All Things Pakistan
by Charles Lemos, Fri Feb 27, 2009 at 10:13:04 PM EST
"If Pakistan fails, the world fails." - From the Hagel-Kerry Report on Pakistan
It is evermore evident that events in the cauldron that is South and Central Asia are threatening to spill out of the region and impact global geo-political stability to a degree that long ago surpassed the worrisome stage. The scope of the problem is immense and the urgency to act grows by the day. Still, it must be said that whatever the response to events in Pakistan and Afghanistan, they will represent the costs of strategic distraction by the Bush Administration. With the neoconservative fixation on Saddam Hussein and the consequent error of a war of choice, grave threats elsewhere were downplayed if not ignored. The failures belong to Bush, we, however, are left to do the clean up.
In the past year, Pakistan has borne witness to spectacular terrorist assaults, a dramatic political assassination of a former Prime Minister, the ouster of its longtime President, a retreat of its army from the Tribal Areas and increasing civil strife across the breadth of the country's territory. Furthermore, Pakistan itself plays host to various jihadi groups with elements of the Pakistani state providing various levels of support to groups that operate from Kashmir to Kandahar. And this is before we even mention the economy which the Wall Street Journal summarizes as:
the economy has been unraveling quickly. Foreign investors are fleeing. A deteriorating security situation threatens to accelerate a vicious cycle of economic decline, dealing a devastating blow to a country viewed as a weakening bulwark against Islamic radicalism.
If Pakistan is not a failed state already, it is fast becoming one.
Pakistani politics can best be described as a Byzantine labyrinth. Take the intensifying political battle between President Asif Ali Zardari, a Sindhi, and the brothers Sharif, Punjabis. Who at a glance can understand the forces at play in this internecine conflict? And it is as if Pakistan didn't have enough with which to concern itself. Let's add another log on the fire, one more layer of uncertainty and strife. Late this week, the Pakistani Supreme Court ruled that opposition leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, chief of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz, could not stand for parliament as a result of an old criminal conviction. The Pakistani court also disqualified his brother, Shahbaz, who was chief minister of the provincial government in Punjab, Pakistan's most prosperous and populous province, ordering him to resign immediately over a plane hijacking incident in 1999. The decision has set the scene for political turmoil and unrest presenting yet another major challenge to the one-year-old government headed by President Zardari and his Pakistan People's Party (PPP).
All this has severe implications for the Obama Administration as it tries to root out Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in the Tribal Areas. From the New York Times:
The intensifying political battle between the pro-American president and the main opposition leader is shaping up as a potential crisis for the Obama administration as it tries to focus the government on fighting the Qaeda and Taliban insurgency here.
The domestic struggle will almost certainly deflect attention from that fight as President Asif Ali Zardari and his archrival, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, duke it out and as street protests persist, politicians and analysts said.
It could also result in shifting political alliances, including new opportunities for the religious right that would be inimical to Washington's interests, and even serve to make the Pakistani military restive for power again if the situation continued to worsen, they said.
All this backdrop makes a new report from The Atlantic Council rather important reading. The report was written by the Atlantic Council Pakistan Task Force chaired by current Foreign Relations Chairman Senator John Kerry and former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel. Here is the executive summary:
Pakistan faces dire economic and security threats that threaten both the existence of Pakistan as a democratic and stable state and the region as a whole, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Given the tools and the financing, Pakistan can turn back from the brink. But for that to happen, it needs help now. Such a reversal demands far greater and more urgent support and assistance from the international community in general and the United States in particular. And it needs to be based on focused policy changes and disciplined implementation by the Pakistan government, with adequate oversight to ensure that Pakistan can do the job.
A total of $4-5 billion above the (Biden)-Kerry-Lugar proposals is needed beyond the IMF and other loans from the U.S. and other sources. Of this, about $3 billion should go to the economic and social sectors directly.
About $1 billion of fresh or redirected funds would go to security forces -both military and law enforcement. Of this $1 billion, approximately $200 million would be applied to recruiting, training, and deployment of an additional 15,000 police within the next six months who are essential to bringing long-term law and order to all of Pakistan.
During 2008, several useful reports on Pakistan were published by some of the nation's most respected think tanks. Each of these studies contained sensible analyses of what the United States should do regarding Pakistan and proposed sound recommendations accordingly. Rather than repeat or duplicate these efforts, this report by the Atlantic Council proceeds along a different path.
First, this report sounds the alarm that we are running out of time to help Pakistan change its present course toward increasing economic and political instability, and even ultimate failure. The urgency of action has been brought home by the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in late November that set Pakistan and India on a dangerous collision course. Simply put, time is running out for stabilizing Pakistan's economy and security. As Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari told the Atlantic Council during our December 2008 trip to Islamabad, "we - [the United States, Pakistan, NATO and the world at large] - are losing the battle" to keep Pakistan stable, at peace and prosperous.
Unlike Afghanistan - where the international community is losing the struggle because of its failure to reform the civilian sector - Pakistan has the manpower and infrastructure to win its battles. But Pakistan can only do so if it gets the necessary support urgently. And it is self-evident that a secure, stable, and prospering Pakistan is in the best interests of the international community.
We - meaning Pakistan and its friends - can and must win collectively. The starting point must be a full and objective understanding of today's Pakistan and the fact that it is on a rapid trajectory toward becoming a failing or failed state. That trajectory must be reversed now.
Second, this report provides a conceptual framework, strategy, and specific actions that are needed to begin the long process of bringing peace, prosperity, and stability to Pakistan and to the region. The issue is not Pakistan alone or Pakistan and Afghanistan. The issue is broader and is inextricably linked with India, the Gulf, and Pakistan's other close neighbors. As a senior Pakistani military officer told us: "If Pakistan fails, the world fails."
Third, this report outlines the possible short-and long-term consequences of inaction: some of these, such as the breakup of the country, civil war or an all-out war with India, could be catastrophic for the country, for the region, and for U.S. interests.
Despite its current economic hardships, the United States has poured hundreds of billions of dollars into Iraq and many billions into Afghanistan in the past. However, it has been relatively miserly in its assistance for Pakistan where the stakes are far larger and more important to long-term American interests. There are good and bad reasons for this contradiction between needs and funding. And it will be extraordinarily difficult to convince a skeptical Congress and a public - already reeling with the trillion dollar cost of bailing out failed American corporations and agencies - of Pakistan's urgent needs.
The time horizon to get aid to Pakistan so it can begin the job of turning around its economy and polity is months not years. Pakistan requires a great deal more assistance than it currently getting if it is to succeed and the principal source of that assistance must be the United States.
The U.S. also needs to urgently close the "Trust Deficit" between it and Pakistan, with greater exchanges of high-level visits, closer military, intelligence, and economic cooperation. And it needs to pass the (Biden)-Kerry-Lugar bill as soon as possible to begin the flow of more resources to Pakistan.
Somehow, I believe it prudent to immerse ourselves in all things Pakistan before we find ourselves lost again in another Byzantine labyrinth that has no exit.