Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Interview with Atlantic Community

Natalie Catherine Chwalisz of the Atlantic Community website asked me for comments on the relationship between the European Union and the situation in Pakistan. Some of what I said was published there. I include here the whole of their questions and my responses to them.

1. How does Pakistan's political instability impact EU security concerns?
The obvious first answer is that the world is now so intimately connected that any serious crisis anywhere can affect much of the rest of the world -- and Pakistan is in crisis. But in the case of Pakistan there are many specific issues. The most obvious one is that for many years Pakistan has been a sanctuary for insurgent groups whose agendas include reducing (and reshaping) Europe as well as the United States (the more prominent target for the time being). But the status of the EU in the eyes of the insurgents in Pakistan/Afghanistan is no different than the US. They see both as the source of dangerous influences and if they have the ability they will attack them.

But there is more to reflect on here. As you know, all of those involved in the 9/11/01 attack on New York and the Pentagon were radicalized in Europe: whatever were the conditions for developing their hostility they developed it in European contexts. At the same time, since at least the mid-1970s Pakistan has been a critical incubating place for insurgent groups. That Osama Bin Laden has been able to hide there for some years can be no accident; there must be Pakistanis in high places who know something about that. Moreover, Pakistan has been nourishing several radical Islamist groups in order to have recruits for their unending struggle with India over Kashmir. In that context OBL may be regarded as a useful asset to some elements of the Pakistan military. They have claimed that the Taliban are an Afghan group, but the main localities from which they have operated ever since late 2001 have been in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The folly of Pakistan’s policy of tolerating OBL and certain Taliban groups, one that could be fatal, is now only too obvious, as the “Pakistani Taliban” have turned against their handlers.

Much has been said about the danger of nuclear warheads falling into the hands of insurgents. How likely that is I would not know, but the possibility of a growing insurgency committed to creating a new political force in the world – a new “caliphate” – is not remote. The success of an insurgency in Pakistan/ Afghanistan could inspire a new generation of young people in the wider region of the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia, places from which most of the insurgents come. And the numbers of such people are potentially large, for the median age of most of these countries is around 20. These young people are now developing a sense of where the world is going and of what they want to do with their lives. And the course of affairs in Pakistan/Afghanistan will influence what they see, what they can imagine, and what they decide to commit their lives to. That most of them are poorly educated and thus unprepared for employment in the emerging world will become a problem, as they are unlikely to escape the appeal of the more conspiratorial rumors of the times and the more radical solutions being proposed by the extreme elements of their world. Such social conditions in a society only a couple of hours by plane from Europe such induce the EU to invest heavily in measures to counter the influence of such extreme movements.

2. What should be the guiding principles of Europe's foreign policy in the region?
Again, the answer seems transparent: Europe [and the US] must be prepared to invest in the wellbeing of the great population clusters of the world, especially those that are disadvantaged. This means encouraging infrastructural development for those populations that are now underprivileged, many of whom are becoming aware, through modern communication devices, of what the more advanced parts of the world are like – a condition that will foster resentment against the “West” if effective means are not developed by which these populations can develop. The good news is that that awareness should induce many of them to welcome efforts to equip them for living and working in the modern world.

3. How could/should the EU's policy vis-à-vis Pakistan complement US policy in the region? Are there avenues insufficiently or not at all pursued by the US, where the EU can set itself apart and provide additional value? Can the EU's expertise in institution building and cooperation on economic reform (as was developed in the EU's
Neighborhood Policy) be applied to Pakistan?
The most obvious way that the EU can help is in education and institutional development – in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan, as you cannot now consider the issues in either country without considering the implications for the other. The EU is well positioned to provide such help.

It is important that the Americans and Europeans work to help develop these two countries, but this seems to me a delicate issue. The Pakistanis and Afghans can be offended by arrogance and condescension. In fact, both countries need large infusions of help in education. But in order for that assistance to be effective the leaders themselves have to be able to embrace it without feeling humiliated. That is, they have to “own” the educational and institutional development project themselves. This is a major problem in Pakistan, as the elite of Pakistan have managed public affairs in their own interest from the beginning. Pakistan is still a “feudal” society, a social condition that provides room for, even encourages, radical insurgent movements.

One useful function of the leadership of the EU would be to help the leadership of Pakistan to recognize the need to give more opportunity to the less privileged. This includes persuading them to commit to educating the lower classes. It also includes entering into serious dialogue with Baluch nationalists who are seeking a stronger voice in public affairs and a degree of local autonomy.

For all of this to be possible, the leadership of the EU might enlist the help of the Chinese, whose support is critical to the Pakistanis. And if at all possible, they should seek to bring some resolution to the Kashmir crisis. Until that issue is resolved the two most powerful countries in South Asia, both nuclear-armed, will be effectively at war.

It is worth noting that the EU is currently more highly regarded than the United States, a condition that the EU could effectively use. Some possibilities for the EU to consider in helping raise the level of education as well as change the perceptions of young Pakistanis about “Western” society: develop a king of “peace corps” from Europe; send professional advisors and trainers for the professional and trade workers in the country.

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