A surreal encounter in an Islamabad office reveals in an instant why billions of dollars spent on aid to Pakistan have made so little difference in the lives of the country’s poor.
For our meeting with the director of the Pakistan Nursing Council, we arrived punctually at a small two-room office tucked away in a corner of the National Institute of Health’s campus in Islamabad. In the center of one room was a table covered with a flowered plastic tablecloth, as if awaiting a picnic. Resting on it were a pencil holder, some writing materials, and a telephone. On one side of the table was a rather ornate chair, and on the wall behind it was a framed photograph of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the man credited with creating Pakistan, in his signature oval cap and a severe black sherwani, a formal knee-length coat. Four rickety chairs, a bit dusty, lined the other side of the table. In the adjoining room were more rickety chairs and another table, on which an elaborate tea service was arranged. A small man wearing stained clothes sat on a stool by the door, and mumbled something as he rubbed sleep deposits from his eyes.
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Samia Altaf, a public-health physician who has worked in the United States and Pakistan, is the 2007–08 Pakistan Scholar at the Wilson Center. She is currently at work on a book about aid effectiveness in the health sector in Pakistan.more from this author >>