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Begging for Security in Pakistan

As Albert Einstein famously remarked, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Last week, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Pakistan announced that due to a lack of funding, the UN might need to suspend their food and assistance program for Pakistani refugees displaced by the conflict against the Taliban and militants in the northwest. That the international community continues to fail to provide this funding, and that the US fails to successfully pressure it to do so, represents the height of insanity.

It is as if no one has read the plethora of scholarship or seems to remember how it was exactly that the Taliban originated and came to power. In his authoritative book on the subject, Ahmed Rashid describes the Taliban, "Many of them had been born in Pakistani refugee camps, educated in Pakistani madrassas, and had learnt their fighting skills from Mujaheddin parties based in Pakistan."

The conditions that created the Taliban are ripe for a repeat today. Every moment a Pakistani refugee spends in a camp represents an increased vulnerability that cracks open the door to extremism. On the other side of that door the militants are waiting with their own offers of food and medical assistance, education in the form of madrassas and a chance for glory in this world and the next by fighting for the supremacy of their version of Islamic law.

Two weeks ago, President Obama spoke of working "both in Afghanistan and Pakistan to create an environment in which these extremist organizations are further and further isolated," calling it the "singular focus" of his administration. How the desperate cry for funding from the UN in the most acute of those environments eluded that focus is a mystery and a damning failure. The issue should become a top priority for the U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN Susan Rice.

But there are some bright spots. The Pentagon has recently proposed a special $10 million pool of funds that U.S. Special Operations "trainers" in Pakistan could quickly spend on civil affairs and humanitarian projects in the FATA in coordination with their Pakistani counterparts. According to a Reuters report, a senior U.S. defense official said the goal was to "seed the environment to then allow the security to calm down, people to return and for the NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) and USAID (the U.S. Agency for International Development) to follow in after."

While there is great concern, and understandably so, among Pakistanis about any kind of U.S. military involvement in Pakistan, there are reasons to believe that the program could be successful. Prime among the factors that could make the program successful is if the implementation is informed by the approach taken by Greg Mortenson, the humanitarian and author of "Three Cups of Tea." It is an approach that emphasizes local community engagement, community participation and community buy-in of all projects. That the book has become required reading for all officers and Special Forces going into Afghanistan (and also presumably Pakistan) bodes well for the Pentagon proposal.

Given that the funds would flow through the Pentagon, a portion of the funds should be used to create a civilian compensation fund for Pakistani victims of U.S. drone attacks. In a report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan by ISAF troops, issued this month by Campaign for Innocent Victims In Conflict (CIVIC), CIVIC found that that when military forces provide compensation, especially combined with an apology for harm, civilian hostility toward international forces decreases.

Indeed when that compensation comes from U.S. forces in Afghanistan it is usually drawn from the Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP), exactly the type of fund looking to be set up in Pakistan.

In another indicator of the success of such a fund, the Pakistani military also provides compensation to civilian casualties that it incurs in its own operations.

While there is no doubt that every district and every sector in Pakistan is in need of US assistance, there is no greater priority, particularly from a U.S. national security perspective, than the civilian refugees of the conflict.

That means there needs to be an increase in our own independent refugee assistance, an increase in multilateral and UN refugee assistance, a ratcheting up of the intelligence confidence interval for drone strikes to limit civilian casualties and a compensatory mechanism to make amends for when we do fail.

To quote Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "we have walked away from Pakistan before, with consequences that have not been in the best interests of our security." Let's not make the same mistake again; to do so would be insane.

Taha Gaya is the Executive Director of the Pakistani American Leadership Center (PAL-C) he can be reached at taha@pal-c.org.