04/11/2011 03:05 pm ET | Updated Jun 11, 2011

Our Job in Pakistan

The clearest criticism of Pakistan's efforts to defeat Al-Qaeda and other militants from last week's White House Report on Afghanistan and Pakistan was the line, "... what remains vexing is the lack of any indication of 'hold' and 'build' planning or staging efforts to complement ongoing clearing operations. As such, there remains no clear path toward defeating the insurgency in Pakistan..."

And yet the path is clear -- as the report goes on to note, what is required are adequate "civilian law enforcement personnel" to accomplish the "holding" and "effective development strategies" to accomplish the "building."

Our national security hinges on our ability to effectively assist Pakistan in accomplishing these objectives.

In large part, we are failing to do so.

The most effective development strategy the U.S. can provide Pakistan -- and one Pakistanis themselves have repeatedly and consistently requested -- is U.S. market access for Pakistani products.

For the last four years, the U.S. has held out to Pakistan the promise of market access in the form of Reconstruction Opportunity Zones.

These opportunity zones in Pakistan would be located in the very conflict-affected areas we want the Pakistani military to "build" and should be expanded to include the flood-affected areas, also desperately in need of reconstruction.

Pakistani exports from these designated opportunity zones to the U.S. (Pakistan's largest export partner) would come in duty free, stimulating job creation and the economic activity in these areas necessary to the "build" phase of a successful Pakistani counterinsurgency operation.

Conceptually, the Administration has embraced this proposal.

In 2009, in his "New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan" speech, President Obama called on Congress to pass legislation that "creates opportunity zones in the border region to develop the economy and bring hope to places plagued by violence."

Two years later, opportunity zones remain an unrealized concept, the border region is still plagued by violence, and the people still wait for hope.

The Administration and Congress must invest the political capital necessary to see this legislation through, we are far past the point of this being feel-good legislation and well into serious consideration of the effects failing to do so will have on U.S. national security.

To its credit, the Administration has successfully tripled development assistance to Pakistan and engaged in a high-level Strategic Dialogue with Pakistan to create a joint strategy for the disbursement of that assistance.

The missing piece however, is that development strategy's effectiveness.

Even recognizing the distinct development obstacles posed by Pakistan including a challenging security environment, the recent floods which required a re-evaluation of existing development plans, understaffing of the USAID mission in Pakistan, the government of Pakistan's lack of institutional capacity and finally unique events such as the passing of the late Ambassador Holbrooke and the Raymond Davis case which re-injected volatility into a steadily improving US-Pakistan partnership, it is still significant that USAID's latest Inspector General's report cites an inability to "demonstrate measurable progress" in Pakistan.

To be clear, that is not to say that USAID is not making progress -- it is that progress needs to be measurable and it needs to be demonstrable.

The lack of transparency and solid metrics results in a situation where the Pakistani public (and indeed U.S. Congressional appropriators) are exposed to widely publicized billion dollar figures of U.S. assistance to Pakistan and yet are unable to satisfy the expectation those pronouncements create in terms of visible and demonstrably effective projects.

In the U.S., this leads to questions of the effectiveness of our assistance to Pakistan. In Pakistan, for the average citizen it leads to an assumption of deep corruption and bad intentions by both governments and a massive mistrust of NGOs perceived to be enriching themselves off the assistance.

One distinction needs to be made clear however: our assistance money is not designed to "buy" the U.S. popularity among Pakistanis. Its objective is to create a secure, sustainable, civil environment in Pakistan that will undermine the root causes and appeal of militancy that gives rise to threats against our national security.

We are already making smart development investments in Pakistan in energy and agriculture, but until we make credible game-changing investments in basic education, we can expect those gains to be unsustainable in the long-term.

Finally, the story of strong, effective, development partners refusing to work with USAID in Pakistan due to its bureaucracy and heavy-handedness has become far too common and is costing us our ability to effectively achieve our objectives.

There is an immediate need to reform, streamline and adjust these procedures so that USAID, while maintaining credible financial reporting, can still be a nurturing partner to strong development partners.

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