Afghanistan-Pakistan expert to speak

Andrew Wilder, director of Afghanistan and Pakistan Programs at the United States Institute of Peace, will speak on Orcas May 22.

A Pakistan-born and raised US citizen with decades of international development work behind him, Wilder can detail the nuances that distinguish the Taliban insurgency from the terrorist group Al Qaida,  explain how the death of Osama bin Laden could affect regional geopolitics, shed light on the planned drawdown of international and US troops from Afghanistan and hazard a good guess on what it would take to bring peace to Pakistan (try settling the 60-year Kashmir conflict). His current duties include attending Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on US-Pakistan relations.

Wilder’s original lecture topic was “Afghanistan: Understanding the Relationship Between Aid and Security,” a central research focal point for Wilder. Given bin Laden’s death, Wilder is also happy to answer attendees’ questions on current events.

Wilder’s work as research director of the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University has led him to conclude that – contrary to popular assumptions fueling billions in foreign aid – the development funds the United States pours into troubled countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan each year actually do not help make those regions safer and more stable.

“US development assistance is increasingly prioritized to promote security and stabilization objectives, and the secondary objective is development, the result being that it often achieves neither,” Wilder told the Sounder. “We don’t have much evidence that this development assistance achieves security and stabilization.”

He suggested that development instead be valued as a good in and of itself.

“The idea that schools are promoting peace is a nice idea, a compelling and seductive idea, but there is actually not a lot of evidence,” he said. “Schools are really good at helping get rid of illiteracy.”

He said Pakistan has recently seen major strides in healthcare, with measurable decreases in infant and maternal mortality, adding, “There is a danger that we may somehow not value that unless it is also defeating the Taliban.”

Wilder fell in love with Pakistan while living there as the son of 40-year Presbyterian missionaries.

“There’s never a dull moment there,” he said. “It’s very, very, politically interesting. Pakistan and Afghanistan are also stunningly beautiful countries, with the Himalayas… They are also very hospitable people. I had a fantastic childhood growing up there. You sort of get addicted and it’s hard to wean yourself away.”

After earning his bachelor’s degree in foreign service, Wilder returned to Pakistan, working for various NGOs like Mercy Corps and Save the Children. He later earned  a Master of Arts in law and diplomacy, and a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He worked mainly in Pakistan until it became unsafe in 2005, moving to England and then the US two years ago.

“Unfortunately they’re going in the wrong direction,” said Wilder. “It’s not actually still the country I grew up in.”

And while he has a vast store of historical and political details at his fingertips, “I’ve lived there long enough never to make predictions,” he said.

He will speak at Orcas Center on Sunday, May 22 at 2 p.m. as part of the Crossroads lecture series. Tickets are $10 and available at the Orcas Island Public Library, Darvill’s Bookstore, and at the door.