Afghanistan stands at a crossroads. The reputation of our political leadership is under suspicion. Tens of millions of dollars are said to have been received illegally from intelligence agencies of both friends and foes. People are losing faith in the state and the prospects of democracy. The year 2014 looms large in everyone's mind, as does the Taliban's possible reemergence as a real power.
With the April 2014 presidential elections approaching, people around the world are wondering where exactly Afghanistan is headed. Has the threat of al-Qaeda really been eradicated as President Barack Obama recently announced? Is the war in Afghanistan really over? If so, is it over for Afghans, or just the international community?
Few of the promised counterterrorism and state building efforts have been delivered. In all 34 provinces of Afghanistan there are still acts of war and terrorism being committed - in some places incidents occur daily, in others weekly or monthly. Even our highway system has yet to be secured. No one is free to travel anywhere without at least some fear they will encounter the Taliban. Afghans live in fear of everything from targeted killings to suicide attacks and other forms terrorism. Our sisters and daughters have to live in fear that they will be attacked while doing something as mundane and Islamic as attending school.
Meanwhile, our politics are a mess. Our relationship with the United States and their NATO allies has deteriorated to the point where President Hamid Karzai himself is now referring to Afghanistan as a graveyard of empires, and accusing the United States and its allies of supporting rather than routing the Taliban in order to destabilize Afghanistan.
At the same time, Washington and its friends are leaking controversial details about how exactly they have been propping up President Karzai. Yes, the U.S. is now saying, the CIA is funding in unaccounted-for cash payments Karzai's inner circle.
Aside from the non-existent national security and troubled foreign policy, Afghanistan is also facing the possibility of an economic meltdown. Imagine what will happen to our aid-dependent and U.S.-contract-centric economy when the United States withdraws not just the bulk of its troops but its funds as well.
How is Afghanistan going to transition from an economy that has received hundreds of billions of dollars over the past decade-plus of war? What are the tens of thousands of Afghan companies that have come up as a result of this level of funding going to do then? Not to mention the Afghans who work for the many-times-more international companies, or the 3,000 NGOs that have sprung up during this international campaign that is about to end. If we think today's Afghanistan has an unsustainably high rate of unemployment, what will tomorrow's Afghanistan look like when all this funding ceases?
In a country with thirteen million jobless, most of whom are under twenty-five years old, and a raging insurgency with its own foreign sources of funds, training camps, intelligence and strategic support base, it's hard to imagine a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.
To survive as a nation-state resembling anything like the state we envisioned in Bonn in 2001, we have two main solutions.
First, we need to have a stable transfer of power in the form of the 2014 presidential elections. If our political system is too fragile to deliver even that bare minimum, we have much to fear from the still-raging insurgency. And we cannot have a stable transfer of power if all we do is reinstate President Karzai. Presidents for life are not the beacons of the democracy we envisioned in 2001.
In terms of domestic politics and foreign policy we need very specific programs. We need a government that delivers services. We need to change our traditional culture of a master-slave governance model in which civil servants and government officers rule over our people who they see as slaves.
In our foreign policy, we need to build friendships, not just sustain enemies or provide a battlefield for outside conflicts. The global order is transforming into a multi-polar one, we need to build on our already budding friendship with important regional players in the region such as India and we need to salvage what we can from our relationship with the United States, both of which are becoming our strategic allies.
To address our security dilemmas and challenges, we need a combination of solutions framed as a grand strategy rather than only tactical military or reconciliation ones. With the reconciliation strategy the only one being considered as a means to dealing with the insurgents, the Afghan government and the international community are using a risky black and white model. Instead we need to see reconciliation as a sub-tool in a broader political strategy for the stabilization of Afghanistan. We need to recognize that insurgencies take time and need strategic patience to combat -- every insurgency, from those fought in El Salvador to Central Asia, has taught us that. We need to oppose the Taliban not just militarily but by building public confidence through service delivery and good governance; the strengthening and effective functioning of our security establishment; support to our economic sectors; and the reconciliation and reintegration efforts already begun by NATO's counterinsurgency strategy.
And finally, we need to build our economy. We need to follow models of leadership such as General Park's of South Korea, or South Africa after apartheid. And to begin this process the first thing we need to do is get rid of politicians who see their office as the best job Afghanistan has to offer.
2013 is the year that Afghans will make a decision. Either we put ourselves on the path to a prosperous and ideal Afghanistan or we will be back on the path of war and isolation, a country sourced for strategic threats to international security.
Mohammad Arif Rahmani is a member of Central Audit and Rule of Law Committee of Lower House of Afghanistan's parliament.
When Amb. James Dobbins arrives at the ground-floor offices of the State Department's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan he will find a depleted staff, a moribund peace process and a mandate riddled with colossal diplomatic challenges. Secretary of State John Kerry called today's state of affairs a "pivotal moment" for the two nations. But it is also a critical moment for U.S. involvement in ending the conflict President Barack Obama once called the war "that we have to win" and now wants only to "responsibly" wind down.
Dobbins is a veteran of uphill assignments. He oversaw the return of the American flag over a newly reopened U.S. Embassy in Kabul in 2001. In addition to Afghanistan, he has served in Kosovo, Bosnia, Haiti, and Somalia. Not exactly a list of luxe diplomatic posts.
As Dobbins prepares to assume his post on 23rd St, a series of open questions await his attention. Three of the biggest are below.
1) Troops: Just how many U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014? That question remains unanswered as the United States continues to negotiate an agreement with Afghanistan on the shape of the U.S. military presence post-2014. Gen. James Mattis, who most recently served as the commander of U.S. Central Command, is on the record pushing for more than 13,000 troops. Most numbers out of the Pentagon and the White House come in at less than that. The State Department's Robert Blake noted recently that "we are still in the process of thinking through what our final military presence will be in Afghanistan after the end of the transition at the end of 2014." Exactly when that will be and what shape it will take remains to be seen.
Also an open question: how many Afghan troops will be needed? And how many will be funded? Those two numbers may well end up being different. And the latter should be known sooner rather than later.
2) Peace process: Right now there is not one of substance to speak of. What shape might one take? The window for action is rapidly closing as frustration between Pakistan and Afghanistan remains very much alive, with Afghanistan arguing that Pakistan looks favorably on Afghan instability. Will Afghanistan and Pakistan agree to agree on conditions for talks? And what role will the Americans take? Sec. Kerry met last month in Belgium with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and vowed to "under-promise but deliver" as the sides "continue a very specific dialogue on both the political track as well as the security track." What, if anything, the dialed-down dialog yields will be watched carefully as nearly all sides agree that a diplomatic solution - one in which human rights are not made the price of peace - is the lone shot at a lasting and durable peace.
3) Transition: whither and at what pace will security, political and economic transitions continue? So far, the economic transition has been bolstered by GDP numbers that have been better than expected. As the World Bank noted, "rapid economic growth" has been accompanied by "relatively low inflation." But the government is overwhelmingly dependent on foreign coffers for its funding -- civilian aid alone is "estimated at more than US$6 billion a year, or nearly 40 percent of GDP" - and as those dollars dry up, the questions of stability and security arise immediately. A recent IMF report mentioned by the New York Times notes that tax evasion, corruption and declining growth all mean that the government will find it tough to pay even half of its bills this year. Stories of graft and CIA-filled slush funds do not lead to greater confidence in the Afghan government from either the American public paying for it or the Afghan people who will pay the price of chaos and a political power vacuum.
These are only the most pressing of a rash of questions sure to occupy Amb. Dobbins on Day One. Fortunately for both Sec. Kerry and Amb. Dobbins, the SRAP position does not require Senate confirmation, so they can get down to work quickly - as they must. The U.S. is speeding toward the end of the NATO combat mission, and both diplomats will soon be hard-pressed to find answers.
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.
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Almost twelve years have passed since the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, but peace remains elusive. Four interlocking challenges with internal, regional, transnational, and international dimensions impede Afghanistan's stabilization and reconstruction. Each challenge facing Afghanistan feeds off the others, and together they have engendered a vicious circle that is destabilizing the country.
First, Afghanistan is an underdeveloped country and much of its infrastructure has been destroyed by conflict. Its new state institutions lack the basic capacity and resources to administer their mandates. These structural problems are compounded by the country's expanding population, 70% of which is illiterate and demand jobs that do not exist. Taken together, abject poverty, a lack of basic services, and a demographic explosion significantly contribute to instability in Afghanistan.
Second, it is clear that the Taliban leadership continues to receive protection from the Pakistani military and intelligence establishments. It stands to reason that without an external sanctuary, sustainable funding, weapons supplies, and intelligence support in Pakistan, the Taliban would be unable to reconsolidate its control over Afghanistan. Since 2003, the Taliban and its affiliated networks have gradually expanded their influence in the ungoverned southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan, launching daily terrorist attacks that have injured and killed thousands of innocent civilians.
Third, Afghanistan is vulnerable to transnational security threats, stemming in particular from the narcotics trade and terrorism stand. These security threats feed into and are fed by Afghanistan's internal and regional challenges. Rife poverty and weak governance, for example, are as much responsible for mass drug production in Afghanistan as is the global demand for narcotics; this is not to mention the alliance between the Taliban and drug traffickers, who exploit Afghanistan's vulnerable population to destabilize the country.
Fourth, although the diversity of nations present in Afghanistan demonstrates international goodwill and consensus for supporting the country, each contributing nation has pursued its own aid strategies, effectively bypassing coordination with each other and the Afghan government. Hence, a lack of strategic coordination across international military and civilian efforts to ensure aid effectiveness has so far crippled the Afghan state and left it with no capacity or resources to deliver basic services to its people.
It is important to note, however, that in the face of the aforementioned complex challenges, Afghanistan and its international partners have a number of significant advantages, which must be fully harnessed to regain the momentum necessary to achieve peace in the country.
Foremost among these is Afghanistan's key, untapped asset: its people, who make up one of the youngest, most energetic, and most forward-looking nations in the world. They should be supported in acquiring higher education in technical fields, and their energy and skills must be harnessed to exploit Afghanistan's vast natural resources, worth more than one trillion dollars, to help the country develop a productive economy.
Secondly, Afghanistan's vital location should help it serve as a regional trade and transit hub for easy movement of goods and natural resources to meet the rising energy demands of India and China. Indeed, without this realization and utilization of Afghanistan as the heart of the New Silk Road, achieving regional economic integration will remain impossible. The recent India-China dialogue on how to protect their shared long-term interests in Afghanistan is a welcome development. The more these key regional players, including Russia and Turkey, get constructively involved in Afghanistan through investment in the country's virgin markets, the less space for the region's peace spoilers, whether state or non-state actors, to destabilize the country.
Finally, Afghanistan's friends and allies have gone through the learning curve, and gained invaluable experience in assisting Afghanistan effectively. Together, they have made many mistakes and learned many lessons over the past 12 years, which should be used as a strategic opportunity to avoid more of the same, and to do the right thing henceforth.
In line with the agreed-upon objectives of the 2010 Kabul Conference, which were re-affirmed in the Tokyo Conference last year, Afghanistan's nation-partners should align 80% of their aid with the goals of the country's national priority programs, while channeling at least 50% of their assistance through the Afghan national budget. This is the best way to prevent further waste of taxpayers' financial assistance, which have largely bypassed the targeted beneficiaries.
This means a firm re-commitment to bottom-up and top-down institutional capacity building in the Afghan state so that Afghans increasingly initiate, design, and implement reconstruction projects on their own. Meanwhile, the Afghan national security forces must be equipped with the necessary capabilities -- including capacity for logistics and equipment maintenance as well as adequate ground and air firepower -- to execute independent operations against conventional and unconventional enemies. This way, they will gradually relieve international forces of the duty Afghans consider to be theirs - to defend Afghanistan now and beyond 2014. On the whole, these vital efforts will help ensure the irreversibility of the transition process currently underway.
The Afghan people have placed much hope and trust in the strategic partnership agreements the Afghan government has signed with the United States, India, and other allies to help address the above security challenges confronting Afghanistan. But this long-term and necessary task cannot be accomplished by any one party alone. Every state in the region and beyond has a stake in the stabilization and reconstruction of Afghanistan, knowing that the effects of terrorism and insecurity in one country can easily spill over to affect the rest in a globalized world. Thus, with Afghans leading the way forward, the burden of securing Afghanistan must be shared by the whole international community, both to ensure durable stability in the country and to maintain global peace and security.
M. Ashraf Haidari is the deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in India. He formerly served as Afghanistan's deputy assistant national security adviser, as well as deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in the United States.
Pakistan's security and economic woes are frequently discussed in policy circles in Washington, D.C. and Islamabad. Little attention, however, is given to the country's youth population which, at a staggering 50 million, comprises more than 25 percent of Pakistan's population (in the United States, youth account for only 13 percent).
When practitioners and pundits speak about Pakistani youth -- defined by the Ministry of Youth Affairs as the population within the age bracket of 15-29 years -- they often depict the demographic as a potential security threat or as a misguided group that is unable to move the country forward.
For instance, when talking about Pakistan's youth population to a global news agency, the United Nations Population Fund Country Representative warned that "If young people do not find their expectations met, their energies may be directed towards undesirable activities, like radicalization." This is a view held by most development practitioners and analysts. However, the declaration of the "International Year of Youth" in 2010-2011, and the October 2012 release of the U.S Agency for International Development's first Policy on Youth in Development reveal a growing international consensus on the importance of youth integration in development initiatives. As a result, the time to pivot the conversation from Pakistani youth as a security threat to them as viable partners is now.
To help prepare the youth in Pakistan to be better leaders, there must be a concentrated effort to create channels that go beyond simply providing a platform to voice concerns. Programs must enable youth leaders to shape and contribute to national development efforts. The United States AmeriCorps program, which offers youth of all backgrounds to serve communities through partnerships with local and national nonprofit groups, is one such example.
If analysts and practitioners continue to adhere to the ongoing negative narrative about youth, which assumes that young Pakistanis are prone to violence, radicalization, or simply disinterest, they block youth's access to positions in political parties, government institutions, and private and public decision-making bodies that build their capacity to effectively lead national development efforts.
This is unfortunate given that close to half of Pakistan's voters are considered youth by Pakistan's government standards. Local youth feel disengaged with the national and provincial policymaking process, as revealed by a recent roundtable on youth participation organized by the Jinnah Institute, an Islamabad-based think tank. The roundtable further noted that when youth--particularly those from rural constituencies--do vote, it is largely along the lines of traditional allegiances and biradari (tribal) affiliations. This is a reality check for pundits who feel that youth as a demographic entity in and of itself will affect change. It will take well-defined policy measures and serious resource allocation to transform the country's youth into a demographic dividend.
One obvious step is greater investment in education and job training for Pakistan's youth. The World Bank's 2007 World Development Report suggested that developing countries which invest in better education, healthcare, and job training for their young people are better equipped to take advantage of their demographic dividend to accelerate economic growth. This is corroborated by a recent report by the Population Reference Bureau, a data-focused international non-profit organization, which states that large numbers of young people can represent great economic potential, but only if families and governments invest in their health and education, and provide them with economic opportunities.
Macro-economic benefits aside, investment in education and job training provide both urban and rural youth with greater options, such as moving to another town, finding alternate and better sources of livelihood, and setting their own values and priorities, which will ultimately influence voting patterns.
A recent United States Institute of Peace paper, "Prospects of Youth Radicalization in Pakistan" highlighted how growing inequality in Pakistan has manifested itself in the high level of underemployment among youth from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Although the labor market has expanded, its growth is not commensurate with the size of the youth cohort. Therefore, a majority of non-elite young graduates can only find relatively blue-collar jobs. Graduates from a vast majority of Pakistan's public sector institutions are simply not considered competitive by Pakistan's private sector firms that seek English-speaking individuals with diverse exposure, a broad knowledge base, and robust analytical ability.
Sobia Nusrat, Manager of Academics and Admission at the Institute for Career and Personal Development, a new organization that specifically aims to equip middle-class university graduates with the skills needed to succeed professionally, states that one of the major challenges faced by the students she and her team work with is their inability to communicate in English, both written and verbal. "Their thinking and problem solving skills are quite weak due to Pakistan's academic institutions' focus on rote learning." She adds that in order to help address this challenge, in addition to greater investment in education and job training, "There is need for more collaboration between the industry and education providers in terms of not only increasing the skills of youth but also linking them to Pakistan's economic needs."
Some government agencies are making an effort to address this issue. The Punjab Government-through its Youth Affairs, Sports, Tourism and Archaeology Department-announced the establishment of the Job Bank-Online under its first-ever youth policy. The portal aims to conduct job market surveys, build a database to inform Punjab's youth about potential openings, and guide educational and vocational training institutes regarding industry trends. Under the new policy, the Department also announced the establishment of the Youth Venture Capital Fund, which will support new business ideas and entrepreneurship amongst young men and women.
Local-level initiatives like this are a welcome approach to a complex, widespread issue. That said, close monitoring and evaluation must be done to measure the Punjab Government's progress in meeting its goals. If effective, there is potential for scaling and replication elsewhere in Pakistan.
And while providing Pakistani youth with meaningful livelihood opportunities is important to national economic growth, parallel efforts must be pursued to develop their soft skills and competencies such as effective communication skills, teamwork, problem solving, and critical thinking, all which will make them more workplace ready and equip them to lead Pakistan's local and national institutions in the future.
Young Pakistani leaders have already launched a large number of promising local programs that work to create social and political awareness among youth, and encourage youth participation in development efforts. That said, many of these organizations are centered around a vague notion of ‘change' and general disillusionment with Pakistani politics, and are largely disconnected from Pakistan's mainstream political parties and government bodies. While the passions of dedicated citizens instill hope in the future of Pakistan, the isolation from policymaking and disconnect from implementing institutions impede their ability to expand and scale. They also hinder the youth leaders' abilities to sustainably build capacity later as policy professionals working within Pakistan's institutional system.
To that end, efforts such as the Youth Parliament Pakistan-established by the local non-profit Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency to educate and train youth in the norms of politics and democracy in the country-are critical and deserve national government and international donor support. Haider A. H. Mullick, a former adjunct fellow at Spearhead Pakistan, a non-partisan think tank, has put forth a few thoughtful recommendations including expanding the voting rights of political parties' youth-wing members and introducing leadership and civic education courses on campuses.
With Pakistan's general election taking place this May, the time for the country's civil society organizations and political parties to begin constructively engaging youth in the campaigning and election process is now. One hopes that the Pakistani youth's professional and civic growth will not be held hostage by the adult populace's failure to recognize their value and role in Pakistan's development.
Maryam Jillani is a youth development specialist at an international non-profit organization in Washington D.C. She received her MPA from Cornell University, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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On March 19, Pakistan's government gave a briefing to the country's top military officials.
The topic of this high-level meeting was not the Taliban's takeover of the Tirah Valley, fresh tensions with Afghanistan, or other urgent national security matters. Rather, the briefing-delivered by the commerce secretary to the army, air force, and navy chiefs-was about tightening trade ties with India.
This issue has been a priority for Pakistan's civilian and military leadership alike since November 2011, when Pakistan announced its intention to extend Most-Favored Nation status to India (New Delhi granted this privilege to Islamabad in 1996). The decision was rooted in the realization that the potential benefits of a formal trade relationship with India-lower prices and variety for consumers; bigger export markets for producers; more employment for the masses; and greater revenues (currently lost to smuggling and other informal trade) for the government-were too immense to pass up.
Since then, both countries have continued to give strong indications that they intend to make their trade relationship a close and formal one. Last year, Pakistan abolished its positive list of goods that could be imported from India, and replaced it with a shorter negative list of items that couldn't be imported. The two capitals also launched a new integrated checkpoint at the Attari-Wagah border crossing (which serves the only land route for Pakistan-India trade), and concluded a landmark visa agreement that loosens travel restrictions.
This year, even after political relations took a plunge following a series of deadly exchanges along the Line of Control in January, the desire for trade cooperation remains strong. In recent weeks, each nation's ambassador to Washington has publicly affirmed-one at Harvard, the other at CSIS-the imperative of a strong trade relationship. Just days ago, Islamabad's envoy to New Delhi assured an audience of Indian and Pakistani businessmen that "we want trade normalization and there is a roadmap for that."
However, despite these encouraging signs, trade normalization remains a work in progress. Pakistan had pledged to phase out its negative list by the end of last year-thereby bringing the two countries closer to a fully operational MFN regime-yet today it remains in place.
So why the holdup?
One commonly cited explanation is the resistance of Pakistan's powerful agricultural interests, who fear the consequences of heavily subsidized, cheap food products coursing into Pakistan-particularly those, such as bananas and oranges, which Pakistani farmers already produce in abundance. Predictably, last November, the president of the Basmati Growers Association warned that his members faced "economic suicide." And the head of Farmers Associates Pakistan (a lobby group) threatened to literally block Indian agricultural products from entering Pakistan.
However, a new Wilson Center report on Pakistan-India trade, edited by Robert M. Hathaway and myself, presents a more complex picture. Some food producers actually relish the prospect of acquiring foodstuffs from India, because they believe such products will be of higher-quality then their own, and hence generate greater profits. Another surprising source of support is the textile industry, which believes it can capture major shares of the Indian market. Pakistani home textile and bed ware manufacturers have already explored joint venture options with Indian partners.
There is, however, strident opposition from other sectors. The pharmaceutical industry fears that India's surfeit of raw materials and large economies of scale will marginalize Pakistani products, while the chemical/synthetic fibers sector worries that India will dump its large fiber surplus in Pakistani markets. Our report also highlights opposition within the automobile industry. Manufacturers are anxious that Indian car parts will flood Pakistani markets and devastate local industry, and fear that Pakistani parts exports will suffer because Indian car makers prefer domestically manufactured parts. Islamabad has given in to the car industry's protectionist proclivities; the sector has nearly 400 items on the 1,209-item negative list-far more than any other sector.
Another likely reason for the MFN delay is politics. Security and territorial disputes have a historic habit of contaminating Pakistan-India trade relations at the most inopportune of times. In 1965, the two countries went to war over Kashmir, bringing an abrupt end to a promising period of commercial ties (in the preceding 18 years, the two nations had concluded 14 trade facilitation agreements). Banks in both countries were seized as enemy properties, and customs officials at the Wagah border crossing were the war's first civilian prisoners of war.
Nearly 50 years later, a more subtle dynamic is at play. Last June, an Indian government official lamented that momentum for trade normalization had slowed because Islamabad was linking trade to progress on the territorial issues of Siachen and Sir Creek. It's a lament that highlights a major obstacle to Pakistan-India trade normalization-because it exposes a major disconnect in each country's motivations for pursuing normalization.
Back in April 2012, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar proclaimed that trade normalization would "put in place the conditions that will enable Pakistan to better pursue its principled positions" on territorial issues. Some observers, however, believe that New Delhi sees stronger commercial relations as an end in themselves. India-at least up to now-has demonstrated no interest in making the territorial concessions that Pakistan hopes closer trade ties will bring about. Islamabad likely understands this disconnect, and is hesitant to consummate MFN because it fears that the Pakistani public would, in time, perceive the move as a sacrificing of political and territorial issues for purely material gain.
Our report, drawing on the views of its eight contributors, offers 15 recommendations aimed at addressing these challenges to normalization. Several suggest how to get Pakistanis to embrace trade as a good thing in of itself. For example, Pakistan's media-a powerful influence on public opinion-should amplify the advantages of bilateral trade by spotlighting the positive sentiments of consumers and producers. Other recommendations focus on how to keep political/territorial issues from sabotaging trade ties. Both sides should remain committed to the Composite Dialogue-a formal process of ongoing bilateral talks that began in 2004 and encompass a wide range of topics, including territorial issues. Additionally, trade should be divorced from developments within the security realm. This means that New Delhi should not impose punitive trade measures or close its borders if Pakistan-based terrorists attack India.
The report also underscores the imperative of acting quickly to cement trade normalization-because global economic developments make doing so a virtual necessity. Rich-country trading partners of India and Pakistan are facing economic slowdowns, and Europe's financial crisis is contributing to diminished exports. Now is therefore the ideal time for India and Pakistan to more robustly tap into each other's markets. To that end, our recommendations call for the implementation of trade-facilitation measures that accelerate the path to normalization.
These include loosening transit restrictions (India and Pakistan restrict each other's ability to use the other's territory to reach third countries); enhancing trade route efficiency (this can be done by improving the quality of roads and railways, and by removing restrictions on the type and size of trucks and train cars); and establishing new private oversight institutions-including a dispute resolution mechanism-to guide the bilateral economic relationship. The emphasis here should be tackling non-tariff barriers (from long waiting times at border crossings to rejections of bank-issued letters of credit) that make many exporters-especially Pakistani-reluctant to pursue cross-border trade.
In recent days, Islamabad has refused to provide a timeframe for completing trade normalization, other than some vague assurances that the negative list will be phased out after this spring's elections. According to Pakistani insiders, such statements are genuine. All political parties in Pakistan fully endorse trade normalization, argue these observers, and whatever the composition of the next government, it will be determined to move forward.
For the sake of regional peace, let's hope so. A new National Intelligence Council study contends that trade may be the only way to keep South Asia peaceful over the next 20 years-because it's the most realistic strategy to dramatically boost employment in Pakistan, and thereby to reduce the prospects for youth radicalization and a new generation of militants who terrorize both Pakistan and India.
So while trade normalization has great potential payoffs for India and Pakistan, it also matters immensely for the rest of us. In the words of one of our report's contributors, "the entire world has a stake in peace in South Asia."
Michael Kugelman is the senior program associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @michaelkugelman
The series of trade facilitating measures enacted by India and Pakistan starting in November 2011 were undoubtedly the first steps toward creating new trading opportunities that could lead to a quantum leap in bilateral trade between the two countries. Trade potential between India and Pakistan is estimated to be $19.8 billion (U.S.), which is 10 times larger than the current $1.97 billion in trade. Of this, India's export potential accounts for $16 billion and its import potential accounts for $3.8 billion. The potential in India's mineral fuels is another $10.7 billion, of which export potential accounts for $9.4 billion and import potential $1.3 billion.
The items with the largest export potential include cellular phones, cotton, vehicle components, polypropylene, xylene, tea, textured yarn, synthetic fiber, and polyethylene. The items with largest import potential include jewelry, medical instruments and appliances, cotton, tubes and pipes of iron and steel, polyethylene terephthalate, copper waste and scrap, structures and parts of structures, terephthalic acid and its salts, medicines, and sports equipment.
In a major move towards normalizing trade relations, Pakistan's transition from a positive list to a negative list in March 2012 (except for road-based trade, for which Pakistan continues to maintain a positive list of only 137 items) was perhaps the most significant step toward unleashing bilateral trade potential. Under the positive list approach, Pakistan imported from India a specified list of items. The negative list specifies the banned list rather than the permitted list of imports, allowing a much greater flow of goods from India.
India and Pakistan also maintain sensitive lists as members of the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement. While negative lists specify items that are completely banned from trade, sensitive lists consist of items on which trade is permitted but tariff concessions are not allowed. As in any trade liberalization process, there will be both winners and losers. The negative and sensitive lists indicate sectors in which countries want to protect domestic industry from each other's imports.
A substantial proportion of India's export potential to Pakistan - 58 percent - is in products that are on Pakistan's negative or sensitive lists, applicable to India under the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA). Similarly, 32 percent of India's import potential from Pakistan is in items on the sensitive list for Pakistan applicable under SAFTA. Further, Pakistan's negative list indicates that the automobile and component industry is the largest sector that enjoys protection from Indian imports.
On the other hand, agricultural items, for which resistance to liberalization is building up in Pakistan, are unlikely to have any impact as this sector has already been liberalized. Pakistan's sensitive list indicates that textiles account for 24 percent of the items on the list, but this sector accounts for only 3 percent of India's export potential of items on Pakistan's list. India's sensitive list indicates that the textiles sector is protected the most-a sector in which Pakistan enjoys a comparative advantage. Most of the items on the sensitive list are fabrics, which if allowed at preferential (lower) tariffs into India will compete with large firms (rather than small firms) in India that produce comparable quality. Even though these firms are likely to oppose liberalization, there is no rationale to protect large firms.
India's sensitive list under SAFTA applicable to Pakistan indicates that the textiles sector is protected the most (accounting for 22 percent of India's import potential) - a sector in which Pakistan enjoys a comparative advantage. It can be inferred that while Pakistan considers its automobile sector as the most vulnerable, India fears competition in the textile sector.
To realize the untapped trade potential between the two countries, several physical and regulatory impediments need to be addressed. Expansion of physical infrastructure at the land borders, amendment of transport protocols to allow seamless transportation without the requirement of transshipment of cargo (the transfer of goods from one country's truck to the other country's truck at the land borders because Indian and Pakistani trucks cannot operate in each other's territory),and dismantling of the road-based positive list are measures that could bring about a substantial reduction in the transaction costs of trading between the two countries.
Non-tariff barriers have been a key issue for Pakistani business people trying to access the Indian market. While there are genuine non-tariff barriers related to the complexity of regulatory procedures, non-transparent regulations, port restrictions, and problems related to recognition of standards and valuation of goods, these are not discriminatory and are being addressed in India's ongoing reform process. It is more difficult to address "perceived" barriers that business people face in entering each other's markets. Business people fear entering these markets as they are not sure their goods will be welcomed. This is more so in the consumer goods market segment. However, there is evidence that some businesses have made a bold entry with their country labels and have not met much resistance. Exhibitions and fairs are an effective way of dealing with these perceived barriers.
For deeper and stronger trade linkages it is important that there are foreign investment flows between the two countries. Businessmen from both countries are reluctant to invest as they fear the consequences of a possible political event. If a bilateral investment treaty is put in place it could improve business confidence. In the meantime, businessmen in both countries have suggested allowing joint ownership of manufacturing facilities located in the respective countries. Thus, investors can enter into joint ventures without physically locating in each other's territory. This could be the first step for entry until legal systems can be altered to safeguard investments, and there is an improvement in investors' confidence.
A key determinant of realization of trade potential is the liberalization of visas. The revised visa regime expected to become operational soon provides only an incremental improvement over the existing system as it introduces measures to ease travel of tourists, pilgrims, elderly and children. The business visa is also more liberal for certain categories. As security is a key concern, information technology-driven systems should be made to screen visa applications and physical movement of people.
India and Pakistan need to engage with each other to understand each other's regulatory regimes. As new businessmen enter the economy it is important to have forums that would bring buyers and sellers together. The business communities must create multilevel channels of communication that can reduce misconceptions, bridge the information gap, and generate a significant change in the business environment of the two countries. This could help in realizing the untapped trade potential between the two countries.
Nisha Taneja is a professor at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations in New Delhi.
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The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) coalition government is the first in Pakistani history to complete a full term, making PPP well-deserving of the credit many are giving it. PPP receives high marks for its improvements to the constitution, specifically in returning powers to the Prime Minister that were unduly given to the president during Pervez Musharraf's military rule, and devolving powers to the provinces.
But the accolades do not match up with the sentiments of voters. Several pre-election polls indicate that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) will be the clear winner in Pakistan's upcoming general election. The PPP has been hurt by strong anti-incumbency sentiment among the electorate. Apparently, voters do not care that the PPP just made history.
The PPP's record on a host of issues fails to live up to the ambitious framework it laid out in its 2008 party manifesto, a pre-elections document outlining the party's principles and positions on policy priorities. Here we look at successes and failures in two areas - the economy and defense - that have garnered a great deal of attention since the beginning of PPP's term.
Ask anyone in Pakistan and they will tell you that the PPP did not deliver on its economic promises. However, some basic comparisons of the economy since 2008 show more mixed results.
The PPP did follow through on its promise to lower inflation. In November 2008, just two months after President Asif Ali Zardari's inauguration, inflation rose to a thirty-year high of 25%. At the end of 2012, inflation dropped to 6.9%, the lowest in four years. This doesn't mean that Pakistanis can expect price stability for the foreseeable future. The International Monetary Fund warned that inflation could return to double digits in the 2012-2013 fiscal year because of continued government borrowing from the State Bank. This especially bad habit of the PPP government has had multiple adverse economic consequences; as a result, PPP majorly failed in its promise to ensure sound macro-economic policies.
The PPP has followed through on aspects of its promise to bring progress to the doorstep of the workers, farmers and small businesses. Supported partially by the assistance of multilateral and bilateral donors, the government launched the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP). This initiative distributed more than $1 billion in cash transfers to 3.5 million families in poverty. BISP, combined with higher commodity prices and cash from bumper crops, contributed to the economic boom over the past several years in Pakistan's rural areas, where spending on both consumer products is higher than ever before. However, comparisons of household income during the first three years of the PPP's term show a more uneven growth for the rural poor, with incomes of urban households rising by 1.1% annually while those in rural areas declined by 0.8%.
The 2008 manifesto promised to ensure that energy shortages are eliminated. Under the PPP's watch, Pakistanis experienced some of the worst energy shortages in the country's history. Protests over power cuts turned violent. Senior government officials refuse to pay their personal electricity bills, a practice some government agencies also seem to engage in. The PPP attempted to initiate large-scale initiatives, such as the recently launched Iran-Pakistan oil pipeline and Daimer-Basha dam project, but to no avail. These projects require major capital investments and will take a long time to show results; their inauguration was viewed as more political stunt than genuine attempt to eliminate energy shortages. Other efforts to eliminate energy subsidies and increase fuel prices faced challenges in parliament by both opposition and coalition members.
The PPP promised to rid Pakistan of violence, bigotry and terror and to ensure a strong defense. But under its watch, persecution of minorities has gone up. In the past year, Pakistan witnessed an unprecedented number of Shia killings all over the country: in Baluchistan, Karachi, Lahore, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The debate over amending the blasphemy law unraveled, leading to numerous instances of violence against Christians who allegedly engaged in blasphemous behavior. Even Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Sherry Rehman, has been accused of blasphemy.
The PPP's other security problem is the domestic insurgency in northwestern Pakistan, with multiple attempts to negotiate with or pressure the Pakistani Taliban falling flat. In spirit, the PPP does not support persecution of minorities, nor does it have a history of being ideologically soft on militants (in comparison to other political parties). But its unwillingness and inability to challenge the nation's big security demons shows its limitations in a political environment dominated by competing interests. The military's links to sectarian groups in Punjab are well known; it has used them as proxies in its conflict with India. Civilian leaders have been hard pressed to truly challenge such groups, fearing possible backlash from the security establishment.
The PPP should be given partial credit for beginning to normalize security ties with the United States. Regardless of what side you sit on, the cloak and dagger relationship built by former presidents George W. Bush and Pervez Musharraf was politically unsustainable in both Washington and Islamabad. It was only a matter of time before other stakeholders in the relationship angled to get involved. In Pakistan, this was most visible in July 2012 when a parliamentary committee demanded that it review the state of U.S.-Pakistan relations before ending a NATO routes closure that had been triggered by a deadly cross-border NATO attack that killed more than twenty Pakistani soldiers. There was nothing legally binding about the parliamentary review, but the simple act of civilian officials debating sensitive security policy is meaningful on a symbolic level. On Afghanistan policy, the more visible role of Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and Afghan Foreign Secretary Jalil Jilani, especially in conversations with the United States, was also indicative of stronger civilian engagement, if not ownership, on security matters.
But the PPP's strengths on security, few as they were, did almost nothing to win gains against the Pakistani Taliban and its friends, who continue to target the government and its citizens. The ambitions, motivations, and power of these groups are clearly in flux and in many ways getting stronger. No amount of enhanced civilian engagement alone can alter their flight path. Furthermore, any government would have to make similar trade-offs when determining which national security policies to pursue and which ones it knows it cannot influence.
It is exactly this "trade-offs" focused approach, in both security and economic matters, that has limited PPP's implementation of its objectives that it laid out so ambitiously in 2008, meaning its chances of electoral victory are getting smaller by the day.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is a South Asia analyst at the Eurasia Group and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. She served as director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the White House National Security Council from 2010-2011.
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Sharing an elevator the other day, a colleague suddenly turned to me and asked: "So, just how much longer does Pakistan have?" My interlocutor is not the first person to pose that question, but coming from a savvy veteran of the international arena, his out-of-the-blue query was jolting.
Pakistan, after all, is not Laos or Sierra Leone. It is a real country, too large and too centrally located to be casually written off. It will soon have the fifth-largest population in the world, with 40 million more people than Russia. It already has the seventh-largest army in the world, and is closing in on the United Kingdom to become the fifth-largest nuclear power.
Yet Pakistan gives the appearance of a state not merely in decline, but in terminal decline. Its institutions are broken, its economy lagging, its government finances slipshod, its social indicators deplorable. Corruption is rampant, while tax evasion is the national sport; a Pakistani investigative reporter last fall discovered that two-thirds of federal lawmakers paid no taxes in 2011, nor had the president. Journalists are regularly detained or murdered because their reporting has come too close to truths those in power prefer to obscure-the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom index has found that for the second consecutive year, Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Assassination is also an ever-present danger for politicians who espouse progressive views or challenge the authority of extremists. Political and civic leadership is absent, while sectarian violence against Shi'as and other minorities is all too present - witness, for instance, the anti-Christian rampage in Lahore earlier this month.
To be sure, Pakistan has faced even graver crises in the past, most notably when the country split apart in 1971 and the eastern half of the state broke away to form the separate country of Bangladesh. But the systemic decay one sees in Pakistan today surpasses even the breakdown that preceded the 1971 crisis.
Pakistanis-many of whom will hate this article-will correctly point out that the Pakistani people are extraordinarily resilient. (They will also, quite properly, retort that an American should be the last person to be lecturing them on political gridlock or fiscal probity.) Indeed, that quality of sheer plodding resilience is inescapable to anyone with more than the barest familiarity with Pakistan.
Resilience, however, is not rejuvenation, and it is far more difficult to find convincing evidence that Pakistan is capable of genuine rejuvenation.
Not all is lost; Pakistan's present ills need not be terminal. History offers examples of floundering states that have turned their fortunes around. Not many years ago, informed observers described Colombia, which was riven by narcotics mafias, multiple guerrilla forces, paramilitary groups, and surging numbers of displaced people, as a failed state in waiting. Yet in the last 15 years, Colombia has witnessed a profound transformation: the security situation has vastly improved, the economy is growing smartly, and the army and police are professional and operate within the bounds of the law.
Indonesia offers the example of a Muslim-majority country that has dramatically revitalized itself in recent years (although Indonesia was never as seriously troubled as Pakistan is today). Other countries-Germany, Japan, or somewhat earlier, the Ottoman forerunner to today's Turkey-have parlayed the catastrophe of military defeat to reverse their fortunes and build a successful polity.
What (besides the sting of defeat) did these countries have that today's Pakistan does not? Surely Pakistan does not lack for talented, entrepreneurial individuals, idealistic youth, or a core constituency for creating a modern, rules-based state. And in recent years it has developed a feisty media and a judiciary willing to challenge traditional power brokers.
But Pakistan has failed abysmally in cultivating leadership, vision, and a national commitment to turn around the fortunes of an ailing state. Equally bad, the people of Pakistan have for too long tolerated shoddy governance, venal politicians, failing institutions, and second-best performance. The equanimity with which Pakistanis accept bad governance and reward those culpable with new terms of office remains astonishing. One current minister, for instance, the official whose portfolio includes law and order, is credibly reported to have blamed Karachi's abominable history of sectarian murders on angry wives and girlfriends. Rather than incensed indignation, his eccentricities have inspired little more than amused tolerance.
How to explain this collective shrug of indifference, this fatalistic acceptance of conditions and behaviors that ought to be unacceptable? That is a complicated question that defies easy answer. Part of the explanation might lie in a feeling of powerlessness that reflects the daily experience of most Pakistanis, who see themselves as having little control over the decisions and processes that shape their day-to-day lives. Hence the widespread belief in Pakistan in the ‘hidden hand,' in conspirators hiding in the shadows.
Can Pakistan continue to muddle through? Will Pakistan exist more or less in its current manifestation ten years from now? In all probability, yes.
But is muddling through good enough? Decay is a cumulative process and not easily reversed. Equally to the point, today's Pakistan displays few signs that any of its current power centers are serious about trying to reverse the country's rot. There are exceptions, to be sure. But that's precisely the problem: they are exceptions.
So what does all this mean for Pakistan's friends and well-wishers? In fact, one need not even be a friend of Pakistan to hope that it succeeds; the consequences of a wholesale Pakistani collapse-terrorism, poverty, loose nukes, refugees, deteriorating human rights, especially for women and girls, heightened tensions with its neighbors-are too fearful to wish on even an adversary. Think of a nuclear-armed Lebanon, where violent extremists wield more power than the formal government.
Yet the sad reality is that outsiders can do precious little to staunch Pakistan's slide to disfunctionality unless Pakistanis decide to seize control of their own destiny. The United States-and the rest of the international community-can be only bit players in this drama. America's influence in Pakistan, for reasons good and bad, is vastly exaggerated. As Pakistan confronts its challenges, foreigners can make a difference only at the margins.
Ultimately, Pakistanis must do this themselves. They must demonstrate an unaccustomed willingness to face hard realities, to make difficult choices, to accept short-term pain in the hope of laying the groundwork for longer term success. In other words, they must do all those things that we Americans find it impossible to do.
This is a troubling conclusion, if for no reason beyond the fact that most people find it easier to tolerate the status quo, no matter how unsatisfactory, than to jump off a cliff into an unknowable future. Until that moment when a fed-up Gdansk electrician runs out of patience, a charismatic ayatollah unexpectedly emerges to rally his fellow aggrieved, a spontaneous protest takes on a life of its own. At which point anything can happen, and not only in ways that are constructive or beneficial.
That's a risky strategy for reform in Pakistan, if it's a strategy at all. Perhaps more prudently, Pakistanis (and Americans) should start by demanding accountability from their political leaders-and be prepared to fire those leaders when they fail to deliver. Pakistanis must no longer be content with observing some of the forms of democracy-periodic elections, multiple political parties, a parliament. Instead, they must demand the realities of good governance-honesty, transparency, and accountability. Until that time, outsiders can do little more than stand by as horrified spectators, watching a train wreck in slow motion.
Robert M. Hathaway is director of the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
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Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik always seems to be in the news for his outrageous statements, ranging from terrorists dressed like Star Wars' characters to attributing sectarian violence to men trying to get rid of wives and girlfriends. Another headline was added to the mix on Monday - Pakistan daily Dawn reported that Malik had not paid his electricity bills for more than 56 months, or a little less than five years.
In a country where parliamentarians are notorious for not paying taxes and Rehman Malik's popularity is almost non-existent, this news will hardly raise any eyebrows.
Except for the harsh reality: Pakistan is facing a crippling energy crisis that will not be resolved overnight and is hardly helped by news of Malik's non-payments.
As summer approaches and the mercury creeps up, demand for electricity will skyrocket. Consumers will run fans and air-conditioners (provided they have electricity) for longer durations in the summer, and Pakistan's electricity output is nowhere close to meeting these needs. There appears to be no imminent solution to the nightmare that is Pakistan's energy sector.
Pakistan's energy crisis has caused it to lose up to two percent of its GDP since at least 2010. While organizations such as the Asian Development Bank and USAID have helped (USAID says it has spent $156.5 million since 2009 on assistance projects in the energy sector), funding projects aimed at adding megawatts to the grid, improving line losses, and initiating small-scale dam projects, assistance alone is not a long-term solution.
And then there is the circular debt issue. Essentially, the Pakistani government provides electricity subsidies to users, but is unable to pay off the subsidies' cost difference to electricity providers, who, in turn, are running low on the cash reserves necessary to pay Independent Power Producers (IPPs) and fuel suppliers. The government pays a certain portion of this debt owed by state-owned power companies to private power producers and Pakistan State Oil, but it is still not enough to cover the losses. The debt has now crossed the Rs.800 billion mark. Gas and power shutoffs, from both scheduled and unscheduled loadshedding, continue on a daily basis, and the government's failure to implement financial reforms has the IMF issuing tense reports on the country's economic situation. A recent audit report of a USAID project for the Jamshoro Thermal Power Plant's repair states that the project will be unsustainable if the Government of Pakistan does not implement reforms.
The problems that Pakistan faces seem insurmountable: many consumers, like the country's interior minister, local and provincial government offices, intelligence agencies -- the list goes on -- don't pay electricity bills. Others resort to illegal connections to steal electricity, causing a massive loss to power companies. And according to a report in the Express Tribune in December 2012, the current government has "doled out PKR 1.4 trillion in power subsidies" over its five-year tenure, an issue multilateral development organizations like the Asian Development Bank have critiqued in the past.
Pakistan has tried to take measures to resolve the crisis, but most of these efforts have come to nought. The much-touted Rental Power Plants scheme advocated by then-Federal Minister for Water and Power and now-Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf were mired in corruption. Construction of small-scale hydropower projects is underway, but these are not going to make Pakistan electricity-sufficient. Pakistan is now going forward with a gas pipeline deal with Iran to meet its energy needs, but that has come under fire from the U.S., raising fears that Pakistan may be hit with sanctions if it goes ahead.
In 2012, Pakistan's electricity shortfall shot up to over 8000 MW, resulting in crippling electricity blackouts of 12-16 hours. Industries have suffered tremendously as the crisis has worsened, and consumers have staged protests throughout the country, demanding action from the government. This month, Pakistan State Oil was slapped with a fine for defaulting on its payments to international suppliers. And on Feb. 24 this year, there was a nationwide power breakdown -- a 180 million people or so were affected.
With general elections in Pakistan just a couple of months away, there doesn't appear to be the appetite or the political will for reforms in the country. And as it is, it is too late to implement reforms, since a caretaker government will be installed once the parliament finishes its term in the coming weeks. As campaigning for votes begins, politicians will offer quick-fix solutions and promises that they say will be fulfilled once their party is elected. However, Pakistan's energy sector requires solutions in the short and long-term, financial resources and the courage to implement reforms.
The IMF, ADB, and a bevy of experts have advised the Pakistani government ad infinitum on potential solutions, including the end of subsidies on electricity, raising tariffs, and recovering outstanding payments from consumers like Mr. Malik and the intelligence agencies. Addressing the energy crisis will require Pakistan's next government to move toward using coal in power plants, and away from using furnace oil, which is expensive and has contributed to Pakistan's circular debt problems. Instead of trying to convince donors to fund large-scale projects, the new government could also focus on building more small-scale power plants that could contribute to diminishing the shortfall, even if it's just a tiny drop in the ocean. Reforms should also include a more concerted effort towards domestic conservation of electricity (if I had a penny for the number of times I've seen air-conditioners running non-stop in ministers' houses...) and an effective load management system, before Pakistan plunges into the darkness again.
Huma Imtiaz works as a correspondent for the Pakistani newspaper Express Tribune and the news channel Express News. She is based in Washington, DC. http://humaimtiaz.com.
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Pakistani Finance Minister Hafeez Shaikh resigned last week - a curious move since the government will soon dissolve in the coming weeks after it announces a date for national elections. It has been speculated that he left because of economic policy disagreements with the government, but Shaikh himself told several sources that he left because he is under consideration for the post of caretaker prime minister. If so, he joins a well-respected group of professionals considered for the post; Supreme Court Bar Association President Asma Jehangir, Pakistan People's Party (PPP) politician Raza Rabbani and former Supreme Court justice Nasir Aslam Zahid are among the names that have already floated.
The caretaker prime minister will assume charge of an interim government as soon as the PPP coalition announces an election date, at which point the caretakers have up to ninety days to govern before elections.
Much ado has been made about the candidates and the process to set up a caretaker government, perhaps even more than the elections date itself. There are two reasons why such emphasis is warranted: because of its importance to the future of procedural democracy in Pakistan and because of the possible impact on the country's short-term economic stability.
First, the current procedure to establish a caretaker government requires agreement between the sitting government and the opposition, as mandated by the historic 20th amendment passed in 2012. Given the acrimonious past the PPP and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) share, this is no small feat. So far the two sides seem to be committed to cooperation, if not full reconciliation.
In the event the participants cannot reach agreement on a candidate - still a very real possibility - the 20th amendment has delineated specific steps to resolve the gridlock. The process would involve each side forwarding two names to a parliamentary committee that includes equal representation from the government and opposition. The committee can then take up to three days to settle on a name. If the committee is also unable to reach agreement, the Election Commission, as the final arbiter, must decide on a candidate within two days.
Unique to this process is the required engagement and opposition approval throughout, as well as the finite amount of time allotted for decision-making. The 20th amendment is a truly historic piece of electoral reform legislation that, if implemented correctly, can help begin to course-correct a democracy that has been off the rails since the country's inception.
Second, the caretaker government could be leading the charge to reinvigorate discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a new program to help Pakistan manage some of its macroeconomic challenges. Depleting foreign reserves combined with almost $2 billion in loan repayments due to the IMF by May foreshadow tough times ahead. Staying afloat remains too dependent upon uncontrollable factors such as lower oil prices, remittances from overseas Pakistanis staying at record high levels, and external aid like the U.S. Coalition Support Funds program, which periodically helps to offset low revenue generation elsewhere.
The Pakistani government has plenty of credible and internationally recognized economists who foresaw the current situation as unsustainable, and acknowledged the eventual likelihood of a new IMF program. But the political leadership would not commit to anything before elections. It now appears to believe discussion of such a program can begin through the caretaker leadership, which will likely be comprised of technocrats familiar to the IMF. Moeen Qureshi, a former Vice President of the World Bank who also worked at the International Finance Corporation and IMF, led the 1993 caretaker government that assumed charge between the tenures of Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. Former Finance Minister Shaikh, if nominated, would fit into the same category given his World Bank credentials.
If, and it is a big "if," the government can get all political parties to agree to the terms of a possible program, the IMF has indicated it would be amendable to some kind of arrangement. This makes the question of who leads the interim setup even more important to Pakistan's short-term economic stability. It must be someone who has the support and backing of all political actors and, to an extent, institutions with vested interests, such as the military, Supreme Court, and business community. Under these circumstances, a caretaker Prime Minister could potentially be a credible go-between for the IMF and a government in transition.
There is one obvious challenge - the caretaker government will not be in a position to follow up on or enforce any commitments made by political parties once its tenure is over. Beyond this specific obstacle, there is broader political uncertainty surrounding the potential caretakers. For several months now, political analysts in Pakistan have been warning of indirect military support for the extension of the caretaker government beyond the legally mandated 90-day term, postponing elections indefinitely. While such a scenario is unlikely, the persistent rumors swirling around a possible "soft coup" show the pervasiveness of the military's influence in Pakistani politics. Clearly, no amount of engagement with the opposition, electoral reform or credible technocrats has been able to fully challenge that narrative just yet.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is a South Asia analyst at the Eurasia Group and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. She served as director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the White House National Security Council from 2010-2011.
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The current Pakistani government, led by the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), ends its term on March 18. The government is expected to announce a date for elections before the end of its term. Once the election date is set, the National Assembly will automatically dissolve and a caretaker government will assume charge for up to ninety days before the election.
On polling day, Pakistanis will elect 272 representatives to the National Assembly and 577 representatives to provincial assemblies in Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, and Balochistan. The political party that secures 172 seats in the National Assembly, either independently or in coalition with other parties, will lead the next government.
Politics is a riddled and opaque game in Pakistan, a point driven home by former politician-turned preacher Tahir-ul Qadri, who despite his absence from Pakistani politics for eight years, was able to lead a 50,000-strong march into Islamabad last month pushing for electoral reforms - and actually won the government's commitment on some counts. Things are about to get even more complicated as the country prepares for national elections.
The campaign landscape is littered with the typical coterie of political party stalwarts, children of political dynasties, technocrats, and current and former army generals looking to shape the elections outcome. But three individuals stand out as possible leaders of Pakistan's next government - Asif Ali Zardari, Nawaz Sharif, and Imran Khan. Zardari and Sharif represent the old guard of politics - Zardari the widower of a political dynast and Sharif an industrialist from the country's breadbasket of Punjab. Khan claims to represent a new political wave, seeking to capture the desires of roughly 18 million new voters, young people who grew up watching Khan win cricket matches for the Pakistani national team. The profiles of the three men who would lead Pakistan promise elections that will be as entertaining as they will be historic.
Asif Ali Zardari, President of Pakistan and Co-Chairman of the Pakistan People's Party
Who is he? Asif Ali Zardari has been a fixture in Pakistani politics since 1987, when he married Benazir Bhutto, the country's first female Prime Minister in 1988 and again in 1993. He hails from Sindh but is originally of Baloch ethnic origin. Because of his complicated past, checkered with imprisonment, exile and allegations of corruption, Zardari was viewed as an "accidental president" when he came into power in 2008 following his wife's assassination. As a result, his emergence as a masterful strategist of a complicated coalition was a surprise to many. He shares the PPP chairmanship with son Bilawal.
What does he want? Zardari's presidential term ends in September, several months after the national elections are expected. It is only fair to presume he wants to serve another term as President. The PPP's strength in the Senate, where it won a majority in the March 2012 elections, will help but Zardari won't be able to take home the prize so easily. An electoral college consisting of the Senate, provincial assemblies and the National Assembly actually elect the president. Zardari's chances will be determined by both national and provincial assembly elections taking place this year. He also likely wants to keep benefitting from the financial opportunities available to Pakistani politicians in power. But beyond personal power and money, Zardari also seeks to maintain PPP's strength so that his son, Bilawal, can eventually assume charge and continue the Bhutto family political legacy.
Pro: Zardari's number one strength remains his ability to make deals in a tough coalition environment, which is expected to continue in the next government. Whether it was meeting Muttahida Quami Movement demands to reverse fuel price hikes in order to stay in the coalition, the unanimous passage of the historic 18th amendment devolving power to the provinces, or re-opening NATO routes closed after a NATO airstrike killed several Pakistani soldiers, he wasn't too proud to beg to get what he wanted.
Con: Everyone seems to be working against him. Among his "enemies" are the military, judiciary, opposition parties, the Saudis - and the list goes on. Another five years of Zardari could also mean another five years of attempts to unseat him with corruption cases at the Supreme Court, soft coup attempts by the military, and gridlock on economic reform.
Nawaz Sharif, President of Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz
Who is he? Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif is the President of the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N). A former two-time Prime Minister, Sharif is also a Punjab-based industrialist whose family's real estate and agriculture holdings are valued at over $100 million. Like Zardari, he has strained ties with the military and judiciary, institutions that aided his eventual ouster in 1999, ironic since Sharif got his start under military dictator General Zia-ul Haq in the 1980s. His two tenures as Prime Minister (1990-1993 and 1997-1999) each straddled the governments of Benazir Bhutto, making for an intense rivalry between the PML-N and PPP that continues to this day, despite recent collaboration between the two parties.
What does he want? The third time's the charm - or at least Sharif hopes. Another go at Prime Minister would not only allow Sharif to make history - no one else has held the position three times - but it would also bring him back into the mainstream political fold. After Musharraf removed him from power in 1999, Sharif remained in political exile in Saudi Arabia until 2007. Since then, under his leadership the PML-N opposition has criticized the current government's policies but within apparently self-imposed boundaries, probably to avoid being viewed as "derailing democracy" at a time when disruptions to civilian rule are extremely unpopular.
Pro: Sharif brings along with him the most organized party structure in the country. Even though it lacks the national base that PPP boasts, the PML-N has focused on improving internal governance, strengthening development projects in key constituencies, identifying electable candidates to run on the PML-N ticket, and engaging new young and middle class voters.
Con: He talks to terrorists - sort of. One of the largest vote banks for the right of center PML-N is southern Punjab, a hotbed of violent extremist activity in madrassas run by jihadist and sectarian outfits such as Sipah-e-Sihaba Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Muhammad, and Lashkar-e-Taiba. The PML-N cannot ignore the massive base these groups yield in Punjab, which elects 148 out of 272 National Assembly members. In 2010, PML-N Provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah reportedly visited the Sipah-e-Sihaba madrassa and met with its leader while campaigning in by-elections. Such relations suggest that a PML-N-led government could be more inclined to offer unsavory characters various concessions in exchange for votes, keeping the peace or achieving other objectives for that matter.
Imran Khan, Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf
Who is he? Imran Khan is a former captain of the Pakistan cricket team, philanthropist, and now chairman of his own political party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). His claim to represent a new style of politics is somewhat disingenuous. He follows a long line of South Asian celebrities turned politicians whose personage offers unquestionable advantages in an otherwise complicated political landscape. But his popular appeal is legitimate. Khan has managed to deliver thousands of people at numerous countrywide rallies around the 2013 elections despite the fact that PTI only ever held one seat in the National Assembly..
What does he want? The PTI's meteoric rise in popularity over the past couple of years has raised suspicions that it enjoys some kind of support from the security establishment, and therefore would simply serve as a mouthpiece for military interests in domestic and foreign affairs. But a simpler answer is perhaps more logical - that Khan has truly tapped into a desire for change in Pakistan, similar to the circumstances surrounding the Qadri march on Islamabad in January, and is keen to see how far it will take him.
Pro: Khan's call for an overhaul of status quo politics in Pakistan is a welcome one, particularly among urban, educated middle class voters in Punjab. The party manifesto calls for an end to "VIP culture" in Pakistan, noting that corruption at the highest levels has made democratic institutions "the focus of public scorn and ridicule." It is hard to disagree with PTI's message when Pakistan consistently ranks among the world's most corrupt nations.
Con: Despite PTI's existence as a party for almost sixteen years now, both the party's manifesto and its leader are untested. Rumors of its internal leadership challenges, weak presence at the provincial level, and Khan's periodic media stunts (i.e. the march to Waziristan), should raise questions about PTI's ability to deliver on its ambitious agenda for change.
As the competition between Zardari, Sharif and Khan unfolds over the next several months, other personalities and institutions will also contend to shape and influence the electoral outcome. Let's not forget the likes of Tahir-ul Qadri, activist Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, the military, and even the media, all of whom have a say in who leads the next government. In a place where personalities dominate politics, Zardari, Sharif and Khan clearly stand out, but vested interests combined with the rise of new forces of change can put a serious spanner in the works.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is a South Asia analyst at the Eurasia Group and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. She served as director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the White House National Security Council from 2010-2011.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images; KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images
As Afghan President Hamid Karzai visits Washington to discuss a bilateral strategic agreement between the United States and Afghanistan, policymakers and the public are debating the pace of troop drawdown and the residual force post-2014, when the security handover to Afghan authorities finishes. Missing from these discussions is a focus on the political and economic transitions underway in Afghanistan - areas that will serve as greater determinants of Afghan stability than whether there are zero, 4,000, or 9,000 U.S. troops. Politics ultimately drive the Afghan conflict, and its resolution will require a broader political consensus and stronger economic foundation than currently exists.
President Karzai's visit offers an opportunity for the Obama administration, members of Congress and others to drill down and express support for a number of political and economic priorities, which could assist in strengthening the legitimacy and competence of the Afghan state as the United States and NATO drawdown. The current Afghan state is deeply flawed and has alienated many Afghans due to its exclusive and predatory nature. The constitutional system, which vests great power in the hands of the executive without real checks and balances, lends itself to abuses of authority. Officials often use formal state institutions to support their patronage networks, fueling high levels of corruption, cronyism, and nepotism on the national and local levels. What's more, the dependency of the Afghan government and its security forces on high levels of international assistance for the foreseeable future, especially in a time of global austerity, threatens to undermine a sustainable transition.
Creating a stronger political consensus and a more solid economic foundation for the Afghan state will be required for long-term stability in Afghanistan. In their meetings with President Karzai and his team, senior U.S. officials must state their expectations about these political and economic processes, clarifying that long-term security support is contingent on Afghan progress on these efforts. Expectations should include the following:
First, a free, fair, inclusive and transparent presidential election is required in which President Karzai transfers power to a legitimately elected successor. President Karzai must work to ensure that the electoral bodies, including the Independent Electoral Commission and an electoral complaints mechanism are independent and credible. The United States hopes to see parliamentary approval of the electoral laws and the implementation of a plan to ensure a successful election.
Second, the United States supports an inclusive political reconciliation process, led by Afghans. The United States supports outreach by President Karzai to more Afghan stakeholders, including the political opposition, women, and civil society groups, in addition to Taliban insurgents. The United States and Afghanistan should create a bilateral mechanism to coordinate their peacemaking, public statements regarding negotiations and outreach to stakeholders, as well as to establish a venue, where representatives of the parties to the conflict can meet outside of Afghanistan or Pakistan to discuss a political settlement.
Third, the United States remains committed to the agreements made at the Tokyo conference in July 2012 by the Afghan government and the international community. In addition to agreeing to provide $16 billion in civilian assistance through 2015, the international community committed to improving the effectiveness of its aid, aligning its assistance with Afghan priority programs, and providing more aid through the Afghan government's budget rather than through outside contractors. However, the disbursements of these dollars depends on the Afghan government progressing on its own commitments, including:
Fourth, the United States supports the development of Afghanistan's mineral sector, in a way that benefits the Afghan population and not a select few. While Afghanistan is already a candidate member of the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), the Karzai administration should develop an Extractive Industries Development Framework that governs Afghanistan's natural wealth through an "accountable, efficient and transparent mechanism which builds upon and surpasses international best practices", as agreed to in Tokyo. The Ministry of Mines should continue to engage with civil society in order to increase transparency in the mining sector and to respond to the needs of communities affected by mining.
The Obama administration must focus on political and economic priorities during President Karzai's visit. Military aspects-troop numbers, training of the Afghan forces, and financial support to the security services-won't be enough to ensure Afghanistan's security and stability over the long term. Leaving behind an unprepared and expensive force to battle an insurgency that NATO has struggled to contain is more likely to create instability than lasting security. Instead, U.S. efforts must be focused on building a more sustainable Afghan state.
John Podesta is Chairman and Caroline Wadhams is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.
With a second term assured, President Barack Obama has a shot at making a huge difference in greater South Asia, an opportunity that he failed to take in his first term. This may now be the time for a new hyphenation across the map of that critical part of the globe: bringing together a string of countries ranging from Iran, through Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to Bangladesh. For this may be the center of gravity of Asian stability and growth in the next couple of decades, if the United States and its partners get their policies right. But first, the President needs to create a center of gravity for decision making on this region in his own Administration, reaching across the aisle and bringing in new blood to rejuvenate his efforts to bring peace. Then he must help create a network among the nations of this region that is based on their own self-interests and from which the United States would profit immeasurably.
The President could use the emerging forces of democracy, gender equality, and civilian supremacy rather than military might as the catalysts for change in the region. No carrots or sticks, but moral suasion, applied quietly and confidently to help these countries build confidence amongst themselves.
India is perhaps the most critical part of this new opportunity. Under a Prime Minister who has dared to think of peace and normalcy even with arch enemy Pakistan, India needs to be encouraged to open its borders to its neighbors for trade and travel, opening far wider the door that has been cracked open in recent months. A paranoid Pakistan that fears hot borders on the east and the west could be helped to get over its concerns. Pakistan must recognize that it is in its own interest to create normalcy with its neighbors, for it cannot afford to continue on the path of military or economic competition, especially with India. Rather, it can catapult its economy to new heights by becoming a regional partner. The United States could also bring together support for strengthening Pakistan's recent overtures to all Afghans, not just the contiguous Pakhtuns, whom Pakistan wrongly saw in the past as its assets.. There are signs that Pakistan is prepared to let Afghanistan be Afghanistan. Much could be done to support that trend by helping open trade and power (gas and hydroelectricity) routes to central Asia. In both these countries, civil society and civilian governments are the key to progress and stability. Pluralism, gender equality, education, and health may be the foundation stones to help them gain their footing as democracies.
This means shifting the focus of expenditures from guns to butter over time. The United States has a great position in that regard, as a strategic partner to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India for the time in history. It can also open the door to engagement with Iran by bringing Iran back to the table on Afghanistan's future stability. By helping create regional ownership for Afghanistan's future it can find a way to exit gracefully from the region. India, again, will be key in creating transparency in its relations with Afghanistan to help Pakistan overcome its suspicions of being hemmed in on both sides.
The region has been ready for some time to create an atmosphere of trust, though much remains to be done on the issues of cross-border terrorism and non-state actors. Civil society groups have started benefiting from the opening of trade relations and visa regimes. The current limited transit trade arrangements need to be extended from Kabul to Dhaka. The cross pollination of ideas -- especially among the burgeoning youthful populations of the region - and the greater involvement of women in their societies, will help ensure that there is no slipping back toward obscurantist thinking of the past. Those positive trends are growing and cannot be turned back, come what may.
President Obama can ride these emerging waves to truly earn his Nobel Prize of four years ago by helping bring lasting peace to greater South Asia. Perhaps he could start by visiting two border posts in the first few months of his second term: Wagah, where India meets Pakistan, and Torkham, where Afghanistan and Pakistan meet, and calling for keeping the gates that now close daily to remain open forever. This would be a grand legacy for the 44th president of the United States.
Shuja Nawaz is director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council.
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
Driving north from Mazar-i-Sharif, in Northern Afghanistan, to the Uzbek border last week was a revelation. I first lived in Mazar in 1993, while I worked for the International Organization for Migration assisting Afghan refugees returning to northern and central Afghanistan. Back then, the roadway was decrepit and insecure, and travelers feared to veer from the roadbed due to landmines. Recently, as USAID's senior-most representative focused on Afghanistan and Pakistan, I met with key leaders and observing the impact of USAID projects. This corridor of infrastructure and commerce, includes not only a new road, but a railroad line (Afghanistan's first!) and new electricity transmission lines that supply cheap, reliable power to much of the north and Kabul. A new customs facility at the border is also generating greater trade - and collecting more revenue for the Afghan government.
There is a virtuous cycle of security, commerce, investment, confidence and good governance building in the north that shows what a successful Afghanistan can look like. This virtuous cycle is essential to stability post-2014, and must be reinforced and replicated. Here is some of what we saw.
First stop: the Hairatan Customs Depot. Trucks and trains from Uzbekistan first arrive in Afghanistan at the Hairatan Customs Depot, where shippers enter their data online, and government officials review their shipments and forms, determine the value of the goods and the tax rate, and begin tracking shipments to ensure they arrive safely at their destinations. With the help of USAID's technical experts, customs officials have streamlined the process from 26 to 16 steps, cutting processing time by 40% and removing opportunities for corruption. These steps alone are estimated to have increased revenues over $7.5 million in the last year.
An increasing portion of shipments coming across the border move to the next stop -- the Naibabad Railroad Depot - via Afghanistan's first railroad. Here, shipments from Central Asia and Russia - wood, flour, steel, and cooking oil - are loaded onto trucks headed for markets and consumers in Mazar and Kabul. On average, Afghan customs officials collect $1,000 per shipment for every shipment worth $15,000 - resources that are making the Afghan government more self-sustaining.
Down the road, at the Gorimar Industrial Park, we went to a soy processing plant and an oxygen tank production facility. With support from USAID and USDA, Afghans are processing soy beans into soy flour and edible oil and using the by-product for high-protein animal feed. We watched some of this feed being loaded for export to Uzbekistan. Next door, oxygen tanks - once only imported from neighboring countries - are now produced locally and sold to hospitals in Mazar for 40 percent of the cost just a few months ago. The oxygen factory is an Afghan private investment.
Finally, our last stop of the day - the Balkh Diary Plant, is a cooperative owned and self-sustaining business located in the center of Mazar that produces milk, yogurt, butter, and cheese. USAID has been working to increase the milk yield with local dairy producers - mostly women with 1-2 animals. These efforts have been so successful, increasing milk yields five-fold, that they now have excess milk to sell to the factory. The plant can produce 8,000 half-liter bags of milk per day, each sold for 15-20 Afghanis, and pays approximately 800 farmers to supply milk to the plant, creating a profitable enterprise that is getting resources directly into the hands of Afghan farmers and milk and export grade yogurt into the hands of Afghan consumers at higher quality and lower price.
Afghans have the capacity, will, and resources to create regional hubs of commerce that will carry the economy, fund their government, employ their youth, positively engage their neighbors, and feed their population. Problems of local governance and corruption are hurdles to this dynamic, but the primary constraint at the moment is insecurity as illustrated by the horrific and senseless bombing that targeted Eid celebrants near Mazar in Faryab province last week. Improving governance and the economic environment are essential to further progress and to attracting the private sector investment critical to sustain this momentum.
Given the inherent challenges of the transition through 2014, getting the Afghan people to see and embrace the demonstrable progress they've made as a society is essential. It is critical to engage the population around the vision of sustaining these investments - and the progress in the north provides an important window into what that looks like.
Alex Thier is the Assistant to the Administrator for the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs at the U.S. Agency for International Development.
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images
In February 2011, Pakistan and India resumed formal peace talks, which New Delhi had broken off following the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Although the peace process has sparked cautious optimism among analysts, all of the core issues between the two countries remain and several new ones may be emerging. Moreover, the wounds of Mumbai have yet to heal fully and can still infect the peace process. This was evident when India took custody of Zabiuddin Ansari, an Indian jihadist who joined Lashkar-e-Taiba and played a pivotal role in those attacks. A previous post employed his story to examine the jihadist threats facing India and the role official Pakistani support is believed to play in them. The aim here is to address the impact, if any, on India-Pakistan relations.
Ansari was arrested by Saudi authorities in May 2011, but handed over to India only days prior to last week's bilateral meeting between the countries' foreign secretaries. Indian officials took pains to make clear that Ansari's capture (specifically) and Pakistan's failure to curb terrorism (in general) would not derail the planned meeting. The two sides did make slow progress on several economic issues and it is arguable that for some time the greatest barriers to action on that front have been internal and bureaucratic rather than geopolitical. This should be cause for cautious optimism. Read another way, however, it is emblematic of the limited expectations for this process, the enormous hurdles to be overcome, the delicate balance each side must strike in terms of how to engage, and the domestic dynamics in each country that further complicate the process.
It's helpful to recall that previous attempts at normalizing relations focused too heavily either on engagements at the bureaucratic level or personal initiatives by political leaders. This current phase has sought to combine both approaches, initially aiming to make parallel progress on economic engagement as well as the more intractable problems of settling Kashmir, demobilizing the Siachen Glacier, or satisfying New Delhi's demands for an end to Pakistani support for anti-India militancy. This approach of de-linking economic engagement from normalization on political and security issues in the short term has merit to the degree that the former can be used to built trust and create space for the peace camps that exist in both countries. But it is not without drawbacks, particularly in terms of the potential for mismatched timing and objectives. To date, the slow progress made has come mainly in the area of economic integration.
The Pakistan Army, which still largely controls foreign policy, remains leery of incremental talks that could enable India, the status quo power in Kashmir, to consolidate an economic relationship without budging on territorial disputes. Moreover, although the government in Pakistan is incredibly enfeebled at the moment, such integration could empower either of the main civilian political parties - the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) - in the event that one of them wins the next election, to wrest at least some power from the military. Nevertheless, given Pakistan's struggling economy, strained relations with the United States and failure of its all-weather ally, China, to ride to the financial rescue, the Army is more prepared than in the past to endorse economic engagement with India.
Yet, various members of the Pakistani security establishment maintain that settling territorial disputes cannot take a backseat to such engagement for too long. Once the United States draws down from Afghanistan, there is likely to be a refocusing within Pakistan's security establishment on its neighbor to the east. In the meantime, and as discussed in the previous post, the Pakistan Army and Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) appear to be attempting to restrain Lashkar-e-Taiba from launching another terrorist spectacular along the lines of Mumbai. However, there is no indication that state support for that group or the indigenous jihadist movement in India has ceased. Lashkar's amir Hafiz Saeed continues to enjoy a public pulpit, from which he has declared the mujahideen will resume a "full-scale armed jihad" in Kashmir once the Afghan war is resolved. And on this most recent visit, Pakistan's foreign secretary made a point of meeting with Kashmiri separatists from the Hurriyat Conference the day prior to engaging with his Indian counterpart in New Delhi.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made no secret of his desire for a breakthrough with Pakistan or his desire to accept an invitation to make an official visit to the land of his birth. But he also has acknowledged that, "a visit to Pakistan that does not bear fruit would be of no use," meaning that an agreement on at least one core issue is perceived as necessary in order to make such a trip viable. Resolving a boundary dispute in Sir Creek, located between Singh in Pakistan and Gujarat in India, is arguably the easiest of the core issues to resolve, and the two sides were scheduled to discuss it in May. Shortly before, Pakistan cancelled the talks with no explanation, though the conventional wisdom was that it sought to force progress on Siachen Glacier first. The two sides are further apart on this issue and there is significant opposition within the Indian military, which holds the high ground, to any compromise on it. So it was no surprise when the talks dealing with Siachen in mid-June came to naught.
In lieu of progress on any territorial issues and without much expectation that the Pakistani security establishment will make a significant attempt to dismantle the militant infrastructure, New Delhi is happy to pursue "progress" on issues such as economic integration. As several Indian officials and diplomats sought to make clear to the author, this is not the same as normalization, which they claim can only occur if Pakistan ends its support for jihadist militants who target India. To that end, while pursuing "progress," India also has sought to exert maximum pressure on Pakistan vis-à-vis terrorism.
This approach demands a delicate balance and it is sometimes difficult to determine the degree to which it is carefully calibrated or the result of differing views within the Indian government. Thus, while the Indian external affairs minister was trying to play down the impact of Pakistani inaction against the Mumbai planners and promising the issue would not hold the dialogue hostage, the home minister was holding a press conference in which he proclaimed Ansari's allegations proved Mumbai could not have happened without state support. A month earlier, the Indian home minister, P Chidambaram, declined a Pakistani request to travel to Islamabad to sign a much-awaited liberalized visa agreement as a way of sending the message that Pakistan needed to take action against all of those involved in the Mumbai attacks.
Ansari has not provided any major new insights into those attacks, but he nevertheless provides India with additional means to pressure Pakistan because of his intimate involvement in planning Mumbai and presence in the control room during the operation. He has reaffirmed much of what was suspected, including the involvement of the same two officers believed to belong to the ISI that David Headley, who conducted reconnaissance for the attacks, identified in his testimony to Indian investigators.
Despite these revelations, Islamabad still insists New Delhi has not provided usable information. Yet, plausible deniability only works as a policy if the denials are in fact plausible. Pakistan's increasingly are not, and its failure to commit fully to prosecuting all of the alleged perpetrators is becoming another major stumbling block to normalizing relations. A conviction of the seven Lashkar members currently on trial is far from certain, and even were it to occur, India has shown no indication that this alone would be an acceptable outcome. New Delhi has said publicly that Pakistani action against all of those involved in the Mumbai attacks - especially Hafiz Saeed and the two aforementioned ISI officers - would be the "biggest confidence-building measure of all." Privately, Indian diplomats go further and assert that this has become a de facto litmus test regarding the Pakistani security establishment's willingness to end its support for Lashkar.
New Delhi has already won its case in the court of public opinion. Unlike in the 1990s, when Washington and New Delhi held politically disparate positions regarding Pakistani support for militancy, today they are united both on their acceptance of the problem and their inability to find a solution to it. Ultimately, two things must happen for Pakistan's behavior to change. First, the real costs - direct and indirect - of supporting groups like Lashkar must be understood to outweigh the (mis)perceived utility they provide geopolitically and domestically. Second, those who already recognize this is the case must take control of the country's security policy.
Bilateral progress between India and Pakistan, even short of a normalization of relations, is an essential component in this regard. It has the potential to bring real economic benefits to people on both sides of the border and in doing so to begin reshaping the environment. But it will remain a slow process and one beset by numerous challenges - foreign and domestic, political and bureaucratic. On its own, Ansari's deportation to India prior to the foreign secretaries meeting was a bump in the road, and the information he provided in the days that followed is unlikely to have taken any of the key players on either side by surprise. This in and of itself, however, is a symptom of just how far the two countries have to go and the way in which new issues, like Mumbai, can make overcoming those that are already difficult to surmount all the more difficult. In the meantime, containing the threat from Pakistani militants will require the type of international coordination, described in the next post, that led to Ansari's capture and deportation.
Stephen Tankel is an assistant professor at American University and a non-resident fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He recently returned from an extended research trip to South Asia examining internal security issues and is spending the summer at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as a public policy scholar.
Americans are not alone in worrying that their
economic futures are headed in the wrong direction. Afghans, too, fear that the
next several years will bring a business tailspin that will see recent
gains eked out by small and medium companies dissolve amid security woes and a
sharp pullback in international largesse and, of course, foreign forces.
The "light of a new day" may be "on the horizon," as President Obama announced this May from Bagram Air Base, but Afghan entrepreneurs want to make sure their start-ups survive the changes that will accompany whatever comes next. This Thursday 50 such business-owners, 12 women among them, will gather at an investment conference in New Delhi hosted by the Confederation of Indian Industries with support from the Confederation of Women Entrepreneurs in India (CWEI).
The goal is to promote private sector investment in Afghan firms that will increasingly be seen as growth anchors for their country going forward. Companies descending on India this week in search of dollars range from big mining entities to smaller but growing entities including software, carpet-making, and media ventures. Outside Afghanistan few may think of the war-plagued nation as a small-business or start-up hub, but the resourcefulness of the dogged entrepreneurs I have covered these past seven years matches that of any I have interviewed in other countries, rich or poor. Afghan businessmen and women will need every bit of this determination as they confront the uncertainty of the coming years. And it is in America's and NATO's interests that they succeed.
As President Obama noted at Bagram, "Americans are tired of war," and the military intervention in Afghanistan has plunged to new depths of unpopularity in the latest public opinion polls. But economic development is critical to promoting stability and U.S. security interests, and it is essential to making the President's laudable idea of bringing a "responsible end" to America's longest war more than just empty words. Research shows that negative economic shocks of five percent can increase the risk of a civil war by 50 percent in fragile environments . Bolstering entrepreneurs, particularly those running small- and medium-size enterprises, is part of fostering lasting growth that is in both Afghanistan and America's best interest.
Despite remaining on the list of the world's poorest nations, Afghanistan has logged economic successes and macroeconomic stability on which to build. The country's GDP has more than tripled in the last decade, averaging around nine percent a year, with notable gains in infrastructure, telecommunications, and financial and business services. The Ministry of Communications recently began awarding 3G licenses to cellular phone companies and internet usage is expected to climb as technology improves and prices drop. Mobile phone penetration has leapt from less than one percent in 2001 to well above 60 percent today.
And business growth has not been limited to large
firms. Small companies have cropped up across sectors, creating
desperately needed jobs in a country whose unemployment rate is estimated
at well above forty
percent. The non-governmental organization Building Markets,
which ran a business matchmaking service that helped Afghan firms learn of and
apply for international contracts, counted 3,400 companies in its business
database in 2008. By 2012 that number had climbed to 8,300, with nearly
300 owned by women. According to the World Bank's
"Doing Business" report, Afghanistan ranks 30th among 183 economies
when it comes to the ease of starting a business, requiring four procedures and
seven days to register a firm. Training programs such as the
International Finance Corporation's "Business Edge," Goldman Sachs' "10,000
Women," and Bpeace's "Fast Runners" now work with entrepreneurs seeking
management and marketing training. And Afghan export promotion officials
proudly point to recent wins marketing their carpets and dried fruits and nuts
to consumers in Europe and the Middle East.
Yet bad news and economic question marks threaten to swamp the small steps forward. In 2010, Afghanistan's economy received nearly the same amount in foreign aid as it counted in GDP, and the assistance tsunami, often routed around the rickety central government rather than through it, has hardly helped to bolster the country's already weak institutions. Graft remains rampant: Afghanistan shared the next-to-last spot with Myanmar in Transparency International's 2011 "Corruption Perceptions Index." Meanwhile, the trade deficit looks to top $6 billion and fiscal health remains shaky at best, with estimates suggesting government revenues will cover only 60 percent of the Afghan operating budget in 2013.
President Obama pledged in the Strategic Partnership Agreement he signed with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai that the United States "shall help strengthen Afghanistan's economic foundation and support sustainable development." This promise was not made simply because America is a benevolent power, but because an economically stable and increasingly prosperous Afghanistan connected to the world is good for the United States. It will soon be up to Congress to decide how much continued economic aid and development assistance to offer Afghanistan, and the temptation will be great to follow the Iraq example of ever-smaller requests met by even smaller authorizations. But shoving Afghanistan off the economic edge would be both short-sighted and counter-productive. As the World Bank noted recently, "international experience and Afghanistan's own history show that an abrupt cutoff in aid can lead to fiscal crisis, loss of control over the security sector, collapse of political authority, and possibly civil war."
America may be drawing down troops and withdrawing militarily from Afghanistan, but the Afghan entrepreneurs gathering this week in India remain worthy of U.S. support and investment. They are allies in the American quest to bring "sustainable stability" to a country and a region that desperately need it.
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.
The May 20 NATO summit in Chicago was dominated by the issue of Afghanistan. Amidst all the talk about withdrawing international combat troops by 2014, funding the Afghan National Security Forces beyond 2014, and a doubtful political settlement with the Taliban, one subject was absent from the formal agenda: drugs.
Yet in few other countries is the drugs trade so entrenched as it is in Afghanistan. Accounting for between one-quarter and one-third of the national economy, it is an integral part of the insecurity blighting Afghan life for the past 30 years.
Debate may continue for years as to whether the Western intervention in Afghanistan has made the world safer or more insecure in the post-9/11 era. But it has not only done nothing to reduce global supplies of illicit opium; rather, it has made the problem worse.
The international drugs-control regime, in place since the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs came into effect, rests on prohibiting use in consumer countries and reducing supply in producer states. In Afghanistan, the source of around 60 per cent of the planet's illicit opium and 85 per cent of heroin, the latter objective may never be achieved to any meaningful degree.
The boom years for Afghan poppy cultivation began in the 1970s, thanks to political instability in Southeast Asia's fertile 'Golden Triangle' and bans on the crop in neighbouring Iran and Pakistan. The Soviet invasion in late 1979 gave local warlords an incentive to plant opium poppies to fund their insurgency against Moscow.
In the three decades since, with few other sources of income, opium production has come to provide for up to half a million Afghan households. The poppy is a hardy, drought-resistant plant, much easier for farmers to grow than saffron and more profitable than wheat. Both have been offered as alternative crops, but with only limited take-up. The criminal networks that have sprung up around the drugs trade provide farmers with seeds, fertiliser and cash loans; in short they offer an alternative welfare system. The principal growing regions, the southern Pashtun-dominated provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, are also Taliban strongholds.
For all these reasons, NATO efforts to eradicate opium - either by aerial spraying or manually- have alienated the population. Indeed, they have often had to be abandoned in the face of popular resistance. Crop disease did more to reduce opium production in 2010 than NATO's counter-narcotics strategy. The United Nations recently reported there had been a 61 percent rebound in opium production in 2011, and prices were soaring. This is a worrying trend, which seems set to continue after NATO troops leave.
Drug seizures, while rising, still account for less than 5% of opium produced. As a general rule, the United Nations estimates, law-enforcement agencies need to interdict about 70% of supplies to make the drugs trade less financially attractive to traffickers and dealers. In any circumstances, this is an extremely challenging objective. In the large swathes of Afghanistan where the central government and security forces wield no control, it is completely unrealistic. Meanwhile, no major trafficker has yet successfully been prosecuted due to a widespread culture of impunity.
Alternative approaches have been proposed. Most recently, in May 2012, Tajik Interior Minister Ramazon Rakhimov proposed that opium should be purchased directly from Afghan farmers to either be used in the pharmaceutical industry or to be destroyed. He also called on other countries to do the same in a move he deemed essential to fight drug trafficking and narcotics-fuelled terrorism. But this option was tried in 2002 when the United Kingdom had the lead on narcotics reduction, and had to be abandoned in the face of evidence that the purchasing programme constituted a perverse incentive to increase production. Licit production of opium for medical purposes may be a long-term option for Afghanistan, but not while current conditions of high insecurity and pervasive corruption persist.
In the West, the drugs scourge is mostly thought about in terms of the lives lost, opportunities wasted and the social disruption created through addiction. In fragile and impoverished nations such as Afghanistan, drugs create a shadow state, fuelling institutional corruption, instability, violence and human misery. The Taliban, which banned the planting of opium in 2001, was deriving an estimated U.S. $125 million per year from the business by 2009. It has been an equally important revenue stream for former warlords whose inclusion in the administration of President Hamid Karzai NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has done little to oppose. Such individuals have a powerful vested interest in state weakness to the obvious detriment of good governance and institution-building. And all these actors are likely to maximise revenues from opium production in the run-up to the 2014 NATO/ISAF drawdown to hedge against an uncertain future.
A trade in which so many have vested interests will never be unwound simply or swiftly.
What drives it is its huge profitability, a consequence of continuing Western demand. No-one can confidently predict the consequences of changing the drugs prohibition regime. The current approach has not achieved the 1961 Single Convention's objectives. But has had the unintended consequence of perpetuating and increasing corruption and instability in parts of the world least equipped to deal with the consequences. Perhaps our collective experience in Afghanistan should serve as the basis for a serious rethink of global drugs policy? This would involve a cost/benefit analysis of current policies, scenario planning of the impact of alternative approaches and a much greater focus on demand reduction in consumer states. The issue of narcotics needs to be taken out of the silo it currently inhabits and looked at in the wider context of international security and development.
Nigel Inkster is Director of Transnational Threats and Political Risk at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. He is the author of ‘Drugs, Insecurity and Failed States: the Problems of Prohibition.'
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Recent months have seen unprecedented progress on trade relations between India and Pakistan. Last November, Pakistan granted India "most favored nation" (MFN) status, fifteen years after India added Pakistan to its MFN list. On April 13, India announced that it would allow foreign direct investment (FDI) from Pakistan. And on the same day, a historic integrated checkpoint opened at the Attari-Wagah border crossing, which will allow commercial traffic and trade to flow between the two countries.
Additionally, Pakistan has replaced its positive list allowing only 2,000 different items to be imported from India with a negative list that bans just 1,209 goods, but allows all others. Currently, this list prohibits trade of items in industries such as agriculture, chemicals, and ceramics, but the Pakistani government pledged to phase out the negative list by the end of this year, thus allowing all Indian goods into Pakistan.
Some in Pakistan welcome the normalization of trade relations between India and Pakistan, while others are skeptical of how it may pan out.
Chaudhry Azhar's family has been a wholesaler of bananas and mangoes for over 30 years, a tradition Azhar continues today at Lahore's largest vegetable and fruit market, Badami Bagh Mandi. "This trade agreement will affect us a lot," he says. "India is giving subsidies to all items, such as free electricity. Our farmers will be at a loss and India will benefit from us. We cannot compete with their subsidies."
Opening the border to Indian crops that are supported by large subsidies might put Pakistani farmers at a disadvantage, but some traders are grateful for the option of importing a better product from their neighbors. Among the bustling sounds of vendors hawking their wares, one of Azhar's employees, Haji Mohammad Akram, proudly shows the bananas that have come from India, and compares them to the ones from Pakistan that have rotted due to bad weather. Increasing the ease with which the two countries can trade will allow vendors to be more selective with their products.
Most business owners agree that bilateral trade will only be effective if Pakistan imports goods that they don't have, though. Saleem Khan brings oranges, apples, and grapes from Balochistan to sell in Lahore. But he says, "We imported oranges from Iran even when Pakistan had supplies of it. The Government benefits the exporters of other countries and hurts the local farmers."
Wholesalers worry that India's larger, more powerful economy will allow it to export goods that Pakistan already produces, such as bananas and oranges. But there appears to be an understanding that India might be able to provide goods and services that are sorely lacking in Pakistan. Nadeem Kambo, a broker at the market who favors the trade between India and Pakistan, suggests getting electricity from India. He says, "If we do not get items that we need from other countries, then what do we have here?"
Similarly, the President of Lahore Chamber of Commerce, Irfan Qaiser Sheikh, supports trade between regional and bordering countries but understands the reservations and concerns brought by local business owners. "We are not in favor of opening trade at the cost of our industries," says Sheikh.
The biggest impact of some of the potential trade policies will be on the farmers that grow the crop and sell it to the wholesalers. Mohammad Qasim, a wholesaler of onions and potatoes says, "This will affect our farmers a lot. If we look at it from a trading perspective, we will get something in return of giving something. We should get the things that the farmers need in return for what we give them."
At the Lahore Chamber of Commerce, Sheikh says they have done their homework on the matter, but he also understands that the Government needs to address the key concerns and take an active role in the normalization of trade relations in order to move forward on an even playing field with India. "We really need to address all core issues once and for all to achieve the desired results."
Mian Anjum Nisar, a local manufacturer, believes some Pakistani industries, such as home textiles and certain raw materials that are not available in India, would benefit from expanding trade relations. Faisalabad is known for its competitive producers of cotton and textiles, which would undoubtedly find eager markets for their products in India. However, Nisar worries that Pakistan as a whole may not be able to benefit in the long run. "India's scale of economy is far bigger than ours." Nisar says.
He also says that the difference in the tariffs levied by India and those levied by Pakistan will also play a big role. Currently, India's peak tariff on Pakistani goods stands at 8%, while Pakistan has placed 25% tariff fee on Indian goods. Under the Trade Liberalization Plan (TLP) of the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), India and Pakistan must bring tariffs down to between zero and five percent this year. In order for Pakistan to meet that deadline, the 25% tariff would need to be cut quickly and dramatically, which would likely come as a dangerous shock to the domestic manufacturing industry.
Tariffs are not the only challenge, though. India's non-tariff barriers are widely recognized as significant impediments to efficient, cost-effective trade. Sheikh sees this as a major concern in moving ahead with bilateral trade. He says, "India has got to remove the non-tariff barriers that they have imposed on Pakistan." Non-tariff barriers are non-monetary policies that raise the risk or cost of exporting goods to a country. India has, for example, certain standard approval laboratories where certificates must be issued to goods before they can clear the border. This procedure is lengthy, and the rejection of just one product can endanger an entire consignment.
Haris Naseer, the Director of Marketing at Infotech, an IT company based in Pakistan, considers logistics and visa requirements to be his main concerns, while having more items available for import from India will be beneficial. "In the technology industry, since there is not as much of a physical movement of goods, and due to the new visa requirements, it will be easier to move resources from one country to another." Under the revised visa requirements, businesspersons can be granted multiple-entry visas, and permission to visit up to five different cities. Previous business visas for citizens of India and Pakistan required extensive paperwork, and only allowed visa-holders to visit three cities.
The traders in Lahore are not very optimistic about the prospects of normalizing trade relations with India, though many acknowledged the potential benefits of such a development if it is done the right way. Pakistani authorities will need to address this apprehension in order to get the critical support of small businesses in their effort to reopen economic borders with their neighbors.
Aisha Chowdhry is a freelance journalist, born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan. She has covered stories from Afghanistan and Pakistan for USA Today, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and The New York Times among other publications. You can follow her on Twitter @ aishach
Since NATO's Lisbon summit in November 2010, debate has raged over the decision to draw-down troops from Afghanistan by 2014. And in less than a month, NATO is to hold its 25th heads of state summit in Chicago on 20th May. Unsurprisingly, among the summit's major themes will be the seemingly intractable Afghan question, controversy over which has continued with increasingly ferocious attacks by militants - the synchronised 18-hour assault on Kabul on April 16 being an outstanding example - along with persistently strained U.S.-Pakistani relations since NATO airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November. But rather than endlessly debating troop numbers - whose link to stability is at the least exceedingly unclear - NATO allies would be better off focusing on how to maximise the impact of programs which pave the way for long-term stability by dramatically re-shifting the focus of aid funding from security to development.
The full transition of responsibility for Afghanistan's security from NATO to Afghan forces poses deep questions about the efficacy of international intervention and traditional military approaches. For some critics calling for a faster transition to Afghan control, NATO's presence is the problem. Two years ago, NATO Afghan war veteran Lt. Col. Thomas Brouns warned presciently that "the possibility of strategic defeat looms" as "violent incidents" increase in direct proportion to the troop surge. The war is "a losing battle in winning the hearts and minds of nearly 30 million Afghans."
Others argue that a quick NATO withdrawal could be a grave mistake, precipitating a downwards spiral into endless civil war - a view expounded last year by the German military, the RAF, and a British government review ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron. Even the Afghan defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak warned of the potentially catastrophic ramifications of a more abrupt withdrawal - no doubt fearing a Taliban come-back in the wake of the vacuum left behind by NATO's departure.
Amidst all the controversy about NATO in Afghanistan, the curious assumption is that the country's stability is somehow purely correlated with troop numbers, rather than underlying socio-economic conditions and political accountability. Indeed, commentators have overlooked the single component of international intervention which has had resounding success - development aid, through Afghanistan's National Solidarity Programme (NSP). Under the programme, the Afghan government disburses grants to village-level elected organisations, Community Development Councils (CDCs), which in turn identify local priorities and implement small-scale development projects.
The NSP has reached out to 24,000 villages, mobilising nearly 70 percent of rural communities across all of Afghanistan's 34 provinces - including enrolling over 100,000 women into new local CDCs. An independent evaluation by academics from Harvard, MIT and the New School found that the NSP had led to "significant improvement in villagers' economic wellbeing" and "their attitudes towards the government" - "reducing the number of people willing to join the insurgents" leading to "an improved security situation in the long run."
Yet the evaluation report also observes that development mitigates militancy only in regions facing "moderate violence" - but not where there are "high levels of initial violence." Here, the impact of the war is palpable - 2011 saw a record number of 3,021 Afghan civilian deaths. And a UN assessment for that year found the average monthly number of "security incidents" - such as gun battles and roadside bombings - was 39 per cent higher than the preceding year.
So if the exit strategy is the right one, it's still not enough. From June 2002 to September 2010, the United States - though the largest NSP donor - has given $528 million to the programme (as well as another $225 million from FY 2010 funds, with Congress appropriating a further $800 million or so). This is a tiny fraction in the total of about $18.8 billion in foreign assistance over the last decade, and much more needs to be done. Over two-thirds of Afghans still live in dire poverty; only 23 per cent have access to safe drinking water; and just 24 percent above the age of 15 can read and write, according to the UN High Commission for Human Rights. Thus, a recent report by the Center for a New American Security urges that the US government "not only continue its [NSP's] funding but should also help expand the program across Afghanistan. Only through steadfast support of the NSP and similarly structured enterprises can hard-won military gains be consolidated into an enduring, Afghan-led peace."
Yet the NSP is a virtual carbon copy of a longstanding development model being implemented just across the border in rural Pakistan, including the Taliban's strongholds in the northwest frontier province: the Rural Support Programmes Network (RSPN). As Pakistan's largest NGO, the RSPN has run quietly for nearly thirty years, with a staggering success rate - having mobilised over 4 million Pakistani households through local community organisations, provided skills training to nearly 3 million, and reached approximately 30 million people.
The RSPN's model - replicated so successfully in Afghanistan under the NSP - is distinguished by its unique participatory approach, based on partnership with communities. The programme began in the early 1980s through the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP), in the Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan regions. Under the leadership of Nobel Prize nominee Shoaib Sultan Khan, the AKRSP model was replicated by establishing a further ten autonomous Rural Support Programmes (RSP) across three quarters of the country's districts - which together form the umbrella that is the RSPN.
The secret of the RSPN's success is deceptively simple. The poor are mobilised to establish local community organisations where citizens are involved in every aspect of decision-making - designing and selecting projects, managing them, and monitoring expenditures - in projects which have immediate, tangible impact. The programme thus empowers villagers to see themselves as citizens with the skills, tools and acumen to work together in managing disbursement of government funds to lift themselves out of poverty.
In the northwest province of Chitral, for instance, local micro-scale hydro-electricity projects now supply power to over half of the population. Elsewhere, RSPN has empowered locals to establish 1,449 community schools, whose pupils out-perform their peers from government schools, and enrolled 681,000 women in community activism - the largest outreach to poor rural women of any Pakistani organisation. That is why the RSPN's work is so critical to the future of the country - for a strong, representative Pakistani state to emerge, it must be grounded in strong local civil society institutions capable of holding it to account and engaging with it constructively.
But like the NSP, the RSPN receives only a fraction of the overall U.S.-U.K. aid budget to Pakistan. The ongoing debate about troop numbers and drone strikes - while important - has served to distract attention from the critical role of development aid in building resilience to radicalisation. Thus, across the region, the obsession with traditional security solutions has arguably been its own worst enemy. As the countdown to withdrawal continues, the international community must strengthen and expand these proven development models. Otherwise, the quagmire will become an abyss.
Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed is Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development (IPRD) in London, author of A User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilization (2010) among other books, and writer/presenter of the critically-acclaimed documentary film, The Crisis of Civilization (2011). His work on international terrorism has been used by the 9/11 Commission, the Coroner's Inquiry into 7/7, the US Army Air University, and the UK MoD's Joint Services Command & Staff College. He has also advised the British Foreign Office and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and consulted for projects funded by the US State Department, the UK Department for Communities & Local Government.
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Pakistan warrants concern, and not just because it is sitting on the fifth largest nuclear arsenal in the world. The country is in the throes of a destabilizing and dangerous energy crisis. It faces gas shortages, and electricity outages of up to 20 hours a day. As a result, factories have been forced into closing. There is double-digit inflation. Infrastructure is crumbling for want of resources. And harrowing stories of the newly impoverished setting themselves on fire or resorting to crime have become the new normal.
Good deeds never go unpunished in Pakistan. The United States, Pakistan's most generous ally, remains public enemy No. 1 for reasons that do not withstand any rational scrutiny. But then Pakistan has never been accused of being terribly rational. As someone invested in Pakistan's progress, I have always maintained the U.S. must provide an energy lifeline to our ally country to establish in real and rapid terms the consideration it accords the 190 million people of Pakistan. If the U.S. were to help solve Pakistan's energy crisis-and it can-there could be no better measure to manage and mitigate anti-America sentiment in the country and no better billboard to showcase that the U.S. means business.
Unfortunately, far too often the urgency of U.S. economic support announcements and photo ops in Islamabad are dulled by inaction or bungled by red tape in Washington. This fuels disenchantment at many levels. Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington last April, Pakistan's finance minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh said his country had "not even received $300 million" of the $1.5 billion in annual economic support promised to Pakistan under the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009.
It is also true that the government led by President Asif Ali Zardari is crippled by compulsions of keeping intact a coalition of disparate parties often at odds with each other. Thus, Mr. Shaikh is the country's fifth finance minister in four years. The turnover at the other key ministries-water and power, and petroleum and natural resources-is just as alarming. The government's capacity for economic and information management also seems woefully inadequate.
Then there are the corruption allegations Mr. Zardari faced in the 1990s and which didn't lead to a single conviction. These are still in circulation and, coupled with Pakistan's governance crisis, provide Zardari critics in Pakistan's freewheeling media and opposition virtually uncontested space to hurl with indignant certitude all manner of accusations against foreign, and local, investments made on his watch. In other words, any projects during the last four years for the economic advancement and eminent good of Pakistan-including the Enhanced Partnership Act with the U.S.-are, in the popular imagination, either Trojan horses or sweetheart deals.
As if things weren't bad enough for Pakistan's image abroad, the country's irreversibly sensational and bizarrely anti-business media gleefully peddles self-fulfilling prophesies of an economic and political meltdown. If you strip down the self-righteous rhetoric, the media in particular is determined that Pakistan's economy fail-at least while Mr. Zardari is around.
We have seen this picture before. In the mid-90s, when Mr. Zardari's assassinated wife, Benazir Bhutto, charmed investors into setting up privately-owned power plants, her government was accused of corruption. When Nawaz Sharif's government took over, it launched "investigations," arresting not only the executives of these foreign and local power companies but also their family members. The effects were disastrous. The investment climate became toxic and would remain so until 9/11. And potential investors like Gordon Wu, who had wanted to invest $6 billion in Pakistan, ran for the nearest exit.
Faced with international censure and arbitration proceedings, Islamabad eventually agreed to a settlement: the power companies reduced their tariffs to afford the government some face saving, and the government rewarded the companies by extending their contracts with public sector power buyers. Today, the "independent power plants" Bhutto set up provide almost 30 percent of Pakistan's total electricity supply. One hopes that Bhutto and Zardari opponents realize how much worse the energy crisis would have been had these power plants not been installed.
Since the summer of 2006, Pakistan has seen recurrent and riotous protests over power shortages. These picked up after the Zardari-led government was elected in 2008 and as outages grew, exacerbated by the government's liquidity problems. The protests have resulted in the destruction of public property-and deaths. The opposition has led several of these protests while simultaneously ensuring through litigation and an unrelenting media trial that no new power generation capacity comes online during Zardari's term. Yet, no one has called out the opposition over its rank contradictions and persecutory power past.
For the last two years, Pakistan's Supreme Court had been hearing three "human rights" petitions, including one filed by a Sharif lieutenant, challenging the installation of fast-track power plants as a short-term solution for the country. On March 30, the eve of another power protest by the opposition, the court delivered its verdict: all "rental power" contracts were declared illegal and rescinded and an independent agency was ordered to launch inquiries in support of the judgment. At 7:40 p.m. that day, we were directed to shut down power supplies to Naudero, Bhutto's constituency. American personnel at the plant have been flown back. Almost all Pakistani staff has been laid off.
In Pakistan's increasingly cynical society, all success is suspect. Unless you're Chinese, all foreign investors are viewed not as risk takers and growth drivers for the Pakistani economy but as usurpers, looters, and worse. After the recent court judgment, even the Ankara-supported "Turkey-Pakistan friendship" power ship has been impounded. And the proposed Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline is popular not just because it is critically required but because it also provides the added bonus of showing down the United States., which is opposed to the project.
There's also the Tethyan Copper Company, a partnership between Chile's Antofagasta and Canada's Barrick Gold, which spent $220 million working toward a $3.3-billion copper and gold mine in Reko Diq in Pakistan's restive Balochistan province only to be stamped as colonizers by the courts and media. When the company was forced into placing advertisements to push its facts forward in the public domain, it was slapped with a gag order and disallowed to challenge the fevered narrative of misrepresentations against it. Tethyan is headed for international arbitration, an all too familiar venue for foreign investors who put store in Pakistan.
Pakistan is complicated. It hates the U.S., yet America is the second most popular destination for Pakistani immigrants. It resents American economic support, yet complains that there is too little of it. It craves investment, but will rescind legal contracts in paroxysms of nationalist hysteria casting a cloud over every existing and future contract.
America can help. It needs to emphasize to all Pakistani stakeholders-politicians, the judiciary, the Army-that their country must abide by its legal contracts and that it must unreservedly depoliticize the energy sector and the economy. Pakistan must enact a real defamation law that provides economic disincentives to the incendiary media and sets it on a path to self-correction. The U.S. must facilitate capacity building, especially in key Pakistani energy ministries and agencies, to effect durable, long-term economic planning. It can and should provide speedy debt support, for example through the U.S. State Department's Overseas Private Investment Corporation, to expedite energy projects that can visibly and meaningfully improve the lives of Pakistanis. The U.S. must make its aid to Pakistan conditional on the country delivering on these basic and essential reforms.
The opposition and torch-wielding media lynch mob claim to have the best interests at heart of the tens of millions of Pakistanis-whose everyday lives are roiled by energy shortages and rendered meaningless from darkening economic prospects-but if they think they're doing well by the people of Pakistan, they should think again.
David Walters was the governor of Oklahoma from 1990 to 1994. He is the founder and president of Walters Power International, a power solutions firm doing business in over 14 countries, including the U.K. He is a partner in Pakistan Power Resources, LLC, and Walters Power International Limited owns a 51-megawatt power plant in Pakistan.
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The controversial Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline has become an increasingly problematic issue in the vacillating U.S-Pakistan relationship. The United States has strongly condemned the project, but such rhetoric seems only to have made Pakistan more determined to continue with it. An energy agreement between Iran and Pakistan would be detrimental to U.S efforts to isolate Iran and force the shutdown of its nuclear program. And while it could potentially alleviate Pakistan's energy crisis, the proponents of the project seem more interested in defying the West than inquiring about its ‘real' benefits.
Pakistan is crippled by an energy crisis that causes power outages for hours, daily, leading to violent protests around the country, such as those in Lahore last week. Many do not have gas for heating or cooking purposes, and electricity outages affect schools, hospitals, businesses and industries, bringing an already dwindling economy to a halt. In such a scenario, Pakistan is forced to look elsewhere to meet its needs.
The IP gas pipeline is one such prospect. The idea, conceptualized in 1990 with negotiations starting in 1994, is to construct a pipeline that would pass solely between the two countries. As the prospect developed, India entered the game, and the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline -- popularly known as the "Peace Pipeline" -- came into existence. In 2008, however, India signed a civil nuclear power deal with the U.S and pulled out of the project; many analysts accused it of succumbing to American pressure.
On March 16, 2010, Iran and Pakistan signed an agreement on the pipeline during a meeting in the Turkish capital city of Ankara. The revised pipeline, with a projected cost of $1.5 billion, would start from the South Pars gas field in Iran's southern city of Asalouyeh and pass through Bandar-Abbas and Iranshahr, until it reaches Khuzdar, Balochistan. At Khuzdar, a section is planned to extend to Karachi while the rest of the pipeline would continue through Sui to Multan.
In July 2011, Iran claimed that it had almost completed 900 km of its construction of the 56 inch diameter pipeline, though this assertion remains unconfirmed. Pakistan is to lay 781 km of the pipeline in its territory, and the project is expected to be completed by December 2014. Although completion remains two years away, Pakistan views this project as a medium-term investment to pull it out of a crippling energy crisis. Iran has also expressed its commitment to alleviating Pakistan's woes, and once operations begin it will provide 750 million cubic feet of gas per day for 25 years.
Pakistan can no longer depend on domestic resources to address its crippling energy problems. During the third Afghanistan-Pakistan-Iran trilateral summit held on February 16, 2012, turning to Iran, Pakistan has reiterated its commitment to the IP gas pipeline project, a 1,000-megawatt electricity transmission line, and a 100-megawatt power supply from Gwadar to meet Pakistan's energy woes. In return, Iran has offered to enhance bilateral trade to $10 billion by importing specific commodities such as rice and wheat, in the following few months. But, it is difficult to predict whether such bold developments will ever actually be implemented.
The United States, meanwhile, supports an alternate gas pipeline -- known as the TAPI pipeline because it would run through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The TAPI pipeline project has, however, been rejected by Pakistan for a number of reasons. It will take much longer to materialize, will pass through treacherous and unreliable terrain, and involves too many regional players -- specifically India and Afghanistan -- which Pakistan views with suspicion.
The TAPI pipeline would flow through war-torn Afghanistan, and until the end game there is clear, Pakistani authorities, justifiably, are not ready to take such a risk on their energy survival. The situation recently grew more complicated when Afghanistan hinted at possibly withdrawing from the project. Though the final round of the TAPI negotiations are to be held on April 19, if Afghanistan does indeed withdraw from the project, America's proposal of a viable alternate to the IP gas pipeline would be in grave danger.
On February 29, U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton expressed frustration with Pakistan's intention to push ahead with the IP pipeline at a hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations. She threatened sanctions that "would be particularly damaging to Pakistan because their economy is already quite shaky," should Pakistan continue with its commitment to build the IP gas pipeline and hence, violate the Iran Sanctions Act. While a proposed Iran-Turkey pipeline appears to progress sans sanctions, Pakistan could face an immediate termination of financial and military assistance.
Secretary Clinton's remarks have raised serious objections, and have only made Pakistan more adamant about continuing with the project. The "threat" prompted brave words from Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar: "We are a sovereign country and we will do whatever is in the interest of Pakistan. All of these projects are in Pakistan's national interest, and will be pursued and completed irrespective of any extraneous considerations."
In November 2010, similar defensive posturing was prompted when Ambassador Munter stated that "the plan to get gas from Turkmenistan is a better idea" than the IP pipeline. Pakistani Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan slammed the comment, stating, "Islamabad will not accept any dictation regarding its internal affairs from any foreign country. Gas from Iran is in the country's best interest."
However, it is still unclear whether the IP gas pipeline is indeed in the best interests of the country. The pre-feasibility study that will determine whether the pipeline should be built by estimating the finances needed and the expected timeframe of the project has only just begun. The most pressing issue Pakistan will face if it decides to construct the IP gas pipeline, is that of raising finances. The issue has gained geo-political attention, and a consortium led by the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) has recently pulled out of the project, prompting the Pakistani government to look elsewhere for finances. The federal government is currently negotiating a deal with Russian giant gas monopoly, Gazprom, for financial and technical assistance. While no agreement has currently been reached, senior level discussions are underway. With a crippled economy and diminished finances, Pakistan may very well be unable to embark on the project due to lack of funds from international investors.
With Pakistan still grappling for funds, and the feasibility study commissioned by Pakistan not expected to be completed before October 2013, vehement U.S opposition and rhetoric is premature at this moment. Sanctions would severely affect the economy, and Pakistan is unlikely to be ready to take that risk. Most recently, Pakistan hired experts to study the consequences of the sanctions, should it move ahead with constructing the pipeline. While the country can benefit immensely from an energy pipeline with Iran, being closely associated with a nation receiving so much negative international attention may do it more harm than good.
Without a clear argument and only an unclear picture of the project itself, Pakistan's determination to construct the pipeline is simply a political move in response to foreign interference in internal matters, and nothing more than that at this moment.
Armed with this realization and an awareness of the rampant anti-Americanism in Pakistan, the United States needs to adopt a more sensitive and informed approach to tackle the equally sensitive issue of the IP pipeline. The United States must differentiate between nuclear development and regional cooperation. By encouraging trade and energy agreements, it could illustrate a genuine concern for peace and stability in the region, as well as repair America's image abroad. The United States must show a serious commitment to alleviating the energy crisis in Pakistan, and hold talks with key players in the private sector. The private sector will not only serve as a wealth of information and a vehicle of action but also as a prime interlocutor.
The State Department is currently helping Pakistan with thermal energy generation, and investing in dams, but it must also consider working jointly with Pakistan on stand-alone power projects that utilize wind and water, contain leakages that remain a prime reason of energy wastage, suggest mechanisms to avoid energy theft, and foster dialogue between experts in the field.
Finding support for a conciliatory approach may not be easy. The Obama administration is facing tough questions at home on its continued engagement with the Af-Pak region, having achieved the objective of killing former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Defending the war in Afghanistan and securing a $2.2 billion budget in economic and security assistance for Pakistan will be difficult. Additionally, pressuring South Asian countries to ostracize Iran will only lead to more animosity. The need of the hour is cooperation, not sanctions. Illustrating a true commitment to addressing Pakistan's greatest handicap, instead of condemning regional policy decisions, will open up a world of opportunities for both sides.
Arsla Jawaid is Assistant Editor at the monthly foreign policy magazine, SouthAsia. Arsla holds a BA in International Relations from Boston University, with a focus on foreign policy and security studies. She can be followed on Twitter @arslajawaid.
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Whipsawed by a long-drawn U.S.-led military operation and a decade of erratic international economic assistance, Afghanistan is in shambles. With economic development always considered secondary to security concerns, little has been done in the past decade to establish a sustainable Afghan economy. While the international community has tried to generate a steady flow of aid, the Afghan government is still unable to cater to the population's basic needs. Moreover, the little economy we have seen evolve in Afghanistan since 2001 is predominantly based on the international security presence. The bulk of Afghanistan's gross domestic product (GDP) stems from international aid, and the impending 2014 deadline for the withdrawal of international combat troops will be accompanied by a parallel reduction in aid money. Thus, as the tide of war recedes, a large chunk of the economy will also disappear, posing an increasing threat to stability. The country's current economic trajectory beyond 2014 is fraught with corruption and uncertainty. However, despite the dire situation, Afghanistan's economic transition has received only minor policy attention, with the focus remaining on the ongoing security transition. Thus the question remains: How will Afghanistan sustain its economy beyond 2014?
The decrease in foreign assistance is like to cause today's economic bubble to burst, potentially plunging the country into an economic recession. And if the security environment further deteriorates, the country could face full economic collapse. A financing gap of 25 percent of GDP by 2022 due to increased military and non-military spending by the Afghan government further puts Afghanistan's economic stability at risk. While the international donor community can help to prevent a total collapse of the economy by decreasing aid gradually, the key to a prosperous Afghanistan is to invest in the long-term economic advantages the country has to offer.
One such advantage may lie in Afghanistan's geographic location. The New Silk Road strategy, often promoted by the United States, aims at linking Afghanistan with its South and Central Asian neighbors, transforming the country into a nucleus for regional trade. Focus should also be placed on rebuilding the oil and gas pipeline running from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and on to Pakistan and India. If done right, these initiatives might enable Afghanistan to attract increased foreign investment, connect the country to foreign markets, and promote growth, gradually reducing its dependence on foreign aid. However, the key to such a scenario lies in Afghanistan's relations with regional players, in particular Pakistan. Given its location, Pakistan is expected to serve as the main transit route for Afghan exports and access to the port cities of Gwadar and Karachi will remain crucial to Afghanistan's development. However, a volatile relationship with its eastern neighbor could mean a precarious dependency for Afghanistan.
Another potential economic trigger may be found in Afghanistan's untapped mineral reserves, ostensibly valued in the trillions of dollars. Based on cautiously optimistic assumptions by the World Bank, the iron ore project at Hajigak and copper mine at Aynak could deliver $2 to $3 billion to the extractive industry, with each deposit potentially generating over half a billion dollars in government revenue in just a few years. The mining industry may appear at first glance to be a potential panacea for the Afghan economy, but it will take decades before the country can reap the benefits of such a project. The Afghan mineral reserves require significant investments in infrastructure, and more importantly, effective and accountable governance that can efficiently and transparently manage revenues. Furthermore, in 2010, of the total $17 billion government expenditure, only $1.9 billion of the spending were drawn from Afghanistan's own sources of revenue; the rest: foreign assistance. Hence, besides the projected tax revenues and some foreign aid, even if mineral resources did manage to generate the estimated revenue, the Afghan budget would still face an annual deficit of $7 billion.
Rebuilding after more than a decade of conflict must also involve encouraging growth in Afghanistan's nascent private sector, a sector that has been stifled to some degree by the international donor presence. In a "donor drunk" economy, there are a large number of foreign, private NGOs, which dominate the private sector and make entry into it difficult for Afghan organizations. Although some of these private entities are effective development organizations at the grassroots level, many carry a negative perception among the Afghan people, who see the ubiquitous "briefcase NGOs" as money-making mechanisms for the people involved. Meanwhile, the influx of foreign money and employers has also artificially inflated labor costs for low-skilled workers over the past years, and has made Afghanistan an attractive venue for external laborers from neighboring countries such as Pakistan. However, as the flow of aid dwindles, those who have been paid hefty salaries over much of the past decade for low-skilled work for foreign entities may now prove more affordable to Afghan businesses, and will also open up more jobs for Afghan workers. While the initial transition phase from a military focused economy to a regular one will be difficult, it will leave room for a more long-term, sustainable economy to develop.
Regardless of Afghanistan's many potential sources of revenue, any real progress will be limited without the long-term support of the international community. While the West's future commitment to Afghanistan is vague at best, the increasing number of strategic partnerships with key allies signals a willingness by certain powers to remain involved in shaping Afghanistan's future beyond 2014. In the past week, Afghanistan has signed strategic partnership agreements with key European allies such as the UK, France, and Italy that ensure an enduring commitment and cooperation with Afghanistan in key areas, including economy, security, and governance. While only time will tell if the West really will stay committed to Afghanistan, this week's agreements are at least a step in the right direction.
Similarly, any future foreign aid funneled by the West to the Afghan government is effectively futile without properly addressing the raging corruption and lack of transparency and accountability in public finances. As the world's second most corrupt nation, any failure by the West and the Afghan government in tackling this menace in the so-called "transformation decade" would mean repeating and wasting yet another inefficient ten years of international assistance.
Today, as U.S. and NATO troops prepare to assume a lighter military presence, many Afghans fear a serious economic downturn when foreign aid and spending recede, leaving Afghanistan with little or nothing to fall back on. It is still uncertain if and how the Afghan government will function after 2014 without an open-ended $8 to $10 billion yearly commitment from the United States and Europe. However, responsibility for a stable and secure Afghanistan ultimately rests with the Afghans themselves, and there is still a sense of optimism among the Afghan people about the future of their country. The Afghan government, for its part, must foster transparency and accountability in public finances drawn from foreign aid, and work to cut leaks that enable corruption. If these reforms and the myriad of other challenges go unaddressed, the hard work and accomplishments of the past decade could easily unravel and ultimately lead to an even more troubled Afghanistan than we have seen in the past ten years.
Javid Ahmad, a native of Kabul, is Program Coordinator with the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, DC. Louise Langeby is a Program Associate with the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Brussels. The views reflected here are their own.
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For many analysts and policymakers, Pakistan's decision to grant Most Favored Nation (MFN) status to India earlier this month appears to be a major breakthrough in India-Pakistan trade relations. Under the MFN clause, all members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) are obliged to extend trading benefits to a country that are equal to those accorded to any other country. While India accorded Pakistan MFN status in 1996, Pakistan's decision to reciprocate has only come 15 years later.
Perhaps what has gone unnoticed by the world at large, however, is the unprecedented pace at which the Economic and Commercial Cooperation talks between India and Pakistan, which resumed in April and picked up again this week after a hiatus of three years, have proceeded. While India was keen on Pakistan granting it MFN status, the latter's major concern was that India should remove all non-tariff barriers that impede its market access into the Indian market. And a key feature of these talks has been that timelines have been specified for every item on the agenda. In particular, the April agenda stated that Joint Working Groups to address non-tariff barriers should be set up by August 2011, and that MFN status to India should be accorded by October 2011. Both conditions that have now been satisfied.
Under the extant bilateral trade arrangement between the two countries, Pakistan permits the import of only 1934 items from India, known as a ‘positive list' approach to trade limitations. Following the Pakistani federal cabinet's decision to grant MFN status to India there were three major concerns about its implementation process. First, the time period within which the shift from a positive to negative list (whereby the list contains specific banned, rather than permitted, items) would take place was not stated. Second, Pakistan has maintained a separate positive list for the road route between the two countries at the Wagah border crossing, where only 14 of the 1934 items on the overall positive list are allowed to be traded; analysts doubted whether this extra barrier would be rectified. And third, Pakistan has yet to meet its obligations under the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), under which members agreed to offer preferential access to other members by reducing tariffs within a specified timeframe.
The Joint Statement issued following the conclusion of talks on Wednesday addresses all of these concerns. First, it lays down the sequencing and timelines for the move towards full normalization of trade relations. In the initial stage, Pakistan will make a transition from the current ‘positive list' approach to a small negative list of banned items to be finalized and ratified in February 2012. In the second stage, the negative list will be phased out by the end of 2012. The new trading regime will also be applicable to all trade that goes overland between the two countries at the Wagah crossing, after the new infrastructure at the land border is complete, with the announcement of this change timed to coincide with the release of goods on the negative list. Both sides also agreed to move towards enhancing the preferential trading arrangements under the SAFTA process, and they also agreed to designate officials on both sides to work on this issue. If these timelines are met, there will be no contentious issues left with regards to the MFN status.
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As we pass the 10-year anniversary of the US-led war in Afghanistan, most attention has been focused on how much longer the United States intends to stay in the region. But a question that has not been addressed is who is going to be putting the pieces together afterwards. The European Union (EU) and the United States are clearly at the end of their tether, while Russia, India and other nearby powers continue to lack the capacity or means to dominate the region. Other rising regional power China may continue to be wary of becoming involved in any foreign entanglements, but as a friend put it in a meeting in Beijing the other day, China may not have broken the teapot of Afghanistan, but it is one that sits firmly on their borders.
And there is some evidence that this reality is sinking in at Zhongnanhai in Beijing. Chinese firms have made substantial investments in Afghanistan. The Aynak copper mine has been joined by an investment in oil fields in northern Afghanistan. And while Chinese firms in the end did not invest in the Bamiyan iron mines they have still cast their lot in terms of developing Afghan infrastructure - pouring money into telecoms, road-building and train lines linking Afghanistan to the rest of the region.
But this has not been supported by any large-scale investment in Afghan security. For that, China continues to look to NATO on the ground and more implicit protection from her close ally in Islamabad. As one senior Afghan put it to me, a reason that was often given for why the Chinese had gotten some of these deals was that it was known how close they were to Pakistan. The assumption was that if the deal went to China then the site would be protected in some way and the development would proceed.
While unclear to what degree this was the determining factor, the story plays into what seems to be China's main foreign policy factor when considering Afghanistan, and that is Pakistan. The Sino-Pak relationship is one of the closest in the world, spanning trade, nuclear weapons, counter-terrorism and regional hedging against India. As both sides characterize it publicly, it is "higher than mountains, deeper than oceans, stronger than steel, sweeter than honey, and dearer than eyesight." And into this fits Afghanistan, a troublesome country that borders both and is the source of regional instability. China, still a hesitant foreign policy actor, is unwilling to do too much to assert her authority in the region and is more than happy to let eager Pakistan take the lead.
And this approach is something that has worked for China for many years now. Unwilling to become involved in a conflict that could force it to take sides in a conflict in which it could be painted as part of some alliance against Islam and potentially support actors who would encourage separatists in the restive Xinjiang province, China has hesitated to do much in Afghanistan in support of NATO efforts in the country. For some in China, there was a sense that NATO's loss in Afghanistan was China's gain and that the potential encirclement that might result from NATO success on their borders would be to China's detriment, while for others there was a sense that this was a lost cause anyway and that Afghanistan was the "graveyard of empires."
Instead, China focused on investing in things that seemed like a good idea. A large copper mine at Aynak sits close to China's borders and consequently seemed a wise investment to first bid for it and then offer a whole package of deals including a local power station and train line to provide the backdrop to make the deal work for the Chinese firm. All of this would help supply China's need for copper, as well as develop a part of the country that was close to China and would therefore potentially have a knock-on effect in improving prosperity in neighboring underdeveloped Chinese province Xinjiang. Similarly with the deal to secure the oil fields in Amu Darya - China's unslakable thirst for hydrocarbons means it will reach out anywhere to get them, and when they are so close to home, all the better.
But while none of this disagrees with western policy in Afghanistan, there is no sense that China is willing to buy into any active policy supporting western goals in the region. China continues to be the ultimate hedging power in Afghanistan - while it seems clear that they are willing to support western aims in the country, there continues to be a lack of any clear evidence that they are as willing to expend political capital or effort to advance their goals actively in the country. This is not to say they are indolent in advancing their interests, but that they are wary of becoming entangled in a country that has repeatedly shown a capacity to reject foreign influence.
From a Chinese perspective, the answer to Afghanistan is clear. The tribes need to fight it out amongst each other - to paraphrase what one expert told me in Beijing, this is a country with "lots of big powerful men who need to be kept happy" and outsiders do not really stand much of chance moderating this. Ultimately, the country is poor, will clearly need investment going forward, and China will be there to support it. With deep pockets and no conditions, this support can be funneled to whomever is in charge and to whomever has the power of the provinces where China has direct interests. When it comes to border threats, China seems to have managed to secure strong intelligence links and is able to keep a quite firm lid on any potential threats from extremist groups with links to networks in Pakistan or Afghanistan.
China's play in Afghanistan has been very hesitant so far. The reason for this is a lack of certainty in Beijing about what Washington's game plan is. In the meantime, they have continued to make careful strategic investments with a view to the long game. And while from a western analysis this should mean a greater Chinese interest in stabilizing the current government, from Beijing's perspective it is far better to let things play themselves out while focusing on specific interests. This will not necessarily help western aims to re-shape Afghanistan, but it will strengthen China's hand when the west finally leaves.
Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation. He blogs at http://www.raffaellopantucci.com.
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The market has recently been flooded with books about Pakistan by academics, policymakers, and journalists. Many of these have sought to explain - and to some extent apologize for - contemporary Pakistani society to the western world. Pamela Constable's Playing with Fire: Pakistan at War with Itself is the rare exception that acknowledges this goal, and then lives up to its appointed task. Western readers could hope for no better guide to present-day Pakistan than Constable, a veteran journalist who has reported extensively from Pakistan for over a decade with The Washington Post. Her new book is a sound introduction to Pakistan's contradictions, inequalities, tumultuous politics, and every fluctuating national identity.
As newspaper headlines about Pakistan policy choices become increasingly shrill, readers seeking context will find much of use in Playing with Fire. The book traces political and security developments across the country, primarily since 2007, that fateful year when former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated and the army's poor handling of a siege at the radical Red Mosque in Islamabad led to a spate of nationwide suicide bombings. In addition to political upheaval and terrorist attacks, Constable documents new laws, corruption scandals, media trends, civil society movements, and more, making her book one of the few holistic backgrounders on Pakistan.
Indeed, Playing with Fire benefits immensely from its author's journalistic background. The book covers those aspects of Pakistan that are rarely examined in works by political scientists or retired diplomats focused on Pakistan's security issues or regional geopolitics. Constable includes chapters on women and their divergent experiences in different social classes, upper-class Pakistanis, religious minorities, and life in rural Pakistan (in the interests of disclosure, I read an early draft of one of these chapters while Constable and I overlapped as fellows at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC).
Like good journalism, the book also combines faithful documentation with sharp analysis: Constable bookends extensive quotes from Pakistanis - whether brick kiln workers or land-owning politicians - with her own insights into Pakistan's problems. These insights are inevitably the best nuggets in the book; for example, Constable observes that the dynamics of landed feudalism have trickled down into the contemporary industrial sector, where factor workers remain indebted to their employers.
Constable's most profound insight into Pakistan is stated at the outset, in the book's introduction. She argues that Pakistanis are essentially powerless: "they see the trappings of representative democracy around them but little tangible evidence of it working in their lives." The various chapters of Playing with Fire then show how this powerlessness is manifest: in the vestiges of the feudal system, in the failings of the judicial system, in the endless paperwork of a bloated bureaucracy, in the limited circles of dynastic politics, and in the ‘honor' codes of a patriarchal society. Through characters, narratives, statistics, and direct quotes, Constable shows how Pakistanis are denied rights and opportunities in a way that perpetuates the status quo. One only wishes that with each example of a powerless Pakistani she offers, Constable reiterated the theme more explicitly for emphasis.
Interestingly, while acknowledging their powerlessness, Constable allows Pakistanis to speak for themselves in her book. The liberal use of direct quotes provides an insight into Pakistani perceptions of global trends and political issues. Numerous excerpts from newspaper editorials and columns (including one of mine) also give a taste of public discourse within Pakistan. The country is frequently faulted for its head-in-the-sand attitude towards internal security developments, particularly the long-term fallout of cultivating militant groups. But Constable's regular nods to Pakistani opinion-makers show that a spirited, if convoluted debate about Pakistan's future and identity is currently underway in the country.
The most interesting chapter in Playing with Fire documents the slow ‘Talibanization' of Pakistani society. Constable points to the diverse elements that have led many Pakistanis to equate patriotism and religiosity: the content of government-issue textbooks, the successful campaigns of religious political parties, the moralizing rhetoric of student politics, the vitriol of television talk show hosts, and the state's foreign policy. Moreover, she uncovers how Pakistani society has evolved in a matter of years from wearing its religion loosely to developing extremist sympathies. Constable shows how Islam became "hip" among university students who embraced their religious identity as a way to participate in global trends. She also notes that "poor yet pious" Pakistanis use religious fervor as a way to push back against "errant Muslims of a higher class," introducing equality in what is otherwise a highly stratified society.
This nuanced chapter is bolstered by Constable's overview of the origins and ideologies of Pakistan's various militant and sectarian groups. The book also documents major security-related events such as the formation of the anti-state Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the takeover of the Swat Valley in 2009 by TNSM, another extremist organization. With these snapshots of militancy, Playing with Fire becomes a handy user's guide to terrorism and security for those who have not followed regional developments at a granular level.
One argumentative disconnect does however emerge in the book. Constable's chapters on the ‘Talibanization' of society and Pakistan's use of militant groups as ‘strategic assets' emphasize that extremism is a top-down phenomenon in Pakistan, perpetuated as a result of state policies. But in other sections of the book, she suggests that extremist tendencies are organic-the expected fallout of widespread poverty, joblessness, and frustration. For example, Constable quotes the bitter complaint of a young man from Peshawar who graduated from a prestigious engineering school but was unable to find a job. He suggests that the lack of opportunity creates terrorists. Similarly, in a chapter about sectarian tensions and violent discrimination against religious minorities, Constable includes a rant by a butcher who denounces rampant corruption, crime, and poor leadership. The decision to include his viewpoint implies that the failure of state institutions is fostering religious intolerance.
There is an ongoing debate about whether extremism in Pakistan is a product of years of state-sponsored militancy and General Ziaul Haq's Islamization policies in the 1980s, or whether it is a contemporary response to flawed Pakistani and American policies. Given Constable's intimate knowledge of the region, a direct summary of her perceptions on this matter would have given the book even more substance.
Throughout her book, Constable draws out the clashing ideological and political stances of Pakistan's liberals and conservatives. She will be aware then that some liberals may find her book too soft on the Pakistan Army. No doubt, the book maps the fallout of the army's many dalliances with militant groups. But the chapter on the ‘murder of democracy' focuses on corrupt politicians such as President Asif Ali Zardari, dynastic politics, and the inefficient bureaucracy. Meanwhile, Constable's analysis of the Pakistan Army delves into the choices made by military dictators Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf as well as the shenanigans of the intelligence agent Khalid Khawaja. This focus on controversial characters (though compelling to read) makes the army's flaws seem individual rather than institutional. A concise assessment of the impact of military interference in Pakistan's political and economic spheres over the decades would have served the book well.
Ultimately, though, Playing with Fire is an accessible yet comprehensive guide to a country that is constantly evolving and much written about, but little understood by westerners.
Huma Yusuf is a columnist for Pakistan's Dawn Newspaper, and was the 2010-11 Pakistan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
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While the unfolding disaster at Japan's Fukushima reactor riveted the world, Pakistan quietly observed an important milestone in its own nuclear power program. Pakistan's Chashma 2 nuclear power plant commenced operation and was connected to the electricity grid on March 15, just four days after the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan and initiated what is now one of the worst nuclear accidents on record. Last week, on the eve of his visit to China, Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani commissioned Chashma 2 and indicated that China would construct two additional nuclear reactors at the same site. With Pakistanis spending hours each day in the dark due to "load shedding," a euphemism for managed power outages, never has energy been more critical for Pakistan.
According to figures from the Pakistan Electric Power Company, Pakistan's current electricity supply deficit averages about 3000 megawatts, which is probably enough to power about 3 million households in Pakistan. This shortage exacts a high toll on the Pakistani people, especially in the summer when temperatures can exceed 115 degrees. The more insidious effects of Pakistan's electric shortfalls are economic. The country now finds itself in a catch 22: the moribund economy limits large investments in new or rehabilitated electric generation capacity, but won't register dramatic improvement without more and consistent electricity.
Pakistan's ability to meet its energy requirements indigenously is constrained by the relatively poor quality of its coal, the feast or famine nature of hydroelectric power in a monsoon climate, and the political and security challenges of tapping effectively the natural gas reserves in its Baluchistan province. Pakistan will have to seek energy security through a mixture of external and internal sources. As one element of a long-term plan for energy diversity, nuclear power makes sense for Pakistan, as it does for many states. But it is an ineffective solution to Pakistan's current energy needs.
Editor's note: This is Part I of a two-part seriesfocusing on aid provision in conflict zones, with tomorrow's edition to focuson Afghanistan.
Although the White House was cautiously optimistic in itsrecent strategy review on Afghanistan, even for seasoned AfPak watchers, itcan be difficult to discern exactly what the U.S. strategy istowards Afghanistan. The sound bite summary "clear, hold, build" may besimplistic, but it still offers a useful starting place to evaluate U.S. andNATO efforts. The "clear" and "hold" represent the straightforward ideas (intheory if not execution) of taking and holding ground, operations with whichmilitaries are well-acquainted. The real issue, and the key to success orfailure, is defining what "build" really means, and examining how the United States andNATO are "building" in Afghanistan.
While many factors in Afghanistan (and Pakistan, for thatmatter) are unique, in a larger sense, the challenges faced there are the sameissues, with new faces, that the United States has been long been struggling with inother countries. The U.S. government clearly hopes to "build" the Afghangovernment and military up to the point that it will take the lead in battlingthe Taliban. For decades now, in countries around the world, the tool mostfrequently called on to "build" countries is aid. Sometimes aid comes in theform of humanitarian, short-term assistance, i.e. emergency food, medicine,water, and shelter, aimed at stabilizing crisis situations. In other cases, aidcomes in the form of "official development assistance" or ODA, most often adirect cash transfer from a donor government or donor institution to arecipient country, usually in the form of grants or low-interest loans, andaimed at promoting long-term growth by developing infrastructure, education,and more. In the case of Afghanistan (and Pakistan), aid to the region hasconsisted of a mixture of both humanitarian and strategic (ODA) aid.
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Nearly a month after Punjab province's controversial governor Salman Taseer was gunned down by his bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri at an Islamabad café, Pakistani authorities are no closer to taking any real steps to punish the assassin. Just this week a Pakistani court deferred a scheduled hearing into the case, and crowds have gathered outside of Qadri's prison clamoring for his release. A YouTube video of Qadri reciting a poem in the praise of Prophet Mohammad, known as Naat, has received over 69,000 views. The video was shot while Qadri was in police custody and it remains a mystery who helped shoot and disseminate the video.
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The floods in Pakistan in 2010 were massive. The rains affected the length of Pakistan, maximally impacting the provinces of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), Punjab, and Sindh as well as parts of Baluchistan. Flooding displaced more than 20 million people and covered about one fifth of Pakistan's arable lands -- an area roughly equal to the U.S. eastern seaboard. This flood affected more people than the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, Hurricane Katrina (2005), Hurricane Nargis (2005), the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined. Irrigation systems were destroyed, crops ruined, and seed stockpiles devastated. More than six million heads of livestock (including poultry) were killed. Yet, amazingly, only 1,985 people perished while another 2,946 were injured.
Given the population density of the affected regions, the poor infrastructure, and the baseline level of poverty, these figures are astonishingly low. In spite of the physical destruction, the fact that fewer than 2,000 Pakistanis died suggests that the Pakistani government did something very well last summer. Amidst numerous ongoing internal security crisis, political challenges and shortfalls of international assistance, Pakistani agencies continue to manage this crisis well despite the serious challenges that remain.
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This week's AfPak Behind the Lines considers the current status of the Kashmir conflict and its impact on Afghanistan and Pakistan with Dr. Sumit Ganguly.
1. 17 Kashmiris have been killed in conflict with Indian authorities
since early June, when police killed a 17 year old bystander at a protest. How
does this summer's violence compare with previous years, and how has the nature
of the conflict changed since the Muslim separatist movement began in the late
This summer's violence is markedly reminiscent of the violence at the beginning of the insurgency in 1989. At that time there was a genuine outpouring of popular anger over Indian political malfeasances in Kashmir. (These are explored at some length in my 1997 Cambridge book, The Crisis in Kashmir: Portents of War, Hopes of Peace). Once again, young Kashmir men who are tired of the seeming callousness of the Indian state toward their plight have taken to the streets. They feel that much of the resources that the national government has poured into the state has not made a meaningful difference to their lives. They lack employment, infrastructure in the state if inadequate and the heavy hand of paramilitary forces deployed in the state adversely affect they everyday lives. They are subjected to petty harassment, periodic questioning and are occasionally roughed up. Given this milieu all that was needed was an unfortunate incident, namely the death of a hapless high school student was hit by a stray tear gas canister. His death provided the spark for the conflagration that ensued.
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