On December 16, 2014, I saw constant posts in my news feed saying “#PrayForPakistan” or links to what had happened in Peshawar. I was truly saddened by what I saw. I’m sure a lot of people can relate to this when we all heard that the Pakistani Taliban, Tehrik-i Taliban (TTP), raided a school in Peshawar and killed 132 children.
The event reminded me of how much I’d learned about Pakistan and its history from my studies at Clark University. Therefore, I felt compelled to give a brief overview on how the Pakistani Taliban gained the support they need and how they can be stopped. In the end, we will see that Pakistan is a country with a people waiting to thrive.
Pakistan is, unfortunately, not just divided between religious sects and languages, but also by territory. The Pakistani Taliban currently controls the northwest of Pakistan and large parts of major cities such as Karachi and southern Punjab. The Pakistani Taliban should not be confused with the Afghani Taliban.
The Afghani Taliban focuses on driving out foreign troops, such as American and British forces. The Pakistani Taliban is focused on getting rid of the Pakistani government and establishing Sharia law. They, unlike the Afghan Taliban, have not indicated willingness to negotiate with the ruling government.
Over the years, the Pakistani Taliban has terrorized Pakistani citizens. Before attacking the school in Peshawar, according to CNN, they conducted an attack at a market in 2009 killing over 100 people, attacked a Protestant-church in 2013 that killed over 80 people, assassinated the former prime minister Benazhir Bhutto in 2007, and, of course, shot Malala Yousafzai in 2012, the recent noble prize winner.
They have also attacked US forces and tried to attack us on our soil. In 2009, they set out a suicide bombing in eastern Afghanistan, which killed 7 CIA officers. In 2010, they failed to conduct a bombing inside Time Square. Moreover, after the US killed Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan, the Pakistani Taliban called to attack Americans inside America.
The Pakistani Taliban has been able to win support and gain territory mainly due to the poor governance of Islamabad. Many are tired of the government’s focus on India, the Kashmir conflict, and Islamic extremists, which has invested 30% of its national budget on such issues, and would like more focus on their domestic needs.
The UN estimates Pakistan’s 185 million population will be 275 million by 2050. As of 2011, a third of the population lack drinking water, 77 million don’t have reliable food sources, and 50% of age-school children do not go to school. Therefore, it is hard to believe that Pakistan will be able to provide enough food, water, and jobs for another 90 million people, which is why many estimate that Pakistan will become a “failed-state,” precisely what the Taliban needs to recruit more supporters.
This is all disappointing, considering how much potential the Pakistani people have. Ahmad Rashid, an expert on Pakistan, says that the Pakistani people are known to be hard-working. They are also not just passionate and advocate for education, like Malala Yousafzai, but those who have received education have been successful in academia. They are also known for their success in the arts, fashion design, pop music, and cricket.
Some say that the US should punish and compel Islamabad to work harder by cutting all aid and imposing sanctions on them. Others say we should continue funding Pakistan and hope they build the necessary state institutions their people need.
As of now, America gives $2-3 billion aid to Pakistan a year, most of which has been military aid to crack down on groups like the Taliban. Pakistan has actually done a rather good job in that regard, but not in terms of using the economic aid to build state institutions and improve poor living conditions, which the Taliban feeds off of.
Therefore, America should slightly reform its financial assistance policy to Pakistan based on performance. This means that America should set a clear policy that it will not increase, nor continue to provide aid, unless Islamabad shows improvement.
Let’s say we provide $800 million annually for a three year plan, it should not be boosted to $1 billion in the following years, unless the government has shown improvement. For instance, has the government significantly improved in terms of corruption, increased financial transparency and provided more secondary education for all Pakistanis, including women?
This policy will create the proper incentive for the Pakistani elites to work harder and give their proud and hard-working people the accommodations they need in order to thrive. Thus, eliminating the poor living standards the Pakistani Taliban, and many other extremist groups, feed off of.