Tuesday, July 28, 2009

US in Pakistan - Good Intentions, Stymied by Poor Homework

A maddening piece in today's WaPo. Congress proposes legislation supposedly to promote economic growth in Pakistan (which, more than military might and drone attacks, would do more to undercut the Taliban's appeal) - but then attaches provisions that make the legislation almost worthless to the people it's supposed to help:

Pakistani businessmen said limits on what textiles are covered -- sought by U.S. business lobbyists -- render the bill, and its pending Senate version, largely worthless.

Many products eligible for duty-free status are not items that Pakistan produces in large quantity, according to an analysis by the Citizens Voice, a Peshawar-based think tank of business and civic leaders.

"This is ridiculous, this is not going to work, this is a non-starter," said Aleema Khan, chairman of Cotton Connection, a Lahore-based firm that buys textiles for large American companies. "Everybody's rejecting it. Major industry is rejecting it. Buyers are rejecting it. This bill should not go through. The fact that they haven't done their homework is what's so scary.". . . .

Muhammad Atif Hanif, a manager at Dubai Islamic Bank in Peshawar and a member of the Citizens Voice, said that Pakistani textile exports tend to fall into six categories -- including cotton pants, underwear, knit shirts and hosiery -- and all are excluded from the legislation. The current legislation would benefit only about $200 million of the export industry, he said.

Said Mohsin Aziz: "We are supposed to produce swimsuits, we are supposed to produce neckties, we are supposed to produce handkerchiefs, we are supposed to produce silk gowns, which we have never produced, which we do not have the raw material for, which we do not have the expertise for. It's just a game."

Is there something about the American entrepreneurial, can-do ("git 'er done") mentality that resists putting in the long hours of research time, of deep learning, that are needed when dealing with "overseas" cultures? This is surely reminiscent of the Bremer-era US takeover in Iraq, when the Bush people sent in ideologically correct, but woefully inexperienced can-do'ers to rebuild a country about whose history and culture they knew virtually nothing. We're all still living with results.

And meanwhile, Pakistan struggles on. As the WaPo report notes,

On the ground in Peshawar, debates over U.S. help that is potentially years away are overshadowed by the threats businessmen face each day. As many as 300 people a month, mostly businessmen, have been kidnapped for ransom in the province, said Muhammad Ishaq, vice president of the Frontier Chamber of Commerce. Two years ago, there were 2,254 industrial companies here. Today, 594 remain, the others driven out by war and power shortages, according to the chamber.

Earlier this year, anonymous letters believed to be from the Taliban, delivered to banks, insurance companies and other businesses, demanded that employees wear traditional Islamic baggy tunics and pants, known as a salwar-kameez.

Ilyas Bilour, a senator and owner of a vegetable oil business in Peshawar, said he has shed 10 to 20 percent of his workforce, and the factories now operate only half the month. He moved his children and grandchildren to Islamabad to keep them safe.

Nauman Wazir, who owns companies that produce rebar, marble and hunting weapons, has a simple strategy to weather these violent times. "I travel fully armed. AK-47s. Pistols can't save you. An AK-47 can save you. Fully loaded. I don't take chances," he said. He knows what he's up against. A decade ago, kidnappers held him for 60 days.

"Either I'm going to kill him or I'm going to get killed. I'm not having any of this kidnapping business."

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