Caroline Esser is a research intern at the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program.
In Tuesday’s Washington Post, Joshua Partlow and Haq Nawaz Khan highlight the numerous flaws in House bill S.496: Afghanistan and Pakistan Reconstruction Opportunity Zones Act of 2009, which has passed the House and is being reviewed by the Senate.
The bill was originally conceived as a way to facilitate economic development by designating specific reconstruction zones in Afghanistan and Pakistan as areas from which all exports would be granted duty-free status in the United States.
However, rather than risk upsetting American industries by allowing duty-free status to foreign goods also produced by American businesses, Congress has created a bill that would give this status only to a very limited number of products, most of which neither Pakistan nor Afghanistan have any experience producing.
Instead of proceeding with this compromised bill, the U.S. government should rethink its approach to economic development and consider the recommendations of Atlantic Council South Asia Center Director Shuja Nawaz.
At a recent public forum at the United States Institute of Peace on the possibility of reconciliation with the Taliban, Nawaz emphasized the importance of economic development and job creation in Pakistan as a way to combat the Taliban. But instead of creating reconstruction opportunity zones, Nawaz recommended financing public infrastructure projects.
Nawaz argues that foreign investment in infrastructure construction would provide immediate benefits for the area. As New America Foundation experts Bernard Schwartz and Sherle Schwenniger have long proposed in the American context, investment in infrastructure is “a proven way to stimulate private investment and job creation and, at the same time, distribute more widely the capital and skills for wealth creation.”
The roads would help connect the marginalized FATA region to the rest of the country, promote commercial activity, and aid the military’s counterinsurgency efforts (see Gilles Dorronsoro’s report on the Taliban in Afghanistan for a further discussion of the importance of road networks for the military).
Furthermore, in addition to creating much needed wells, roads, and bridges, the infrastructure projects would curtail Taliban recruitment by providing alternative sources of income for the roughly 300,000 Pashtun youth who are now the targets of Taliban recruiters.
Unlike the American-dictated details of the reconstruction opportunity zones, the infrastructure projects would be shaped and executed by the people of FATA, making them stakeholders invested in the projects’ outcomes.
Let’s not waste our limited foreign aid money on inefficient projects that will be ill-received, when we can implement highly useful economic development projects that could both weaken the Taliban and help to assuage divides within Pakistani society.
– Caroline Esser