Pakistan, Captain America’s On the Phone

Published on Miller MxCune, by Ken Stier, July 21, 2009.

Reconstituting trust is tricky enough between two individuals. In the case of star-crossed “frenemies” the United States and Pakistan, it’s complicated because the U.S. will simultaneously try to apply benchmarks to Pakistan’s internal counter-insurgency cooperation …

… The U.S. Has a Role:

With hotheads like these stirring the cauldron it seems unlikely there will be any improvements in “security perceptions” any time soon. And it is at this juncture in considering the bedeviled region that U.S. analysts reach for a longer-term tonic by advocating that the U.S. help train mid-career up-and-comers in the Pakistan military, and train intelligence services to be more modern-minded. 

“Washington should work to influence internal debates and transform mindsets among the rising classes of Pakistani officers,” says Markey, a former State Department planning officer. The annoying implication is that the country has not been doing this during past decades in which U.S. military colleges have hosted Pakistani officers. Others suggest the U.S. reach out even further to the younger generation to make school curriculum more balanced, a move apparently already nixed by Pakistani officials concerned the U.S. may try to secularize it as well.

Perhaps the one bright streak in the new U.S. approach is the insistence on reasserting civilian authority over the military as part of an apparently new, or at least an improved, commitment to cultivate genuine democracy.

Too bad though that there is no evidence that civilian rule differs much from the military. (Although here is a strong argument for trying to bring the country’s intelligence services to civilian heel, if the nascent democracy is to stand a chance — as Indonesia and Chile have been trying to do.) Indeed, the current political culture that has evolved in Pakistan seems a symbiosis of revolving elites that do little to encroach on each other’s almost feudal prerogatives.

Still, an emphasis on civilians is welcome, if fatally belated. The rot in Pakistan has gone on unchecked for decades. Pakistan has made a career of shaking down the international community, exploiting fears of the chaos that would ensue if it were to become a failed state. One critical consequence of Pakistan’s dependency is that there are just 1.5 million taxpayers, out of population of some 180 million. As Fair notes, this undermines the essential political or social contract that exists between the governed and their leaders.

Instead, what has evolved is a culture of endemic corruption, which has not fostered economic development but has deepened foreign dependence. It is also the reason that Fair, an Urdu-speaker, regularly hears Pakistanis charge that the real, hidden aim of international largesse is to undermine Pakistan by engendering foreign dependence. (That fits with the controversial thesis presented in John Perkins’ 2004 book Confessions of an Economic Hitman, see also the book).

U.S. officials counter by insisting they are imposing tight transparency and accountability requirements — once again, annoyingly, as if for the first time. Additionally, they say, the funds will be channeled through local grassroots organizations to develop the capacity of local civil society. Currently, 70 to 80 cents of every dollar allocated in aid comes back to the U.S. instead of staying in the country it is meant to benefit because of USAID’s dependence on contractors.

This figure (found here) apparently startled Richard Holbrooke, President Obama’s regional point man, and he is reportedly looking into the idea of a trust fund to get more buy-in from Pakistanis and keep more of the money in-country. (A similar setup has been working in Afghanistan.) That’s just one of many things that need to change for the U.S. to have a chance to succeed in Pakistan.

The underlying premise of all these considerations is that Pakistan is simply too big — and too frightening — to be allowed to fail. But there are some dissenting views. This includes Fair’s, who says now “we are just trying to figure out where we can put icing on this relatively unsavory cake. Nobody is really talking about the structural issues; we end up looking for things we can fix. We can bring [internally displaced persons] air-conditioned tents, but we can’t make the army engage in activities that in fact don’t displace 2 million people [as happened in retaking Swat Valley from militants].”

In her admittedly “heretical view” she says, “Pakistan has to be allowed to fail. It’s like an addict — that until it falls flat on its face, it won’t change.” (full long text).

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