September 16, 2010

CRS: Pakistan’s Resource Issues = Concerning

A third pat on Congressional Research Service’s back this week, now for its August 3rd “Security and the Environment in Pakistan.” For full disclosure, I also have a pending article on this exact topic, so I will be holding my tongue quite a bit so as not to preempt myself. I’d note that the Wilson Center’s ECSP does cool work in this area as well, so check them out if you’re exploring this topic beyond this blog post.

On to the substance. CRS writes:

Environmental stresses, when combined with the other socio-economic and political stresses on Pakistan, have the potential to further weaken an already weak Pakistani state. Such a scenario would make it more difficult to achieve the U.S. goal of neutralizing anti-Western terrorists in Pakistan…The report examines the potentially destabilizing effect that, when combined with Pakistan’s demographic trends and limited economic development, water scarcity, limited arable land, and food security may have on an already radicalized internal and destabilized international political security environment. The report considers the especially important hypothesis that the combination of these factors could contribute to Pakistan’s decline as a fully functioning state, creating new, or expanding existing, largely ungoverned areas. (emphasis mine)

That’s the money question. Will and I had a nice little chat about this while dragging our suitcases from the train station to the hotel in Linz, Austria a few weeks ago. Where we came out is basically: there’s no way to tell. I think resources challenges are severe enough that they have the possibility to tip this country over the edge – but, Pakistan has also proven itself to be relatively resilient, whether that’s through internal dynamics acting as some kind of centripetal force, external powers bolstering it, or a combination of the two. If the nature of the country were different, these issues may have already cemented its decline or full failure. But yet, it still hangs together.

Getting a bit more specific, Pakistan’s water crisis surely stands as the most concerning of its resource challenges:

The growing imbalance between Pakistan’s water supply and demand has led to shortages, regional competition, conflicts between stakeholders, and constraints on economic development. The tools available to address the imbalance range from trying to develop new supplies to improving the efficient use of existing supplies. Developing new sources through additional storage has been controversial. Improving water efficiency requires political will and significant investment. Determined efforts to strengthen institutional capacities in the water sector at all levels of government and to change behaviors of farmers have not been sufficient to effectively deal with the problem. The poor state of government finances limits the options available to the government.

Notably, China has been working with Pakistan on improving its irrigation for the past few years (ag being the primary water demand in the country). Another highly useful inclusion in this report for security analysts is a list of factors that have contributed to Pakistan’s agricultural decline on page 8. There is much discussion lately (including by us) about addressing land use and food production in Afghanistan and similar places where we’re hoping to increase stability. This list – which indicates problems ranging from “low technology use, and lack of farmer knowledge of operating and technological characteristics within the agricultural sector” to “poor governance and corruption” – is very helpful in thinking through what soft power solutions in this realm should look like.  

I’ll let you read the rest yourself, but a final note on methods. I found researching this problem in unclassified, open-source information to be incredibly frustrating, short of visiting Pakistan and traveling extensively around the country (which I did not feel compelled to do). The UN provides much of the baseline information, which I semi-trust but am wary of when I can’t cross-reference to other good sources. Considering climate projections for Afghanistan and Pakistan is equally challenging, given spotty historical data on their environmental conditions. (For this reason, high-confidence climate projections for these countries will remain difficult to put together, perhaps save for Himalayan water trends and other regionally-interconnected challenges.)

I wound up relying more on basic news reporting than I normally would in my analysis. In small arms and a few other specific fields, journalists are the primary source (and best source) of information. As long as you recognize the limits of this kind of info, we really have no choices other than use it cautiously, or cease considering the important security questions on our plates. It appears that the CRS analysts, based on their footnotes, likely encountered similar challenges in their research, and I highly commend them for what they were able to pull together here.