Questions about the fate of Raymond Davis continue to complicate US-Pakistan relations. Today, President Obama called on Pakistan to release the American pursuant to the Vienna Conventions. The Pakistani government continues to call on the question of Davis’s immunity to be decided by Pakistan’s courts. While Tuesday did see some potential progress on the issue, it remains to be seen how the situation will ultimately play out.
Bradley Klapper’s report for The Sydney Morning Herald makes an important observation:
[Raymond Davis’s] detention has become a point of honour for both nations, and a rallying point for anti-American sentiment in Pakistan.
According to Klapper, the US government is considering several options in response to Pakistan’s refusal to return Davis, some of which center on isolating the South Asian nuclear power.
US officials hinted broadly that they may cancel or postpone an invitation to Pakistan’s foreign minister to visit Washington this month.
The Obama administration also is reportedly considering a slowdown in visa processing for Pakistanis seeking to come to the US. That would be hugely unpopular in Pakistan, where grievance already runs high over the perception that the US discriminates or holds back in granting visas to Pakistanis.
The US is also considering suspending or cutting back on military and educational training programs with the Pakistani armed forces and suspending or cutting back on civilian educational, scientific, cultural and local and state government exchanges, one official said.
Cutting aid and attempting to isolate Pakistan would not only be a huge mistake, it would result in a policy failure of immense proportions due to two important realities: Pakistan’s geography and demographics.
Pakistan is on the verge of a demographic explosion.
If current demographic trends continue the country’s population is projected to reach 238 million in 2030 and 335 million in 2050. Of the current population of 172 million, 66 per cent is below 30 years. 39 million are between the ages of 15-24.
Simply put, a nation of 300 million people cannot be contained. Past attempts to influence Pakistan by cutting aid reinforced the narratives of Islamist militants and resulted in nuclear proliferation. The US is going to have to engage Pakistan, and engage them as peers, not as patrons.
Pakistan is also bordered by two nations that would be more than happy to step in and fill any space left by an American withdrawal of engagement: Iran and China. As China passes Japan as the second largest economy in the world, it is also moving to expand its influence in Asia. At the end of 2010, China signed $30 billion in trade deals with Pakistan, and announced plans to build a fifth nuclear reactor in the country.
While less able to provide Pakistan with economic and military assistance than China, Iran poses potential difficulties of its own. Its own isolation at the hands of US policy would create an opportunity for the two nations to overcome sectarian differences to help each other through the construction and control of regional energy infrastructure as well providing leverage for Iran to influence Pakistan to trade in nuclear technology as a means of securing much-needed state revenue.
Thankfully, calls for cutting aid to Pakistan appear to be going unrecognized by the White House. President Barack Obama this week proposed over $3 Billion for Pakistan in the 2012 budget. This investment includes $1.5 billion in funds allocated under Kerry-Lugar-Berman, $350 million in military financing, and $1.1 billion in counterinsurgency funding. It is imperative to building trust between the US and Pakistan that the US to make good on its promises to provide economic, civilian, and military assistance. This funding should not be made conditional on the release of Raymond Davis.
Diplomatic problems require diplomatic solutions – not diplomatic freezes. Sen. John Kerry’s apology to the people of Pakistan was an important first step in overcoming confusion about Raymond Davis’s diplomatic status and American respect for Pakistani lives. Making good on obligations to invest in Pakistan’s national security and economic growth are another important part of the solution.