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From Energy to Education – Pakistan Has a Few #1 Priorities

August 18, 2009

U.S. Envoy Holbrooke issued a public statement this week acknowledging Pakistan’s “deep rooted” energy problem. He explained that the United States “wanted to send the message that it was concerned about people’s genuine problems”. And the energy problem is in fact among the major problems faced by everyday Pakistanis. In the sweltering summertime, rural areas are faced with prolonged hours of outages, also known as “load shedding” with main cities including the Federal capital suffering 6 to 8 hours daily. This is not only physically unbearable for everyday citizens, but has a profound stalling effect on businesses as it further cripples the already anguished economy. Holbrooke is right then, a genuine attempt to begin resolving the energy crisis would be much welcomed and could in fact help to win the “hearts and minds” of Pakistanis.

This is among the first diplomatic statements issued regarding a funding to help upgrade Pakistan’s power sector and a timeline, or specific details on how such assistance would actually come about were not yet offered. But Pakistani finance minister Shaukat Tarin described in detail how the government could “rent electricity-generating plants over the next three to five years to fill the gap until large-scale energy projects come online and Washington could help by providing financial guarantees to encourage private investment in the sector”. Given the billions of dollars in defense spending Washington has provided Islamabad since 2001, I think Finance Minister Tarin is asking for very, very little here. It would be wise long term strategy for Holbrooke and the Obama Administration to seriously considering delving into this kind of cooperation as it can yield true long term security for the masses of citizens and ultimately, the state.

In addition, Holbrooke announced he would discuss a range of other issues that directly affect the everyday lives of Pakistanis during visit to Karachi on Wednesday. In unison with most diplomatic statements from the United States pertinent to Pakistan these days, Holbrooke’s remarks were overall positive as he expressed confidence in the current democratic regime completing its term and cited a “visible improvement in the political atmosphere” when compared to his past visit.

Amplified cooperation between Washington and Islamabad in combating terrorists is painting a rosy picture of relations these days. News of possible cooperation on funding energy projects is hopeful and on the Pakistani side, Prime Minister Gilani “sought to assuage concerns among western countries about governance and mismanagement issues in Pakistan saying that accountability had been institutionalized”. Many countries are hesitant to allocate funding in fear of a lack of transparency and corruption. But Pakistan has finally addressed this through the first ever independent oversight body: a parliamentary watchdog – Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly who is appointed from the opposition party. This truly is unprecedented and viable move toward democratic processes. It should actually assuage fears to invest in helping Pakistan at this time. An interesting side note here is that this institutionalized, unprecedented oversight comes as a result of the judiciary and media being independent, which is a policy enacted by former General Musharraff as head of state during his tenure.

Finally, the drone attacks continue to be a point of discussion between the U.S. and Pakistan with Gilani reitering that Washington directly provide Islamabad with the technology so not as to further instigate Anti-Americanism in the region through the widespread collateral/civilian damage that the unmanned predator aircrafts inflict.

So it will be interesting to see statements from Washington in the coming weeks on Pakistan. Funding to help resolve the profoundly distressing energy crisis could be a wonderful opportunity for us to offer real aid to Pakistan. Military aid given since 2001 has been real, and can help for security, but if the Obama administration wants to shift from the previous administrations policies and engage in more meaningful solutions, I think winning the hearts and minds through funding projects that directly affect people is in our long term interest of securing the region rather than only focusing on aid to state level institutions for which trickle down can be painfully slow.

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4 comments

  1. The first priority of Pakistan and the one that should be is the Education.

    Billions $$ in funding for defense- useless
    for energy- useless
    for reconstruction and charity- useless

    When most people from the masses can’t read and write, when almost all the adheres of Islam have no clue what they are reading in Quran and Salah. When people are totally clueless about the History of Pakistan. Few notes of Dollars from US treasury can’t solve Pakisan’s problems.

    Heavy investment is needed in the Educational System and its infrastructure. The Pakistani people has the intellectual and the resources to solve the Pak Problems.

    What energy issues are we talking about. We have the entire coast of Arabian Sea at Karachi, perfect for wind mills, Scorcthing heat in Balochistan perfect for wind and solar energy. We have unexploited Oil in Balochistan. We have Mountain ranges in the North East and West- which can be used for Wind mills.

    Are you kidding me!
    Pakistan is been on charity. That how a country is then gets run by foriegn administrations. It is not called Soverienty then.

    Pakisanis should stop asking for Charity. Ask more from Pak gov who take those jobs.

    America should not spend a single dime to Pakistan.
    Assalam-o-Alaikum

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    • A.S,
      I agree education is a top priority. Energy is not far behind, if not right up there with education. Not sure if funding for defense is entirely “useless” however. Defense spending might be exorbitant in some respects, but not useless. Unfortunately, the reality of such costs do incurr in “billions”.

      Referring to your mention of a wealth of natural resources in Pakistan….tapping those still require large scale delivery/development systems and basic infrastructure to get that going…..it doesn’t exist as energy at the onset…it must be developed, so working with the Chinese on that might be a good start.

      Finally, your comment on the States not spending “a dime to Pakistan” is an interesting concept. AID is increasingly seen as of little value and there’s skepticism of American assistnace in particular.

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      • right the skepticism about the US aid and its declining public support is primary because US gov likes to give charity not aid. See there is a differece, at least to me.
        Charity is you give it away feeling sympathetic or for some other reason, tomorrow that person is back on the street asking again. You have changed nothing!

        Aid is that you do something so that tomorrow that person is not back on the street but instead is now capable to find his/her own way.

        Well known Muslim Economist from Bangladesh, Muhammad Yunus once said that the concept of Chariy today is totally un effective and doesn’t solve the core problem, since the next day the person is on the street.

        So why US “aid” doesn’t get support. Well look where this so called aid goes.

        1] Pakistan Military- Pak Military already gets the most of the Pakistan’s Budget itself. More “aid” from foriegn gov for defence. Don’t see how that works when US has military deals with next door rival India (the nuclear tech agreement of Bush, even though India is not a member of Nuclear Prolifiration!!)

        2] Madarsa Reform- recently US aid was given to reform Madarasa. Where is the sense in that. Any one who is on the street, nows that that is not the priority of the people. Moreover, Madaris are the product of the failure of Pakistanis Gov. Gov’s inability to reform its national educations system. Why not reform the private schools who are producing self hating Pakistanis and anti-Islam????

        In both condition, the people remain poor, exploited by the corruption, thug and weapon (asla) culture, voting is bogus we all know that even if US observors sit in Islamabad. Youth is unemployed.

        What the “aid” has changed is the common Pakistani ask!!

        And I call it Charity.

        [Sorry for this Long comment.]

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  2. […] Oppose US Charity Jump to Comments The following is the long comment that I posted at this Blog ”Zainab Jewaanjee”. I thought this in itself can be a separate post on my blog so […]

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