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A game changer for US-Pakistan relations

As officials from both countries meet for a high-level strategic dialogue this week, both Washington and Islamabad are frustrated. But a commitment to a long-term alliance is essential. And it can work, if both sides focus on three priorities.

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The one thing the Army doesn’t seem to want to do anymore is take over the reigns of government – perhaps the clearest sign yet of how deeply ill Pakistan is.

To top it off, Pakistan’s revolving door politics will soon see Asif Ali Zardari, the president, at fisticuffs with a Supreme Court that is threatening to reopen corruption cases against him at the behest of another former premier, Nawaz Sharif. The chief justice, sadly, owes his return to power to Mr. Sharif.

What a mess....

And still, Pakistan’s resilience is its saving grace. That is why the world, and particularly America, needs to come to its side and help fix what ails it. While Pakistani leaders are meeting with their American counterparts in Washington this week, relations should be put back on a strategic long-term path developed around three main action points:

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Helping Pakistan after the flood

1) Flood reconstruction. America needs to win back Pakistanis on the streets by assisting in reconstruction of flood-ravaged areas more visibly and widely. Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan’s army chief, who travels to Washington this week, should meet with the US Army Corps of Engineers to agree on terms for an elite team of American road, bridge, water, and electric grid systems experts to be integrated into reconstruction efforts.

General Kayani should then ask Mr. Zardari to create the Pakistan Reconstruction Board, a blue-ribbon panel of experts whose mandate and power to execute redevelopment plans is sanctioned by an act of Parliament.

The panel should be comprised of US, European, and Chinese experts. Pakistani engineers can offer local expertise and some global heavyweights (like Muhammad Yunus of microcredit fame and former President Bill Clinton, the fundraiser-in-chief) should join to get the private sector involved. Even the Taliban should be allowed to contribute so they have a stake in the most important non-partisan project the country will ever undertake.

The commission should be funded in part by American taxpayers and a Chinese government grant. But the largest share of funding should come from the Pakistani military’s bloated budget. Its primary task should be to coordinate foreign donor aid that will help reconstruct roads, bridges, and rail lines. It should also ensure that foreign companies can bring needed manpower, equipment, expertise, and money in without being ensnared by Pakistan’s legendary bureaucracy and commission merchants.

Drone strikes


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