I just finished watching the 3rd and final presidential debate of 2012 and am happy to report that President Obama gave Romney a good thrashing. Hopefully this will help the President ensure his re-election come November 6th. But I digress; this post isn’t about the 2012 elections, rather I want to focus on what the US should be doing in Pakistan, regardless of who wins. Romney differed little from President Obama’s position which has been to work with Pakistan but also go around it with the use of drones, which has proven to be a very effective strategy to wipe out the Afghan/Pakistani Taliban leadership.
There’s nothing wrong with this policy but a better policy would be one that gets at the root causes of the violence raging across much of Pakistan. Here are 3 ideas that the US could easily implement, that would help Pakistan survive as a nation-state and make US foreign policy goals in that region much easier to achieve.
1)Invest in Education; particularly for Girls: Pakistan has one of the worst educational systems on the planet. Only 50% (and this might be a charitable estimation) of the population is literate in either Urdu or vernacular languages; literacy in English is far lower. Thousands of ”Ghost Schools” exist; these are schools that exist only on paper and all the funds that are supposed to go into them are siphoned off by corrupt officials. Female literacy is depressingly low and in some parts of the country literacy rates among women rival those of the poorest African nations. 25 million Elementary school age children are not in classes. Elementary school enrollment is 74% (girls and boys combined) but Secondary School enrollment is only 34% (girls and boys combined). Billions of dollars are needed to fix this system and if the US were to provide it and ensure safeguards for the promotion of female literacy it might very well save Pakistan from eventual collapse.
2)Invest in the Justice System: The judiciary in Pakistan has made tremendous strides since 2007 under the leadership of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. The judiciary is Independent for the first time in Pakistan’s history and is doing it’s best to protect the peoples rights and ensure justice for all. But there is a huge backlog of cases, not nearly enough judges, prosecutors, or attorneys, the police are poorly trained and understaffed, and Pakistani Prisons are overcrowded and dangerous. Corruption plagues the entire system at its lower levels, although great progress has been made in cleaning out corruption from the High Courts.
Justice delayed is Justice denied, and the cry for speedy justice has often fueled support for the Taliban and their brutal, but quick, Sharia Law. US aid to the justice system in the form of training programs for judicial officials, and money for the hiring of staff and the building of new courts and prisons would go a long way to remove the injustices that plague Pakistan. An efficient fair legal system based on secular Common law along with a thriving Education system are absolute necessities if Pakistani society is to be de-radicalized.
3)Ensure that the 2013 Elections are free and fair and keep the Army away from Politics: The 2013 Pakistani elections will be critical in determining Pakistan’s future. The election must be free and fair and the US can help ensure this by providing poll monitors, technical support to election workers, and announcing that there will be severe sanctions against any groups or institutions (ie. the Army) that attempt to disrupt, delay, or rig the elections. If these elections go off without a hitch it will mark the first time in Pakistan’s history that a democratic government has completed its 5 year term, and the first time in which there was a transfer of power from one civilian government to another.
After the elections the US can focus on providing civilian aid for Pakistan, particularly focusing on education, justice and health. The US can also grant favoured status to Pakistani imports a move that will greatly help Pakistan’s faltering economy. The US can also help weaken the power of the Army by imposing sanctions on its vast business ventures which include: banking, real estate, factories, bakeries, and farming. Finally the US can pressure foreign banks to refuse to do business with corrupt Pakistani officials, this will lessen the corruption that blights Pakistan’s government and military.
These 3 steps would cost billions but would be much cheaper than dealing with the fallout of a collapsing Pakistan, an outcome which grows ever more likely with each year that passes. US aid and pressure could be crucial in kicking off the reforms that Pakistan desperately needs. I hope that who ever wins come November 6th, a new US policy that focuses on helping Pakistan towards a brighter future emerges.