State of Crisis

Article excerpt

Pakistan is on the edge of a precipice following one of the worst floods in its history. A fifth of the country has been submerged.As the waters recede the impact of the damage to the state and its strategic implications are still unclear. In the worst-case scenario, the abyss below could look uncannily like a failed state run by the Islamists. The country could be pushed over the edge, not by the Taliban threat along its Afghan frontier, but by the political consequences of national and international inaction and ineptitude in response to the natural and man-made disasters that have inflicted widespread loss of life and livelihood. The Taliban and Islamist parties are waiting in the shadows to fill the vacuum if and when the state, its leaders and the donor community fail the Pakistani people.

aND FAILING THEY ARE. PRESIDENT ASIF ALI Zardari's indifference to the suffering of more than twenty million people at the onslaught of the floods is symptomatic of Pakistan's dysfunctional leadership that has repeatedly failed in governing the nation. His assassinated wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, in a Harvard commencement speech once famously blamed 'avaricious politicians' for looting their countries, leaving them without the means to tackle their social problems. She was herself dismissed on charges of corruption and misrule.

Her father, Zulifiqar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan's Prime Minister in the 1970s donned a Mao cap and proclaimed himself 'an honest socialist'. He mesmerised the masses on populist platitudes of 'roti, kapra, makan' - bread, cloth and shelter - but did little to alleviate poverty amongst his rural supporters and more to strengthen the country's endemic feudalism, epitomised by his family's dynastic legacy.

Thirty-three percent of the population lives below the poverty line in a country that ranks 139 out of 180 in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. The number of people in poverty has dramatically risen by seven percent since the floods began at the end of July. Economists are arguing for a 'fundamental restructuring of the way Pakistan is being run,' but no concrete policies have yet been proposed.

International aid to Pakistan is not linked to good governance and anti-corruption efforts. Rather it is linked to security. United States President George Bush's administration funnelled $12 billion to Pakistan between 2002-2008. The bulk of this went to the military to fight the 'war' against terror. But the Pakistan army maintains that 'it was largely financing the war on terror fromits own budget', crippling the economy and leaving billions of dollars unaccounted for.

POLITICISING ASSISTANCE

US President Barack Obama's administration pledged more assistance, but in a departure from the previous policy of direct aid for military efforts, earmarked $1.5 billion annually for nonmilitary aid over the next five years under the Kerry-Lugar Bill. This bill aims to deal with accountability issues and channel aid to where it is needed and benefits the people. But the aid is conditional on Pakistan's performance in fighting extremism on its Afghan border.

Despite the good intentions, this complicates effective development assistance. It subordinates US development and reconstruction objectives to its military aims, politicising American assistance. Pakistani support for the US is waning, according to a recent Pew Research Centre survey. So using aid as a foreign policy tool to promoteUS security interests seems, to a skeptical audience, as if it is meant to benefit the donor more than the recipient.

AID WASTED

On the ground, previous US aid has been misapplied and misdirected to where it could have the greatest impact in undermining the insurgency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the Pushtun border regions.

Under the Bush administration nearly half of the aid, approximately $6 billion, was designated for these tribal areas, but 96 percent of this was funding reimbursed to Pakistan for military operations there. …