Monday, March 03, 2008

Looking Long in Pakistan


The BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones wrote a nice piece for the Stanley Foundation, Iowa's surprisingly prolific and well-funded foreign-policy think tank. In "US Policy Options Toward Pakistan: A Principled and Realistic Approach," Bennett-Jones argues that a long view is everything in American policy toward Pakistan--first because the U.S. left Pakistan to groan under the burden of millions of Afghan refugees during and after the Soviet war, and Pakistanis think the U.S. will shortly cut the country loose again; second, because a short-term focus on pressuring Pervez Musharraf to move against Taliban and al-Qa'ida elements in Pakistan has backfired; and third, because the only way out of Pakistan's consistent poverty, corruption and ineptitude is through a focus on education, which takes well over a decade to have any effect.

Bennett-Jones argues that the U.S. should grit its teeth and say less about perceived front-burner problems such as the Taliban, al-Qa'ida, and Pakistani internal politics and nuclear command-and-control, while increasing accountability for how Pakistan spends U.S. military funding and boosting the percentage of overall U.S. aid that goes to education.

I agree with Bennett-Jones' diagnosis and prescriptions but worry that it's unrealistic for the U.S. to do nothing when it has a wanted militant in some Predator's sights. However, he argues strongly that killing militants via missile attack is a short-term gain that only causes long-term harm in terms of Pakistani public opinion; the average Pakistani sees Islamic militancy as a lesser threat than day-to-day problems like inadequate medical care, and is outraged by perceived U.S. violations of Pakistan's sovereignty.

The problem with Pakistan for U.S. policymakers comes down, as it always seems to in counterinsurgency, to winning small today versus possibly, maybe, hopefully winning big sometime after you're out of office.

I could only advise them to think about Ronald Reagan, who was out of office by the time the Berlin Wall came down but is revered for taking a long view of facing down the Soviets, or Rep. Charlie Wilson, who only recently started to receive public recognition for aiding the Afghan rebels' decade-long war against the Soviets.

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