Obama, McCain Don’t Grasp Roots of Pakistan’s Instability

Obama, McCain Don’t Grasp Roots of Pakistan’s Instability

THE HILL 09/12/08
By Michael Shank

(Regarding article “McCain, Obama applaud Musharraf’s resignation,” Aug. 18.) Have presidential candidates Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) learned nothing from the resignation of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf? Both noted the exit of coup-installed Musharraf should “open the door to cooperation…in the hunt for terrorists.”

Continuing this modus operandi of terrorist-hunting in Pakistan will exacerbate the problem, not alleviate it.

Musharraf’s departure — perhaps the country’s most democratic maneuver yet — reflected overwhelming popular sentiment against him. All four provincial assemblies — Sindh, Punjab, Baloochistan and the Northwest Frontier Province — voted to impeach him, representing 83 percent of public opinion. This is what democracy looks like.

Angst was apparent for several reasons. Musharraf’s approach to the autonomous regions was heavy-handed, mirroring Washington’s proclivity for hard-power approaches to militancy.

Bombs, never books, flew over the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Of the $11 billion Musharraf received in U.S. financing since 2001, few benefits were felt locally.

Instead, economic development faltered, hitting the frontier particularly hard, leaving the tribesman with $15 per month. Educational enrollment tanked — unsurprising since educational spending comprised 2 percent of the GDP — leaving Pakistan’s secondary enrollment at 24 percent and tertiary enrollment at 4 percent. Is it any wonder that Madrassas are becoming more popular, since their schools are free and often better equipped than public schools, or that the Taliban recruits effectively when jobs are scarce?

There is hope for Pakistan but it will not be manifested through policies presently posited by McCain and Obama. In the Northwest Frontier, the president of the Awami National Party is Asfandyar Wali Khan. Khan, whose party platform is popular and profusely nonviolent, understands tribal thinking better than Sindh or Punjab elites ever will.

For the U.S. to meet its policy objectives, it must work with those who know tribal thinking best. Washington must also pursue soft power mechanisms appropriately. Sens. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Joe Biden (D-Del.) are ramping up non-military assistance for the border, but it must not funnel through foreign organizations only, as is the precedent.

For too long, the political, social and economic needs of the tribal regions have been ignored; military might was all Washington or Islamabad could muster. If McCain and Obama want to “open the door to more cooperation,” books and jobs, not bombs and drones, are the answer.

From Michael Shank, Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University
Arlington, Va.