Congressman Jim McDermott was the keynote speaker at a panel discussion at the United States institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington DC earlier this week. The discussion, “The Quest for India Pakistan normalization: The Road Ahead,” examined key challenges to opportunities for India and Pakistan to work together towards mutual peace and prosperity, and what role – if any – the US can play in facilitating dialogue between the two South Asian powers.
Rep. McDermott served as a Foreign Service medical officer in Congo, and is a founding member of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, which remains one of the largest country caucuses in the House of Representatives. His unique experience in developing countries has informed his views on the critical role of U.S government in helping countries build global coalitions and address global challenges.
During his keynote speech, Congressman McDermott observed that, when attitudes become habitual, it is extremely difficult to change them. This is particularly true in the case of Pakistan and India due to ongoing tensions that have existed since the two countries gained independence in 1947. For this reason, Rep. McDermott noted, dialogue is crucial to improving bilateral relations.
According to Rep. McDermott, the US needs to stop sending mixed signals to Pakistan. The sensitive geo-political environment exacerbates misunderstandings. He noted that the only example a working bilateral treaty between Pakistan and India is the Indus River treaty – one that was drafted without over US intervention. In fact, he said, when his team inquired about the dynamics of the treaty in the past, both Pakistani and Indian officials discouraged the US from becoming involved. This demonstrated, he concluded, that Pakistan and India are capable of working together, and that often overt US intervention can actually be an obstacle to successful dialogue.
Rep. McDermott also mentioned his distaste for the term “AfPak”. According to the Congressman, “AfPak” gives the impression that the US has a narrow counterterrorism focus in the region, ignoring the important development work that is aimed at improving the health, education, and economic opportunities of all Pakistanis.
When discussing cross border tensions, Rep. McDermott gave the example of fishermen being arrested and jailed for accidentally crossing an invisible border in the open water. Fishermen from both sides are often held for years despite the fact the fishermen’s only fault lie in trying to earn a living. This example tied into Rep. McDermott’s second major point, which was that economic cooperation can be a catalyst for cooling political tensions.
Congressman McDermott urged Pakistan’s political leaders and opinion-makers to also focus on economic development and opportunities and expand the middle class – a crucial element of social and political reform. Projects that foster regional economic connectivity, such as the proposed Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline which would transport natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan into Pakistan and then to India, he said, can benefit all nations in the region as well as build a foundation of trust and cooperation that can aid in resolving more difficult issues.
Congressman McDermott concluded his remarks saying that, though the task is enormous, it is not impossible. Where there is political will and neutral third party facilitation, Pakistan–India relations can be transformed from one based in mutual suspicion to one of mutual benefit. While the US can play a facilitating role, however, it should be one that respects the centrality of Pakistan and India in determining their own futures.
The following submission by Kay Naseem presents an alternative perspective to the security-focused conventional wisdom about terrorism in Pakistan, and challenges us to consider the need for investment in the education and economic opportunity as a strategy to combating the lure of militancy for Pakistan’s youth.
Osama bin Laden has been brought to justice! As I feel grateful today for safety of many innocent people, I am still concerned about integrity of the institution he has left behind; scores of madrasas where thousands of little kids are taught wrong meaning of “Jihad.” The word comes from the Arabic word “Juhd” which means “effort.” The process of “Jihad” means exerting ones best effort (physically, intellectually and spiritually) to achieve a particular goal involving struggle or resistance. It does not imply war or violence. A working mom who is struggling to take her sick child to a doctor and puts her best effort to do so has done “Jihad.” A team of Rotarians who travelled across the ocean to rescue people from polio in India have done “Jihad.” A child collecting money for a poor family outside Wal-Mart has done “Jihad.” The true meaning of “Jihad” is not what is being taught to those little children in extremist madrasas. This is predatory, in many ways, as many children have no access to other sources of primary school education due to poverty, illiteracy and inequity.
Can the same tool of education that turns young children into suicide bombers be used to turn them into doctors, teachers, engineers, scientist and most of all peace makers? It is only the difference of what could be taught to them.
I grew up in Pakistan. I went to a school where we said a Bible prayer at assembly every morning. In fourth grade there was a Bible study class and an Islamic study class held simultaneously for students of the respective faith. Through this experience we developed appreciation and respect of each other’s culture and religion and we saw each other as human beings. We all played together on playgrounds and in each other’s homes. It all seemed so normal at that time.
As I reflect on world politics and terrorism, I wonder what the world would be like if every child in Pakistan was receiving the same integrated and privileged education I was receiving. Would things be different? Would there still be a prevalence of explosive devices in form of young children or adults? I want to say no.
That there are currently 70 million children around the world with no access to primary education makes me sad and afraid. I fear that the learning process of tolerance is being missed by all those70 million. If we deprive them the opportunity to learn, reason, and be productive member of the society, I fear we provide Al-Qaida, and other opportunists, a chance to use the desperation of these children to turn them into terrorists.
This is why programs such as the Education for All Act and Education for All- fast Track Initiative (EFA-FTI), a global partnership of donors and developing countries working to ensure equal education for all, are critical. As a RESULTS grassroots activist, I believe EFA-FTI leads my organization’s goal in providing effective aid to promote equity in global education and my vision of recovery of a peaceful world. RESULTS believe that the most effective tool for improving global health and financial well being is through education. Poverty breeds disease and illiteracy. Has illiteracy and poverty contributed to terrorism? Can thousands of kids be saved from falling into the hands of terrorists through access to primary schools? These are some of the questions we need to ask ourselves while contemplating for our moneys sent abroad. Educating kids is certainly cheaper than sending soldiers and it ensures that healthy bodies and minds will be contributing to healthier peaceful societies. And peace abroad brings prospects of peace here at home.
Kay Neseem is a grassroots activist for RESULTS advocacy organization to fight against poverty and disease and enforce equal education internationally and domestically.
Bill Clinton knew it. Hu Jintao certainly knows it. Barack Obama is learning it the hard way. And if we really want to ensure democracy and justice in Pakistan, Congress needs to figure this out, too: It’s the economy, stupid.
Pakistan’s democratic government continues to suffer incredible attacks from militant extremists. Just last week, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi – a terrorist group affiliated with Al Qaeda and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan – attacked a security compound in Karachi killing at least 18 and wounding over 100. And this was only the latest in a wave of deadly attacks that have plagued the city in recent months.
Karachi is financial heart of Pakistan. That may be one reason terrorist militants are so keen to destroy it. Undermining stability in Karachi has a direct impact on foreign investment in Pakistan; undermining the nation’s economy undermines support for the democratic government. It creates a feeling of hopelessness and frustration that militants use to recruit new foot soldiers.
Discussing the nation’s education system, Pakistani analyst Mosharraf Zaidi told PBS Frontline that a lack of economic opportunity can have dire consequences.
“You look at the consequences of these kids not going to school — and let’s set aside the fearmongering and the scare-mongering of saying, you know, ‘What if all these kids become terrorists?’ Setting that aside, the real problem is that, if you aren’t capable of participating in the global economy, you will be very, very poor. And desperate and extreme poverty has some diabolical consequences for societies and for individuals.”
Michael O’Hanlon, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, writes that one of the keys to creating peace and stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan is economic stimulus for the region through trade liberalization.
Struggling economically, Pakistan needs such a shot in the arm, and a trade deal could arguably do even more than aid at this point.
Over the weekend, the US and Pakistan agreed to cooperate on a new $375 million wind farm near Karachi to provide 150 megawatts of power. This is a good start. Projects of this nature go beyond mere aid and create sustainable infrastructure that can reduce Pakistan’s dependence on foreign energy supplies while also providing a much needed boost to employment.
This is a good start, but the US needs to do more if we’re going to continue to have a strong relationship with the South Asian power. Pakistan’s president Zardari is no American puppet, and he has been making successful overtures to Chinese investors keen to profit from Pakistan’s unrealized potential.
The President said that there existed a great potential between Pakistan and China to further expand their bilateral trade and Pakistan was keen to welcome greater Chinese investment in the country.
He said that Pakistan and China have established a Joint Investment Company (JIC) with the help of China Development Bank to assist joint ventures and signed the Free Trade Agreement on goods and services, which were helping integration of Pakistani and Chinese economies.
The President said that the Government has put in place policies directed towards rapid economic growth, employment generation, poverty alleviation and encouragement of the private sector.
And it’s not only the cash-flush Chinese who are looking – the UK is also beginning to see the potential of investment in Pakistan.
[British Deputy High Commissioner] Robert Gibson pointed out that British entrepreneurs working in Pakistan were having continued interest to work and safeguard their businesses and were looking forward to opportunities to further increase their operations by expanding existing projects and explore new avenues for investment.
The US can begin its program of economic investment by liberalizing trade, specifically through granting preferential market status to Pakistani textiles, a policy encouraged in a new report by the Council on Foreign Relations.
“To reinforce US-Pakistan ties and contribute to Pakistan’s economic stability in the aftermath of an overwhelming natural disaster, the Obama administration should prioritize and the Congress should enact agreement that would grant preferential market access to Pakistani textiles,” former deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage and former national security adviser Samuel R. Berger, stress in the report.
This agreement would help revive the Pakistani industry and all of the associated sectors of the economy, including Pakistan-grown cotton, the report adds.
Additionally, Congress should revisit legislation establishing Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZ), a bill first introduced by President Bush and passed by House Democrats in 2009.
Conventional wisdom says that American policy towards Pakistan should involve ‘carrots’ and ‘sticks.’ This thinking is misguided. Targeted aid packages like Kerry-Lugar and flood assistance are necessary, but not sufficient if the goal is to develop a strong and lasting partnership. Pakistan has demonstrated that it will not be a client state, nor should any such outcome be at the heart of American foreign policy. Only by developing economic partnerships that benefit both countries will lasting trust be established. Investment in Pakistan may involve certain risks at this time, but ignoring this opportunity poses greater risks still.
Pakistani foreign minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi spoke at CFR, where he discussed the regional development challenges that Pakistan faces due to the catastrophic floods, the need for constructive dialogue with India and Afghanistan, the strengthening relationship with the United States, as well as the fight against terrorism.