Poverty, weak governance, and a Taliban insurgency (on the rise in recent months), present severe security threats to both American interests and to nearly 170 million Pakistani citizens, many of whom are living without access to food, water, education, or basic health care, Brian Katulis explained in a briefing to a group of faith-based experts and justice advocates convened by the Faith and Progressive Policy team at the Center for American Progress in early May.
The diverse group of experts shared ideas for how to support the people in Pakistan amid intense civil conflict. The group represented Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, and Quaker communities, as well as interfaith peace-building organizations. Experts brought informed awareness and capacity for action, from grassroots community building to advocacy for federal aid.
Recent violence inside of Pakistan has raised concerns about the country’s overall stability. Katulis, recently back from a fact-finding trip to Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi with CAP’s Lawrence Korb and Colin Cookman, argued that despite the dire situation there is hope for building peace and prosperity in Pakistan. But it is going to require a lot of work and effort, and not just by the U.S. government or military.
Katulis told the group that good governance and addressing basic needs are central to nearly all of the challenges facing the country. He added that a comprehensive U.S.-Pakistan strategy that enhances cooperation on multiple fronts—including education and cultural collaboration—will help strengthen Pakistani civil society and safeguard against Taliban insurgency. Religious organizations are uniquely situated as advocates for responsible U.S. policy, as on-the-ground service providers for those in need and as moral voices calling for peace in the region.
According to Katulis, U.S. foreign assistance organizations and NGOs should focus on developing true partnerships with Pakistani networks that will strengthen state resiliency and build social and cultural infrastructures to counter extremist groups such as the Taliban. American faith-based groups with broad constituencies in the United States and international service capacities play a critical role in developing these civil society institutions, helping to alleviate poverty, and supporting the vibrant middle class that opposes the extremist fringes of the Taliban.
Meeting participants recalled the pivotal humanitarian role that American faith-based organizations played in the aftermath of Pakistan’s October 2005 earthquake that killed almost 80,000 in the region. American Muslims pledged $20 million for humanitarian relief in the week following the earthquake and raised millions more in following months, rivaling aid provided by the U.S. government. And the Catholic Relief Service’s emergency relief and post-earthquake rebuilding programs benefited more than 160,000 people in Pakistan’s most heavily-hit regions.
International faith-based groups continue to provide humanitarian and livelihood assistance to thousands of displaced people in Pakistan, and in doing so they also create cross-cultural and interfaith partnerships that can help empower local communities to push back against the violent ideologies espoused by the extremist fringes of the Taliban—a move that Katulis and participants agreed is a vital component to prosperity in Pakistan.
Briefing participants representing a variety of Muslim organizations said that the American Muslim community is in a special position to respond to crisis situations—like the 2005 earthquake—and strengthen civil society in Pakistan. American Muslim thinkers, in addition to direct service and foreign assistance, can have a strong hand in fighting the Taliban by producing a new body of Muslim theology and literature that uplifts the primary tenants of Islam against the Taliban’s skewed interpretations.
Participants identified three specific areas where faith-based groups can help achieve sustainable peace in Pakistan.
First, faith-based groups can contribute ideas to the Obama administration and Congress on how to restructure U.S. policy in Pakistan. Many of the groups represented at the briefing are currently engaged in policy advocacy aimed to rewrite the existing budget for foreign aid. Religious organizations can incorporate Pakistan into their ongoing advocacy, supporting legislation such as the Kerry-Lugar bill introduced last week that would triple nonmilitary spending in Pakistan. And they can support other policies that would expand U.S. aid to Pakistan to include more economic and development assistance.
Second, faith-based leaders can advance a broader understanding and knowledge in their own communities and organizations about the challenges in Pakistan. If educated on the issues, faith-based groups can respond to the humanitarian crisis and civilian casualties in the region that present a moral imperative to act.
Finally, faith-based groups can develop partnerships with organizations in Pakistan to provide civilian services and strengthen cross-cultural partnerships.
All these actions have the capacity to protect vulnerable communities and help support civil society, strengthen economic prosperity, increase education, and develop interfaith partnerships that are key to alleviating poverty, fighting corruption, and weakening the power of the Taliban.
Sarah Dreier is a Research Assistant to the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative and senior research fellows.