Archive for May 8th, 2009

If you insist, I might hug. No really.

If you insist, I might hug. No really.

On Thursday, Pakistani PM Yousaf Raza Gilani announced to the nation that the army was being called into Swat, “to restore the honor and dignity of our homeland.” He asserted in his nationally televised address, “We will destroy those elements who have destroyed the peace of our people and our nation.” According to the Washington Post, Gilani’s speech “signaled the final collapse of a fragile peace accord between the government and Taliban forces in the Swat region.” The address, a day of fierce air bombardment against militant positions, also marked the beginning of a ground offensive similar to the one already underway in neighboring Dir and Buner districts, where the army claims to have killed more than 200 militants in the past two weeks, reported the Guardian. In the wake of the address, army sources announced that a curfew from 8pm to 6am had been imposed in Swat to prevent Taliban fighters from escaping as wave after wave of attack helicopters and artillery shells pounded suspected militant hideouts.

The announcement occurred as the trilateral talks between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United States came to an end in Washington D.C. yesterday. President Zardari further echoed Gilani’s sentiment at a joint news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar, where he stressed Pakistan’s commitment to defeating terrorism. When asked how long the operation in Pakistan would continue, Zardari responded ambiguously, “The operation will go on till the situation returns to normal.” He added, “There’s a realization in the world that it’s a regional problem, a worldwide problem. It is not an Afghan or a Tora Bora problem. It is not a problem secluded in the mountains of Pakhtoonkhwa…This realization brings strength to the fight.”

Although U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke said the main aim of the trilateral meetings were to develop “real cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan because without that cooperation success is not achievable,” the current offensive in Pakistan seemed to be the most pressing issue highlighted by officials and the media. In fact, noted the NY Times, “The timing of Mr. Gilani’s address was hardly an accident. He made it a day after Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, met with President Obama in Washington. American officials have expressed alarm that the Taliban militants are threatening the integrity of the Pakistani state. Mr. Zardari has asked Mr. Obama for more military and economic aid, and Mr. Obama has indicated that he intends to oblige him.”

“Oblige him” is a little easier said than done, though. Although Senator Kerry expressed “hope” that the U.S. Senate and House “would be able to overcome the differences between their bills for providing assistance to Pakistan,” BBC News reported that many lawmakers in Congress are wary of giving a “blank check” to Pakistan. BBC’s Mark Urban reported, “They [lawmakers] want ‘conditionality,’ linking the flow of dollars to Pakistani cooperation on everything from fighting the Taliban, to reining in the ISI, securing nuclear weapons and gaining access to AQ Khan.” Holbrooke, in response to these demands, said the administration “did not believe in conditionality but accepted that benchmarks are required to measure Pakistan’s performance.”

In my effort to understand this issue further, I spoke to Shuja Nawaz, the author of Crossed Swords and director of the Atlantic Council‘s South Asia Center. Although Pakistan does not want “upfront conditions,” he noted that it is understood among the Pakistanis that there have to be financial conditions. However, the indicators or benchmarks noted by Holbrooke must be an effort carried out by the Pakistanis. The government needs to “get their act together” like they did prior to the April Tokyo Conference, where international donors pledged more than $5 billion to help stabilize Pakistan. According to Shuja Nawaz, Pakistan’s finance minister Shaukat Tarin put together “an impressive framework” to show how the aid will be distributed and spent in Pakistan. A similar framework and effort must be made in order to garner much-needed U.S. aid and assistance.

In her testimony this week before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Christine Fair, a senior political scientist with RAND Corporation, also discussed this issue, advising:

It is essential that these processes and benchmarks be developed in concert with the Pakistani government. Both the United States and Pakistan must agree on how progress will be assessed and how remediation will be addressed. Pakistan must be a partner in achieving these objectives rather than an adversary being forced to acquiesce.

If Congress does approve the aid package for Pakistan, which will increase its civilian aid package to $1.5 billion annually, it is extremely important to know where that money is going so that aid can be more effective. There must be more accountability and responsibility, both on our part and the United States. Ultimately, we need more bang for our buck. In my conversation with Shuja Nawaz yesterday, he noted that USAID is appropriately named “because the aid seems to stay in the U.S.” He used U.S. aid to Afghanistan as an example, noting that only 10 cents of the dollar is actually spent on the Afghan people. Chris Fair, in her testimony, noted, “USAID’s business model relies heavily on layers of contractors to deliver services, something that likely results in much of the funding returning to the United States, suboptimal outcomes, and greater Pakistani and American disappointment with the quality and quantity of benefits delivered to Pakistani citizens.”

In my past interview with Samia Altaf, a public health physician who previously worked with USAID in Pakistan [and is penning a book on U.S. aid implementation], she noted, “It often comes down to program design and implementation strategies. Many of the donor supported programs are not designed with Pakistan’s context in mind. Also there is not much attention given to serious evaluations of mistakes and poor results. Nobody…asks why the program failed to deliver results.”

Although Pakistan drastically needs aid, not just for its military efforts but more importantly for education and development, we also need to learn how to help ourselves. According to Chris Fair, U.S. legislation, while providing military and economic assistance, must also enable Pakistan to “increase its ability to raise domestic revenue through tax reform and any commitment to collect taxes that are due.” Although this scenario is highly unlikely in the immediate future, in the long-term Pakistan’s capacity must be increased so that we are not as fiercely dependent on foreign aid.

For now, as the military offensive continues and the subsequent humanitarian crisis worsens, foreign assistance is increasingly needed. Let’s hope that this time, especially given the intensifying debate, we will actually see the benefits of this funding.

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