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Jodi Liss: Pakistan — Loosening The Ties That Bind

However vicious, however Frankenstein-ian the Taliban, it doesn’t explain the origins of Pakistan's precarious condition. With Pakistan’s divided and distracted military, the corruption, the poverty, the radical Islamists, the maybe-loose nukes (despite the denials), anybody could be forgiven for thinking this weak country is on the verge of falling apart. The Taliban looks like an opportunistic virus ready to prey on the systemic weakness of its host. For all the shuttle diplomacy, prodding, and nagging by the United States, the only way really to settle Pakistan’s external problems is to deal with its internal problems. To survive, the country must find the political will to strengthen itself as a unified country. To do that, it has to look past its favorite and most populous province of Punjab, with its comfortable business, educational, and military elite, and its rich and corrupt cronies and special interests. Pakistan must deal with Punjab the way it treats its angry and marginalized provinces of Sindh, the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), and the restive and resource-rich Baluchistan. The grievances of Baluchistan, Sindh and the NWFP are longstanding. Both the Baluch people and the Pashtun (of the NWFP) resisted becoming part of Pakistan from the start. These provinces have a much lower per capita income and literacy rate than Punjab, and unequal distribution of tax revenues leaves them stuck in poverty. Both Baluchistan and Sindh have enormous natural resources, including natural gas, gold, copper, and uranium. The constant exploitation of these resources for the enrichment of outsiders has only made relations worse. According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Baluchistan receives only 12.5 percent of the gas royalties due to it by the central government. There is anger in Sindh over water rights to the Indus River. As with many developing countries, the national government acts as if it has a right to all the resources a region has to offer, without addressing the very real resentment of the people who actually live on the land. Both provinces have spoken of banding together to create a separate federation. We’ve seen this same problem before in another place—Africa. In the years following decolonization, a new ruling class monopolized the bulk of the political power and the natural resources on other people’s land. It led to massive corruption, a splintering sense of state, and ethnic tensions. That’s the story in Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Kenya, and Democratic Republic of Congo. It is possible that Pakistan could go the way of so many African countries. The three provinces are moving towards separatism for the same reasons. The same sort of economic bilking was one of the causes for the 1970-1971 separatist war between West and East Pakistan. Today East Pakistan is Bangladesh. Even if the violence in Pakistan doesn’t end in outright secession or overthrow, the fighting has resulted in widespread killing, human rights violations, terrorism, and economic destruction and injustice. Always, the political and economic recovery from such internal wars is slow, painful and unpredictable. But we’ve also seen a solution to this problem before, in the Indonesian province of Aceh. As with Pakistan, Aceh endured decades of enormous popular anger about federal economic exploitation over its huge natural gas fields and massive political corruption, a long-standing violent separatist movement, thousands dead, and widespread human rights abuses by the military. After the 2004 tsunami, a peace deal was mediated by Nobel Prize winner Martti Ahtisaari between the Acehnese and the Indonesian government. It guaranteed political autonomy, amnesty, the removal of federal troops, oversight by independent monitors, and that 70 percent of the revenues from natural resources stay in Aceh. So far the peace is holding. Pakistan can and should negotiate a similar deal in good faith with its provinces. If the United States cares about Pakistan’s survival beyond Al Qaeda and the nukes, and whatever other “aid” it wants to give, the easiest, cheapest and most enduring help it can provide is to mediate an end to the anger in the provinces by offering fairer royalties for natural resources and finding a mutually agreeable level of autonomy in the NWFP, Baluchistan, and Sindh. History doesn’t repeat itself. The Acehnese agreement was given a tremendous push by a natural disaster, an impetus that cannot be reproduced. Those in Pakistan who are profiteering—and they are many, powerful, and not to be underestimated—and those who seek separatism will work against it. Only consistent outreach from Islamabad will truly pull Pakistan together. The ties that bind a country don’t need to suffocate. Recognizing and accepting different political identities and agendas is crucial. Giving the people of an area the money from its own natural resources can go a long way toward placating a population. Jodi Liss is a former consultant for the United Nations, the United Nations Development Programme, and UNICEF. She has worked on the “Lessons From Rwanda” outreach project and the Post-Conflict Economic Recovery report. Her article, “Making Monetary Mischief: Using Currency as a Weapon,” appeared in the winter 2007-08 issue of World Policy Journal.

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