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By Toufiq Siddiqi

HONOLULU (Nov. 1, 2009)—At the conclusion of his recent meeting with the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan, President Obama made an important speech that identified the common goal of the three countries to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies. “Our strategy reflects a fundamental truth,” he said. “The security of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United States are linked.”

A part of the speech that has received special attention in Afghanistan and Pakistan was when the president stated that “the United States has made a lasting commitment to defeat Al-Qaeda, but also to support the democratically elected sovereign governments of both Pakistan and Afghanistan. That commitment will not waiver. And that support will be sustained. ”(Italics added.)

It is important that President Obama has made this commitment clear, because many in the two Southwest Asian countries still feel that they were forgotten by the United States after the cold war ended, in spite of their important role in the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The Afghans also remember the U.S. shift of focus to Iraq immediately after the Taliban government was ousted following the September 11 attacks. The Pakistanis, in turn, remember the layers of U.S. sanctions put on them due to the nuclear program until they became a front-line state in the war against Al-Qaeda.

Insurgencies can seldom be won by military means alone. The recruitment of insurgents is greatly facilitated by high unemployment, linked largely to high rates of illiteracy. In Pakistan, for example, only about 55 percent of the population can read and write.

The current population of Pakistan is about 170 million, and it is growing at about 5 million each year. Pakistan needs to create about 2 million new jobs a year. Making a conservative assumption that creating each new job requires about $5,000, Pakistan would need $10 billion per year for more than a decade to bring its unemployment levels down significantly.

Some of the job creation can be financed internally, but since private foreign investment in the country has essentially ceased due to the deteriorating security situation, most of the funds would have to come from international development agencies. The total International Direct Assistance that Pakistan received during 2007 was about $1.6 billion. This would need to increase substantially, if the goal of creating millions of new jobs is to be achieved.

The Kerry-Lugar bill now before the U.S. Senate would authorize $1.5 billion annually in U.S. economic development assistance to Pakistan over 10 years. The corresponding legislation in the House of Representatives is known as the “Pakistan Enduring Assistance and Cooperation Enhancement Act of 2009,” with the appropriate acronym ‘PEACE Act of 2009.’ The passage of such a bill would be an important indication of a long-term commitment to the development of Pakistan.

Congress is concerned, however, that the $10 billion in assistance provided by the United States to Pakistan during the past five years has not shown any results. It needs to be recognized, though, that an estimated 80 percent of that assistance was for military purposes (fighting the extremists along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border), whereas the amount requested under the new bill is mostly earmarked for economic and development assistance.

Most of this assistance is to be used for agriculture and food security, strengthening national and provincial governance, expanding the rule of law, and improving education. Some of the funds for the fiscal year beginning on October 1, 2009 will also be used to help people displaced as a result of military operations against the Taliban in Swat and neighboring areas.

Several other countries have also pledged substantial development assistance. At the 2009 Pakistan Donors Conference hosted by Japan and the World Bank in April, international donors pledged more than $5 billion in aid for Pakistan, to bolster the country's economy and help it fight extremism. Japan and the U.S. each pledged $1 billion, and several other pledges were made, including $700 million from Saudi Arabia, $330 million from Iran, $300 million from the United Arab Emirates, and $100 million from Turkey. In addition, China had already signed several agreements with Pakistan last October in a number of fields, including economic cooperation, trade, communication satellites, and mining.

In Afghanistan’s case, Obama has asked for $1.6 billion in development aid. In a similar spirit of support, Japan and South Korea have announced an unprecedented agreement to work jointly on projects in Afghanistan, and several other developed countries and international agencies will continue to provide economic assistance.

These funds need to be used to find alternative employment to poppy production, which is currently the main source of income for Al Qaeda and their supporters, as well as for a substantial part of the population. The funds are also badly needed to build schools, hospitals, and other infrastructure, and to provide training for the staff.

Checks need to be built in to ensure that the funds are used in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the designated purposes, but without adding so many unrealistic requirements that there is public pressure against cooperation in the two countries. After all, as President Obama has emphasized, it is in the common interests of the United States, as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan, to fight extremism and the lack of education, employment opportunities, and infrastructure that provides fertile ground to those who recruit for the militants.

Dr. Toufiq Siddiqi is an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the East-West Center, and President of Global Environment and Energy in the 21st Century. He can be reached at [email protected].

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