ISLAMABAD -- Desperate to win hearts and minds in Pakistan, the U.S. has begun pushing aid organizations working in the country's most dangerous region along the Afghan border to advertise that they receive American assistance.
The new requirement has disturbed aid groups, which fear their workers providing food, water, shelter and other basic needs to Pakistanis will come under militant attack if they proclaim their U.S. connection. This fear exists throughout Pakistan but is especially acute in the tribal region, which is the main sanctuary for Taliban and al-Qaida fighters in the country.
But U.S. officials in Pakistan are under increasing pressure from Washington to increase the visibility of the country's aid effort to counter rampant anti-American sentiment that can feed support for militants targeting the West.
The focus on branding has become even more intense in the wake of the U.S. Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani garrison town May 2. The covert operation infuriated Pakistanis and strained the relationship so much that the U.S. decided to suspend $800 million in military aid to Pakistan.
The decision does not affect civilian aid and makes the effort to win hearts and minds through that assistance even more important.
The U.S. has earmarked $7.5 billion in civilian aid for Pakistan over five years, but it will do little to sway public opinion if Pakistanis don't know where the money is coming from. And there are growing questions in Congress about what U.S. aid in Pakistan is achieving.
"Our mandate is to make sure people here know that they are receiving American assistance," said one U.S. official in Pakistan. "It's always a struggle, especially in a country like this with security considerations."
Previously, because of the militant threat, groups working in the semiautonomous tribal region were exempted from having to brand their projects, a requirement for groups distributing American aid elsewhere in the country.
The U.S. quietly changed its policy toward the tribal region in the fall, and now evaluates each project on a case-by case-basis, said U.S. officials in Pakistan. The U.S. has also become less willing to grant waivers to the requirement that it often gave in other parts of the country that have experienced militant violence, such as northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and central Punjab province, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.