Both the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal reported today that the American Embassy in Islamabad issued a rare public complaint that “its staff were being harassed and detained as they traveled around the country.” Apparently, American government convoys are being stopped at checkpoints and visas and visa extensions are not being granted. As a consequence, the Embassy is running at 60% capacity and the civilian aid promised by the Kerry-Lugar bill will certainly not be distributed effectively.
Pakistani obstructionism from a Western perspective is one of the most frustrating aspects of this entire Afpak conflict because it seems so counterproductive. The United States is spending valuable resources on the development of a foreign country. Of course, there is a self-interest motive. It is to the United States’ advantage that Pakistan remain a viable state that does not support radical extremists and provide a safe-haven for terrorism. Moreover, in the current war in Afghanistan, Pakistan is the Vietnam-era North Korea. Militants can retreat to areas along the Pakistani border for repose, re-groupment, and training. Removing this critical region for Afghan Taliban would constitute a distinct tactical victory.
However, although the American interest is correlated to Pakistani stability and military cooperation, the American money need not be so tainted. The United States seeks to provide invaluable healthcare and infrastructure developments that could improve the lives of millions of Pakistanis. It is, in a sense, the Marshall Plan of the Middle East. And yet, suspicion and animosity are the primary products of the American investment in Pakistan. Blaming Pakistan is a useless strategy. The American Embassy’s public complaint will likely produce nothing. And the United States should move on with new strategies on how to engage itself more significantly with Pakistan.
The United States cannot ignore the security dilemmas facing the Pakistani state and the extremely negative opinion population has of the United States. The military is suspicious that its nuclear weapons are under intense observation by US intelligence agencies and that India is positioning itself for future assaults on Pakistan. The population has long-held biases that need to be confronted with grass roots efforts, sophisticated information campaigns, and education. Of course, the Kerry-Lugar bill itself was supposed to deal with some of these perception problems, but we cannot expect that the aid would magically create a new environment for American discourse to have legitimacy. Lets be patient. Lets accept that the inevitable concerns Pakistanis may have. If we have confidence in the aid program, then lets give it time to work. Arguing about it will just make the situation worse. Seed projects first need to grow, before development can be accelerated.