How to help Pakistan By Feisal Hussain Naqvi


International attention has focused on Pakistan like never before in the weeks following the Mumbai attacks. To quote Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and adviser to President-elect Barack Obama, “All of the world’s nightmares come together in Pakistan.”
Assuming the world does not have the option of turning its back on the country, what can it do to help Pakistan?
The short answer is that Pakistan needs economic assistance. The militant extremists who wreak havoc are, for the most part, unemployed and frustrated young men.
If the Pakistani people – as opposed to the Pakistani military – were given tangible, visible economic assistance, it would go a long way towards winning over a suspicious populace. After all, starving Pakistanis cannot eat the F-16s sold to their armed forces.
With that in mind, here are three suggestions.
The short-term solution. The simplest and quickest way to help Pakistan’s economy is to reduce the tariffs imposed on Pakistan’s textile sector, which accounts for approximately 60 percent of Pakistan’s exports and more than 60 percent of its industrial workforce.
Pakistan has one of the world’s most dynamic and well-developed textile industries, but in recent years business has shifted to other countries with more favourable tariff regimes.
If the EU and the United States, Pakistan’s largest textile importers, were to remove or reduce tariffs on Pakistani textiles, experts believe that Pakistan’s $7.5 billion worth of textile exports would easily triple in value. Since the textile industry is generally labour intensive, the influx of business would immediately result in increased employment.
The medium-term solution. The world should help Pakistan focus on development in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) where problems with extremism are most acute.
The NWFP has tremendous potential for hydro-electric (hydel) projects. A heavy investment in the hydel infrastructure of the NWFP province has the potential to almost triple the current total power-generating capacity of Pakistan. However, international investors are reluctant to invest because of security concerns, while the Pakistani government lacks the necessary capital.
Providing the capital for hydel projects would have a number of benefits.
Because civil works account for about 50 to 70 percent of the overall cost of hydel projects, these projects would provide jobs for unskilled labourers in desperately poor areas.
Additionally, each hydel project would provide the NWFP government with ongoing funds for development projects, and increased electricity production from hydel plants would not only help industries crippled by blackouts, but also reduce the huge cost of imported furnace oil.
The long-term solution: provide financial support for education.
The Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan, set up in 2002 by General Pervez Musharraf, will likely be remembered as one of his most beneficial legacies. Between 2002 and 2007, annual funding for higher education increased from 4.3 to 14.3 billion rupees (approximately $232 million). Consequently, the number of university students jumped from 135,000 to 316,000.
According to a 2008 USAID report, HEC’s “progress to date has been remarkable – indeed, in terms of value added, better than any other developing country this team has reviewed over the last two decades.”
In absolute terms, however, less than 4 percent of college-age students in Pakistan are in higher education, compared to 11 and 20 percent in India and China, respectively. Pakistan, therefore, needs to spend a tremendous amount more, but it does not have those funds.
The Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) is recognised as the most prestigious college in Pakistan. Above its entrance is a plaque stating that the construction of the main building was made possible by a USAID grant of $10 million.
The thousands of graduates whose education was made possible, in part by the generosity of others, may well disagree with American policies. But knowing the source of their education’s funding, they are a lot less likely to hate the United States.
Why is it then, that since its investment in LUMS, USAID has made no equivalent investments in higher education in Pakistan?
Pakistan today is not just a nation on the edge but one at the tipping point in a global struggle against extremism. By giving the right help, the world can save a lot more than Pakistan.


* Feisal Naqvi is a lawyer based in Lahore, Pakistan. More of his articles can be found at This article first appeared in the Guardian and was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

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