Meeting with Obama, Congress members must broach Pakistan

Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate are scheduled to meet with President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaDems flip New York state seat that Republicans have held for nearly four decades Trump denies clemency to 180 people Mellman: Memories may be beautiful, yet… MORE before he addresses the nation about his plans for the war in Afghanistan. During the meeting our representatives should also ask the president about his plans for Pakistan. After living in Pakistan for seven months I have come to the conclusion that unless Afghanistan’s nuclear-armed neighbor is stabilized the entire region will continue to have problems.

When will the Pakistan government gain control of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)?

According to the respected journalist Ahmed Rashid, FATA is in reality controlled by the Pakistani Taliban. The FATA is a lawless region where almost anything is for sale. When I visited the FATA I found that one can purchase hashish, cocaine and all types of U.S. military equipment, including night vision goggles.

One point is absolutely certain: If the government of Pakistan does not establish the rule of law in the FATA, a tribal belt bordering Afghanistan with close to 4 million people and the sanctuary for al Qaeda and the Taliban, there will continue to be terrorist attacks throughout Pakistan, the U.S. mission in Afghanistan will falter, tribal leaders will be emboldened and their power and influence will spread into other areas in the region.

Why does Pakistan continually seek economic assistance and not properly collect needed revenue from its citizens?

Influential Pakistan businessmen tell me their country is increasingly becoming a beggar nation and not managing its assets properly. The country relies on economic assistance from the international community to meet financial obligations. Pakistan secured more than $9 billion in loans between September 2008 and May 2009. The World Bank asserts Pakistan’s taxation system has failed and boosting tax collection is necessary to overcome macroeconomic weaknesses and sustain development.

When will the Pakistan government begin helping its citizens living in rural areas?

When I visited Pakistan’s rural areas such as Tank and Hyadabad in the Northwest Frontier Province, in the FATA, and even in places such as Bhakkar and Mianwali in Punjab, I found many people are unemployed (approximately 8 percent), and that living conditions are substandard, including little potable water, power outages lasting 5-10 hours every day and inadequate sewage systems. This year the inflation rate is 23 percent.
Couple these hopeless circumstances with a population increase of 85 million people over the next two decades and the need to create 36 million new jobs a year. Not only Pakistan but the entire region will be affected.

When will the political leadership embrace democracy, stop corruption and fix the dysfunctional bureaucracy?

I worked closely with the Pakistan political parties helping to strengthen their democracy. Too many Pakistani politicians worry more about their next trip to China, Thailand, or the United States than addressing constituent needs. They pay lip service to issues such as the price of sugar and power outages, but do little to alleviate the problems.

Pakistan’s problems are the consequence of the feudal political system. Pakistan recycles its leaders within their political parties, and the leaders pass party leadership positions on to their relatives and friends. If there is no democracy in the political parties, there will not be a functioning democracy in the country. And more importantly, without new, young leadership, innovative solutions are unlikely to be generated to overcome the mounting problems facing Pakistan.

The civilian bureaucracy is inept. During military operations in Swat, for example, hundreds of thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) moved out of the combat area. The international aid community helped meet the needs of the IDPs, but the main mission was given to Pakistan’s civilian bureaucracy. They failed. The Pakistani military had to step in to provide aid for the IDPs.

When will the Pakistan government counter the growing anti-American sentiment permeating Pakistan society?

The Pakistani ruling party does little to counter the growing anti-American sentiment. There is outrage from many Pakistanis because the Kerry-Lugar legislation, which provides billions in aid, requires assessments of Pakistan’s commitment to democratic reforms. The anti-American sentiment is communicated not only by newspapers and talk shows but also in discussions with business leaders and everyday citizens. Additionally there are now anti-American music videos. And almost nothing is said by the Pakistan government to counter the outrageous rumors circulating concerning the deployment to Pakistan of “thousands of Marines,” U.S. spy agencies setting up shop in the country, an invasion by Blackwater operatives, and a host of other unsubstantiated claims.

Only Pakistanis can fix their country’s problems. However, our representatives must know and understand the situation so they can make informed decisions about our Afghanistan strategy.

Palarino was the International Republican Institute country director in Pakistan and is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University.