Friday, November 12, 2010

Time for Security Experts to Pak It In

[See follow-up post here.]

I recently found this excellent video clip of the talk that Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi's gave at the Brookings Institution last month:

Oh, wait... Wrong video! Sorry about that. This video here is of President Obama trying to get his G-20 buddies to buy into US monetary policy (..."What the world needs now is...more cheap credit!")  Anyhow, read the transcript of the Brookings event and you'll get the idea.

I was reminded of PM Qureshi's talk this morning when I attended the release of Council of Foreign Relations Independent Task Force Report No. 65, "U.S. Strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan." Scanning the text of the report and then scrutinizing the bios of task force members, I was not surprised to find that physicians and economists were in short supply. (It also appears that exactly one Pakistani & zero Afghans were on the Independent Task Force, but, hell, what do they know?)

Had physicians been present on the CFR task force they would have been able to identify drug-seeking and doctor-shopping behaviors evident in requests for escalated bilateral aid and military assistance commitments.

Had economists been present they would have been able to remind other task force members that no country in the world has ever developed successfully and sustainably as a consequence of military and official development assistance. Countries develop despite aid directed to national governments, not because of it.

Perhaps as a consequence of these absences, or otherwise due to reasoning-by-force-of-habit, the CFR has produced a report that completely misses the opportunity to fundamentally challenge the false premises of Af-Pak (or "Pak-Af") strategy, and, as a consequence, offers an implicit but nonetheless wholehearted endorsement of the ongoing co-dependency between Pakistan and the United States that...well, just might have something to do with that country's relatively disappointing pace of development and current security challenges. What's missing from the report is the one thing the the United States is best at, and the one thing that matters most to development in Pakistan as elsewhere: entrepreneurship and innovation.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Who is this moron? Was he hiding in some cave at George Mason University when 9/11 happened? Is he really suggesting that the Security Threat featured in the CFR report and at the center of the entire Af-Pak discussion is totally the invention of an aid-seeking client state (& the willing consumers of that narrative in the US)? Of course not! Pakistan is indeed a dangerous place. In the past three years as many as 5,000 people have died there in terrorist acts--large and small--including 18 just yesterday in a dramatic attack in Karachi just outside the Marriott where I stayed three weeks ago.

But let's get real here--5,000 fatalities is not even one-fifth the toll of Mexico's ongoing drug war, which is taking place less than an hour by black SUV from Disneyland. Pakistan--a country of 180 million people, covering an area twice the size of California--tends to rank below both Sri Lanka and India when it comes to terrorism incidence. Yet such a ranking--and a decades-long civil war--did not prevent Sri Lanka from making remarkable strides in its development--for example, achieving a plateauing of its population growth rates comparable to that achieved in China, but without a coercive "one-child" policy. And India...

As for the feasibility of entrepreneurial success in a country with a weak or a failed government--well, think about it, does a relative absence of regulatory hurdles and pockets to fill make it easier or harder for an entrepreneur to get started? Conditions for entrepreneurial entry into a market can quite easily be favorable even when conditions for established, large-scale business are not. If you're still not sure, read this story of the founding and dramatic growth of Roshan, the first and still the dominant mobile phone company in Afganistan; or watch this talk on entrepreneur-led development by the current head of Pakistan's planning commission; watch this video of Iqbal Quadir describing the role of entrepreneurship in development (start at 6:20); or browse through the Kauffman Foundation's growing set of resources on "expeditionary economics."

As for Al-Qaeda, what part of global terrorist network hasn't sunk in with the Af-Pak brain trust? Islamic Fundamentalist terrorism is a global phenomenon (Philippines anyone?) It's not going to be solved in the Swat Valley anymore than it is in Times Square. As I wrote three years ago:
In the long term, our counterterrorism policy should be more focused on addressing the profound shortcomings of the U.S. domestic response and recovery capability than on action in the Middle East. The countries most experienced in fighting terrorism (Israel, Spain and the United Kingdom, among others) learned long ago that resilience through well-developed response and recovery capabilities is a critical part of effective deterrence. The actions required to build such resilience are mostly taken at home, not abroad, and they involve deep collaboration between public and private actors. As Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath decisively demonstrated, many such actions have not yet been taken in the United States.
There is one way forward for the sort of Af-Pak policy represented in the CFR report released today, and in other Af-Pak reviews released in recent months. That way is the way to the door--out of Pakistan, and out of Afghanistan. We'll get there by working as equals with Pakistanis and others in the region who share our values and are doing things that make a positive difference (e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5...).

As aid and military contractors gradually and gracefully exit, they will make room for members of the Pakistani diaspora seeking to reconnect with their country; investors from Dubai; deal-makers from Guangzhou; and, who knows, maybe a few regular-old Americans looking to make some money in a place that is poised for take-off.

Questions? Ask your doctor.

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