How ‘experts’ beguile America

What’s important in think tank consultancy business is how well networked you are, your ability to sell utter nonsense

Hussain Nadim June 26, 2015
The writer is pursuing a PhD in Government & Public Policy from the University of Sydney and serving as a Project Director of Peace and Development Unit at the Planning Commission. He tweets @HNadim87

The Pakistan Army’s ‘favourite’ American academic recently published yet another rant disguised as an analysis on Pakistan. In her article she mentions how the Indian officials in Washington DC all asked her the same question: “how do the Pakistanis keep beguiling you Americans? How does this rogue state continue to receive billions of dollars of aid and military assistance while supporting terrorism and being an irresponsible nuclear weapon state?”

Her answer? A very obvious one: American’s doesn’t have experts on South Asia, and hence the lack of understanding by the American government is what allows Pakistan to make a complete fool out of a gullible US, subtly implying that American failure in the region is Pakistan’s fault!

One has to be delusional to even remotely buy this argument or the narrative that is being peddled at different forums: the gullibility of American leadership. To believe that a country that has made more advances in human history, ended centuries of colonisation through political and diplomatic manoeuvring and destroyed the Soviet Union is so gullible that it can be fooled by Pakistan, a third world, developing country that can’t get its head around fighting polio, is not only bizarre but a reflection of a “Homeland”-inspired imagination. Even if it is to believed that Americans suffered in Af-Pak because of Pakistan’s duplicity, who is to be blamed for America’s losses in the Middle East or Vietnam?

Look deeper, and one may find that the US may have failed because of the very ‘experts’ it hires. Imagine an anthropology graduate from Punjab University who can speak English and has spent a few months in the US, and who gets hired by the GHQ in Pakistan as an expert to advise on the civil-military divide in the US. See how ridiculous it sounds? Yet, the vice versa is entirely acceptable and has been the case in the US.

Despite millions of dollars spent on research studies, consultancies and conferences, the US is far off from understanding the regions it has involved itself with, let alone solve problems on the ground. Some close scrutiny of these ‘experts’ may reveal how American policy has been guided into abyss.

While medicine and the legal profession are strictly regulated in the US and entry points exceptionally stringent, one would think being a regional expert on Afghanistan, the Middle East or South Asia would be fairly straightforward in comparison. A solid graduate-level degree in XYZ studies, an ability to write or get someone else to write plain English, and talk the talk on the subject is all that is needed. If one is to specialise in Pakistan, the ability to bash the Pakistan military and intelligence agencies is an extra requirement that can boost your career — and it has, for many! The worst part of it all is how the ‘experts’ drift from being experts on Iraq to specialists on the Pakistan Army’s internal radicalisation, given the priorities and funding of the US government.

This makes one wonder whether it is Pakistan’s ‘back-stabbing’, as some ‘experts’ in Washington like to call it, or whether American foreign policy suffered at the hands of short-sighted security and development consultants on South Asia and those members of think tanks in Washington, who have little understanding of the region, and worse, have personal grudges against institutions. Because frankly, when your understanding of the region is not what will get you traction or future research projects, there is little reason why anyone would take the tough road. What’s more important in the think tank consultancy business is how well networked you are and your ability to sell utter nonsense to a government that is engaged in a direct war and wants to play with every option on the table to deliver quick results.

Think tanks, academia and corridors of power are reigned by elitist mindsets, and are overcrowded by people that are more concerned with official designations rather than serious policy research that can deliver results and steer governments in the right direction. Short-term fixes that can generate media hype, goodwill and deliver quick results are preferred over long-term solutions that have more meaningful results — it suits both the US government that needs to answer the people, and the ‘experts’ it hires that can intellectually produce only superficial solutions. And yet, when things go wrong, there is always Pakistan to blame! 

Published in The Express Tribune, June 27th,  2015.

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Sid | 8 years ago | Reply I think the real issue, in Think Tank consultancy, that the author has highlighted over here is the politicisation of the research process. This is a very overlooked fact in the rhetoric surrounding the importance of academic research. As a PhD student myself, I know that good doctoral programs train students to identify, accept and counter validity skewness through methodological rigour. In the case of 'beguiled Americans', it is obvious that when 'Pakistani experts' collect data from their desktop thousands of miles away and present their analysis in boardrooms in DC between mouthfuls of hors d'oeuvre, the answers facing the region are at best superficially answered. Research is a very political process, that is an adage. But can Pakistani academics implement stringent methodological practices to create a more nuanced analysis focusing on a bottoms up approach? Well, doing that means going beyond personal life choices such as; immigration, social security, comforts etc. Its not easy. But not impossible either. Other South Asian and transitioning countries are producing indigenous and world leading knowledge. With a little moral courage we can to.
shahid | 8 years ago | Reply Unfortunately a lot of local experts on Pakistan are even worse! They are third rate extensions of these so called American experts and specialists on Af-Pk and are more dangerous for Pakistan given their local roots. Just look at the results of the solutions imposed on Pakistan on behest of USA via these self styled experts and where it has taken Pakistan. And the digging of a hole is still going on with no end in sight ...
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