Wednesday, August 5, 2009

On the Brink of Becoming a Failed State (On the Eve of its 62nd Birthday)

Editor's Note: the following is a guest post from Haley Gallagher, who served in the Peace Corps in Bangladesh. The views expressed are her own.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the “father of Pakistan” had a vision that his country would be that of a modern, moderate, secular society. Much has changed since August 14, 1947. There is a growing force of Islam-loving people throughout Pakistan yearning for the implementation of Islamic law. Rather than fighting the Taliban, this group of people believes the current military operation is counter-productive and that the state should be engaging the Taliban.

While the debate continues, many agree that Pakistan consistently fails to provide sufficient resources to its citizens. Under already inadequate education and infrastructure systems, the poor suffer the most during wartime conditions. Moreover and somewhat disconcerting, the country has a moderate youth bulge; the average age is 21 and over 37% of Pakistanis are under the age of 15. Given the current economic downturn and rising unemployment rate, many of these youths sit idle with nothing to do. This presents opportunities for the Taliban to recruit and train, yes, even children to be suicide bombers. As Pakistanis’ patience wanes the risk of violence increases and everyday access to social services such as education suffer (six Christians were burnt to death this week following allegations that they had desecrated a Koran).

Pakistan is currently a very volatile society and its citizens are stuck between a rock and a hard place in terms of whom to trust, be it Americans or the Taliban. Given their vulnerability, America should seize this opportunity to increase development aid and resources to Pakistan in an effort to regain their loyalty. The Peace Corps is the most powerful symbol of non-military service in our history. Both President Obama and former Republican President George W. Bush called for expanding the Peace Corps and their funding was increased to $373.4M this year, the largest percentage increase since 1993. While many would argue against sending the Peace Corps back into Pakistan, especially now, there are those willing to serve for a greater collective good.

Every overseas assignment presents risks and perhaps tapping into the Peace Corps’ Crisis Corps would be a better option. When John F. Kennedy called on young Americans to serve, it wasn’t during times of peace. The ‘60s were tumultuous and those willing to volunteer embraced the responsibility. Re-entering Pakistan in this capacity could present challenges. However, this is not a new endeavor for the United States. Navigating the political system is clearly the biggest obstacle. In the meantime, as the Peace Corps continues to double its efforts globally, Pakistan will have to rely on those local organizations that focus their efforts on bringing good governance and sustainable development to the people directly. There is a sense of urgency, however, to partner with those on the right side of governance and honor the vision that Jinnah worked so hard to create.

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