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Archive for the ‘US Foreign Policy’ Category

Given the ongoing hysteria in Pakistan about national “shame” and “dishonor” on account of the conditions of the recently announced American aid package, the article below is a breath of fresh air. The author has the guts to say that American conditions are not only fully justified on account of Pakistan’s serious historical transgressions – including, export of terrorism and nuclear proliferation – but are also necessary to save Pakistan from itself. Unfortunately, few in Pakistan will listen to this man’s honest, bold, brilliant, and insightful plea. Such is the deep rot among Pakistani intelligentsia, military elite, and public personalities. One doesn’t need to be a historian to note that leadership comes with a heavy dose of responsibility, and the failure of a country’s leaders to exercise that responsibility via judicious and honest application of reason, dooms the nation. Period.

[The sovereignty hysteria; DAWN; Gul Bukhari; 10 Oct, 2009; Excerpts; Copy and Paste]

I cannot help seeing slow-motion images of these rider-critics, once again, in their shining suits of patriotism o’erleaping and falling on th’other (the last time was after the Mumbai carnage). These otherwise reasonable, intelligent and sensible persons all admit to the factual nature of Pakistan’s transgressions in the past, based on which the bill places restrictions upon the country. None deny Pakistan’s past role in nuclear proliferation; none deny Pakistan’s past misuse of American aid towards aiding and consolidating Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives; none now deny the involvement of Pakistanis in the Mumbai attack; and none deny the presence of the Taliban in south Punjab. Moreover, none disagree that today Pakistan is on a precipice, gazing down into a void due to these very reasons.

Yet an unreasonable emotion, which they probably identify as patriotism, prompts these detractors to aggressively attack every string attached to the proposed non-military aid bill that aims to shoot down the very causes they themselves recognise as being at the root of many of Pakistan’s troubles. So hateful are the strings to them that they would rather have no aid than have their state be forced to quit fomenting extremism and terrorism. Admirable patriotism! I ask them to sincerely examine their emotions and try to discern whether it is truly patriotism they feel, or pain, humiliation and anger at a spade being called a spade, and being told to become a proper cudgel. Love for ones country should not plunge one into blind denial and a fit of tantrums. “Yes! These may be valid concerns, but who is the US to tell us so? We would rather eat grass.”

To those who speak these words, it has become an issue of preserving sovereignty. First, critics of the bill must answer a humiliating question: the preservation of whose sovereignty are they referring to? Is it of the same country whose armed forces were forced to fight the Taliban in Swat because of American threats of on-the-ground forces and aerial attacks, Afghan-occupation style? Or is it of a country that has accepted drone attacks in the tribal areas, launched by foreign forces to take out entrenched Al Qaeda and Taliban elements? With mixed feelings of pain and relief, I must remind all that had the country in question actually been sovereign, and had the US not successfully arm-twisted Islamabad and GHQ into action this year, we would quite possibly have been the proud citizens of the Islamic Emirate of Pakistan, ruled by the benevolent Emir Mullah Omar today.

Second, how are American attempts to stop nuclear proliferation by a state that demonstrated rogue behaviour in the past a sovereignty issue? The bill is clear in its aims of stopping Pakistan from pursuing self-destruction. Is there anyone who denies that our adventures in Kashmir and Afghanistan have landed us in the fine mess we are in today? Or that the world is a safer place with countries like Iran on the brink of going nuclear? Sensible patriotism might have entailed insistence on the insertion of clauses of transparency in the processes involved, not throwing tantrums at the principles contained within the bill. The objectives and principles contained in it are actually constructive from the Pakistani peoples point of view.

It would be infinitely more mature for our politicians to be appreciative of the US making aid contingent on a stop to the military’s extra-curricular activities, as well as the states refraining from promoting extremism and terrorism. They can then set about proposing safeguards against potential threats to national interests contained within the bill.

Can anyone disagree that much of the extremism in Pakistan today was sponsored by the state for a long time?

The full article is available at: http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/pakistan/14-the-sovereignty-hysteria-zj-05

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Since a number of blog readers are interested in the infamous Kerry-Lugar US aid bill for Pakistan, I would like to recommend the article below. Not only does it correctly highlight America’s motivations for the bill’s conditions, it also explains the natural discomfiture of Pakistani Armed Forces with certain of its provisions. Most importantly, it strips away all pretensions and clarifies the brutal reality faced by Pakistanis: beggars cannot be choosers.

Indeed, the country is on financial life-support of the United States and its allies. Without American aid, the economy is guaranteed to collapse, unleashing a socio-religious upheaval of nightmarish proportions. Of course, the ruling elite cannot be bothered with any thoughts of eventual doom. Their assets are safely parked abroad and foreign residence permits are in place to whisk them to a better life outside Pakistan… if something resembling a revolution were to disrupt the current status quo.

[Can beggars be choosers?; DAWN; Ardeshir Cowasjee; 11 Oct, 2009; Excerpts; Copy and Paste]

The Enhancement Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009, has both civil and military Pakistan jumping up and down in what they term righteous indignation. This is no surprise for it has forever been America’s stated policy to act only in its own national interest and that is exactly what the contentious act has done. What it also does do, most illustratively, is to highlight the perception of Pakistan held by the US and surely by the rest of the democratic world to which Pakistan aspires.

The act is subject, in each of its five years’ duration to certification by the secretary of state, “under the direction of the president”, [please, teacher…] that the Pakistan government is continuing its cooperation with the US and its “efforts to dismantle supplier networks relating to the acquisition of nuclear weapons-related materials, such as proving relevant information from or direct access to Pakistani nationals associated with such networks”. There is no need for excessive grey matter to work that one out. Not only is the Republic perceived as being a nuclear underworld trader but also as a hotbed of terrorist activities, towards which it is expected to make significant efforts not only to combat but to cease to support.

“Elements within the Pakistan military or its intelligence agency are suspected of rendering support to Al Qaeda, the Taliban and such groups as the Lashkar-i-Taiba and Jaish-i-Mohammed” which carry out cross-border attacks into neighbouring countries (no guesswork needed here either). The Republic, as history has it, is prone to interference by the military in its political affairs, and as this trend may persist, any direct cash security-related assistance or non-assistance payments will only be provided or made to civilian authorities of a civilian government. That puts the army in its place, at least temporarily. Though no doubt, in case history does repeat itself, suitable amendments will be made.

The army and its chief are naturally angered by the clause that specifies an American assessment of the “effective” control exercised by the government – this pathetic government – over all military matters, including its budget, chain of command, promotion process and involvement in civilian affairs. With the historic power the generals wield, they cannot be expected to take such language lying down. The implications are not clouded.

A Sept 29 editorial in the Washington Post has summed it up neatly: “In contrast to last April, when many in Washington feared that Pakistan was in danger of collapse as a secular state, the civilian government and the army have rallied … and public support for the anti-Taliban offensives has been strong. Closer cooperation between US and Pakistani forces has produced a stepped-up tempo of US missile strikes in Pakistan. Though willing to tackle the ethnic Pakhtun Taliban when its forces threatened the country’s heartland, the army still declines to invade the areas where the Taliban operations against Afghanistan are based. Ethnic Punjabi Islamic extremist groups that have mounted attacks on India, possibly with backing from the intelligence services, remain intact. The government of President Asif Ali Zardari remains inefficient and unpopular; its opponents claim it has returned to the corruption that in the 1990s earned Mr Zardari the sobriquet of ‘Mr Ten Per cent.’ Even the recent gains could come undone if civilian and military authorities are unable to establish a competent administration and policing force in Swat and other recaptured areas.”

And on the Kerry-Lugar bill: “As much as feasible, the administration must direct this aid to specific projects, rather than simply dump it into the Pakistani governments coffers.” As it is, with corruption where it is, whether the US monitors the annual $1.5bn or not chances are that most of it will find its way into the deep pockets of politicians and bureaucrats with a mere trickle getting to the beloved awam.

Questions: can beggars afford to be choosers? Can we pay our own bills or must we rely on handouts? What are our priorities and direction — are we prepared to give up our stand against terrorism and violence and allow suicide bombers the run of the country? The show must go on.

The full article is available at: http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/columnists/03-ardeshir-cowasjee-can-beggars-be-choosers-ss-01

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The recent furor over strictures of Kerry-Lugar US aid bill notwithstanding, I believe most Pakistanis miss the key point: the country has developed a near-fatal addiction to foreign aid. This is not just on account of economic difficulties over the past decade or so when mostly American aid has kept the economy afloat and prevented a financial collapse (that would have created social and political havoc). The aid addiction was initiated during the early years of Pakistan’s creation on account of the ruling elite’s decision to opt for “easy money in return for geo-political favors.” The downside of that fateful decision has been the indefinite postponement by successive regimes of structural reforms desperately needed for a strong and stable economy.

The article below highlights this conundrum and explains how financial aid is itself the problem for Pakistan.

[The problem with aid; DAWN; S. Akbar Zaidi; 19 Oct, 2009; Excerpts; Copy and Paste]

Most aid is conditional, and it ought to be, with the possible exception of charitable and humanitarian aid, although this too often carries some conditions. Governments giving out their taxpayers’ money are answerable to them and have every right to decide which country should receive what kind of aid. Recipient governments need to examine these conditions before they accept any form of assistance. Often some countries reject such offers of aid, grants and loans on grounds of the conditionality imposed, as Malaysia did following the 1997 Asian financial crisis, or in the name of nationalism and pride, as India did at the time of the tsunami. Other countries, dependent on aid, are immune to any such careful analysis and are grateful for whatever comes their way.

Throughout the modern period, bilateral economic assistance and financial aid has always been politically motivated. In the Cold War era, ideology and partisanship with a particular political camp determined which countries received aid from the two superpowers. Fighting communism or defending socialist ideals, often to create satellite states or influence in different regions of the world, determined aid-giving. Although the bipolar nature of the world has changed, political considerations beyond economic need or justification still determine which countries receive as much aid as they do. Since 2001, it has been politics, not economic considerations, which has been behind the huge increases in official aid to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, often to prop up weak and unpopular governments.

While some economists working for the government have welcomed the latest aid package to Pakistan on the very simplistic grounds that it gives us foreign exchange, this justification trivialises the vast political and economic repercussions of receiving assistance, with or without strings attached. While the negligent and wasteful use made of economic assistance in the form of corruption and inefficiency is commonplace, and that it lines the pockets of officials of often fledgling governments is well known, perhaps a key negative effect of depending on aid is that it becomes a habit. Aid dependence is one of the most serious consequences of aid and it takes countries away from attempting to undertake far-reaching economic and financial reform.

When aid is so readily available, why bother undertaking unpopular measures, such as raising taxes and lowering the fiscal deficit and increasing savings and investment? Difficult political decisions which may create employment and reduce poverty, such as land reforms, are also abandoned. While many governments are faced with resource constraints, aid bails out governments that are in dire need of reform and offers short-term, rather than structural, solutions. Moreover, it is this short-term nature of aid which causes further aid dependence. Being bailed out once in a while is an acceptable safety net, but building roads, hospitals and schools on donor money is folly. Social-sector and infrastructure projects are notorious for their tardiness and their prolonged gestation period implies domestic resources being put in areas or sectors where the government may have had other priorities.

Moreover, while schools and hospitals might be built by donors who may well be altruistic, the non-development expenditure of running such projects can be a burden on the local exchequer. The Social Action Programme of the 1990s is probably the best example of this. With donors determining the type of aid and its intended purposes, domestic priorities are often compromised by governments whose eyes sparkle at the offer of apparently free monies. Building infrastructure in remote areas or supporting health programmes which have few users may sound beneficial but such efforts can be wasted. Often governments dont want such projects, often the supposed beneficiaries are not consulted and do not use these facilities, resulting in a global landscape littered with unused or half-built donor-funded schools, roads and hospitals.

Donor assistance ends at the end of the project, leaving infrastructure and social capital to waste away. Quick-fix solutions often come undone just as swiftly. While many countries are eager to line up to receive money, only those countries that have a clear economic programme and road map, and those which are undertaking difficult structural reforms on their own, ought to use aid to supplement their efforts. Countries like Pakistan, which are highly dependent on aid, will continue to be so because it is the only option that our governments will ever consider. Under such circumstances, all discussions about the accompanying conditionalities are irrelevant. The conditionalities are not the problem.

The full article is available at the link below:
http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/pakistan/04-the-problem-with-aid-qs-03

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The article below makes an excellent case for US policy makers to make concerted efforts to woo Pakistani middle class in order to secure American interests and create a solid support base of (relatively) liberal and enlightened people. The ruling elite is indifferent to American thinking on account of its accumulated wealth and high social status and views American aid as a form of largesse with which to further enrich itself and help perpetuate its rule. The vast majority of the population is too poor to care about US interests; it is locked in an existential struggle for survival and cannot overcome its tribal and/or feudal strictures and indentures. The middle class – through small in size and rapidly shrinking (on account of economic mismanagement) – is the only group in the country that shares American goals of a liberal, tolerant, educated, cultured, and progressive society.

[When more is less; Muhammad Shehryar Khakwani; DAWN; 24 Nov, 2009; Copy and Paste]

In a recent interview, Pamela Constable, a Washington Post correspondent, explained what she saw as the primary contradiction in Pakistani’ relationship with the United States. How odd is it, she questioned, that while groups as disparate as mullahs and rock musicians rant and rave against the US, the lines outside the American embassy continue to be yards long. This central conundrum lies at the heart of the baffled confusion that typifies US reaction to the news of the ever-increasing tide of anti-Americanism in Pakistan: do they love us or do they hate us? Ask American experts as they scratch their heads. Are the crowds at American fast-food franchises worthy reflections of the feelings of Pakistanis or should one believe the anti-American vitriol painted on walls in Karachi and Peshawar?

While there are no easy answers to these vexing questions there are some considerations that can provide some insight into a schizophrenic relationship that vacillates inexplicably between edification and vilification. Take, for instance, the seemingly ironic desire of wanting to migrate to a country so unequivocally constructed in the Pakistani political psyche as the source of its troubles. The reasons are simple: economic success promised by America represents the evasion of the overwhelming troubles of remaining in a country where connections rather than achievement define one’s chances at success. Migration to America thus represents that slim chance at a windfall, at the opportunity to evade the structural constraints that impede success in a society where the accident of birth defines access to a comfortable life.

The decision to pursue migration represents thus not an ideological conversion that suddenly sees the inherent value of American capitalism. Rather, it represents the pragmatic search for exits pursued by the middle-class, educated public of any conflict-ridden country: the practical pursuit of self-preservation in an environment where all is threatened. The constituency that stands in line outside the American embassy – opening itself up to some truly condescending scrutiny – represents those to whom economic progress represents a more convincing practical reality than any fundamentalist ideology. Simply put, if America is to woo Pakistanis it must focus its energies on the Pakistani middle class. The reasons for this are simple.

First, elite Pakistanis benefiting from the status quo that grants them a tax-free bonanza based on land holdings and industrial enterprises have few expectations from the US other than to be the evergreen provider of aid packages that can be diverted to their private coffers. Similarly, the poor in Pakistan are too entangled in the rigours of everyday survival and too entrenched in tribal and feudal allegiances to provide a credible support bank within the country. Their current condition being little better than those of landless serfs of medieval Europe provides few opportunities for considering political choices and even fewer for mobilisation to demand accountability from institutions. The Pakistani middle class, on the other hand, while small in size, represents the most upwardly mobile, entrepreneurial and educated cadre of the country.

It is the members of the middle class who are interested in whether their children can get to their schools, whether they can open their shops and whether they can enjoy the occasional meal at a restaurant with their family. It is they that are most directly threatened by the Taliban, by religious extremism and by the instability that harms business and endangers the education for which they pay so dearly. In being inherently entrepreneurial and self-made they represent those that are most likely to invest in their communities and lift the country out of archaic feudal and tribal systems. If there is one crucial mistake in the current American plan to woo Pakistanis it is the failure to recognise the Pakistani middle class as the target audience towards which any campaign must be directed.

Like their fellow class members around the world, the Pakistani middle class is characteristically most driven to chase social stability and economic success, both of which are naturally opposed to insurgency and political upheaval. To be successful, an American campaign to woo members of the middle class would have to emphasise both cooperation and investment. Unlike the abstract broad-based aid package promised in the Kerry-Lugar bill, a strategy directed at empowering them would focus on providing specific trade incentives for small exporters, setting up institutions of higher learning with subsidised costs and expanding small exporters access to the US market.

Furthermore, given that the public consumption of news and information is a staple of the Pakistani middle class, investment in media is an ideal avenue that can represent an intersection of American goals towards democratic empowerment and Pakistani goals towards institution- and infrastructure-building. Examples of initiatives that would further woo natural allies among the Pakistani middle class would be the provision of specific grants to further art and cultural initiatives at a time when these forums are most under threat. In this way, relatively small sums of money could provide huge dividends in terms of empowering those artistes, writers and performers who, despite the constant and consistent threat of bombings, have not capitulated to the cultural bullying of fundamentalists.

Such investments would refocus American rhetoric from its current single-minded focus on Al Qaida and the Taliban towards substantive support for those already on the cultural, economic and ideological front lines. While reconsidering military/strategic initiatives is crucial the Obama administration must realise that much of its failure in winning Pakistani hearts and minds has been because of its failure to identify which hearts can indeed be won. A strategy that seeks to amend this omission should undertake a reconsideration of current initiatives for a narrower focus towards empowering the Pakistani middle class through the facilitation of projects that directly affect their lives. The answer to the vexing question of how Pakistanis can be wooed may thus quite simply be to know which ones to pursue.

The original article is posted at: http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/pakistan/11-wooing-the-middle-class–il–02

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