Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Missing the point entirely

In the political fallout following the death of OBL in  Pakistan, there has been much speculation (both formal and informal) on its continuing role in the "War on Terror". At the epicenter of all this political drama, is the future of the financial aid that Pakistan receives from the US ($20.7 billion since 2002 via Foreign Policy Magazine). Given the inadequate (to say the least) performance of Pakistan's military establishment in the OBL fiasco and its double game of sponsoring militancy in Afghanistan, it would be obvious to think that military aid would be first up on the chopping block.

Apparently not.

From what the Cable has been reporting, it is in fact civilian aid (Kerry-Lugar bill, $7.5 billion in 5 years) to Pakistan that is being reviewed. According to Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) chairman of the Senate armed services committee, while the United States is interested in "developing a stable democracy", it is not the most pressing issue at the moment. There are also additional concerns that the civilian aid about its appropriation and lack of spending oversight.

I'm not here to defend the civilian government in Pakistan or to point out that concerns regarding spending and oversight are exaggerated.  However, given the primary role of the military and security establishment in this fiasco, to only review civilian aid is (I'm sorry to say) idiotic.

First of all, unconditional military aid is one of the biggest mistakes that the United States has made in its dealings with Pakistan. Given that this aid has been used to fund the war machine against India, not securing the AfPak border or dealing with militant networks responsible for destabilizing Afghanistan, continuing it without question is only going to embolden the military to remain in this way.

Secondly, a stable democracy in Pakistan is vital to the long term interests of the United States. The problem of militancy in Pakistan is linked directly to the failure of the state to develop institutions and infrastructure that address the most pressing concern of its people. While the civilian government(s) (past and present) are to blame for this failure, the military establishment has also played an important role in undermining development by actively pushing for increased defense spending (which has increased by 17% this year) at the cost of other government programs. While military spending can deal with militancy itself, it cannot solve its underlying causes (social inequality, lack of access to education, religious fundamentalism and unemployment). Civilian aid will go further in dealing with these problems than military spending ever can.

Over the past 10 years, military aid to Pakistan has not yielded substantial results in the reduction of militancy in the region. With the obvious involvement of the military and security establishment in maintaining OBL in Pakistan, it's time to try something new. May I suggest seriously reviewing military aid packages as well?

Friday, May 6, 2011

A bag of mixed feelings

I was going to write this obligatory post on the "death" (killing would be more appropriate) of OBL sooner, but I decided to hold off for a variety of reasons:

1) I am in the process of performing an intensive analysis of the relationship between different metrics of thermal preference of freshwater fish and the evolutionary/phylogenetic relationship between different fish species. It's a lot of work, so I am (still) very busy. Sorry, but fish are more important than OBL

2) Once again, I couldn't decide what I could add to the debate taking place in newspapers, blogs and social media. I only write, if I feel I have something meaningful to say

3) I wasn't quite sure how I felt about his death in the first place. I needed a few days worth of REM sleep to figure this out.

Despite taking some time to think, I still haven't been able to sort myself out. On the one hand, I felt absolutely nothing when I heard about his death. Nothing. There was no joy or sorrow. I had no visceral reaction. It's as if my internal self shrugged and continued on with my workday. While the aftermath of 9/11 has shaped to some extent the reality in which I, my friends (worldwide) and my family (Pakistan) live, for me the policy decisions following 9/11 are more important that the tragedy of 9/11 itself. Part of this (lack of) reaction has to do with the fact that OBL's death will not change my reality anytime soon. It will not stop suicide bombings in Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta and countless other Pakistani towns and cities. It will not stop the spread of religious extremism within our society. It will not result in massive reforms in the way we are governed or improve the general condition of masses.

On the other hand, I am disturbed with the extra-judicial nature of this entire event. I can't say that I am very comfortable of the killing of OBL without a judicial decision. First of all, the circumstances surrounding his death are not very clear. With reports indicating anything from he was lunging for his AK-47 to he was captured when shot (in front of his family) to the order from the start was to kill, not capture, him  (via Glen Greenwald) there is no way to assess the legality of his death. If the US government indeed gave the orders for an extra-judicial killing, I am worried about the example that this sets for the rest of the world. If the most powerful country in the world decides without due process the innocence or guilt of a person and claims moral authority, this gives the green light for retaliation against other individuals who have been involved in mass murder and can be rightly classified as embodiments of evil as well (e.g. Slobodan Milosevich, Charles Taylor, Muammar Gadafi).

At the same time I understand the actions of the US government. If Bin Laden was captured alive and tried in court, there is very good chance that Al Qaeda would create a hostage crisis (with either civilians or military personnel) to negotiate for his release. It would be doubtful that the United States government would enter such negotiations, but depending on the scale and the nature of this crisis it could create a potentially embarassing situation for the current government (see Jimmy Carter and the Iran hostage crisis).

Then again, politics don't trump principles. At least in my book.