Partner, Not Patron

As analyses of the Strategic Dialogues continue to roll out, there has been some good advice about what to take away from the discussions, and how the two nations can best proceed. An important step will be for the US to stop operating as Pakistan’s patron, and more as a partner.

Bret Stephens writes about The Pakistan Paradox for the Wall Street Journal, where he recommends exactly this.

What, then, to do? First, instead of publicly lecturing Pakistanis on how they need to get tough with the Taliban, the administration would do better to make good on its existing commitments. Say what you will about Mr. Zardari’s abilities, he has aided the U.S. military effort in a way his predecessor Pervez Musharraf, supposedly a pro-American strongman, never did.

That’s a relationship to build on, quietly and incrementally, not to tear down. So it would be helpful if the administration doesn’t repeat the mistake of blabbing to Bob Woodward, whose book may have helped Mr. Obama seem more presidential but didn’t do any favors to his presidency.

Equally helpful would be to stop mindlessly demanding that military assistance to Pakistan go toward fighting the Taliban instead of arming against India. The missing ingredient in Pakistan’s counterinsurgency effort isn’t the right military tool kit, such as night-vision goggles or Apache helicopters. It’s the will of the Pakistani general staff to cooperate more fully in the fight. If that cooperation can be secured by selling conventional weapons such as F-15s and M-1 tanks to Pakistan, so much the better.

Huma Yusuf echoes this sentiment in Pakistan, where he writes for the English-language daily, Dawn,

Developmental aid may just succeed in winning over average Pakistanis in coming years. But average souls pose fewer threats to US security. The danger is increasingly coming in the form of Faisal Shahzad and Farooque Ahmed, another Pakistani-born US citizen who was arrested this week for plotting to bomb Metro stations in Washington DC.

These Pakistanis are acutely aware of Washington’s schizophrenic policies in Pakistan that couple developmental aid and drone attacks. They are not likely to be won over by a sack of rice or a maternity ward. They are more interested in seeing the US alter its foreign policy with regard to drone attacks, relations with India, the conflicts in Kashmir and Palestine, and more. If it is Pakistanis like these the US aims to entice, it should focus less on winning hearts and minds and more on changing its policies.

Another important facet will be how the US approaches developmental aid for Pakistan in the future. As we have argued previously, the US should shift from a patronage model of economic development to a partnership model based less on direct aid and more on opening economic borders and investing in Pakistan’s domestic economic development.

Huma Yusuf suggests this change in direction could pay higher dividends for US-Pakistan cooperation, and do more to gain the trust of a Pakistani public suspicious of American motives.

Washington sees bilateral foreign assistance as a way to sway public opinion and foster stability by earning the trust of elusive hearts and minds. But while the US has given Pakistan over $18bn in military and civilian aid since 2001, only 17 per cent of Pakistanis view the US favourably, according to a Pew Research Centre survey from June. These contradictory statistics suggest that the harder the US tries to improve its image by doling out bucketfuls of aid, the more suspicious of its motives Pakistanis become.

To their credit, some US policymakers are well aware of this conundrum, and are beginning to re-evaluate the logic of expecting aid to buy love (to be clear: US officials are not rethinking giving aid to Pakistan; rather, they are reconsidering their own expectations of what impact assistance will have on the Pakistani public). They argue that it would be more productive to stop worrying about incorrigible Pakistani hearts and minds, and instead focus on strengthening Pakistan’s economy and public institutions for the sake of long-term stability and progress.

Soviet-era models of diplomacy that viewed regional powers as a means to secure American interests are no longer viable, if they ever really were. Effective and sustainable diplomatic efforts will require a shift from the old-style patronage systems to a new approach in which nations are treated as partners with due respect paid to their domestic concerns. Only then we will ease the suspicions of the public and see the democratic processes and institutions strengthened.

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