Pakistan needs our help now

Posted in Pakistan | 08-Jun-09 | Author: Dieter Farwick

Greg Mortenson, author of the fascinating book "Three cups of tea", with Pakistani students: "The first projects should concentrate on…
Greg Mortenson, author of the fascinating book "Three cups of tea", with Pakistani students: "The first projects should concentrate on education, healthcare and energy supply"
The stream of bad news pouring out of Pakistan has many aspects: Poor government; country-wide insurgency and terrorist attacks; corruption; ethnic and religious conflicts; shaky economy; safe haven for terrorist groups; training camps and launch pad for attacks into India and Afghanistan; reluctance of the military to fight the terrorists; uncertainty about the protection of nuclear weapons; and abuse and misuse of billions of dollars in foreign aid.

Why should the rest of the world care about Pakistan?

Pakistan has surpassed Iraq and Afghanistan, making its way to the top of the list of the most dangerous conflict regions in the world. To start with: Pakistan is a nuclear power. If and when nuclear weapons were to fall into the hands of terrorist groups - like al Qaeda and the Taliban - stability and security in the volatile broader Middle East would further deteriorate. The shock waves would reach the Maghreb in the West and Bangladesh in the East.

So far, the Pakistani military continues to claim that the nuclear weapons are well protected. Prior to the counteroffensive into the Swat Valley, the Pakistani political and military leaders seemed to be obsessed by the perception that the biggest threat comes from India - the neighbor with nuclear weapons. Armament, training and dislocation of the forces have been targeted to counter this perceived threat.

Only recently were some troops moved from the Eastern border to the West. It remains to be seen whether the offensive against the terrorists in and outside the Swat Valley will be sustained over a longer period of time. If successful, this fight could turn the strategic table in the region.

If the terrorists in Afghanistan were to lose their hinterland, the US and ISAF forces would have a much better chance of reducing or even paralyzing the terrorists in Afghanistan. Therefore, Pakistan holds the key for any progress against the terrorists in that region. This is especially true for the North Western Front Province (NWFP) and the Federal Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA). The neglect of these areas over centuries has led to the worst situation within Pakistan. Poverty, illiteracy, water and health problems are far above the Pakistani average. These conditions made it easier for terrorist groups fleeing from Afghanistan after the US - led invasion in 2001 to build up their strongholds there.

Nowadays, they have increased their strength as a result of killing hundreds of tribal leaders who were not cooperative. Marriages with tribal women give protection through the pashtunwali, the traditional Pashtun protection of their families and guests. Millions of qualified and skilled people have left the area to work and earn their money abroad.

What should the rest of the world do to stabilize Pakistan?

Pakistani leaders should be encouraged to continue the fight against the terrorists. It will be a long fight in this difficult terrain. Pakistan should accept selected and orchestrated support from US and ISAF forces stationed in the area. This support should be in the areas of strategic and tactical reconnaissance, surgical attacks by drones, strategic and tactical communications as well as equipping and training Pakistani forces for counterinsurgency operations. There is also a need in the country for improved Pakistani "public diplomacy" - in order to help win the hearts and minds of their own people as well directed at the neighboring countries India and Afghanistan.

Pakistan should receive enough support to make it clear to Afghanistan that Pakistan is not interested in a shaky Afghanistan, thus helping to break down the perception in Pakistan that a strong Afghanistan on one side would sandwich Pakistan with India. Many series of conferences at the highest political levels have taken place in the past and will take place with Pakistan as the topic.

The record of foreign aid is poor. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently blamed state and non-state organizations for their poor efficiency in bringing the billions of dollars to the Pakistani people. She pointed out that only 20 cents of a donated dollar get to the people who urgently need help.

"There is an urgent need for immediate action in order to meet the basic needs"
"There is an urgent need for immediate action in order to meet the basic needs"
It is obvious that big state and non-state organizations - mainly located in Islamabad - have only limited access to the NWFP and FATA. One reason is the risk individual foreigners run in going to the North West. Using the Swat Valley as an example, the Pakistani military should follow the doctrine of "clean and hold." If they left after a military victory, the terrorist group would come back and kill the "collaborators" and the foreigners who came to support the people.

Under a military umbrella providing sufficient security, foreign aid should immediately start to improve daily life in the region - a field in which the Taliban were quite successful in gaining peoples' hearts and minds and in recruiting young followers.

Small is beautiful

It goes without saying that big state and non-state organizations have the resources for big projects. But the fact finding and decision-making process will take a very long time, before any project can be started. However, there is an urgent need for immediate action in order to meet the basic needs.

Looking at the bad news mentioned above, it almost seems impossible to find anything to start with. There is a fascinating book which gives reason for hope: "Three cups of Tea - One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time", written by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. It is the almost unbelievable story about the commitment of the "lone fighter" Greg Mortenson. This book is proof that one ordinary person, with the right combination of character and determination, really can change the world - in this case by building the first school in the Karakoram Range in Eastern Pakistan. Impressed by the hospitality and friendship of the indigenous people, the former mountain climber dedicated years of his life to give young boys and girls the chance of a better life - based upon education and training.

Greg Mortensen had no support from any state or non-state organization. After hard years of work trying to get his feet on the ground, he found a sponsor who enabled him to expand his work - geographically and topically. He expanded his work from Pakistan to Afghanistan and included healthcare in his projects. In the meantime, more than fifty schools have been built. The secret of any success in this region was told by one of his local partners: "Here (in Pakistan and Afghanistan), we drink three cups of tea to do business, the first you are a stranger, the second you become a friend, and the third you join our family and for our family we are prepared to do anything - even die." (Haji Ali, Korphe Village Chief, Karakoram Mountains, Pakistan).

The local people transferred this wisdom into reality. They supported Greg Mortenson - even when a prominent religious leader issued a fatwa.

This one-man commitment cannot serve as a blueprint for big projects initiated by big state and non-state organizations, but the example of Greg Mortenson confirms that small units can play a vital role. There should also be no competition and jealousy to disfavor smaller initiatives that are quicker and decentralized.

It remains an art to find local partners who are competent and trustworthy and committed to improving opportunities for their children and grandchildren to receive an education and find jobs in the region.

Anyone who would like to improve the situation in the NWFP and FATA - and in general in Pakistan - has to put himself in the shoes of the ordinary people. What are their needs and their talents? What are their values and principles? How can sun and water be used for their small trade and craft businesses? How can water be made drinkable? Cultural awareness is a precondition for any success. Therefore, "Three Cups of Tea" is a "must read" for anyone who wants to help the people in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

There is a need for small energy sources -without the need for long cable lines connecting huge - and vulnerable - power plants with remote customers.

In this sense, Dr. Hubertus Hoffmann, Founder and President of the World Security Network Foundation launched an initiative in 2008 with reliable Pakistani partners. As a first and transparent step, a scholarship program was started.

"What are their needs and their talents ?"
"What are their needs and their talents ?"
The demand is great. About 5 000 boys and girls apply every year for only 100 scholarships. 98% have to be sent home - discouraged and frustrated. The World Security Network Foundation is aiming for 500 scholarships in the mid-term and 1 000 in the long- term. Two European countries will sponsor 250 scholarships within the next two years. Vocational training will be the next step. $2 000 US dollars covers the costs for one youngster for one year. If you would like to know more about the project, please visit

Not just the Western countries are stakeholders in Pakistan's security and stability. Afghanistan and Central Asia as well as Russia and Iran have their own national interests for regional security and stability.

A worst-case scenario - with a failing Afghanistan and Pakistan - should convince the main actors of the region that there is common interest in avoiding this scenario. The new term "Af-Pak" should show the regional approach, but it may lead to the wrong perception, that both countries can be treated in the same way with the same strategy. Both countries are different and need specific strategies.


  • The Western world has no choice but to support Pakistan and Afghanistan - militarily and non-militarily. Both are a side of the coin called "smart politics" in order to avoid the worst-case scenario - a failing nuclear power Pakistan. The Western countries should invite the regional stakeholders to play their part. A regional conference might be a good starting point. The conference should not add another analysis but should lead and decide on projects.
  • India and Pakistan should restart confidence-building actions to change the mutual threat perception. The solution of Kashmir should be the mid-term goal and not an issue to start with. India and Pakistan could start a common border surveillance to avoid that terrorists can easily cross the border on land or at sea.
  • Donors, big state and non-state organizations should cooperate with small units with reliable partners on the ground. They can start projects quicker and more efficiently than big units. They have low overhead costs. They should guarantee that at least 80% of the donations improve the situation on the ground - in comparison with the 20% mentioned above.
  • Any project has to be monitored and controlled. Transparency and accountability should be guaranteed.
  • The projects - "back to the basics" - should be decentralized and run locally.
  • The projects have to get a "local face."
  • The projects should be phased and started with clearly defined time lines and "criteria for success," which could be used as yardsticks for the continuation of the money flow.
  • There should be a balance between local ownership and outside guidance and control. Outside guidance and control should be used as a security belt for the donors.
  • The first projects should concentrate on education, healthcare and energy supply as well as on drinkable water - so far the source of many diseases. Vocational training should follow.
  • Skilled and qualified people, who are now working abroad, should be motivated to come home to the NWFP and FATA to build up small businesses and to coach young people.