Headlines across the world note that the diplomatic crisis resulting from Raymond Davis’s shooting of two men in Lahore last month is straining US-Pakistan ties. A month after the incident, a solution acceptable to both nations continues to be elusive. But something more fundamental than US-Pakistan relations is at great risk as positions harden – democracy in Pakistan.
Despite the nationalist sentiment surrounding the controversy, the fact is that US-Pakistan relations will only be affected at the political level. According to a report in Stars & Stripes, a Department of Defense-authorized daily newspaper, senior leaders of the US and Pakistani militaries held secret meetings at a secluded resort in Oman this week. The meetings were described by one attendee as “very candid and cordial, and very productive discussions.” Even a split between the CIA and the ISI would likely only temporary as all intelligence agencies must interact with each other in order to be effective. Regardless of popular political opinion, military and intelligence officials will continue to cooperate based on the nations’ mutual security interests.
But Pakistan’s civilian population, and the civilian government they elected, is far more vulnerable. The latest United Nations Human Development Report, released on Tuesday, found that 51 percent of Pakistanis are living in multidimensional poverty and 54 percent are suffering intense deprivation. Cutting aid to Pakistan would have devastating consequences, not for the entrenched military-intelligence establishment, but for the civilian government and the Pakistani people.
“There’s no choke on aid yet,” says a senior Pakistani official. But if the standoff continues, and especially if Davis is convicted, it could be reduced to a trickle. And that could have a potentially catastrophic impact on an economy threatened by hyperinflation and the devaluation of its currency in the coming months.
A civilian government unable to provide basic services, much less show an improvement in economic opportunity, would quickly find itself rejected by Pakistanis already frustrated with uncertain security and lagging economic progress. While it is unlikely that militant groups would have the resources or influence to fill the role of government nationwide, it could create an environment in which the military-intelligence establishment – until now content to sit on the sidelines – decides to intervene. Such an event would not only undo the progress towards a more just and democratic government made over the past three years, it could set back Pakistan’s democratic movement for a generation or more.
Thankfully, Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley reiterated the Obama administration’s long-term commitment to the people of Pakistan on Wednesday by insisting that the White House is not considering cuts to aid.
“We’re building a strategic partnership with Pakistan. It’s important to the future of the region. It’s also important to the security of the United States. We are engaging Pakistan in good faith. We want to see this resolved as soon as possible so it does not become an impediment in our relationship and it does not measurably interfere with the work we are doing together in fighting extremism that threatens Pakistan and threatens us,” he said. “We are not contemplating any actions along those lines,” Crowley said when asked if the US government is considering curtailing any of its military or economic assistance to Pakistan over the Davis row.
Whatever the outcome of the Raymond Davis affair, it is certain to have implications far beyond the short-term cooperation between the CIA and the ISI. As political leaders and intelligence officials work to find a solution, we should all remember that Pakistan’s fragile democratic government, and the Pakistani people, stand to lose the most from deteriorating relations between our two countries.