October 12, 2010
Another crisis is roiling American-Pakistani relations after NATO helicopters mistakenly fired on a border post and killed Pakistani soldiers last month. Islamabad then closed a major supply line for NATO troops in Afghanistan; last week, extremists torched fuel trucks waiting at the border crossing. A new White House report said that Pakistan’s Army is refusing to go after Taliban groups targeting American forces.
After a joint Pakistan-NATO inquiry concluded last week that the Pakistani troops were “simply firing warning shots” when the Afghan-based helicopters crossed the border, the United States apologized. Pakistan has since reopened the crossing.
Still, making this alliance work is essential. Pakistan’s government is unraveling in the wake of its incompetent response to devastating floods. The United States needs to do more to help — and Pakistan’s military and civilian leaders finally need to admit that winning the battle against extremists, on both sides of the border, is essential to Pakistan’s security. The agenda is daunting:
RELIEF The government’s incompetence after the floods has stoked public outrage. Even the Army — Pakistan’s best-functioning institution — has been overwhelmed. The United States is the largest donor of emergency aid, more than $450 million so far, and American troops rescued at least 21,000 Pakistanis. Millions of people are still at risk. If Pakistan’s Army needs more help, it should ask — and publicize American cooperation.
RECONSTRUCTION Devastation is vast: twenty million people were displaced and countless bridges, roads, schools and farms were swept away. It will take decades and billions of dollars to rebuild. Donor nations were already tired after Haiti, but there is an antipathy toward Pakistan that should give its government serious pause.
Many donors — starting with China, Pakistan’s longtime ally — must do more. The Obama administration is rightly telling Pakistan that it must invest in its recovery by finally taxing wealthy citizens. Pakistan could also shift funds from its nuclear program. A transparent commission to receive and manage contributions would help rally donors, as would working closely with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
AMERICAN AID In addition to billions of dollars in military aid, Congress last year approved a five-year, $7.5 billion aid package for schools, hospitals and energy plants. Since the floods, Washington has shifted some of that money to recovery efforts. It will have to shift more. Washington needs to move quickly on some high-visibility projects so Pakistanis can see that they are not alone.
GOVERNMENT REFORM Pakistan’s Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, last month reportedly warned President Asif Ali Zardari that the country is on the verge of economic collapse and insisted on a government shakeup. So far, the generals say they don’t want to take over — and a coup would be disastrous. But the argument for reform is undeniable. Washington can, quietly, help the Pakistanis think it through. Any changes must be done transparently and within the Constitution.
DRONE STRIKES In recent weeks, the C.I.A. has stepped up its bombing campaign against Taliban strongholds on Pakistan’s border. The American oversight system for these attacks is deeply inadequate, but Pakistan’s leadership needs to understand that if they won’t go after insurgents targeting American troops, then the United States military will.
When President Obama visits India next month, he must quietly urge its government to revive peace talks with Pakistan. That may be the best hope of getting Pakistan’s military to focus on fighting the insurgency. Next week, senior Pakistani and American officials will hold the latest in a series of “strategic dialogues.” They have a lot to talk about.