April 09, 2010

Dialogue and aid in Pakistan

Ahmed Rashid (the author of Descent into Chaos and Taliban) sums up on the BBC website what the "strategic dialogue" between Pakistan and the US means for relations between the two countries.

This is how Rashid says the US-Pakistani relationship used to work: "After 11 September, former Presidents George Bush and Pervez Musharraf carried out a largely transactional relationship. "I will give you an al-Qaeda operative in exchange for two F16 fighter bombers" - was what that boiled down to.

And how is it different this time? "The Pakistanis also carried a brief which frankly addressed Pakistan's strategic interests and security needs with regard to India, Afghanistan and sensitive issues like nuclear weapons and terrorism... For the Americans this was a welcome change from the subterfuge, lack of clarity and covert support for militant groups that Pakistan has engaged in in the past."

But while Rashid seems generally optimistic, Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to London and Washington, in an op-ed in The News asks why Pakistan seems to be convinced it can't solve it's problems itself:

"Three points emerge from the ruling elite's help-us-with-everything stance. One that it appears to be overwhelmed by the challenges at hand and seems to regard these as insuperable. Two, it doesn't seem to have much confidence in its own ability to fix these problems. And three it has come to believe that only outside help can resolve these issues and even considers foreign actors to be catalytic agents for the country's stabilisation if not progress.

"As Pakistan's history attests such external help – however well-intentioned – sets up a perverse set of incentives by which urgent domestic reform is postponed or avoided as resort is made to band-aid or quick-fix solutions imported from abroad. Assistance should serve as a means to build self-sustaining national capacity so as not to need more external financing. But this has not been the experience of the past two decades or more."