Rural Aid, Not Guns, Key to Pakistan Progress; Obama's Policy Won't Work If Insurgents Must Fight to Get a Paycheck

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With the United States accusing Pakistan of using insurgent groups to fight proxy wars, issuing a recent ultimatum demanding that Islamabad sever ties immediately, it is clear that Washington's patience is nearing its end. The United States, meanwhile, is reducing aid packages, increasing drone strikes in the tribal areas and moving American troops in Afghanistan eastward to the mountainous border with Pakistan. In sum, Washington is telling Pakistanis to expect more guns, less butter and fewer books. What is problematic with this approach, however, is that heavy-handed efforts have failed to work in undermining insurgencies in the past. I'm afraid such efforts in the future would fall victim to the same fate.

Contrary to popular opinion among U.S. foreign policymakers, the way to undermine growth of insurgencies in Pakistan is not through drone strikes, air and night raids, or covert operations, most of which kill innocents and breed more anger among local populations, and all of which have increased significantly in the last few years. Nor will the fix be found in more military aid, for which much remains unaccounted. The way to undermine violent extremism is to give potential recruits - often the poorest of the poor in Pakistan - a viable alternative for which to live, not die.

Look at who is being enlisted. Recruits are found among the unemployed, illiterate and disenfranchised in the poorer provinces of Pakistan, from Baluchistan to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. If we do not want these vulnerable populations joining extremist movements, then we should offer viable alternatives, something we haven't helped Pakistan do effectively.

In order to change this tide, we must make every effort to reduce poverty and improve the quality of life for Pakistan's rural poor. On this, a three-pronged strategy is critical. First, we must focus on building healthy political systems in Pakistan. Of the nearly $20 billion in U.S. aid given to Pakistan since President Pervez Musharraf took power in 2001, most has been military aid, leaving very little spent on establishing the foundation - election commissions, ballot machines, monitoring systems, legal observers - for democratic elections.

Second, we must focus on educating the populace. For much of the past decade, investments in Pakistan's educational system have been negligible. Annually, only 2 percent of Pakistan's gross domestic product is spent on education, resulting in some of the developing world's worst enrollment rates: Roughly one-third of eligible youth are enrolled in secondary school and 5 percent in tertiary institutions. Despite the fact that nearly 50 percent of the adult population is illiterate, U. …