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Channel U.S. Aid to Civil Society in Pakistan

Sadanand Dhume of the American Enterprise Institute makes an important point in the Wall Street Journal: that, while Pakistan is increasingly in the grip of anti-Western military men and Islamists, there are large sectors of society that are more open to a liberal, pro-Western agenda. These range from the English-speaking elites to ethnic and religious minorities such as the Shi’ites, who are increasingly victimized by Sunni radicals.

I have previously suggested we should eliminate most aid to the Pakistani military, an institution that is actively sponsoring attacks on U.S. troops and our allies in Afghanistan. But that does not mean we should abandon Pakistan. Instead, we should channel our aid to civil society in Pakistan to try to build up a counterweight to the military.

The situation is far from hopeless. As Dhume notes, “President Asif Ali Zardari’s ruling Pakistan Peoples Party broadly stands for religious tolerance and a peaceful South Asia.” The problem is that Zardari has been ineffectual; policy on major issues, especially national security issues, is set by the military, not by the civilians who ostensibly rule.

The U.S. needs to do what it can to change that rather than relying primarily on military-to-military links as we have done ever since 9/11.


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