What the U.S. Can Do in Pakistan Now – Milan Vaishnav and Danny Cutherell

Owen Barder

U.S. - Pakistan relations, troubled in the best of times, have been unusually rocky of late. A recent cover story in The Atlantic dubbed Pakistan the “Ally from Hell.” CGD’s Study Group on the U.S. Development Strategy in Pakistan argues that the strong U.S. interest in a stable, prosperous Pakistan makes savvy U.S. support for development there more important than ever. In this week’s wonkcast, post-doctoral research fellow Milan Vaishnav and policy analyst Danny Cutherell discuss the recent upsets in U.S.-Pakistan relations and offer practical suggestions, drawn from the CGD Study Group’s report and a recent open letter from CGD president Nancy Birdsall to deputy secretary of state Thomas Nides, which focuses on U.S. support for private sector growth in Pakistan.

Milan and Danny say that little progress has been made in improving the U.S. policy stance towards Pakistan since the Study Group issued its report last June. In fact, the death last year of Ambassador Richard Holbroock, the U.S. special envoy to Pakistan, left it unclear who is in charge of U.S. development strategy in Pakistan, a question Nancy raises in her most recent open letter. Meanwhile, events in Pakistan have soured the view in Congress.

“I think there is an increasing and unfortunate view that it is not in the U.S. interest to foster development in Pakistan,” says Danny. “Recently there has been a sense in Congress that Pakistan is working against us, they’re not helping us achieve our security objectives, and perhaps we should stop giving Pakistan funding all together.” Danny notes that the Kerry, Lugar, Berman (KLB) funding was intended to support long-term development objectives in Pakistan. However, short term security objectives continue to trump these goals, he says.

“It's not clear who is in charge and how they’re supposed to lead,” Danny adds. “In order to have a really successful development program we would like to see a small number of things that both the U.S. government and the Pakistani government can say ‘this is what we're trying to achieve, and when we achieve these things that is when we will have reached success.’”

Milan unpacks the recommendations from the recent open letter – such as expanding market access for all Pakistani goods instead of limiting such tariff cuts to impractical reconstruction opportunity zones (ROZs) in Pakistan’s most troubled regions. The Study Group has argued that the ROZs would attract few investors, have little impact on Pakistan’s economy, and would reinforce the notion that the United States is only interested in pacifying the border lands – a short-term security strategy.

“Let’s just forget about the ROZs,” Milan says. “The Pakistanis don't want it, they're not excited about it, we don't think it makes a lot of sense. If we want to reset the relationship, why don't we focus on something they really want.”

We end our Wonkcast with a possibly controversial idea that Milan and Danny say the Pakistanis are excited about – moving ahead with the proposed Diamer-Basha dam, a hydro-electric and flood control project in a remote mountain area that Danny, who grew up in Pakistan, calls “high-altitude desert.” Joining with other donors to support the dam “would show we have a long term interest in helping to serve the interest of the Pakistani people,” says Milan.

If you have iTunes, you can subscribe to get new episodes delivered straight to your computer every week. My thanks to Alexandra Gordon and Ness Savedoff for their production assistance on the Wonkcast recording and to Alexandra Gordon for assistance in drafting this blog post.