provided extensive emergency assistance to the flood victims. Both in 2005 and 2010, total Norwegian aid to Pakistan amounted to more than NOK 0.5 billion.

Support to combat radicalisation

After the year 2000, in addition to emergency assistance, Norwegian development aid was directed especially to good governance, gender equality and conflict resolution. Since 2015, Norway has supported the work of UNDP in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (formerly North-West Frontier Province). This work aims to prevent youth from joining radical groups.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province borders on the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, where militant groups known as the Pakistani Taliban have been active since 2002. UNDP has helped establish social meeting places for youth and occupational training in several local communities. Cultural festivals also form part of the project. Many thousands of young people have participated in sports and leisure activities, and a number of local organisations have been established. UNDP wishes to develop models that Pakistani authorities can scale up. Research into what triggers violent conflicts among youth is also being conducted.

Strengthening women’s rights

Pakistan scores poorly on the UN Gender Inequality Index, which measures inequality between the sexes. Since 2012, Norway has supported UN Women, which works to strengthen the economic position of women in Pakistan. UN Women has attempted to improve conditions for women who work from home. These may be women who sew clothes, weave, manufacture simple goods, or work for example as accountants. The women constitute a large share of the informal sector, and may lack the rights available to other workers. The UN organisation’s work has provided support to occupational training or other assistance to many thousands of women, and also includes support to strengthening legal protection at provincial level.

Violence, sexual abuse and kidnappings affect many women, and very few perpetrators receive sentences. Punjab is Pakistan’s most populous province. In 2016, the provincial legislative assembly adopted an Act to protect women against violence and emotional abuse in family relationships. UN Women was involved in the formulation of the Act, which contains guidelines for how breaches of the law shall be prosecuted in the judicial system and how victims of abuse shall be protected. It is considered to be an important step in combatting violence and abuse of women.

Published 28.08.2014
Last updated 28.08.2018