The Democratic vice-presidential candidate, Senator Joe Biden, has drawn up
an excellent long-term plan for the United States
to help Pakistan
economically, thereby strengthening the state against Islamist extremism. This
is a vital American interest, not just because of the role of Pakistani
Pashtuns in supporting the Taliban's campaign in Afghanistan,
but even more importantly because Pakistan
itself risks becoming a source of threats to the West that will vastly outweigh
those from Afghanistan.
It is to be hoped that if John McCain wins the presidential election, his
administration too will devote far more attention to helping Pakistan.
The problem is, however, that Pakistan may not be able to wait
that long. By the time a new administration has begun to work out its plans, it
will be next spring. And as the editor of a leading Pakistani newspaper said to
me in Lahore
last Monday, "if the government here can't do something serious to help
the population economically within six months, it will be finished."
He and others have warned that mass anger at rising food prices and
lengthening electricity cuts could combine with hostility to the government's
campaign against the insurgents and to Pakistan's
alliance with America.
Sporadic violent protests against power cuts have already occurred in several
cities. The resulting instability could wreck any hope of Pakistan
continuing its tough campaign against the insurgents.
new president, Asif Zardari of the Pakistan People's Party, is already hated by
much of the population, in part because he is seen as too pro-American. His
government's prestige is being damaged still further by intensifying American
raids into Pakistan's
The main opposition party, the Muslim League of former Prime Minister Nawaz
Sharif, will undoubtedly try to exploit all this as much as it possibly can.
Sharif's popularity has soared in recent months, partly due to his opposition
to Pakistani help to the Americans in Afghanistan and criticism of the
Pakistan Army's campaign against the insurgents.
This does not mean that the United
States should treat Sharif as an enemy. If
he comes to power, he will probably follow a course of pragmatic cooperation
Nonetheless, initially at least, his return to power would be a blow to
The Pakistani population is suffering acutely from the twin effects of the
surge in the international price of oil, almost all of which Pakistan has to
import, and the surge in international food prices. The latter should at least
have benefited farmers - but their gains have been largely wiped out by the
increased cost of fuel for their tractors, transport and water pumps.
Electricity cuts, meanwhile, have reached 16 hours a day in some areas,
including the North-West Frontier Province, where
the insurgency is gathering strength. The cuts stem from a number of long-term
factors, including poor management and inadequate new investment in power
generation. The most immediate problem, however, is that the state cannot pay
some $1.4 billion in debts to the power companies, which in turn do not have
the money to import necessary fuel.
The United States should
make these funds available to Pakistan
immediately for this specific purpose. Secondly, America
should give emergency aid to the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by
the Pakistani military offensives in Bajaur in the Federally Administered
Tribal Areas and Swat in the North-West Frontier Province.
This should be treated with the same urgency that the United States
approaches natural disasters like the Pakistani earthquake four years ago.
America should also use
its influence with the IMF to procure its assistance to Pakistan. It is
essential, however, that this should not be made conditional on cuts in
subsidies and social programs that will further hurt Pakistan's poor; such cuts would
undermine the Pakistani government still further.
Limited American financial help can tide Pakistan over its immediate crisis.
At the same time, the United
States should urgently craft longer-term aid
programs intended to strengthen resistance to the spread of insurgency.
These should be focused on the North-West Frontier
Province. The planned $750 million for the tribal areas is a good
idea in itself, but given the security situation and lack of basic
infrastructure in these areas, it will be many years before this money can be
spent effectively. Meanwhile, the North-West Frontier
Province itself is in grave danger from the militants.
Unlike the tribal areas, the province does have a basic industrial
infrastructure. American help should be devoted to building that
infrastructure, above all in the areas of hydro-electric plants and
communications. The province also badly needs hard cash to combat the militants
directly. At present, for example, the North-West Frontier Province's
demoralized policemen earn only two thirds of the salary of their comrades in Punjab - and half what the Taliban pays its fighters.
The sums involved are miniscule compared to those spent by the United States on the war in Afghanistan - and Pakistani help is essential if
is to have any chance of winning that war. Reliance on purely military means
will be the surest way for the America
to lose it.