Pakistan Options

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"Pakistan Options"

Owen Bennett-Jones for the Stanley Foundation has a new paper out on Pakistan, “US Policy Options Toward Pakistan: A Principled and Realistic Approach”

The United States is providing massive quantities of aid to Pakistan—as much as $20 billion since 9/11. This has enabled Pakistan to go through a period of lavish military spending, but there have nonetheless been serious reverses both in the military battle against the radical Islamists and in the transition to democracy. It is tempting for US policymakers to react to these developments by switching support from the army to civilian politicians. The United States, however, should not forget that whatever form of government exists in Pakistan, the army, for good or ill, will continue to be a major force in Pakistani society for many years to come. Given the widespread agreement that the war on terror is going to last at least 20 years, the United States should think about longer-term policies. With that perspective in mind, the goal of persuading Pakistanis to turn their backs on radical Islam, alongside democracy promotion, can best be achieved by spending the bulk of the US aid on education and promotion of the rule of law.

This seems reasonable enough. But as I’ve observed in other contexts, the big problem with focusing efforts on promoting the rule of law is that our toolkit on this subject is really crappy. If the developed countries had rule of law promoting methods at our disposal, the world would be a much better place since Pakistan is hardly the only country that could use the rule of law most of all. Thomas Carothers made some key points about this in a 1998 Foreign Affairs article on “The Rule of Law Revival” and he has a book called Promoting the Rule of Law Abroad: In Search of Knowledge.

Which isn’t to say that a focus on the rule of law is the wrong idea, but merely that one should be cautious about one’s prospects for success here rather than simply assuming a can opener. For better or for worse, we can’t control Pakistan’s destiny.

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