Tag Archives: civilian aid


Diamer Bhasha DamYesterday’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.

US needs to take a new approach to aid

USAID Pakistan

As Congress continues looking for ways to trim spending, officials in the Obama administration are worried that some lawmakers may be considering shrinking civilian aid to Pakistan. They are right to worry as this would be a mistake.

Experts on both Pakistan and international aid and development agree – attempts to ‘buy’ Pakistan’s cooperation will always fail. There are several reasons for this. First and foremost, using civilian aid as a ‘carrot’ by tying disbursement to unrelated security conditions is deeply humiliating. The underlying change mechanism requires that a sovereign government be, in essence, for sale. Even if one can find such a pliable partner, their shelf life will invariably be limited.

Another reason that aid is not a realistic tool of leverage is that the amounts in question are simply not large enough to buy anyone off. As we noted last month,

The Kerry-Lugar-Burman bill (KLB) provides for $1.5 billion in economic aid annually for five years. While this aid is valuable, it represents about 0.3 percent of the nation’s GDP. Moreover, in the first year of KLB, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that only $179.5 million was actually disbursed. Even if it were possible to buy Pakistan’s cooperation, this amount of foreign aid is simply insufficient to do so.

But the most convincing reason is found in empirical evidence – what are the outcomes we have seen from US aid? Since the US pledged billions of dollars in civilian aid to Pakistan – all tied to security-related conditions – military-to-military relations between the US and Pakistan have actually soured. If aid is tool of leverage, it’s a very bad one. But that doesn’t mean that civilian aid has not had a positive impact.

Though delivery mechanisms still need improvement, as the Washington Post reporter found, using aid as an investment in improving the lives of ordinary Pakistanis does pay long term dividends.

Last summer, USAID used $500 million to help Pakistan cope with ruinous floods. More than $60 million went toward seed and fertilizer for farmers whose crops were flooded out in villages such as Jangi, in the northwest, where anger pulsates over CIA drone strikes in the nearby tribal belt.

On a recent day, farmers in the village said they had expected to lose this spring’s wheat harvest. Instead, there was a bumper crop, and they attributed the success to U.S.-funded seeds and canals.

“Earlier, it was our perception that the United States was only for destruction,” said Noor Nabi, a community leader in the village. “But in that critical time, it helped us.”

Civilian aid can result in outcomes that benefit both Pakistani and American interests. In order for this to happen, though, the US needs to reconsider the goals of civilian aid. The goal should not be to ‘buy’ Pakistani cooperation, but to strengthen civilian institutions and civil society so that America’s natural allies in Pakistan – the Pakistani people – have the ability to determine Pakistan’s future.

Sadanand Dhume, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, notes that “democracy, however messy, is the only alternative to the military-jihadist complex that has stunted Pakistan’s economy and tarnished its international reputation.”

A sensible Pakistan policy, as outlined by [Bruce Riedel], would make strengthening its fragile civilian institutions the underlying goal of all U.S. engagement. The U.S. needs strong intelligence and military-to-military ties with its Pakistani counterparts, but unlike in the past these should not come at the cost of stunting Pakistani democracy.

Using aid as a means of leverage in military-to-military relations weakens US influence and delays democratic reforms that will move Pakistan away from destructive, anti-democratic policies rooted in a Cold War mindset. By continuing to use aid as a ‘carrot’ to lure Pakistan into taking actions that provide short-term security gains, the US is actually setting back its own long-term objectives for the region. It’s time for a new approach.

Partners, Not Patrons

Center for Global Development logoAt Wednesday afternoon’s release event for the Center for Global Development’s (CGD) new report, Beyond Bullets and Bombs: Fixing the U.S. Approach to Development in Pakistan, a consistent theme was present in the discussion: Change in Pakistan can only come from within, and if US development assistance is going to be effective, it must support Pakistan’s domestic reformers and invest in building the nation’s domestic capacity.

The reports authors called on Congress to embrace three guiding principles when considering US aid to Pakistan: Humility, patience, and clarity of mission. Current aid policy, the authors found, too often lacks clearly defined or unrealistic goals. As the war in Afghanistan has taken center stage, development in Pakistan became seen as a tool to effect short-term security and diplomacy goals rather than a long-term investment in the economic and political stability of the fledgling democracy.

CGD Project Director Molly Kinder noted that this was a misguided and ultimately self-defeating approach to development in Pakistan. Rather than attempting to use aid as a quid pro quo, she said, US development assistance should be implemented in a way that will “unleash the power of Pakistan’s private sector.” To that end, the authors offer the following five recommends for revising US aid strategy:

1. Let Pakistani products compete in US markets.

2. Actively encourage domestic and foreign private investment.

3. Target aid for long-term impact and beware of unintended consequences.

4. Finance what is already working.

5. Support and engage with Pakistan’s reformers.

Speaking at the event, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, emphasized that the role of aid should be that of a catalyst, sparking innovation and investment in Pakistan’s domestic human and natural resources. The Pakistani Ambassador recounted the story of the Kinnow orange – the most popular citrus fruit in Pakistan – which was brought to Pakistan from California as part of a development program in the 1960s. As the Ambassador explained, the US provided the seeds and the saplings, and Pakistanis grew the trees, tended the groves, and ate the fruit.

H.E. Ambassador Husain HaqqaniFar from a short-term “hearts and minds” project, the Kinnow story represents an alternative way of approaching civilian development that involves American assistance at laying the foundation for domestic production. Similiarly, the Ambassador noted that Institute of Business Administration in Karachi and the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) were both founded with investments from the US. Today, each of these institutions represents the excellence of Pakistani education.

In order to return to this model of development, the Ambassador explained, we need to change the way both countries think of aid. Too often, the US-Pakistan relationship is reduced to cliches designed to serve domestic politics. In the US, aid to Pakistan is often seen as something akin to a purchase, causing Americans to ask why Pakistanis are not delivering. In Pakistan, US aid is often the subject of great resentment, with Pakistanis demanding the government “break the begging bowl” and refuse American assistance.

According to Ambassador Haqqani, US and Pakistani leaders need to change the discussion to one that focuses on the US providing support for reforms defined and implemented from within Pakistan. To be successful, aid must be viewed as neither a bribe nor alms, but as an investment in developing domestic capacity. Like the seed for the Kinnow orange or the founding of LUMS, successful development operates as a catalyst to unlock the latent potential in Pakistanis themselves. What Americans receive in return for their investment is the long-term security and stability of a healthy and prosperous partner.

Writing in USA Today last weekend, Pakistani parliamentarian Farahnaz Ispahani referred to the Marshall Plan after World War II in which the US invested heavily in Europe with the understanding that political stability and economic self-sufficiency were the best bulwark against radicalization.

At the onset of the Cold War, the U.S. understood that political stability in vulnerable countries like France, Italy and Greece was intrinsically linked to the viability of their economies. President Truman advanced the European Recovery Plan (the Marshall Plan) that brilliantly operationalized this thesis, and by doing so saved Western Europe from communism. The same construct should be applied to Pakistan as we jointly work toward the defeat of the terrorist menace and the rebuilding of a peaceful and stable South and Central Asia.

Each of the speakers at Wednesday’s event agreed on a core point – US aid can serve an important role in improving stability and security in Pakistan if implemented correctly. This means abandoning misguided views of aid as a tool of US leverage in Pakistan and working together as partners, not patrons, to help Pakistan achieve success.

Repeating Past Mistakes Will Repeat Past Failures

Sen. Carl Levin

Senator Carl Levin told Foreign Policy magazine’s blog ‘The Cable’ that lawmakers are considering scaling back civilian aid to Pakistan in the wake of the discovery of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. Though Congress has concerns about the possibility of militant support networks within Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies, however, lawmakers are not considering cuts to military, but civilian aid. According to Sen. Levin, helping develop a stable democracy in Pakistan is “also in our interest but not as clearly.”

A 1962 article for Foreign Affairs argues the opposite – that the shortest path to peace and stability is through strengthening civilian institutions, not military.

In this large context of peace and war, the fundamental aim of economic assistance is, therefore, to build up stability in unstable states. This cannot be done by piecemeal patching up, by casual subsidies and handouts. The most successful of all programs of economic aid so far-the Marshall Plan-clearly illustrates the need for change in depth. If the nations of Western Europe had simply been restored to where they were before the Second World War, they would inevitably have repeated yet again their melancholy inter-war cycle of economic isolationism and national rivalry. It was America’s insistence upon a joint solution of their problems that opened the era of technical modernization, supra-nationalism and interdependence. What has saved Europe has been not the reconstruction of the old order but the bold projection of a new.

We don’t have to go back to 1962 to understand the importance of investing in a strong and stable democratic Pakistan, and how disastrous it can be to turn our backs on the civilian institutions. In fact, we can look at a time as recently as the 1990s.

When President George H.W. Bush could no longer certify that Pakistan was not actively pursuing nuclear weapons, aid to Pakistan was suspended as required by the Pressler Amendment. Suspending aid to Pakistan may have made a moral point, but the practical result was to convince Pakistan that it’s national security would have to depend on options outside US cooperation. Rather than pushing Pakistan towards a policy of nonproliferation, cutting aid as India demonstrated nuclear capability likely increased Pakistan’s resolve to demonstrate it’s own nuclear deterrent.

The other byproduct of aid suspension was Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies looking more to irregular forces as a means of strengthening Pakistan’s defenses. It was terrible, but rational decision: If Pakistan could not count on the support of it’s ‘most allied ally’, it would have to find support where it could.

This scenario could easily repeat itself if Congress repeats this past mistake again.

“You risk undermining the whole edifice that the United States has been trying to support in Pakistan,” warned Shuja Nawaz of the Atlantic Council, an independent policy institute.

Moreover, the U.S. aid lies at the heart of Obama’s strategy to help stabilize a deeply impoverished country of 170 million struggling with a growing Islamic insurgency, soaring ethnic and sectarian tensions, mounting joblessness and failing education, health, energy and other services.

US-Pakistan relations may be suffering from a severe trust deficit, but his lack of trust did not develop on May 1st or when Raymond Davis shot two men in the streets of Lahore. It is the result of past failures by US policymakers to foresee the inevitable perception among their Pakistani counterparts that the US could not be trusted to support them in their time of need.

Despite these setbacks and the discovery of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, today presents a unique opportunity to remedy past mistakes and help Pakistanis stabilize their young democracy. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has expressed his determination to reign in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency by placing it under civilian control, but as yet has not received the political support necessary to do so.

The discovery of Osama bin Laden on Pakistani territory has resulted in open discussion of a civilian inquiry by both coalition and opposition politicians in spite of insistence by military leaders for an internal review. In order for change to take place, however, the civilian institutions must have the support necessary to stand up to and reform the outsized influence of Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies. Cutting civilian aid to Pakistan will only reinforce a failed status quo. The US should reaffirm it’s commitment to civilian democracy in Pakistan – the bold projection of a new order.

Thomas Friedman’s Woeful Misunderstanding of Pakistani Politics

Thomas FriedmanThomas Friedman on Sunday compared Pakistan’s ISI to Egypt’s Amn al Dowla, the security agency responsible for propping up Hosni Mubarak’s police state, and asks why the US continues to provide billions of dollars in assistance to Pakistan while we cheer the fall of autocratic regimes in the Arab world. Friedman troublingly mischaracterizes the relationship between the ISI and Pakistan’s civilian government, and his conclusion – that the US should cut aid to Pakistan – is ultimately misguided.

According to Friedman, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence “dominates Pakistani politics” and is “the twin of Hosni Mubarak’s security service.” This is fundamentally incorrect. While it’s true that Pakistan’s ISI plays a heavy hand in Pakistan’s domestic politics, unlike Mubarak’s use of Amn al Dowla to intimidate and oppress political opposition, Pakistan’s ISI operates largely outside the control of the civilian government.

Egypt under Hosni Mubarak would be better compared to Pakistan under Gen. Musharraf – an autocratic regime that used the looming threat of extremism and regional instability to extort support for its security services and the personal fortunes of its officers – not present day Pakistan. Democratic elections in 2008 brought to power a civilian government, but Pakistan’s military establishment was less sidelined than removed from the spotlight.

Unlike Egypt, Pakistan has a popularly-elected civilian government that is struggling to build power in a country dominated by a military-intelligence apparatus that operates outside of its control. Following a meeting between Pakistani cabinet officials and the head of ISI, one Pakistani newspaper reported that, one attendee “dared not be arbitrarily fired.” Pakistani columnist Cyril Almeida described the power dynamic more bluntly:

By now the cat is out of the bag. When the interior minister, the ex-foreign minister and the all-powerful spy chief met to decide the fate of Raymond Davis, two of those gents were of the opinion that Davis doesn’t enjoy ‘full immunity’.

One of those two has now been fired by Zardari. The other, well, if Zardari tried to fire him, the president might find himself out of a job first.

Thomas Friedman falsely equates the ISI with Pakistan’s government, but it is a well-known fact in Pakistan that the two are presently in competition for control of the nation. And the two sides in this competition are not equally resourced.

As described by Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa in her book, Military Inc., Pakistan’s military dominates not only the nation’s security, but it’s economy as well, controlling much of the private sector and extensive land holdings. Pakistan’s parliament ostensibly controls the purse strings, but it is another accepted fact that the military sets its own budget. The military’s resources also include a massive patronage network, an established recruitment and command infrastructure, and the Inter-Services Public Relations agency – the intelligence agency’s propaganda wing.

Diverting aid from Pakistan will not weaken anti-democratic forces in the nation’s military establishment. It will, if anything, make it stronger and less pliable to pro-democracy influence. Nations such as China and Iran would quickly fill any military assistance void left by a diversion of US aid, and the civilian government would find itself without the leverage it needs to strengthen its hand in opposition to military influence over the nation’s foreign and domestic policy.

Even cuts that specifically target military aid would be counterproductive at this time. While it’s true that much of Pakistan’s military still sees India as the most pressing security issue, threats to cut military assistance are unlikely to change this perspective which has deep ideological and historical roots. Moreover, there are signs that the military’s strategic focus is beginning to change. Threats to cut aid are more likely to abort rather than encourage any reorientation and will be used to justify continued support for jihadi militant groups as irregular defense forces. This would be devastating.

As Pakistan’s President Zardari noted in The Washington Post,

Our nation is pressed by overlapping threats. We have lost more soldiers in the war against terrorism than all of NATO combined. We have lost 10 times the number of civilians who died on Sept. 11, 2001. Two thousand police officers have been killed. Our economic growth was stifled by the priorities of past dictatorial regimes that unfortunately were supported by the West. The worst floods in our history put millions out of their homes. The religious fanaticism behind our assassinations is a tinderbox poised to explode across Pakistan. The embers are fanned by the opportunism of those who seek advantages in domestic politics by violently polarizing society.

Pakistan today looks like what we may increasingly see emerge in countries like Egypt and Tunisia – military and intelligence establishments that, decoupled from civilian control, operate with their own agendas. They are states within states, operating without oversight or accountability. Mr. Friedman is correct that Egyptians and Tunisians will have to develop their own democracies, and this is exactly what the people of Pakistan are doing right now. We should not abandon them as they struggle to uproot the “deep state” and replace it with effective civilian democratic institutions.

Where Friedman is correct is in his recognition of the importance of investment that strengthens civilian governance and institutions. This is exactly what the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill passed in 2009 represents – a change in focus from supporting Pakistan’s military establishment to strengthening civilian institutions. Unfortunately, this aid is not being dispersed quickly enough to meet the nation’s needs.

According to a GAO report released earlier this year, only $179.5 million of $1.51 billion in US civilian aid to Pakistan was actually dispersed in 2010. The US should concentrate on finding ways to get this funding to projects that will make lasting improvements in the lives of Pakistanis and strengthen civilian governance in Pakistan.

Support for emerging democracies should not be played as a zero-sum game in which the latest entrant to the democratic community receives support at the expense of those that came before. Pakistan represents not the autocratic regimes of the past, but the delicate stage in democratic development during which nascent civilian governments attempt to supplant entrenched military and intelligence institutions.

Abandoning new allies as they struggle to secure civilian control will set back democratic progress for generations. Cutting aid to Pakistan would not weaken the nation’s “deep state” and promote democratic reform. More likely, it would be a catalyst for Pakistan to revert to a military state buttressed by a fundamentally anti-democratic ideology. If any outcome is “totally out of proportion…with our interests and out of all sync with our values”, it is this.

President Zardari Asks for Help, Patience in Fighting Extremism

President Obama speaking with President Zardari

In Sunday’s Washington Post, Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari asks for help and patience as his government fights extremists.

We in Pakistan know our challenges and seek the trust and confidence of our international allies, who sometimes lose patience and pile pressure on those of us who are already on the front lines of what is undeniably a long war. Our concern that we avoid steps that inadvertently help the fanatics is misinterpreted abroad as inaction or even cowardice. Instead of understanding the perilous situation in which we find ourselves, some well-meaning critics tend to forget the distinction between courage and foolhardiness. We are fighting terrorists for the soul of Pakistan and have paid a heavy price. Our desire to confront and deal with the menace in a manner that is effective in our context should not become the basis for questioning our commitment or ignoring our sacrifices.

Additionally, the Pakistani president asks that American officials not make counterproductive threats to cut aid and support for civilian development – threats that feed into extremist narratives about American duplicity.

Similarly counterproductive are threats to apply sanctions to Pakistan over the Davis affair by cutting off Kerry-Lugar development funds that were designed to build infrastructure, strengthen education and create jobs. It is a threat, written out of the playbook of America’s enemies, whose only result will be to undermine U.S. strategic interests in South and Central Asia. In an incendiary environment, hot rhetoric and dysfunctional warnings can start fires that will be difficult to extinguish.

Right-wing pundits in Pakistan have been pointing to threats to cut aid as evidence that “Washington is not interested in any long-term relations with Pakistan.” President Zardai insists that the democratic civilian government “will not be intimidated, nor will we retreat.” He points to the fact that Pakistan has “lost more soldiers in the war against terrorism than all of NATO combined” as proof of this resolve.

While the US evaluates the most effective way to support people fighting for democratic reform in the Arab world, we should not forget those who have already won a their freedom. No doubt the community of dictators and would-be tyrants throughout the world are watching Pakistan to see if American resolve in supporting emerging democracies matches its words, or if ours is a fickle relationship with people yearning to be free.

The Pakistani people have made a tremendous sacrifice in the fight against intolerance and extremism. As they fight on the front lines against the forces of terror and militancy, they are asking for our help and patience. We owe them this much not as a client or proxy state, but as a fellow member of the brotherhood of free nations.

Democracy At Greatest Risk in Raymond Davis Affair

Anti-democratic groups protest in PakistanHeadlines 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.

Law, Order, and Democracy in Pakistan

Pakistan police badgeWhere the Pakistani Taliban have won sympathy, it has come largely as a result of the group’s promise to provide some semblance of law and order in areas that lacked what was popularly considered a fair and neutral arbiter of legal disputes. The Taliban’s form of “justice” might be harsh – even medieval – but it may be seen as a better alternative than banditry and corruption. This means that the key to undermining local sympathies with the Taliban may lie in strengthening the local law enforcement infrastructure so that the state is popularly viewed as the legitimate source of local law and order.

Two stories this week emphasize conclusions reached by a new report published by the United States Institute of Peace this week on the importance of reforming Pakistan’s police and law enforcement infrastructure.

The first story relates to a new US government report that suggests  aid to Pakistan is not meeting its goals.

The report, which was released by the Inspectors General for the U.S. State Department, Defense Department and Agency for International Development (USAID), cites a number of reasons why the aid has proved ineffective. It says problems with staffing the programs, a hostile security environment and – in one case – fraud, have led to programs not being implemented.

The second story is this morning’s suicide bombing in Punjab, the latest in a series of attacks on police and security forces.

Militants have recently stepped up attacks across the country’s north western cites, mainly targeting police force, after a period of relative calm. Four police stations were attacked in Peshawar in a week. Bullet-riddled bodies of two tribal police officials and a villager were found on Thursday near Mir Ali town of North Waziristan with a note that they were American spies. The three men were kidnapped in January and their bodies showed signs of torture, officials said.

The Taliban have learned that their most effective approach to power is to undermine the state’s authority by creating chaos and then offering to step in and provide security and some form of neutral justice. As such, they operate as any other extortion racket, but with a goal of gaining a monopoly on police power and therefore superseding the authority of the state.

Meanwhile, the US is pumping billions of dollars in civilian aid into Pakistan, but is not able to achieve desired outcomes in large part due to a lack of law and order that prevents proper and timely delivery of aid resources and project implementation.

Against this backdrop, Dr. Hassan Abbas, Quaid-i-Azam Professer with the South Asia Institute, Columbia University, released his latest report, Reforming Pakistan‘s Police and Law Enforcement Infrastructure in which Dr. Abbas makes two important points related to this context:

1. Police effectiveness is inextricably linked with legitimacy of the state. At present, there is a systematic effort on part of extremist groups to target police & law enforcement because they have learned that most effective way to expand their own networks is to undermine the writ of the state.

2. US aid objectives cannot be achieved so long as law and order is not prioritized. There are serious issues of focus in US aid priorities – namely, a lack of resources and training for local civilian law enforcement.

Dr. Abbas makes very clear that civilian police are not military force multipliers, village defense forces, or lashkars (militias). Pakistan has an effective and capable military which can clear militant groups from an area. What it lacks is a well-organized, well-resourced civilian law enforcement system that can build trust and provide an ongoing sense of order among the local population.

US military aid is necessary, but not sufficient to countering the spread of extremist influence. As Dr. Abbas explained yesterday,

“Foreign donors should avoid framing everything in the context of counterterrorism, as Pakistani public opinion is likely to be more appreciative of international help in this arena if it is focused on enhancing the crime-fighting capacity of police.”

During a discussion on Pakistan’s future last week, Christine Fair pointed to a 2009 poll that showed that, when asked what people meant when they said they supported Sharia, most people answered “good governance.” Later in the program, Shuja Nawaz noted that good governance is key to countering the spread of militancy. The missing piece of the puzzle of good governance in Pakistan is effective and efficient civilian law enforcement.

If significant progress in Pakistan can be achieved by something as simple as increasing the pay of Pakistan’s civilian police, can the US afford not to do so? As the US examines outcomes from US aid investment in Pakistan, it should consider the findings of Dr. Abbas and the need for reforming Pakistan’s police and law enforcement infrastructure.