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The army must not do too much

by Mohammad Ali Khan

Opinion

Pakistan’s military is good at reconstructing public infrastructure in areas it has cleared of militants. The snag is that it may be standing in the way of civilian capactity building. [ By Mohammad Ali Khan ]

Pakistan’s army is pursuing a four-pronged strategy in the country’s North West, the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan, where the soldiers are fighting a war against militants linked to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The strategy can be summed up with the four words Clear-Hold-Build-Transfer. It is about winning in military operations, establishing the writ of the state, reconstructing destroyed infrastructure and transferring the area to civilian administration.

Some areas of South Waziristan and in the Swat Valley have been cleared and the army is now engaged in reconstruction. In February, for instance, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, Pakistan’s chief of army staff (COAS), inaugurated two important road projects in South Waziristan, which was a stronghold of rebels before the conclusion of Operation Rah-e-Nijat (Path of Salvation). The US administration is providing the funds for these roads as part of a $ 55 million „quick impact“ initiative. The idea is to implement highly visible projects in order to garner the support of local people in the war on terrorism. The two roads are being built by the Frontier Works Organization (FWO), a company run by military engineers.

The army is also engaged in other reconstruction projects, including schools, bridges and public-welfare oriented schemes in the Swat region. According to offical estimates, the army had spent the equivalent of € 20 million by July this year. Some of this money was chipped in by Pakistan’s civilan government.

The army is in the third phase of its four-pronged strategy, and now concerns are being raised over its involvement in reconstruction. In principle, the provision and maintenance of public infrastructure is the job of the civilian administration. Generally speaking, government agencies are in need of regaining otherwise shattered confidence in the areas affected by the militancy. Throughout its history, Pakistan has suffered from poor public-sector management, and some even argue that the military is the only really competent government agency.

Khalid Aziz is a development expert and former bureaucrat. He says: “The army has done a good job in various areas by reconstructing schools, bridges and other infrastructure, but beyond this it should not have any long-term role in reconstruction.” Otherwise, Aziz warns, the civilian authorities will be weakened further.

In a similar vein, Mehmood Shah, a former military man and defence analyst, argues that the army only operate in places where people don’t trust the civil administration. He says the writ of the state had badly been shaken so that reconstruction by the military was necessary. He too opines, however, that civilian government bodies must assume responsibility as soon as possible.

Government officials, however, argue that security is a core concern, and that military presence is needed to operate safely in areas affected by militancy. Moreover, civilian contractors are not allowed to carry explosives, which are needed in road construction. All in all, the capacities of the civilian administration and private-sector contractors tend to be weak, and they demand more money to do the same work as the army. For these reasons, the government seems only too happy to let the army do the job.

The snag, however, is that civilian capacities will hardly develop so long as the army does the work. For the time being, it seems most likely that army bodies will get contracts worth hundreds of millions of euros or dollars. As a result, the military will even more appear to be the only competent institution of the state in Pakistan, to the detriment of civilian administrations.

Pakistan's current flood crisis is a striking example of people hardly having trust in civilian administrative bodies any more. This does not bode well for the future.