Wanderlust…

The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

Pakistan’s Biggest Threat Isn’t Foreign

Posted by vmsalama on May 7, 2009

PostGlobal – WashingtonPost.com

by Vivian Salama

Ask 10 Pakistanis what the cause of their country’s security breakdown is, and you are likely to hear at least 10 answers. One of the most widespread beliefs is that Pakistan’s problems, much like those of neighboring Afghanistan, were caused by foreign entities – or, more specifically, foreign meddling in domestic affairs.

Regardless of how bad the situation may appear, many I’ve spoken with here in Pakistan are skeptical that any foreign players know how to solve Pakistan’s domestic problems. But after what I’ve seen here, I disagree.

Pakistan is in dire need of the proper financing to get it back on its feet and help it address the economic and social problems that might be causing its downfall. However, if the United States has a genuine desire to see a stable Pakistan, then President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton must distance themselves from the shortsighted policies of the Bush administration, whether that be military assistance or occasional drone attacks. Recovery can only come in the form of hefty economic development and an overhaul of Pakistan’s outdated infrastructure. We saw one positive step in this direction this week: the trade and transit agreement signed by Pakistan and Afghan leaders in Washington on Wednesday aimed at increasing commerce and foreign investment.

 

President Obama met with Pakistan's President Asif Zardari and Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai in Washington on Wednesday

President Obama met with Pakistan's President Asif Zardari and Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai in Washington on Wednesday

 

In recent months, a financial boost from governments including the U.S., Japan and Saudi Arabia has further emphasized the idea that the key to curbing violence in Pakistan is economic and social development. Pakistan, which recently signed a loan package with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for $7.6 billion, has experienced a significant economic decline in recent years as its inflation rate climbed to 25 percent and its stocks plummeted, falling an average 35 percent last year. All major rating agencies have downgraded Pakistan and the recent surge in terrorist-related attacks has caused most new investments to dry up. What’s worse, economists in Pakistan are predicting significant job losses over the next two years of anywhere from 3 to 4 million people, further exacerbating the crisis faced by Pakistan’s poor and struggling middle class.

Further exacerbating Pakistan’s instability is the growing number of displaced persons in the country. Currently more than 1.7 million Afghan refugees live in Pakistan. 45 percent of those reside in refugee villages and the rest are scattered among host communities, according to UNHCR. However, recent violence in the Swat Valley and neighboring Buner and Dir has forced hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis to flee, leaving the overburdened Pakistani government scrambling for solutions.

Many of the citizens here are scared. Even in Lahore, which is considered relatively safe, a series of recent attacks have left many on edge. Many dual passport holders are now opting to leave for lack of a better option. Many here have little confidence in their government’s ability to cap this growing threat.

Those countries willing to support Pakistan through financial assistance have a responsibility to ensure that the money is properly allocated. Better roads and bridges, more job opportunities through business development, and further development of the country’s energy sector could provide hope to an increasingly disenfranchised population and move this country forward.

Cooperation is a two-way street. In return, Pakistan must be more transparent with donors as the security situation worsens. Pakistani forces have been spread thin by military operations in the Swat Valley and neighboring districts. The Taliban will continue to advance across the country’s North West Frontier Province. The Pakistani government must not allow pride to get the best of it. The country has long been fearful that any foreign intervention could compromise its nuclear program – but domestic entities pose a threat that is far more grim. The time to act is now.

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