Yesterday’s post about the successful Pakistani operation that captured three top al Qaeda figures with the help of American intelligence was meant to highlight how, working together, US and Pakistan are more effective in fighting terrorists than trying working alone. Mosharraf Zaidi, a Pakistani columnist and policy adviser, responded with one word: “Saathi”.
“Saathi” is an Urdu word which means “partners” or “friends.” It also happens to be the name of Pakistan’s most popular brand of condoms. Zaidi’s comment was more than clever wordplay, though – it was a warning that American officials would do well to heed.
There’s a popular saying that the US treats Pakistani like a condom (in more polite recitations, Kleenex is substituted) – use it when you need it, then throw it away. The most commonly cited evidence is America’s withdrawal from engagement with Pakistan after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in the 1980s. Pakistan expected the US to continue its policy of looking the other way on their nuclear program and providing aid and assistance to repair damage done during the Afghan war. Instead, in 1990, the US cut aid to Pakistan citing the 1985 Pressler Amendment which required the president to certify that Pakistan did not have a nuclear weapon.
Today, Pakistan is believed to control the world’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal. The Pressler Amendment, for all its intentions, did nothing to prevent this reality. What it did do was convince many Pakistani officials that the US is an unreliable partner. With troop drawdowns in Afghanistan scheduled over the next few years, many Pakistani officials are having a feeling of ‘deja vu all over again.’
American officials including Ambassadors Marc Grossman and Cameron Munter have met with the Pakistani leadership to convey their assurance that past mistakes will not be repeated, and that the US will not abandon Pakistan to fight against militant groups alone. But more can, and should be done to assure Pakistan of American intentions.
One way the US can provide this assurance is through making long term investments in Pakistan’s civilian infrastructure. A recent report in The Guardian (UK), notes that the US is considering providing financial support for the $12 billion Diamer Bhasha dam, which would provide 4,500MW of additional green energy, and go far to solving Pakistan’s crippling energy crisis. Mosharraf Zaidi told The Guardian that this is just the type of project the US should be investing in.
“Diamer Bhasha would be tremendously good for Pakistan and would show that the US is invested in a long-term relationship with Pakistan, no matter how bad things look today.”
Improving Pakistan’s energy capacity is about more than just keeping the lights on. According to the LA Times, Pakistan’s chronic electricity shortages are bleeding the country of economic opportunities. In a nation of 180 million where half the population is under 22 and and a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line, diminishing economic opportunities fuel political frustration and, in turn, instability – something no amount of military aid can fix, but one hydroelectric dam can.
This week’s statement by Pakistan’s military is an olive branch extended, once again, to their American counterparts. It’s an opportunity US officials should be loath to pass up. Significant financial support for the Diamer Bhasha dam would not only go far towards repairing America’s reputation in Pakistan, it would do so the right way – by demonstrating a sincere desire to help Pakistanis improve their own situation. Saathi. Partners, not patrons.