Friday, September 03, 2010

Off-topic: A smart New Yorker piece on Pakistan

Steven Coll has a nuanced short piece on Pakistan in this week's New Yorker. Basic message: Pakistan and the Pakistani situation is complex, but focus on the economy. And for economy, Pakistan-India relations have to be improved, which are tied to resolving the Kashmir dispute. But he starts with the public opinion in Pakistan:
Last spring, according to a Pew Research Center poll, eighty-four per cent of Pakistanis were dissatisfied with the way things were going in their country. Inflation, terrorist bombings, and American drone strikes were among the causes of their discontent. Three-quarters disapproved of the job being done by the country’s President, Asif Ali Zardari.
Then came the summer’s monsoon rains, which engorged the Indus River water system, causing floods that by last week had killed almost two thousand people, left seven million homeless, and ruined 1.4 million acres of cropland.
And here is the complexity that is often gets ignored: 
After a decade in which the United States and Pakistan have been lashed together by war and terrorism, it is understandably hard for many Americans to conceive of Pakistan as a whole place. It’s not only a country that is poorly governed and menaced by Islamist radicals; it’s also one that is growing economically, and that houses a raucously open society populated by muckraking journalists, comic novelists, cheesy reality-TV producers, real-estate hustlers, world-class squash players, and the like. The number of Pakistanis living in poverty fell by almost half between 1999 and 2008, from thirty per cent of the population to about seventeen per cent. This extraordinary change, a result of rapid economic growth and remittances from Pakistanis working abroad, is not often discussed on American cable-news outlets. Five years ago, Pakistan’s economic growth rate reached eight per cent annually, and the economy has continued to expand, if more slowly, even since 2008, when the global financial crisis and the domestic Taliban insurgency took hold simultaneously. (The number of Pakistanis living in poverty almost certainly has crept up again, and will move higher still because of the floods.)
Islamist insurgents threaten Pakistan’s weak government, yet they remain widely unpopular. In the last election, the religious party previously aligned with the Taliban polled two per cent; in the country’s history, religious parties have never won more than twelve per cent in a national election.
But this is where economic ties with India come in, and he uses Indonesia as an interesting example to emulate: 
Pakistan’s economic expansion has come, in part, by selling and smuggling consumer goods to India’s growing middle classes. For Pakistan to overcome its many burdens, it must make peace, or, at least, normalize economic ties, with India, which would include resolving the Kashmir dispute. On this subject, the United States could benefit from a sense of urgency comparable to its focus on Pakistani terrorism. In 2007, the governments of India and Pakistan negotiated the outline of an agreement that would have further opened their border to trade. A final deal has proved elusive, in part because of evidence that Pakistan’s Army continues to support anti-Indian terrorist groups; the Obama Administration has the leverage in Pakistan to hold the Army accountable.
Economic growth is not a panacea for social ills or political disarray, but policies designed to unleash Pakistan’s economy during the next decade are far more likely to reduce the threat of Taliban-inspired revolution than are military operations and drone strikes. Examples of success exist: Indonesia, which, like Pakistan, has a large Muslim population and implausible borders left behind by imperialists, suffered badly a decade ago from separatist violence, Al Qaeda-linked Islamist terrorists, and poisonous civil-military relations. By riding Southeast Asia’s economic boom, Indonesia has become a comparably bland, democratic archipelago.
... 
The agricultural market towns in the flood zone—Ghotki, Jacobabad, Shahdadkot—are not notable breeding grounds for international terrorism. They are home instead to the marginal lives of another Pakistan, one poised for many years between aspiration and collapse—that of landless laborers, tenant farmers, bus drivers, and shopkeepers. These Pakistanis belong to no war party and live in peaceful indifference to the United States. To help reimagine their future, and that of their country, the place to begin is to come unconditionally to their aid.
I think it would be very smart to tie Pakistan's economy to India's rapidly growing economy. This will be good for the region and good for Pakistan (and India). Can there be a real substantial move in this direction? I hope so - though it is hard to see such a step from the existing leaders in Pakistan (and in India as well). But then floods, as destructive as they are, were often seen in ancient mythologies as new beginnings. May be. Read the full article here. Also see this post on how to help flood victims in Pakistan
Also here is a song for flood victims by the Pakistani band Laal. By the way, this band is known for its lefty-activist political songs - especially using lyrics of the late poets Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib. Again, how many people outside of Pakistan expected the existence of such a band - and a band that has had considerable mainstream success.

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