The Candid Eye

October 28, 2009

Pakistanis appear to be their own worst enemies

An article from Joel Brinkley, a professor of journalism at Stanford University and a former foreign correspondent for the New York Times.

How many ways can Pakistanis shoot themselves in the foot? Let me count them.

Last Tuesday, two suicide bombers, apparently sent by the Taliban, blew themselves up amid gatherings of students at an Islamic university in Islamabad, killing at least six people and injuring many others.

 

Pakistani Terrorism

Pakistani Terrorism

This was just the latest in a string of fatal bombings that have ripped through Pakistani society in recent days. The Taliban, it seems, have unlimited resources to wreak havoc in Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan. And where do they get their money? Yes, they earn a lot from all of those opium poppies in Afghanistan. But that is not all.

The Taliban in Pakistan also received more than $100 million last year in donations from sympathetic, wealthy people who live in Islamic countries — including Pakistan. In other words, Pakistanis are providing a good portion of the money the Taliban are spending to tear Pakistan apart.

That comes from a recent Central Intelligence Agency analysis. And it’s consistent with all we already know about Pakistan. Weren’t the Taliban close friends and allies of Pakistan before 9/11 — after which the George W. Bush administration forced a divorce? By all accounts the separation was only superficial. In fact, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is widely quoted as saying in a leaked internal report that the Taliban in Afghanistan “are reportedly aided by some elements of Pakistan’s ISI.’’

 

Pakistani bomb blasts

Pakistani bomb blasts

He was referring to Pakistan’s chief intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, and McChrystal’s remark simply codified what most everyone in the region already assumed. During the 1990s, the ISI. wanted to have an ally in Afghanistan to prevent India from extending its influence there. The ISI also set up training camps in Afghanistan, away from prying Pakistani eyes. The alliance continues.

Some people like to place a distinction between the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan and those in Pakistan. But remember: They all came from the same Taliban cabal that ruled Afghanistan until October 2001. They share goals, tactics, fighters and equipment.

The Pakistani Taliban’s stated goal is to overthrow the government in Islamabad. They seized the Swat Valley early this year and were making inroads in Punjab Province, the nation’s most populous, before the Pakistani army arose from its torpor and fought back by lobbing rockets and artillery shells into towns and villages from a safe distance.

Last week, the Pakistani army began an offensive in South Waziristan, a Taliban stronghold. It’s hardly the first over the past eight years or probably the last. The army never seems to finish the job.

Meanwhile, the Barack Obama administration is pushing Congress to approve $7.5 million in aid for Pakistan over the next five years. This is developmental, not military, aid. Well, no one seems to have noticed that over the past few years Pakistan’s corruption problem has grown from serious to endemic. Transparency International, in a special report on Pakistan last month, found that the amount of public funds embezzled has increased fourfold in the past three years — to almost $40 billion so far this year.

Is this a government to which the U.S. should hand over almost $1 billion a year in the next five years? It’s not as if the people of Pakistan couldn’t use the aid. Look at some of the state’s statistics, provided by UNICEF. Ninety of every 1,000 children born there die before they reach age five. Only 37 per cent of children struck with dysentery, a common and often fatal illness in developing countries borne by contaminated food or water, receive treatment. Adult literacy stands at only 55 per cent. Just 18 per cent of the nation’s girls attend secondary school. One reason: Thirty-two per cent of children 14 years or younger are married.The average life expectancy is 65 years.

What is the government doing about these miserable statistics? About 18 per cent of the state’s budget is spent on the military, one per cent on health and two per cent on education.

This is a country that needs assistance. But first it has to help itself, stop shooting itself in the foot. The government must shut down the ISI and create a new intelligence agency that is responsive to the needs of the country, not its own interests.

It must pass credible anti-corruption measures. Only by taking steps like these and at last winning the support and faith of the nation can it persuade some of its wealthiest people to help the government instead of the Taliban.

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