The Afghanistanization of Pakistan
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
by Mosharraf Zaidi
The point I made in my article last week was simple. When it comes to making use of foreign assistance, Pakistan has shot itself in the feet too many times. Calling out the Americans on administrative expenditure is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Arguing with any donor, American or not, about knowing development better than they do, is a case of selling fairytales. Countries that are net donors tend to be ones that have already sorted some of the deeper, more fundamental issues and challenges of statehood. Pakistan is a net recipient, not a net donor. It doesn’t know development, and it shows.
Pakistan’s development indicators are terrible. The UNDP’s Human Development Index–conceived by a patriotic and proud Pakistani called Dr Mahbubul Haq–is the gold standard for countries’ development performance. Where does Pakistan rank on the index? It is 139th out of 179 countries. By some miracle of semantics, it qualifies as a Medium Human Development country. This Medium Human Development “jiggernaut” is sandwiched between Mauritania below it and Yemen above.
Pakistan’s life expectancy at birth is 64.9, placing it at number 125. Pakistani nationalists might sleep easier tonight knowing that, at that rank, it ranks two positions above India. Jai Ho. Pakistan’s adult literacy rate, at 54.2 per cent places it at the 132nd position, occupying the same neighborhood as Liberia, Bhutan, Togo and Bangladesh.
Pakistan’s combined, primary, secondary and tertiary gross enrolment ratio is 39.3 per cent, only good enough for 169th position. Out of 179. The only countries worse off than Pakistan on enrollment figures are, in order, Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Niger, Angola and Djibouti.
Why dig up quantitative proof of just how bad Pakistan is at this whole development thing? Simple. To reinforce that the Pakistani state, and all Pakistani governments, can’t claim any expertise in the area, at all.
That does not somehow mean that donors are necessarily any better than Pakistan at development. It simply means that asking donors to give the Pakistani government money to undertake development is a tricky request. Finance Minister Shaukat Tareen and now Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani speak of the need to put money directly into the treasury, because USAID’s administrative expenditure rates are too high. But USAID’s rates are not dramatically higher than the rates of the any of the other bilateral donors. Some would argue that they are not dramatically higher than the rates of administrative expenditure of even the Government of Pakistan. The only other reason to give aid directly to the Pakistani government would be because the Pakistani governments can do development better. But as these governments have proven over sixty-two years, they cannot.
Moreover, by choosing to constantly beg donors for money, Pakistan has turned itself into a state that cannot choose what donors give it. Its entire argument for getting more money is that it is a weak state. Now it turns around and says, weak shmeak, give us the money, we know what to do with it, and how to do it right. It all seems ridiculously audacious for one reason. It really is.
For Pakistanis to get riled up about the term “Af-Pak” is similarly audacious. We should consider how this train ended up at this station. Af-Pak may be the shorthand used by one of many childlike geniuses working for the deeply misguided Richard Holbrooke. But it has now also become a global shorthand for state dysfunction. This lumping together of Pakistan with Afghanistan is not simply about security and terrorism. It is the result of a deliberate, and distinct, set of strategic choices that have been made by the Pakistani state, and in particular by this government. As a term, Af-Pak transcends security issues. Indeed, Af-Pak now transcends even Afghanistan and Pakistan. Af-Pak countries are countries that cannot survive without large and substantive injections of other countries’ money. In the future, when countries go belly-up, they will say, “Whoa, look at them. They just went totally Af-Pak.” Pakistan is a member of this club today because it chose to apply for membership. It is the only country in the world that has fought tooth and nail to be a part of this kind of club. It has organised high-profile open house sessions in New York, Tokyo and, most recently, Istanbul, to convince the “Friends of Developing Pakistan” to give it money.
The Pakistani military elite has been playing this game, much to its own detriment, for a long, long time. It has deliberately, and systematically, perpetuated fiscal dependence on American funds–from Ayub Khan’s appetite for F-86 Sabres, to Zia-ul-Haq’s appetite for Cobras and F-16s, to Pervez Musharraf’s appetite for blank-cheque counterinsurgency funds.
To its credit, the Pakistani political elite has almost always been a little more circumspect, because realpolitik simply will not allow a country as big as this to be charged off as a business expense for empire–any empire. There is too much ethnic, religious, political, social, and ideological diversity in Pakistan for it to be the kind of poodle that British prime minister Tony Blair bequeathed to the ingloriously incompetent Gordon Brown. Real politicians, like Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, and Mian Nawaz Sharif, know this. That is why their relationship with the Americans was, and always will be, kind of prickly.
This government inherited one of the most disabled and fragile versions of the Pakistani state in history. It did, however, make a conscious decision to pursue money, over and above all other considerations, as its primary foreign policy objective. That choice has had very clear and visible consequences. President Zardari’s popularity has tanked not because of economics, or security. It has tanked because he is seen as being responsible for putting Pakistan in this deeply Afghanistanised position. To burrow its way out of this pickle, the new government strategy seems to be to castigate mid-level State Department officials for USAID’s administrative expenses. These theatrics are not going to revitalise this government’s image.
Luckily for this government (but unluckily for Pakistan), it has found, in Richard Holbrooke, a dance partner as clueless about Pakistan, and development, as the government is. Holbrooke’s job was to clear up the mess of an American bureaucracy in this region strewn over multiple agencies, multiple departments, and multiple leaderships. Substative development issues simply don’t fit into an agenda for streamlining US military and political interests. Holbrooke would love to hand Pakistan the cheque for Kerry & Lugar’s $1.5 billion a year. It would enable getting rid of the bloated USAID bureacuracy, remove USAID paraphernalia from the US policy boardrooms (when it comes to Pakistan), and solve the problem of providing security for thousands of young, inexperienced USAID consultants (as well as some of the very, very good and experienced ones). In short, the whole bogeyman of USAID administrative expenditure is not just what this PPP government wants, it is exactly what Mr Holbrooke wants.
If Mr Holbrooke, or Mr Tarin, were at all interested in development, the conversation would not be about administrative expenditure, which is too high in all cases. The conversation would be about strengthening Parliament, local governments, and the civil service. When prime ministers from Pakistan and presidential envoys from America start talking about schools and hospitals, rather than the institutions that underpin them, you can be sure you are being taken for a ride. The big question is, out of the Pakistani government versus Mr Holbrooke and his elves, who’s taking whom for a ride?