Event Review: US-Pakistani Relations at a Turning Point

Pakistani Flag
I'm a bit behind due to our recent bhangra campout (more on that coming soon!), so I wanted to make last week's talk at the World Affairs Council on US-Pakistani relations a priority.  Kiren Aziz Chaudhry, Associate Professor in the Political Science Department at Cal, had to bow out at the last minute due to a family emergency.  This left Anja Manuel, Principal at the RiceHadley Group, to run the talk on the current state of affairs in Pakistan.  Although her delivery was, not surprisingly, rather pro-US foreign policy, she did a nice job elucidating the current political and economic landscape in Pakistan.  

Manuel was surprisingly upbeat about the possibility for change in US-Pakistani relations.  In her opinion, the killing of Osama bin Laden (previous posts on bin Laden) has created an honest opportunity for dialogue.  The US and Pakistan are now both engaged in a transparent system of carrot-stick diplomacy where US aid is now tied to real Pakistani action (as opposed empty threats and vague promises previously).  From a foreign policy perspective I think she's probably right, but throughout the talk I wondered about a bit more than just diplomacy- what about the actual populace?  Granted, the State Department has a difficult enough job just dealing with the Pakistani government.  The US is trying to work with a country dependent (and defaulting) on IMF loans in which 70% of the country's spending goes to the military.  Two-thirds of Pakistan's population is under the age of thirty and 40 million children are not in school.  Although the US has given a substantial amount of aid to Pakistan, most of it military, very little has changed on the ground.  Meanwhile it's unclear exactly whom the US government should be interacting with- the popularly elected government (previous post on Bhutto and civilian government) or the ISI, which actually runs most of the country and has some cozy ties with terrorist organizations the US doesn't like.

2010 Flooding
But what about actual Pakistanis?  We know the Pakistani military is myopically focused on India and is trying to level the uneven playing field left behind by the British by any means available.  As Manuel pointed out, the majority of the Pakistani people received no outside aid and most survived the massive flooding of 2010, in contrast to Haiti where more aid was received and many more people died.  Perhaps we can grossly generalize and say the Pakistani people are pluckier, or know better not to rely on their own government.  But that many children out of school?  And the growing fundamentalist bent of the younger members of the Pakistani government, raised under the intolerant education system of Zia?  

The current tenor of Pakistani politics and society is a direct result of the massive outpouring of US and Saudi aid in the 80's to support jihadist groups and bolster Afghanistan against the Russians.  In my opinion, it's now in everyone's strategic best interest to help support a stable and well-educated Pakistani populace.  But we as a country would need to put aside our immediate sticks and carrots for a longer-term vision and more humanitarian relationship with Pakistan.  As Manuel pointed out, it's hard for the State Department to do much when its budget is a fraction of the size of the resources our military has access to.  It may truly be easier for us to fight a war in a country than actually aid it.  I think it's time we addressed this problem: put our resources into supporting education, health, and well-being on the ground instead of drone attacks and surgical strikes.  A dollar supporting development goes a lot further than a dollar spent blowing things up, although the immediate results are less obvious.   And a little bit of US aid abroad as opposed to a great deal of military spending would be an excellent idea for our deficit as well.