A more creative solution to terrorism

By becoming more economically integrated, both Britain and Pakistan’s economies will benefit and both will become more secure

Imaduddin Ahmed

Last week Prime Minister Gordon Brown stressed that 75 per cent of the most serious terror (as the government defines it) plots investigated by the British police and security authorities have links to al-Qaeda in Pakistan.

One wonders what he intends to do with that information. We certainly are not going to win the war against terror fighting more people who fight to die.

To date, we have spent more than £13 billion on operations in Iraq and in Afghanistan to serve that end. The Commons Defence Committee recommends we spend another £3.7 billion for the Financial Year 2008-09. Yet we are not seeing satisfactory returns to our investment.

The 7/7 London bombings happened AFTER, not before, operations in Afghanistan and Iraq began. Terrorism related fatalities in Pakistan increased from 25 in 2003 to 1479 in 2007 according to the Institute for Conflict Management, and have included the life of Pakistan People’s Party leader Benazir Bhutto. Most recently, the buzzing metropolis of Mumbai ground to a halt as 10 commando-trained terrorists from Pakistan massacred over 170 people in some five days. As Tariq Ali points out, Labour may want to re-look at cause and effect.

A change of strategy is required. We have to make would-be terrorists want to live, and live constructively. Here’s a suggestion: lure them with capitalism.

The story of Ajmal Amir Qasab, the only caught Mumbai murderer, indicates that this strategy may work. Publisher of Pakistan’s The Friday Times Jugnu Mohsin’s ancestral village is but 10 miles from the Faridkot that Qasai hails from. She writes:

“With poverty having driven young Ajmal from his home, he was easy prey for [the] jihadists. He was already on his way as a petty thief when they got him. Life as a jihadist gave Ajmal a livelihood, money for his family (they were able to marry off his sister Ruqaiya), respect [ . . . V]illagers say Ajmal’s cocky gait when he occasionally returned to Faridkot with gifts for his mother was a thing to see. It so tempted the other urchins of the village.”

Mohsin reports Ajmal changed his surname from Qasai to Qasab, “a fancy high Urdu label for butchers”. And in the end, the upwardly mobile Versace T-shirt clad jihadist could not bite the poison pill and do away with the evidence.

University of Michigan-Ann Arbor political science professor Ashutosh Varshney shows in his prize winning book Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life that strong economic integration will help control outbreaks of violence. In a comparison between two cities in India with similar histories, Varshney shows that in Lucknow, where rich Hindus resell the work of skilled Muslim labourers, Hindu-Muslim violence is almost non-existent, whereas in economically segregated Hyderabad, there is a great deal of communal violence. Hindu nationalist politicians who sweep Lucknow’s state assembly seats would hurt themselves economically if they incited violence against Muslims and so temper their divisiveness. Similarly, those who depend on work from Britain for their wages will be the most motivated peace force that Britain will have in Pakistan.

Happily, there is a coincidence of business interests. (Call it Schadenfreude if you must.) According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Britain faces its worst recession since the 1980s. British businesses will have to cut costs or face extinction. That means redundancies. It is a difficult reality to face, but if difficult decisions are not made, more redundancies than are necessary will be made.

Pakistan, meanwhile, has a surplus literate population that is cheap to contract. It is hungry to put its literacy skill into practice and make more money than cleaning floors and selling bread.

Bookkeeping, for example, is work that can readily be outsourced. It requires literacy in English, an ability to categorise and an average concentration span. If businesses can find trusted intermediaries who can assure quality and security, several positive results will be achieved.

British businesses will avoid further redundancies and have better profit-margins, which in turn will mean that they are able to pass on their business to other service sectors in Britain: those who lose their work to Pakistanis will find work in sectors where cheaper but lower-quality Pakistani labour cannot add value.

Meanwhile, government-school educated Pakistanis will have work that makes use of their education and urchins that Ajmal Qasab inspired will be lured by a capitalist, rather than a jihadist, lifestyle. Pakistan ‘s terrorism industry will decline and both Britain and Pakistan, as well as the rest of the world, will be safer.

–  – –Questions my mentor in DC raised, and my responses.

Follow up question 1: Your suggestion conflates the interests of British business with the larger question of Britain’s economy, and when it comes to globalization that may be wishful thinking. In a recession the interests of labor become more important, don’t they? E.g. if British firms cut costs during the recession by outsourcing jobs to Pakistan, what does that do to the British unemployment rate?

Response 1: Well if British businesses save on cost, British businesses have a better chance of surviving, hence they’d be protecting some jobs that may have been lost and cutting back on jobs that would have been lost anyway.

Even if outsourcing didn’t save jobs, it would still mean that the businesses outsourcing had more money to spend on the services of other British companies, like the services of high-end design and build/interiors companies.

So just because outsourcing would create work in Pakistan, it wouldn’t mean work is being destroyed in Britain. The work in Britain would simply be redistributed.

Follow up question 2: Why would British investors/business choose to set up in Pakistan instead of India? Does Pakistan’s reputation for instability not create a deterrent? (Yes, that becomes a kind of  self-perpetuating phenomenon, I agree, which is why, all else being equal, it might make sense to try to develop a certain stratum of business there — if it helps stabilize Pakistani society). But as someone who is entering business school, you probably have a working knowledge of the practical questions: Is labor any cheaper or attractive in Pakistan? [etc]

Response 2: To be honest, Pakistan doesn’t really have any unique selling points over India. This is where governments will need to intervene. In order to gain the maximum externalised benefit, they’ll want to subsidise businesses outsourcing work to Pakistan over India. All other things equal, the price incentives for
businesses will hopefully shift work to Pakistan.

I’m not saying that we need to create new funds for the subsidies. I’m saying let’s redistribute the money that’s being wasted on military operations, which are giving birth to more terrorists than they are

Follow up question 3: I suspect that the jury is out when it comes to the assertion that business can put a damper on terrorism.  I don’t know very much about Pakistani politics, and would be disposed to agree that certain economic activities (e.g. tourism, trade), most likely have a positive, stabilizing effect on a society threatened by other tensions.

Response 3: Pakistan’s refugee camps consist largely of young people who have no prospects other than either joining the Taliban or the army. The Taliban offers their parents a seemingly good deal: education (being able to read the Quran), food and sometimes even a stipend to the family. The Taliban also offers them a vision of what to do with their anger if their family members have been killed in military operations: join the Taliban’s jihad.

Pakistan needs to stop attacking and radicalising its civilian populations and coming up with imaginative ways of absorbing the youth into the economy.

Follow up question 4: But there are many kinds of business, some very exploitive — that, unless they raise standards of living significantly for a large number of people — are incapable of having much >positive affect on the rest of that society’s problems. No?

Response 4: Yes, of course. A government subsidised business would need to be inspected for its treatment of workers. The British/American governments could buy shares in the business and sell them at discount prices to workers.

Follow up 5:  There will always be fanatics, and that the attraction to fanaticism is not simply one of economic opportunity. E.g. it also has to do with the ability of the society to afford other outlets for dissent. (Look at the history of Saudi Arabia and Egypt. During the post-War period, the crackdown on secular groups led many to conclude that the only outlet for dissent >was through other — largely religious — means).

Just because some — even many — people might be pulled out of poverty doesn’t mean there won’t be many others that would go the other way should there not be much strength in civil society, especially if there
/continues to be a social stratum that is discontent with few other options, despite the success of others.

I would even go so far as to suggest that in certain circumstances, it’s possible that some business can exacerbate the tensions and potentially lead others to go the other way, especially if such
businesses are seen as closely tied to a corrupt regime.

I suspect that one thing is also true in Pakistan, just as it isin the West (esp. Latin America): the most active of discontented youth usually emerge  from the relatively secure middle class, not from people who are too poor that they don’t have much choice. And when there is no other means of dissent, they will choose religious fanatacism. (Has that not been the case with many in al Qaeda?Aren’t they mostly people who join because the movement (or whatever you call it)has given them purpose, rather than economic gain?

Yes, there will always be fanatics.

Economic solutions won’t work for everyone, but they will work for a lot of would-be militants.

Other solutions would / could involve community work. In Senegal, Sufism is used to inspire youths to plant trees and look after the environment. I have a friend in Cape Town whois using poetry to give underprivileged youth a feeling of self-respect and a better form of communication. I think getting published in a newspaper is very empowering, and so workshops on how to get published and community papers would be a good outlet for many.

Those middle-class fanatics have immense potential to do good for society because they are driven, hard-working idealists. It’s just that they’ve been turned onto the wrong ideals. We need to tap into their idealism.

Follow up 6: It’s a long discussion, and there are certainly parts of the argument (i.e. international economic integration reduces tension and violence) that I think there is some evidence for. But I think an argument could be made (few academics have dared suggest it here in the US for obvious reasons) that capitalism and imperialism have, if anything, been a factor in creating terrorism, too. The statements from Al Qaeda offer some evidence for that.

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  1. […] Old friends may remember a blog post I wrote three years ago about the political necessity of supporting Pakistani businesses. […]

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