Where is a Marshall Plan for Pakistan?

Just as many Americans are expressing frustration with what they see as Pakistan’s slow progress in defeating terrorism (most recently underscored by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton‘s visit today to Islamabad), Pakistanis are equally frustrated with the increasingly ugly anti-Pakistan sentiment in the United States. Most Pakistanis simply do not understand how cutting U.S. economic and military aid to Pakistan advances the fight against terrorism.

Pakistan is projected by many in the international news media and by some in the U.S. Congress as a purveyor of terrorism but, in cold fact, it remains its chief victim. Three thousand Pakistani troops have been killed (more than all NATO losses in Afghanistan combined). Add to that 2,000 police cut down, the tragedy of 35,000 civilian casualties and the assassination by terrorists of our country’s most popular leader, Benazir Bhutto, and one might understand Pakistani exasperation. This recent al-Qaeda attack on a Pakistani Naval Base in Karachi, killing 10 of our sailors, again demonstrates that Pakistan is the principal target of terrorist rage.

How much of our people’s blood does it take for Washington to get it? British Prime Minister David Cameron said it most succinctly standing next to President Obama in London earlier this week: “Pakistan has suffered more from terrorism than any country in the world. Their enemy is our enemy. So, far from walking away, we’ve got to work even more closely with them.”

Another Marshall Plan?

At the onset of the Cold War, the U.S. understood that political stability in vulnerable countries like France, Italy and Greece was intrinsically linked to the viability of their economies. President Truman advanced the European Recovery Plan (the Marshall Plan) that brilliantly operationalized this thesis, and by doing so saved Western Europe from communism. The same construct should be applied to Pakistan as we jointly work toward the defeat of the terrorist menace and the rebuilding of a peaceful and stable South and Central Asia.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has spoken of Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act for economic development, health, education, energy and infrastructure. Yet only $179 million, according to Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., has actually been spent. The rest sadly has been bottled up in a bureaucratic quagmire within USAID.

The people of Pakistan, especially the poor who were most affected by last year’s historic floods, have yet to feel the effects of a U.S. policy that under President Obama was to re-craft the U.S.-Pakistani relationship beyond a short-term military alliance into a sustained economic and social partnership. It is that new relationship that will be the lynchpin to the long-term stabilization of Pakistan and our ability to contain and destroy the terrorist threat to our people, and to the world.

After World War II, the Marshall Plan spent $49.06 per capita in Greece and $30.02 in Italy. Today, the per capita U.S. assistance to Pakistan, adjusted for inflation, is only $7.90. That’s a dramatic 400% less than the Marshall Plan’s assistance to Italy. And let us be clear: The long-term stakes to world peace are as great or greater in South and Central Asia today as in Europe at the end of the 1940s.

Pakistan’s role

We are all aware that U.S. aid alone will not get the job done. For its part, Pakistan’s elected government has mobilized the entire nation, at great political cost, against extremist ideology and terrorist organizations. But if our government is to successfully win the war for the hearts and minds of our people, Pakistanis must feel the economic benefits of globalization. President Asif Ali Zardari has repeatedly emphasized the need for more market access in the West and expanded trade replacing aid over time. The enactment by Congress of the Reconstruction Opportunity Zone legislation, followed by a Free Trade Agreement between Pakistan and America, would not only open up America for Pakistani products but would provide a huge market for U.S. products and grain in Pakistan.

Ultimately, in the epic joint struggle against terror, a prosperous Pakistan with good jobs for our young people would suck the oxygen out of the terrorists’ fire. How better to set Pakistan on this path than a Marshall Plan model of economic reconstruction for a country devastated by war?

Written by Farahnaz Ispahani

Farahnaz Ispahani is a Global Fellow, at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC. She is the author of the recently published book "Purifying the Land of the Pure: The History of Pakistan's Religious Minorities. Oxford University Press, 2017. Ms. Farahnaz Ispahani has been a leading voice for women and religious minorities in Pakistan for the past twenty five years, first as a journalist, then as a member of Pakistan’s National Assembly, and most recently as a scholar based in the United States. An advocate of Pakistan’s return to democracy during the military regime of Pervez Musharraf, she served as a spokesperson and international media coordinator for the Pakistan People’s Party, working alongside the late Benazir Bhutto. During her tenure in parliament (2008–2012), she was a member of the Human Rights Committee and the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus. In 2013–2014, she served as a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where she completed a book on the persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan. In 2012, she was listed among Foreign Policy magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers, as well as Newsweek Pakistan’s Top 100 Women Who Matter. During her fellowship, Ms. Ispahani is exploring women’s political participation in the Muslim world, both in terms of their progress toward gender equality under democratic systems and the converse rise of women as agents of extremist propaganda within the world of the Islamic State. FARAHNAZ ISPAHANI is Senior Fellow, South and South East Asia Action Team at Religious Freedom Institute also.

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