The Future of Pakistan

January 30, 2011

USIP logoThe Pakistani government has proven more resilient than the predictions of its detractors, overcoming challenges that would have toppled a less formidable coalition – devastating floods of historic proportions, constant assault against its citizens from terrorist groups, and a domestic media that at times seems more like an opposition political group than an objective observer. As 2011 gets underway, the question of what the future holds for Pakistan is as relevant as ever.

Tomorrow, the nation’s top experts on Pakistan will convene at the United States Institute of Peace to discuss the factors shaping Pakistan’s future, possible outcomes, and policy implications and recommendations for US–Pakistan relations as our partnership grows.

At the outset of 2011, Pakistan’s future looks more uncertain than ever. The country is facing myriad challenges, including a deep-rooted political crisis, a weakening economy buoyed by immense foreign aid, and a hardening of divisions between extremists and moderates. Events during the past month only underscore some these trends. Examining Pakistan’s possible future is subsequently a daunting task. Yet, the country is certain to remain central to U.S. interests and thus such an exercise is necessary for informed U.S. policy making. The Brookings Institution, supported by the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) and Norwegian Peace Foundation (NOREF), attempted to do so in 2010. The results were in part the Bellagio Papers, a compilation of 15 scholarly writings analyzing various aspects of Pakistan’s future.

Join USIP and Brookings for a conference centering on these possibilities and problems as the experts involved in the Bellagio project join other prominent scholars on Pakistan to examine the critical questions regarding Pakistan’s future and U.S. interests in the country.

This event will feature the following experts:

  • Jonah Blank
    Senate Foreign Relations Committee
  • Stephen Cohen
    The Brookings Institution
  • Wendy Chamberlain
    The Middle East Institute
  • Christine Fair
    Georgetown University
  • Amb. William Milam
    Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
  • Shuja Nawaz
    The Atlantic Council
  • Bruce Riedel
    The Brookings Institution
  • Joshua White
    Johns Hopkins SAIS
  • Andrew Wilder
    U.S. Institute of Peace
  • Huma Yusuf
    Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
  • Moeed Yusuf
    U.S. Institute of Peace

The discussion gets underway at 12:30pm. The event will be webcast at www.usip.org/webcast and Americans for Democracy & Justice in Pakistan will live-Tweet the discussion at @USAforPAK.

An Economic Task Force For Pakistan

January 24, 2011

Delivering aid in Pakistan faces several challenges including a lack of capacity among local Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in some areas and critical perceptions of American intentions among the local population. While vital to laying the groundwork for economic development, aid is not enough. What Pakistan needs is greater access to world markets and increased foreign direct investment (FDI) to develop under-resourced sectors of its domestic economy. President Obama should facilitate this investment by convening a new economic task force for Pakistan.

Pakistan's under-resourced industries are an economic opportunity for American investment

“Trade, not aid” has been a consistent theme of Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari. During last summer’s historic flooding, the Pakistani leader thanked the world’s nations for their generous assistance, but reminded them that what the country really needs is greater access to the global marketplace – a point reiterated by President Zardari during a visit to Washington earlier this month to honor the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

An article by Muhammad Aftab, an Islamabad based journalist, in Monday’s Daily Times examines the current state of foreign direct investment in Pakistan, and identifies several opportunities for increased investment in Pakistan’s under-resourced energy sector including oil and natural gas exploration and production, hydro and thermal power, and enmerging sources of renewable energy.

To facilitate Pakistan’s domestic economic growth and advance our shared goal of a stable, prosperous and peaceful Pakistan, President Obama should convene a special task force similar to his recently announced Council On Jobs And Competitiveness headed by GE CEO Jeffery Immelt to develop a strategy for shifting from aid-based investment to private sector/FDI based development.

The task force should comprise a joint public-private venture of corporate executives and diplomats with experience in South Asia, and should be tasked with a mission to identify opportunities for American companies to invest in Pakistan and areas where the government can help facilitate such investment either through federal regulation or international diplomacy.

Unlike aid-based development, this approach would directly benefit both parties by opening a two-way path for economic expansion between US and Pakistani markets while simultaneously bolstering Pakistan’s developing economic sectors with much needed capital and expertise. Additionally, it will avoid past misunderstandings as the results of the task force will not be money ‘with strings attached’, but cooperative efforts between American and Pakistani industry.

In convening this task force, President Obama would also clearly demonstrate that the US is not repeating past mistakes by using aid as a temporary incentive for Pakistan’s support in Afghanistan, only to abandon the country when the fighting ceases. Such a move could have a significant impact in reducing anti-American sentiment once the Pakistani people see that the US is not a fair-weather friend, but a long time partner and ally with a long-term interest in Pakistan’s success.

According to Finance Minister Dr Hafeez Sheikh, “Pakistan has a very liberal investment regime. There are no restrictions on FDI and inflow of capital and outflow dividend income. The current investment policies are tailor-made to meet the investors’ needs.” Sheikh also said, “There is a great potential for investment in the fields of oil and gas, corporate faring, agriculture and infrastructure.”

China recognizes the untapped economic potential in Pakistan, which is why President Hu Jintao recently signed trade and investment deals with Pakistan worth $35 billion. The US would be remiss to pass up such an opportunity.

Pakistan’s Other Clerics

January 23, 2011

When journalists write about religion in Pakistan, their articles usually focus on the extremist interpretation of Islam that is spread by terrorist groups like al Qaeda, or the consequences of this extremism like the murder of Salmaan Taseer. But just as Islam is not monolithic, neither is religion in Pakistan. In fact, the majority of Pakistanis adhere to a much more moderate reading of Islam. Religious scholar Javed Ahmad Ghamidi intends to keep it that way.

Javed GhamidiAt a time when many pin their hopes on “moderate” secular Muslims to lead the charge against radical militant Islam, Ghamidi offers a more forceful and profound deconstruction of the violent and bitter version of Islam that appears to be gaining ground in many parts of the Muslim world, including Pakistan. He challenges what he views as retrograde stances — on jihad, on the penal code of rape and adultery, on the curricula in the religious schools, or madrassas — but he does so with a purely fundamentalist approach: he rarely ventures outside the text of the Koran or prophetic tradition. He meticulously recovers detail from within the confines of religious text, and then delivers decisive blows to conservatives and militants who claim to be the defenders of Islam. His many followers are fond of comparing his influence in South Asia to that of Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss Muslim Islamic thinker of global repute, in Europe.

“Mr. Ghamidi has had a huge role in shaping Islamic laws in the country,” said Khalid Masood, the chairman of the Islamic Ideology Council in Islamabad. “And his debates on television have made a profound impact on public views.”

That’s from a profile of Mr. Ghamidi in yesterday’s Boston Globe, and one that Americans unfamiliar with moderate Islam would be well advised to read. Mr. Ghamidi is no revolutionary. He founded the Al-Mawrid Institute of Islamic Sciences in 1983, and has been a member of Pakistan’s Council of Islamic Ideology – the official body responsible for advising the government on Islamic issues – since 2006. Mr. Ghamidi’s Al-Mawrid Institute has published numerous works on issues such as jihad, suicide bombing, and women’s rights that contradict the edicts pronounced by extremists.

In addition to his research on Islamic law, Mr. Ghamidi has been a vocal proponent of democracy in Pakistan.

Even more incendiary than his specific position on questions of Islamic law, though, is Ghamidi’s vision for the future of Islamic politics. Ever since the Islamization campaign in Pakistan in the 1970s, religious parties have been making deep inroads into political power. But their real glory days came after September 2001, when a coalition of religious political parties led by the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami landed a majority in two of the four provincial governments in Pakistan. Pakistan, which began as a secular republic, has increasingly Islamized thanks to shrewd realpolitik maneuvering by some religious leaders.

Ghamidi expounds a different ideal: Muslim states, he says, cannot be theocracies, yet they cannot be divorced from Islam either. Islam cannot simply be one competing ideology or interest group that reigns supreme one moment and is gone the next. He instead argues for the active investment of the state in building institutions that will help create a truly “Islamic democracy.”

This is vision for Pakistan’s political future similar to that laid out by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in her last book, Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West.

It is being said that Pakistan is at war for its soul. Terrorists who adhere to an extremist, violent interpretation of Islam are attempting to influence the country at gunpoint. They bribe desperate young people with promises of heaven, and those that do not subscribe to their views they kill in cold blood.

But Pakistan’s soul is not being given up without a fight. The moderate majority of Pakistanis reject violence and extremism, and moderate religious scholars like Javed Ghamidi are fighting back not with bombs and guns but with scripture and reason. The moderates can win this battle, and in doing so realize the dream of the nation’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah: A democratic, prosperous, peaceful Pakistan. They deserve our support in their struggle.

Put away the carrots and sticks to help Pakistan

January 20, 2011

Carrot and StickA key point of Bruce Riedel’s remarks on Tuesday was that attempts to ‘buy’ Pakistan’s cooperation will always fail. Pakistan cannot be bought, and attempts to persuade Pakistan’s leadership with monetary incentives only waste taxpayer money and distract Pakistan’s government from making reforms necessary to move the country forward.

During the course of the Q&A session following his remarks, Mr. Riedel told an anecdote about an exercise he conducted at the request of President Obama in which he and his colleagues considered ‘out of the box’ ways to influence Pakistan. During a brainstorm session, one of the approaches discussed was to buy Pakistan off with a civilian nuclear energy deal. The participants realized, however, that the likely outcome of such an attempt would be for Pakistan to say, “Thank you for giving us what you already owed. Now we’re even.” The US would have made a tremendous investment of political and financial capital, but would not have influenced any positive change in Pakistan’s domestic policy.

Following their brainstorm session, the group reached the obvious conclusion – instead of trying to buy or coerce the nation, the US should be looking to work constructively with Pakistan based on mutual goals and overlapping priorities.

So if you eliminate the extremes — buying them off, coercion, the out-of-the-box — you come back to what are basically relatively simple solutions and all of those involve working with Pakistan, not against it. Not trying to create an alliance against Pakistan, but trying to create an alliance with Pakistan.

Nancy Birdsall, Wren Elhai and Molly Kinder came to the same conclusion in a post for Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel blog earlier today.

It’s true that Secretary Clinton and her diplomatic team have the ability to work with Pakistan’s good technocrats in nudging along economic policy conversations — including by getting the right political actors around the table. However, it is unrealistic and impolitic to expect officials in Pakistan to take often politically toxic actions in return for U.S. aid payments.  That is a hard reality increasingly understood by many in the administration and in Congress.  The question is whether aid money in some cases might help grease the wheels so that the Pakistani political process performs better.  Could U.S. aid to Pakistan sometimes support the difficult politics of economic reform — as opposed to mostly providing a short-term band-aid to help the country muddle through its current mess?

The key point is that certain aid projects can carry both direct benefits (better services and infrastructure for the people of Pakistan) and indirect benefits (incentives for the Pakistani political system to achieve greater results with their existing resources). Here are a few examples to consider: U.S. investments in energy generation and transmission capacity can be linked to public commitments to raise electricity tariffs  only when brownouts have been reduced below an announced benchmark. In this grand bargain, as service quality improves, tariffs would go up, and another round of aid investments would be delivered. In another case, U.S.-financed tools can be deployed to help Pakistani citizens hold their government accountable-with regular reports on simple indicators of development, for example, or an easily accessible database of all development projects funded from internal or external resources.  Or a pilot Cash on Delivery aid contract in one or more Pakistani provinces could put levers in the hands of education reformers and help their ideas gain traction.

This approach to development does not rely on economic coercion, the “carrots and sticks” approach but instead involves understanding and respecting the needs and priorities of the people of Pakistan and working to help them achieve their goals and, though this, achieving our own.

Nancy Birdsall is president of the Center for Global Development and chair of the CGD Study Group on a U.S. Development Strategy in Pakistan. Wren Elhai is a research and communications assistant and Molly Kinder is a senior policy analyst at the Center for Global Development.

“Do Not Underestimate the Pakistani People.”

January 19, 2011

Bruce Riedel

The Brookings Institution yesterday hosted the official book release for Bruce Riedel’s new book, Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America, and the Future of Global Jihad. The author, Bruce Riedel, is a career CIA officer and has advised four US presidents on South Asian policy. He is widely regarded as one of the United States’s preeminent experts on Pakistan.

The auditorium at the Brookings Institution, one of Washington’s oldest and most prestigious think tanks, was filled to capacity with representatives from several governments as well as the military. The rear of the room was packed with journalists from across the world. Mr. Riedel began his remarks by thanking several people, but he paused to give special praise for the former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto whom he recognized for her courage and inspiration.

Mr. Riedel noted that Pakistan is one of the most important countries in the world not only for its proximity to the war in Afghanistan, but because it is home to the second largest population of Muslims in the world, it has the world’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal, and it is a long-time American ally. Despite its importance, however, most Americans know very little about the country.

According Mr. Riedel, there are three main issues that he deals with in his new book: Pakistan’s domestic politics, US-Pakistan relations, and the growth of the global jihad movement.

Pakistan’s domestic politics, he said, is influenced largely by two primary struggles: one between the military and the civilian government, the other between the moderate majority of Pakistanis and the vocal but minority of Islamists. He mentioned that these struggles are often exacerbated by an irresponsible press.

But Mr. Riedel pointed out that there is one thing that has always trumped these struggles over the history of Pakistan – “the yearning for democracy has pushed dictators out of power over and over.” There is, he said, a constant underlying push for democracy, rule of law, and accountability. This was a key theme of Mr. Riedel’s remarks – more than anything, the people of Pakistan want to decide their own fate.

On the second issue, US-Pakistan relations, Mr. Riedel was honest and open about the fact that the US has not been a consistent friend to Pakistan. He referred to the relationship between the two countries as ‘a deadly embrace’ – one in which neither side knew if they could trust the other – and urged the members of the audience to change this from a deadly embrace to a friendly embrace.

Mr. Riedel pointed out two major mistakes made by the US:

First, that over the history of US-Pakistan relations, too much has been built around secret projects that are not really secret. He referred to the U2 base in the 1950s; the role that Pakistan played as intermediary between the US and China during Nixon’s presidency; the cooperation between the US and Pakistan in arming the Afghan mujahideen during the Cold War; and most recently the drone attacks on al Qaeda. By continually basing our relationship on secret agreements, we allow an air of intrigue to mischaracterize what is often a healthy cooperation.

The second major mistake the US made, of course, was the support for Pakistan’s dictators over the years – an error of both Republican and Democratic administrations, and one that set back Pakistan’s democratic progress by decades. Mr. Riedel urged the US not never repeat this mistake again.

The third issue Mr. Riedel addressed is Pakistan’s relationship with the growth of the global jihad movement. Here, Mr. Riedel says, we should understand that Pakistan is a nation at war for its soul. While the vast majority of the country are peaceful, moderate Muslims, Pakistan is also home to the largest number of militant groups in the world. As such, the country is divided between those who are loyal to the vision of the nation’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and dark forces who seek to convert Pakistan into a jihadist state similar to Afghanistan under Taliban rule.

The roots for the global jihad movement, Mr. Riedel explains, can be traced to the dictatorship of Gen. Ziaul Haq during the 1980s – a dictatorship supported by the United States. Make no mistake, he reminds, the US shares responsibility for this situation.

The good news, however, is that Pakistan’s military is engaged in the most serious counterinsurgency efforts it has ever conducted. While there may be some elements of the military and intelligence agencies still supporting militant groups as a holdover from previous doctrines of “strategic depth”, the military has realized that the nation most threatened by these groups is Pakistan itself. In answer to a question from the audience, Mr. Riedel said that if you had told him two years ago that Pakistan’s Army was conducting counterinsurgency operations in six of the seven tribal areas, he would have said you were dreaming. Today, though, that dream is a reality.

So what is the solution that Mr. Riedel proposes?

First and foremost, he says, the future of Pakistan is not up to the US. Only Pakistan can decide its own fate, and the US must not repeat past mistakes and try to push Pakistan one way or the other.

The US must not undermine the civilian government or the democratic process. To those who question whether one or another politician is preferable, Mr. Riedel reminds the audience that democracy is not about individuals, but about a process.

The US must also support Pakistan’s efforts to normalize and improve relations with its neighbors, especially India. Mr. Riedel gave special praise for the efforts of Pakistan’s current President Asif Ali Zardari to improve trade between the countries. While these may seem like small steps, he said, it is this path of incremental change and trust-building that will ultimately succeed.

Above all, however, the US must not try to broker a peace between Pakistan and India. It will not work, he said, and we must trust and support the Pakistani leadership to develop a path to normalization that satisfies their own needs and strategic interests.

The people of Pakistan have shown a remarkable determination to hold on to Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan as a nation at peace with its neighbors and itself. There are no magic solutions, he warned, and progress will take time. But, he advised, we should never underestimate the people of Pakistan’s desire for democracy and peace. If there was one message that Mr. Riedel left the audience with that day, it was this: “Do not underestimate the Pakistani people.”

Vice President Biden’s Message to Pakistan: Our Interest Is Your Success

January 14, 2011

Vice President Joe Biden and Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani

Vice President Biden traveled to Pakistan this week where he met with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani and Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Kayani. While the meetings were closed to reporters, sources privy to the private conversations said Biden assured the Pakistanis that the US recognizes as legitimate their concerns about security along the Western border with Afghanistan, and ensured the Pakistani leaders that the US will not put American “boots on the ground” in Pakistan.

Following their meeting, the Pakistani Prime Minister and Vice President Biden made public statements to reporters in which Biden sought to correct misconceptions about American intentions in Pakistan. The Vice President spoke at length about America’s respect for Islam noting that it is the fastest growing religion in the United States, a fact that is made possible by protections for religious freedom, and discussed US investment in Pakistan’s civilian infrastructure and democratic process.

Pakistan’s Express 24/7 News channel filmed Biden’s speech.

Bi-Partisan Letter To Secretary Clinton Supporting Democracy & Justice in Pakistan

January 13, 2011

Members of Congress from both parties sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today urging the Secretary to “show our dedication to peace” and to “increase our diplomatic efforts with the investments the United States is making as we strive for the growth of democracy and tolerance in Pakistan.”

The letter, signed by Rep. Steve Israel (D-New York), Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-New York), Rep. Peter King (R-New York) and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) went on to request that Pakistani clerics, journalists and lawyers who have praised the assassination of former Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer have their visas revoked and be denied travel to the United States.

Click here for a PDF of the letter

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Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws

January 13, 2011

Pakistan’s blasphemy law has taken center spotlight since the assassination of the former Governor of Punjab last week, his killer claiming that he murdered Taseer because he sought to change the laws. Despite the volume of discussion around these laws, many Americans don’t have a clear understanding of the historical background of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and how are they applied by the state. More problematic, media coverage has tended to highlight demonstrations in favor of the laws organized by Pakistan’s right-wing religious parties, political parties that, while able to organize large street protests, have historically been unpopular at the polls.

The following discussion between Pakistani political analyst Zafar Jaspal and journalist Omar Waraich was featured on Al Jazeera’ Inside Story and provides a more in depth look at the controversial laws – where they came from and the differing opinions among Pakistanis about what should be done to change them.

White House Boosts Support For Pakistan

January 9, 2011

President Obama and President ZardariIn the wake of the tragic assassination of Governor Salmaan Taseer this week, the White House has signaled that it will increase support for Pakistan’s civilian government including military aid to strengthen its national security.

According to a Washington Post report on Saturday, “The Obama administration has decided to offer Pakistan more military, intelligence and economic support, and to intensify U.S. efforts to forge a regional peace”.

Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Pakistan next week to meet with government and military officials to discuss Pakistan’s needs and how the US can help.

In addition to providing additional economic and military support to Pakistan, the White House emphasized again the respect US has for Pakistan as a sovereign nation and a close ally.

The review resolved to “look hard” at what more could be done to improve economic stability, particularly on tax policy and Pakistan’s relations with international financial institutions. It directed administration and Pentagon officials to “make sure that our sizeable military assistance programs are properly tailored to what the Pakistanis need, and are targeted on units that will generate the most benefit” for U.S. objectives, said one senior administration official who participated in the review and was authorized to discuss it on condition of anonymity.

Any American policy will be developed with the intention of furthering American objectives. The fact that support for Pakistan is being “properly tailored to what the Pakistanis need” emphasizes not only American respect for Pakistan, but that American and Pakistani objectives have a clear point of convergence.

As the democratic government continues to build consensus around and implement important reforms such as the 18th Amendment and the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill, the US must continue to provide the economic, military and diplomatic assistance to help Pakistan succeed.

Pakistan’s Coalition Government Remains Resiliant

January 7, 2011

Prime Minister Gilani and MQM

MQM, the political party that announced it would sit on opposition benches earlier this week announced today that it is returning to the government coalition following an agreement to defer economic reforms.

As we wrote last month, MQM’s move wasn’t a sign of a political ‘crisis’, but a natural part of coalition politics, especially in an emerging democracy where all parties are experimenting with strategies to maximize their influence.

It was notable, though rarely noted at the time, that even the PML-N – the largest opposition party – denied that the government was threatened. Unfortunately, this did not stop opportunistic headline writers from announcing the government’s imminent ‘collapse’ – predictions that a resilient government coalition continues to defy.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yusuf Gilani announced that certain economic reforms would be deferred until consensus can be reached among the parties. While this has caused some concern among IMF economists, the decision must be considered in light of Pakistan’s political situation.

The largest opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz faction (PML-N), continues to be a vocal opponent to the reforms. If MQM and other smaller parties were to abandon the PPP in a vote of no confidence and a PML-N led coalition were to win off-year elections, the reforms would not only not pass, they would not even be taken up for consideration.

The fact that the PPP government has had to defer the proposed package of economic reforms demonstrates that the political will is simply not there to move forward with these changes at this time. That said, the PPP’s willingness to support the reforms until it threatened to upend the government demonstrates that they are serious about getting Pakistan’s tax-to-GDP ratio under control.

Pakistan is not unique in its populist (and pseudo-populist) opposition to measures intended to repair revenue gaps. People enjoy government services such as Pakistan’s subsidized fuel prices, but are not eager to part with the taxes necessary to fund them. We see the same disconnect here in the United States as Republicans and Democrats spar over how to pay for popular government programs without unpopular taxes and fees.

Unlike the United States, though, Pakistan does not enjoy the relative peace and prosperity that allows our own Congress to put off reforms. While the announcement that reforms will be deferred is a setback, it’s not a repudiation of the policy. Rather, it’s a acknowledgment that more needs to be done to bring Pakistan’s other parties on board. To this end, bringing the MQM back into the fold is the first step towards economic recovery.