August 01, 2010

Governance, terrorism and the use of aid in Pakistan

There's more that connects drone attacks and the AirBlue crash than the fact both relate to Pakistani airspace. Huma Yusuf writes in the Dawn newspaper that in Pakistan the thread of poor governance runs through terrorism and natural disasters.

As Huma points out, where government fails to provide, extremist groups see plenty of opportunity:

"Few can forget that five years ago, in the wake of the October 2005 earthquake, the government's failure to cope with immediate relief efforts created a vacuum within which the Jamaatud Dawa pulled off its greatest publicity stunt. The extremist organisation had the most efficient response teams on the ground, and boasted the most functional and well-stocked relief camps. Its mobile X-ray machines and operating theatres made international headlines. Through their clever use of mobile technology, the group's volunteers established an unparalleled communications infrastructure that facilitated relief work.

The government and army, meanwhile, fumbled in early relief and reconstruction efforts, as charges of corruption in the distribution of aid and resources were rampant. The consequences of Jamaatud Dawa stepping in where the government should have been exercising its authority are obvious today in the support and influence that the organisation enjoys"

The Jamaatud Dawa to which Huma refers is the new front group for the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Christine Fair and Jacob Shapiro did some polling about a year ago on militant support in Pakistan and came to the conclusion that increased living standards or the provision of aid did not lead people to abandon support for militancy. To me, it sounds like the structure of the polling was a bit off. In 10 years of reporting around the Muslim world, I have seen countless times extremist or fundamentalist groups step in and provide social services where a government seen as incompetent and corrupt has failed. And everytime they have done this, they have increased their level of grassroots support. In Ain el Helwe camp in Sidon, it's Hamas that is seen to look after the interests of the Palestinian refugees, not the bumbling and corrupt Palestinian secular organisations. The same was true in Gaza before Hamas took power there. Since the 1920s, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has built up a formidable national network through social service provision. The Jordanian chapter of the group has replicated that model in the Hashemite Kingdom and predictably has gained support. So maybe it's not about aid in $ terms persuading people not to support militants, even though that's nice and easy to quantify. Really, its about aid supporting better governance.

In the Muslim political consciousness, Islamic governance equates to social justice and social services provision, which is why the "Islamic state" bandwagon is so tempting a short cut for leaders looking to replace competence with PR. In my view, one of the reasons al-Qaeda has failed to gain widespread popular support is due to the fact that it has failed to demonstrate its commitment and ability when it comes to providing "Islamic" governance. This, coupled to its bloody butcher's bill of Muslim lives and its zealous pursuit of communal warfare makes it fundamentally unattractive to most Muslims. It's only claim to popular support is its "Jihad against the crusaders and their allies". Ultimately, that's not enough.

The earthquake was five years back, Huma has more current examples to take note of:

"The collapse of the legal system - the backbone of efficient governance - in the Swat Valley led to locals supporting the call given by Sufi Mohammad of the Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi for Sharia law in the mid-1990s, and again last year. The closure of civil courts in the Malakand division indicated the usurpation of the state's authority by militants and extremist organisations. Indeed, Maulana Fazlullah and Sufi Mohammad were only able to win over (or terrorise) the Swatis because of the government's seriously compromised administrative capacity in the region."

And to the events of the past week:

"Official responses to the past week's events have betrayed equally problematic failings in governance. Much has already been written about the poorly coordinated rescue operation at the Margalla Hills - a situation in which rescue workers are prevented from reaching the site of a disaster by security forces indicates a crippling level of administrative chaos.

Meanwhile, the government's handling of relief and rescue operations for flood victims in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan has been totally inadequate. As the rains abate, the variety of ways in which the government has again failed its people is becoming obvious: ill-conceived evacuation plans; a shortage of boats and helicopters for rescue missions; sparse provision of food and other relief goods to those stranded or displaced; defunct district-level disaster management authorities.

I haven't heard that militant groups have stepped in to fill the gap but they definitely have the capacity and the motivation.

Another option, as expressed to me by a non-posh friend in Lahore: "If the Americans really care about the well being of Pakistanis why don't they send helicopters or planes with aid? They are just across the border and it's because of them that the army doesn't have the manpower to handle the floods."