NPR’s Steve Inskeep has been reporting from the Grand Trunk Road, an ancient road that traverses South Asia. On Friday, he checked in from Islamabad and what he reported about Pakistanis conversations about Faisal Shahzad sheds important light on the road to peace in Pakistan.
What Inskeep heard actually surprised him – how little most Pakistanis were talking about Faisal Shahzad. This is not to say that Pakistanis are not concerned with terrorism – far from it. Since the Times Square incident, editorial boards and columnists in Pakistan’s media have written extensively about the urgent need to eradicate the terror networks in their country.
But religious extremism is not Pakistan’s only problem. Young and middle class Pakistanis – the very people who are must be engaged to effect sustainable change in the country – are beset by a host of problems other than terrorism.
Economic inflation, a lack of foreign investment to provide expanded employment opportunities, and scheduled blackouts due to a lack of energy capacity all provide daily interruptions to young people’s lives.
Still, each of these issues can be traced back to terrorism. Pakistan is besieged by almost daily attacks from groups like Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, the group that is suspected of having provided support to Faisal Shahzad. Over the past two years, more than 3,000 Pakistanis have been murdered by these groups.
Pakistan’s government and military have greatly increased their efforts to fight these terrorists, gaining high praise from US Generals Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus.
McChrystal said fighting terrorism within its own borders was important for Pakistan and the US, and important for partnership between the two states. General David Petraeus, Commander of US Central Command, also said the Pakistani military had gone after the Taliban effectively last year in its northwest territories. “It’s important to give Pakistan credit for what it has done,” he said in his key note address to the 2010 Joint War fighting Conference in Virginia.
But these efforts have left Pakistan’s government with limited resources to address issues not directly related to security. Recognizing this, the US government tripled non-military aid to Pakistan.
“The United States is firmly committed to the future that the Pakistani people deserve — a future that will advance our common security and prosperity,” Obama said. “Just as we will help Pakistan strengthen the capacity that it needs to root out violent extremists, we are also committed to working … to help Pakistan improve the basic services that its people depend upon — schools, roads and hospitals.”
Talking to people in Islamabad, NPR’s Steve Inskeep found that people often wanted him to send a message back to the US – that Pakistanis are by far good, peace loving people who only are struggling against difficult odds.
The road to peace is before us. By supporting the people of Pakistan and their struggle for democracy and justice, we help clear the obstacles on that road that provide cover for militant extremists. When we clear the path towards democracy by providing essential non-military support, we empower the people of Pakistan to better their situation, and we in turn secure our own.