Aug 23, 2009

Helping Pakistan

Dawn Editotial
Monday, 24 Aug, 2009

Asked in an interview for the New York Times Magazine whether American military aid could ‘have been better spent on education and healthcare for girls and women’, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton replied: ‘Yes. The answer is yes’. And referring to the Kerry-Lugar/ Berman non-military aid in the pipeline, Ms Clinton added: ‘we hope to try to make up for lost time’.

The secretary’s comments have come on the same weekend that a team of American experts arrived here to assess the country’s ailing power sector and begin work on a long-term solution to the recurring crisis. Taken together, it appears that the US is looking to invest in the future of the people here and perhaps put behind it the ‘transactional relationship’ of years past.

While concrete plans have not yet been unveiled, the past does give an indication of what serious input from the Americans can help achieve. The Indus Waters Treaty, which even five decades later represents the high-water mark in Pak-India negotiations, was in large measure made possible by the pledge of American dollars for new mega-projects in the water sector. And nearly 35 nears since the construction of the Tarbela dam, the Mangla and Tarbela dams remain the country’s largest water reservoirs and significant sources of hydel power.

This is not to say that the Americans are contemplating something on a similar scale in the education and power sectors today, but with the right level of commitment, financial backing and technical expertise, Pakistan may finally be able to turn the corner in those critical sectors with American help. For example, consider that the long-term energy security of the country can only be achieved with the exploitation of indigenous options such as coal and hydel power, but these options require enormous amounts of capital that the state and the private sector will not be able to muster easily. American backing can make what may otherwise be a pipedream a reality.

But Pakistan must wait and see what the Obama administration comes up with finally in terms of non-military aid to Pakistan. There are some obvious hurdles, not least the fact that the security environment in the country is not conducive to the large-scale presence of non-military American experts. So even if the American will is genuine — and Washington will have to a lot more to convince Pakistanis that it is — that will not easily translate into meaningful, long-term commitments on the ground.

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