March 27, 2010

The other elephant in the Pakistani room

I've been mulling over for days what it is about the recent talk of "strategic dialogue" and the "new relationship" between the US and Pakistan that just doesn't sit right with me. It's not the nagging question as to what has actually changed in the past month or so. It's not even the elephant of American popular image in the nicely decorated Pakistani drawing room. 

Today, while reading this article in the Foreign Affairs journal, I finally figured out what it is. The writer, Haider Mullick, a fellow at the US Joint Special Operations University and a bunch of other impressive stuff, isn't actually commenting on the recent talks. He's talking about Pakistan's counterinsurgency efforts in Waziristan.

Mullick makes some really interesting points. The Pakistani army isn't trampling around Waziristan creating more enemies than it kills or captures, he says, instead, it's learning from its own experiences as well as those of others to implement a comprehensive strategy that's securing the population.

"The fate of the internally displaced was the Achilles' heel of our mission," said one senior military officer involved in relief efforts. "Without protecting them, we would have no local partners, good intelligence, or popular support to carry on."

Sounds like a great starting point. After which, Mullick goes on to outline how the Pakistani army reassured the population, worked with international partners to establish well-run camps, re-tooled the soldiers in the field to try and limit the negative impact on locals. He even goes on to outline a future plan which involves the Pakistanis working with the Afghanis, Indians and Americans to "flip" someone like Hekmateyar in order to kick start the process of re-integrating the Taliban. Yep, you read it right and it's not a typo.. "Indians".

Anyway, right at the end, we have...

"But even these well-designed initiatives will fail in the absence of a comprehensive plan that targets growing problems in Pakistan's government, judiciary, and military. The government is unable to efficiently use the foreign aid that it receives, and widespread corruption plagues development efforts."

This is my gripe. While the big men (and women) of international politics smile for the cameras, corruption, bureaucracy, mismanagement etc make no more than a fleeting mention in the post script. But, really, these issues are the key to all else. Read the autobiographies of several Pakistani former presidents and prime ministers and you quickly realise that military dictator or civilian populist, they all struggled to get the simple functions of state done.

Allow the AM blog to assist if it's not quite clear. We could run a little programme for journalists and policy makers. If you need to get a feel for what is involved in making words into deeds in Pakistan, come to Islamabad and apply for a driving license. Compare the stated cost and time scale with how long it actually takes and how much you have to pay. Make a note of the difference. It accounts for much of the "credibility deficit".

If a government doesn't have a handle on the levers of power, grand international handshakes are meaningless. What Pakistan actually needs help in is delivery.