Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Pakistan: Is Engineering Civic Engagement Needed To Ensure Effective U.S. Military and Humanitarian Aid?

Posted by K.E. White on May 20, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s description of US policy toward Pakistan as “incoherent” caught US airwaves for its frankness–or, perhaps to some, apologist tone. But more importantly, Clinton’s press conference highlights a much tougher question: how does America make a coherent policy towards Pakistan?

Right now the stakes in Pakistan are high, but the mission is clear: help Pakistan’s civilian government beat back the extremist threat and, in so doing, strengthen liberal rule in the country and route dangerous terrorist groups that promise to make mayhem for Pakistan, Afghanistan and, ultimately, the United States.

But completing that is another matter all together. As Clinton laid out in yesterday’s press conference, the United States is increasing aid to Pakistan by $110 million—and reaching out to citizens to make additional $5 pledges via text messages. Here’s the breakdown and how the aid will reach Pakistan:

Despite her warmer words for Pakistan’s government, Mrs. Clinton said little of this aid would flow directly to the Pakistani authorities. Most of it will flow to the United Nations and other international aid organizations. Pakistan has been criticized in the past for squandering American assistance.

The latest influx of aid comes on top of $60 million in humanitarian aid that the United States has sent to Pakistan since last August, and $400 million the administration has requested from Congress to improve the counterinsurgency abilities of the Pakistani military.

While the bulk of the $100 million is coming from the State Department — channeled mainly through the Agency for International Development — the Pentagon will contribute $10 million for water trucks, food and large tents equipped with air-conditioning.

Mrs. Clinton emphasized that $26 million of the package was designated to buy grain from Pakistani farmers, which she said would take advantage of the country’s bumper grain crop this year.

Setting aside the important question whether or not this aid channels successfully to Pakistan, Rick Barton argues that without a mobilized Pakistani public committed against the Taliban no amount of is US military hard power and aid will turn the tide. How can the US assist in keeping the Pakistani public—which has already proven its civic force—mobilized to ensure effective civilian rule in Pakistan? Barton calls for American funding of locally controlled TV and radio stations to broadcast the barbarism of the Taliban and ensure continuous responsiveness of the Pakistani government to its citizens.

Now what Barton actually calls for verses current US efforts at ‘public diplomacy’ requires more digging. This CFR publication reviews current efforts at ‘public diplomacy’ in Afghanistan, illustrating that these operations are comprised of US military-run radio stations in Afghanistan. These stations report news, primarily US military operational updates, to locals before the Taliban can disseminate their own message of US humanitarian misdeeds.

Barton argues for greater scope of such efforts into television and radio, local control of content and less emphasis on American military news-updates. Rather these programs should empower locales to bring attention to social ills and examples of good governance.

Such a shift would see ‘public diplomacy’ shift from a focus on beating back extremist propaganda to  providing an independent avenue for public discourse and mobilization.

Starting such a public diplomacy program in Pakistan has risks.  First, will US funds inadvertently go towards anti-American messaging, entertainment programming of little worth or—most alarmingly—into jihadist controlled stations?

But Barton’s provocative idea has its virtues. Showing images of heinous terrorist acts and allowing Pakistanis to push for responsible governance could go a long way in keeping the Pakistani regime responsive to and credible in the eyes of its citzens.

Yet, there are greater dangers than misspent American funds. Stirring the pot of public mobilization can freeze a regime’s forward motion: fanning legitimate public grievances could place unrealistic demands on a regime making real, if slow, forward motion towards effective governance. End-result: A poor, but improving, regime is rejected and replaced with crippled regime.

In any case, the United States must craft a workable, and not simply a military-run propagandist approach to public diplomacy in Pakistan. As Jeanne Bourgault points out in her article Radio a Sound Salvation for Pakistan?:

One recent survey in the area found that “many of the listeners who tune in to militant or mullah-run stations do so largely out of boredom and for want of a better alternative.” By training journalists and helping to set up new radio stations, America and Pakistan can offer this alternative. Supporting local, independent media is a cheap but effective weapon against instability and terror.

From Bourgault one can glean a less ambitious, but perhaps more attainable public diplomacy approach than offered by Barton. Barton’s prescription to instill large-scale mobilization of the Pakistani public must overcome two significant hurdles. First, will not hard-power attained security permit Pakistanis, themselves, to extend their already existing social networks?  And does not such a hard-power success depend on diplomatic and miliatary coordination between the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan, not to mention agressive counter-insurgency operations in Pakistan more than additional radio stations?

Second, how does one measure the various variable that make-up large-scale social mobilization? The Pakistani public seems very engaged with its regimes current difficulties. Would American aid really produce civic engagement—or merely free-ride on the work of existing Pakistani social networks?

Expanding US jamming operations of extremist media outlets makes sense. And constructing US-controlled radio stations with local staffs that pump out ‘soft propaganda’—exposés on the value of American aid and extremist atrocities—could improve the perception of the United States to Pakistan’s inhabitants. Those two steps are practical steps forward in combatting the Af-Pak terrorist threat; and, furthermore, are preconditions to accessing the value of Barton’s more expansive public diplomacy prescription.

One Response to “Pakistan: Is Engineering Civic Engagement Needed To Ensure Effective U.S. Military and Humanitarian Aid?”

  1. schume said

    i dont know what you are really upto, defending U.S,but there is one thing, U.S has a strong aim to make U.S Defense bases in pakistan,a silent danerous prospect that is planned ,either to defend from Russia and its new friends (exceptionally Iran),or its a step to take control of Pakistan ,there is no other possible reason for pouring so much of unconditional love on Pakistan ,which welcomes Taliban,a friend of Al-Qaeeda ,which is responsible for 9/11.

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