First published October 2010, Updated April 2011
Admiral Mike Mullen (first from left), the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Pakistani Army Chief Gen. Pervez Kayani (third from left) and next to him, the I.S.I. Chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha (then Major Gen. and Director General Military Operations) aboard the U.S. naval carrier Abraham Lincoln in Indian Ocean; in a secret meeting on August 26, 2008. Pasha was promoted to the rank of Lt. Gen. and appointed as the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence on Sept. 29, 2008. [Source: New Yorker]
Disengagement, Realignment, and Empowerment can help Pakistan find its way out of the quagmire and move forward. It cannot hope to transform itself unless it Disengages itself from overt and covert conflicts; external and internal, Realigns its foreign and economic policy focus from the West to the East, and Empowers its people through genuine and not ‘manipulated or rigged or hijacked’ democracy.
READ THIS PAPER In PDF (First edition published October 2010)
It is a cliché to say that Pakistan faces an existential threat from extremist forces. The security establishment is seen by the United States as vital to winning the “War on Terror”. Pakistan’s so-called Islamic parties and groups never get tired of blaming America for all the country’s problems. The military has traditionally blamed the politicians. The Americans blame the extremists and terrorists for Pakistan’s current woes. So do Pakistan’s liberals. In the context of the recent past and the country’s history, Pakistan’s biggest tragedy (and the principal reason for its break-up) was and has been the domination of its polity and power structures by the army which is largely responsible for the failing national security state that Pakistan is today. Pakistan’s greatest challenge is not extremism. It is whether it can transform itself from a security state that continues to behave with a cold war mindset whilst the past three decades have seen the world change from a bi-polar to a uni-polar and then to a multi-polar world.
Army’s most powerful external ally has been the United States, particularly its defense and security establishment and internally, the religious right-wing parties and big media have been its two principal allies while the military establishment has historically protected the interests of the rural and urban elites to ensure their support. Until and unless the axis of trouble, that is the axis of Army, the United States and the right-wing is broken, neither the reconstruction of the Pakistani state nor the so-called democratization of Pakistan will alter the fundamental nature of the security state or bring peace or prosperity to Pakistan’s 170 million people, nearly eighty per cent whom live below the poverty line of $2 a day.
Pakistan’s elites have little interest in the reconstruction of the state because they have the most to lose if power is truly exercised by the people. The army has no incentive to break the axis of trouble (a legacy of the great game and India-centric policies) because it thrives on the perpetuation of conflicts in the region and the largess it receives from the United States.
The Americans cannot afford to antagonize the army for the simple reason it is the only power that matters. And what about the mullahs? They have thrived due to a combination of factors. Most important among the factors is the failure of the so-called mainstream parties to provide honest, competent, and credible leadership.
It is customary to blame Zia and his successors, including Musharraf, for the growth of the Frankenstein forces of extremism and terrorism, but the buck does not stop there. In many other countries, for example, in Latin America, the unholy alliance between the local military, rightwing forces and Americans undermined democracy but the nationalist and democratic forces eventually triumphed because they had capable and credible leadership.
Pakistan has been cursed by civilian and military leaders who are too eager to follow the US agenda. From Ayub to Kayani, there is not a single army chief who can claim to have pursued Pakistan’s strategic interests independent of US goals in the region. Since US interests have largely been military and revolved around the containment of Russia and China in the region, its most natural ally has been the military at the cost of democracy and democratic governance. It therefore does not make sense to expect any change from “civilian’ leaders who do not wish to nor can afford to change policies that have been and continue to be made in Pindi and Washington.
President Zardari and Pakistan’s main opposition leader Nawaz Sharif have most of their wealth stashed away in Europe and Swiss bank accounts. It was Britain and the United States who brokered the deal in 2007 with the military as a result of which all corruption cases against Zardari were dropped. The MQM’s Altaf Hussain has long been beholden to the British for providing him a sanctuary after he escaped from Pakistan in the early 1990s. Can such leaders ever articulate, promote, or defend Pakistan’s interests when it comes to dealing with the U.S. or Britain?
The army leadership’s record is hardly any different when it comes to coziness with the west and serving its interests. Former military dictators Zia and Musharraf were propped up by the Americans. Zia and his I.S.I. Chief allegedly left fortunes for their families. Musharraf, who used to mock Benazir and Nawaz for living luxurious lives abroad, has been leading a comfortable life in London.
Corrupt and Incompetent Politicians
One of Pakistan’s main causes of failure to evolve as a stable country is similar to those experienced by many developing countries in the past; the nexus between corrupt local leaders (e.g. Marcos, Suharto, Mubarak, Mobutu, Noriega, Cordova, etc.) and the west to serve their mutual interests at the cost of the poor and impoverished masses and their future. Pakistanis will have to break this nexus between the corrupt elites and the west if they want their country to be a self respecting sovereign state that works to promote the interests of its people and not of its army or its corrupt and selfish elites.
There are two Pakistans; the real one is of the people which has been highjacked by imposters and the elites. The two Pakistans have become highly polarized due to rising income inequality, persistently high double digit food inflation, absence of social justice, and lack of opportunities for the poor and middle classes. The acuteness of vertical (class) polarization has been compounded by horizontal polarization on provincial and ethnic lines. The consequence is a fragmented and fractured society and a very difficult-to-govern country.
This polarized Pakistan suffers from a serious leadership crisis. The so-called mainstream parties have failed to provide competent and credible leadership. The prolonged involvement of the army in politics, its manipulation of elections and political governments through corrupt (and at times violent) means and unscrupulous politicians has led to the demonization of politics to a degree that that save for incompetent and corrupt individuals like Asif Zardari or Nawaz Sharif, or creations of the establishment like the MQM’s neo-fascist Altaf Hussain or Maulana Fazlur Rehman (infamous for his double dealings), few wish to navigate the treacherous and murderous waters of stormy Pakistani politics.
Most Pakistanis are religiously conservative but not of the Saudi or Afghan bent. They have more in common with Indians than with Arabs in cultural terms, for example, languages, music, racial or ethnic mix, food, customs, etc. It is a mockery of truth to present this country of 170 million as ripe for extremists’ takeover. Why? Pakistanis thrice voted a modern woman like Benazir Bhutto – twice during her life and third time as a martyr – into office.
Throughout its 60-year history, Pakistan has consistently favored secular parties, despite the nation’s origins as a separate homeland for Muslims of the Indian subcontinent which had a long history of democratic movements. The politically mature, patient, and forgiving people of Pakistan have voted mainstream parties into power in every election in the last forty years despite huge disappointments and rejected the religious or extremist groups. The high-water mark for the religious or Islamic parties, 2002, yielded just 12 % of the national vote; that too due to manipulation by Musharraf to prevent the Pakistan People’s Party from gaining a majority.
Yet the U.S. and its cronies in Pakistani establishment, and establishment dominated media would have the rest of the world believe Pakistan could be taken over by the Islamic radicals anytime soon. Nothing could be farther from the reality. Pakistan has been and continues to be an Army with a country as post-independence Pakistan’s most liberal and popular leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto wrote from his death cell in 1978.
Armed Gangs and Militants with roots in the Establishment
Most of the so-called ‘jihadi’ groups owed their creation and sustenance to the former military dictator General Ziaul Haq – a right-wing fascist and a demented hypocrite. Zia compromised Pakistan’s national interests to save his shaky government in 1980 by extending support for the covert C.I.A. operations – the biggest ever till then – in exchange for $3.2 billion in American aid and support for his dictatorship.
Zia’s successors continued his policies. The power of the extremists (e.g. Mullah Radio of Swat, Rashid Ghazi of Lal Masjid, or late Azam Tariq of Sepah-e-Sahiba) to openly advocate violence and conduct terrorist attacks would not and could not have grown without the support of the Pakistani establishment. For example, Musharraf and his intelligence chiefs released Azam Tariq from jail in November 2002 to enable him to vote in the National Assembly and provide the crucial one-seat majority to form the government with Zafarullah Khan Jamali as prime minister.
In Pakistan, the so-called radical Islam does not have a popular program or credible leadership around which the asses could or would rally. The people would never want to see a Taliban type of regime in Islamabad. The record of the so-called Islamist parties is tainted with corruption as well as cooperation with successive military dictators and they suffered humiliating defeat in 2008 elections. Even for a national cricket icon like Imran Khan, with a reputation for honesty and record of charity work, it is a politically liability that he is described or perceived as a Taliban sympathizer.
The number of the militants of all groups, including the foreigners and the so-called “good militants” does not exceed a few hundred thousand in Pakistan even if the estimates are stretched. Large number of these ‘militants’ continue to have the support of Pakistan’s security establishment and are mostly concentrated in the tribal areas in the northwest or in some pockets of Southern Punjab with hideouts in Karachi. According to the estimates of even conservative U.S. think-tanks such as the Council on Foreign Relations, the Pakistani Taliban collectively have around 30,000 to 35,000 members.
These armed terrorists do pose a serious security challenge to a politically unstable and poorly governed Pakistan but parallels with Iran of 1979 are simply wrong. Their objective is clearly to spread terror but to assert that the bombings – suicide or through improvised explosive devices (IEDs) – can help a tiny minority of ragtag militias and semi-literate terrorist gangs to capture power in the sixth most populous country in the world with the seventh largest standing army is a laughable and ridiculous proposition. Imran Khan warned of an Egyptian style uprising if the American spy Raymond Davis was released but the protests called by the religious parties petered out very quickly. Why? The following is rather a long quote from an article of one of Pakistan’s leading columnists Ayaz Amir but worth a careful read:
“Because behind the deal which freed Davis was the deft and powerful hand of the ISI. We have seen protests but they have been of the muted kind, serving only to emphasize the hidden strings of agitation in Pakistan. Spare a thought for political governments which must put up with their own shortcomings and the tender affections of the guardians of national security. More than being an inherited condition, religious extremism is an acquired taste in Pakistan, the godfathers of national security having more to do with this acquisition than we usually care to think.”
On the electoral front, there is little evidence that the growth of the anti-American sentiment in Pakistan has translated into more political support for the Islamist parties as the results of the 2010 bye-elections (mostly won by the two largest parties) and that of 2008 elections for national and provincial legislatures clearly indicate. However, resentment and anger runs deep among the masses against the U.S. polices especially because America is identified with the policies of military dictators like Zia and Musharraf or corrupt and unpopular politicians like Zardari.
‘War on Terror’ – a Misnomer and a Disaster
Zbigniew Brzezinski (who served as National Security Adviser in the Carter Administration) in his testimony to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2007 called the so-called “War on Terror” a historical myth created and perpetuated by the U.S. government, It is ironic that it was Brzezinski who came to Pakistan in 1979 and encouraged General Zia to fight against the soviets in Afghanistan. It is the same Brzezinski who made startling disclosures in his interview to Le Nouvel Observateur, Paris, 15-21 January 1998, confessing that the CIA‟s military-intelligence operation in Afghanistan, which consisted in creating the “Islamic brigades”, was launched prior rather than in response to the entry of Soviet troops into Afghanistan with intent to deliberately trigger a civil war.
Perhaps Brzezinski now regrets his past role. He told the U.S. Senate committee on February 1, 2007:
“A mythical historical narrative to justify the case for such a protracted and potentially expanding war is already being articulated. Initially justified by false claims about WMD’s in Iraq, the war is now being redefined as the “decisive ideological struggle” of our time… and 9/11 as the equivalent of the Pearl Harbor attack which precipitated America’s involvement in World War II.”
A critical mistake committed by Pakistani establishment (which includes some big media groups) and its “moderately educated and enlightened” English-speaking affluent classes has been their refusal to recognize that the military aggression by the U.S. has been the principal cause of anti-Americanism in the Muslim countries. The U.S. military destroyed Iraq and Afghanistan, and has destabilized Pakistan, intentionally or otherwise. Anyone who points that out is labeled as a Taliban sympathizer or encountered with thoughtless and shallow refrains such as “this is our war.” This has proven to be a myopic, unrealistic, self-serving, shallow but ultimately self-defeating mantra. Hence, there is very little informed discussion and/or investigative reporting in the media about the militants, their roots, connections, and antecedents.
What compounded the blunders and short-sightedness of Pakistan’s security establishment were the pig-headed and misguided policies of Bush administration and since 2009, the dramatic escalation in the drone attacks conducted by the C.I.A. under Obama’s watch. According to independent accounts outside the U.S., the number of civilian deaths including women and children has far outnumbered those of the alleged terrorists. The authenticity of claims made by the C.I.A. or the U.S. officials regarding the deaths of militants and civilian casualties has been questioned by the United Nations. The claims are not transparent, have not been independently verified, and can’t be taken at their face value despite being dutifully and faithfully reported by the mainstream media.
More significantly, the drone attacks have antagonized the public opinion in Pakistan, which does not seem to matter much for the U.S. policy makers as long as they can keep Pakistan army generals on board. This is an unwise, arrogant, and short-sighted approach particularly when the capacity of the militants to conduct operation in the U.S. itself is seriously questionable and is not supported by any evidence. A U.S. Congressional Research Service (CRS) report had concluded in August 2005, “There is no consensus among experts in and outside the U.S. government about the magnitude of the threat to U.S. national interests posed by the Al Qaeda organization.”
It is open to question if the objective of the drone attacks was to target a few hundred militants. If it was so, why did the U.S. wait for two and half years to conduct the first drone attack on June 18, 2004 in Wana? The Americans knew quite well that hundreds and according to some accounts as many as five thousand Al Qaeda, Central Asian, and Taliban militants were in Waziristan since November 23, 2001. They were evacuated through special flights made from Kunduz, Afghanistan to Pakistan’s northwestern airports in Gilgit and Chitral. The evacuation was a special operation (dubbed as “Airlift of Evil” by MSNBC), conducted with the approval of Dick Cheney in response to a request made by Musharraf apparently on the ground that many Pakistani officers and agents were also trapped in Kunduz along with the Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.
Thereafter, the C.I.A. conducted only two drone attacks in 2005, just one in 2006, and four in 2007. Why did the U.S. forces and the intelligence agencies wake up after several years and particularly in 2008 – seven years after 9/11- and realized that the drone attacks were the right way to get a few hundred Al Qaeda members, every third of whom killed was described as a third-in-command of Al Qaeda.
We may not have the answers but what is beyond any dispute is that the number of casualties in bomb attacks and the level of violence inside Pakistan started to rise significantly only during the second half of 2007 (almost six years after 9/11 and American attack on Afghanistan) and has increased more than ten times since.
Leaving aside the issue of controversial drone attacks, the fundamental justification and raison d’etre for the attacks – a few hundred Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan were a serious threat to the United States – is something Bush and his top officials themselves did not take seriously as has been corroborated by the accounts of key insiders such as Bush’s own former chief adviser for anti-terrorism Richard Clarke. This theme is now being echoed by a growing number of commentators on both sides of the Atlantic.
A Newsweek Sept. 4, 2010 article asked a frank question: “Nine years after 9/11, can anyone doubt that Al Qaeda is simply not that deadly a threat? In every recent conflict, the United States has been right about the evil intentions of its adversaries but massively exaggerated their strength.” It admitted pointing out, “The amount of money spent on intelligence has risen by 250%, to $75 billion (and that’s the public number, which is a gross underestimate). That’s more than the rest of the world spends put together.”
According to a September 2010 study by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a leading U.K. security think-tank, the threat posed by al-Qaida and the Taliban is exaggerated and the western-led counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan risks becoming a “long, drawn-out disaster”. The Institute reckons that the west’s counter-insurgency strategy has “ballooned” out of proportion to the original aim of preventing al-Qaida from mounting terrorist attacks there, and must be replaced by a less ambitious but more sensible policy of “containment and deterrence”.
President Obama addressed the American people Aug. 31 and admitted, “One of the lessons of our effort in Iraq is that American influence around the world is not a function of military force alone.” One would think the U.S. would have learnt that lesson in Lebanon. Obama acknowledged in a humble tone, “We cannot do for Afghans what they must ultimately do for themselves”, and announced his intention to start the withdrawal of the U.S. troops next July. He may face serious obstacles including from the Pentagon and the C.I.A. Even Selig Harrison, known for his negative views about Pakistan Army, concedes: “The biggest obstacle to the [peace] accord is not likely to come from Pakistan, but from a Pentagon mindset in which the projection of U.S. power is viewed as a desirable end in of itself.”
According to Washington Post report (Dec. 27, 2007), Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael G. Vickers was working to implement the U.S. military’s highest-priority plan: a global campaign against terrorism that reaches far beyond Iraq and Afghanistan. The post reported that Pentagon officials once jokingly referred to Vickers’ efforts as the “take-over-the-world plan”.
According to the report, Special Operations Command (Socom), which was growing faster than any other part of the U.S. military, had its budget doubled in a few years, to $6 billion for 2008, and the command was to add 13,000 troops to its ranks by 2011.
The plan involved deploying a variety of elite troops around the world, including about 80 to 90 12-man teams of Army Special Forces soldiers who were skilled in foreign languages and at working with indigenous forces. The plan was focused on a list of 20 “high-priority” countries, with Pakistan posing a central preoccupation for Vickers, according to Washington Post.
Another evidence of Pentagon’s imperialist empire building ambition is the fact that the United States forces have 74 bases in Afghanistan, including airfields, but only some are designed solely for counterinsurgency operations. According to the Foreign Policy magazine, the mammoth airfields at Bagram and Kandahar are projected to grow in the years ahead — ambitious new construction projects continue at both bases, despite Obama’s pledge to begin withdrawing troops from the country in the summer of 2011. Furthermore, Congress is considering funding requests, totaling $300 million, to establish new bases at Camp Dwyer and Shindand, close to the Iranian border, and Mazar-e-Sharif, near Central Asia and Russia.
This military misadventure must end. There is no alternative to a political solution. Non-violent political solution requires not only Pak Army should not use militants – in Afghanistan or Kashmir – as a policy tool but also the U.S. (and its junior partner Britain) stop playing the “Great Game” in Afghanistan simply because it can no longer afford to, as it belatedly seems to be realizing. The Great Game is a term that was used for the strategic rivalry and conflict between the British Empire and the Russian Empire for supremacy in Central Asia in the nineteenth century. The game has been played since then and the west, Russia, and China all have strategic interests in the natural resources and trade routes of the region.
The Great Game
This brings us to the heart of the matter. The U.S. policy and Pak Army’s “wonderland” view of the strategic depth have constituted the core of the problem and not terrorism or extremism per se, which is a serious but still a consequence or a byproduct of the core problem. Both the U.S. and Pakistani establishments have been in this game together since the 1980s. This has been and continues to be the root cause of the problem. Sermonizing against extremism in speeches and on TV talk shows without addressing the fundamental reasons and without making major policy changes will not solve the problem.
Even when the American covert operations ended around 1989-1990, U.S. energy firms like Enron and Unocal continued to woo and allegedly bribe the Talibans to secure their commercial interests while some Pakistani generals adopted the use of religious extremists and militants as a permanent feature of foreign policy and as a means to influence domestic politics.
The concept of strategic depth, principally through proxy militant groups, is an extension of Pakistanis establishment’s nationalism of the imperial variety which is the core of the mindset of the militaries of the subcontinent. It is not only flawed but has proved to be disastrous. Pakistan’s defense does not lie in having Taliban control Afghanistan. Besides, the proud and fiercely independent Afghans will not accept the domination of any outside force for long.
I.S.I. – virtually under the command of the Army chief – has acted as an extension of the C.I.A. in the “Great Game” at a geo-strategic level, notwithstanding occasional rows, disagreements and turf battles such as witnessed during Raymond Davis affair. In view of the long history of close ties and cooperation between the Pentagon and Pakistan Army since 1980, and even after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, but particularly since September 2001, the I.S.I.-C.I.A. ‘conflict’ appears to be a case of shadow boxing to justify the expanded military presence in the region. Otherwise why would the U.S spend nearly a billion dollars for “new and larger” U.S. Embassy facilities in Islamabad and build 74 bases inside Afghanistan while telling the rest of the world that Pakistan’s tribal areas provide shelter to the insurgents. However, due to the severe economic crisis in the last two years, more and more Americans are now questioning the logic and value of the heavy military engagement in Afghanistan.
Does any serious student of international relations can honestly or seriously believe that a weak country like Pakistan that is so heavily dependent on the U.S. Aid, arms, and the IMF, could have carried on this double game – apparently in direct conflict with U.S. interests in the region – for nearly a decade until and unless it was also part of the bigger game of the Americans? Is this a realistic assumption to make in realpolitik?
Yes the ISI and the CIA fight and Pakistanis generals issue condemnation of drone attacks for public consumption and sometimes the Americans feel the need to cut Pakistani generals to size but these “turf battles” or periodic fights do not change the long term client state character of US-Pak Army relationship.
If General Musharraf and his fellow generals were so petrified of Bush and his threats, could they have carried on this double game as it is argued by many analysts who show little appreciation of the serious contradiction inherent in the two positions they take?
Benazir Bhutto while visiting Peshawar on December 2, 2007 had made serious allegations and questioned the motives of the security establishment pointing out that although the government claimed that the extremist groups had been banned, they were openly operating in Fata and other parts of the country and they were being funded to carry out their anti-people agenda. The extremists were paying Rs.70,000 rent for a one-room accommodation in Fata, and running FM radio channels, she had charged.
A New York Times report (July 22, 2008) commented: “There have been bitter fights between the C.I.A. station chiefs in Kabul and Islamabad, particularly about the significance of the militant threat in the tribal areas. At times, the view from Kabul has been not only that the I.S.I. is actively aiding the militants, but that C.I.A. officers in Pakistan refuse to confront the I.S.I. over the issue.”
The U.S. officials were saying not too long ago that there was no difference between al Qaeda and the Taliban. Now they seem to be eager to reach out to the Taliban for a political settlement. If that was the objective, what was the fuss about al Qaeda being the biggest threat to the global security? Or was it not really but an excuse to build a military presence in Central Asia and Pakistan or simply a case of empire building by the U.S. military and intelligence establishment?
The Axis of Trouble: United States, Generals, and Taliban
Many U.S. and Pakistani officials have claimed that Baitullah Mahsud, late leader of Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP), was guided by Mullah Omar as there was no difference between Afghan and Pakistani Talibans. But was it ever a secret that Omar was part of the Quetta Shura protected by Pakistan? Taliban leadership has operated from its base in Quetta city in southwest Pakistan for many years. Who has been trying to fool whom?
In his latest book, “Obama’s War”, legendary American journalist Bob Woodward, writes an account of a meeting between President Asif Ali Zardari and U.S. diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad, and describes Zardari’s passionate elaboration of why he is convinced that the TTP — often called the Pakistani Taliban — are being financed and directed by the United States to weaken Pakistan so that Washington can grab Islamabad’s nukes. Not a single mainstream Pakistani newspaper gave prominence to this explosive revelation. Why?
Many Pakistani and Western analysts – often fed disinformation by the officials – can’t seem to think straight and see through the huge contradictions in the official positions of both the U.S. and Pakistani defense and intelligence establishments.
How come Gen. Pervez Kayani who was the I.S.I. chief from 2004 to 2007 and presided over the resurgence of the Talibans on both sides of the Durand line during this period and the worst period of violence since 2001 during his tenure (2008 – 2010) as the army chief, for whatever reason, is so close to and favored by the Pentagon and not just that; the top U.S. officials also supported the extension in his tenure as Army chief for an unprecedented three more years. Kayani has been favored by the U.S. for a long time. This is nothing new or a conspiracy theory.
The Stratfor, a U.S. global intelligence company, reported October 2, 2007 that “with President Gen. Pervez Musharraf due to step down as army chief by Nov. 15, Kayani will emerge as his successor, and given Kayani’s strong leadership credentials, Musharraf as a civilian president will be forced to share power with him.”
The New York Times ran a story “U.S. is Looking past Musharraf in Case He Falls” November 15, 2007 concluding that “at the top of that cadre is Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, General Musharraf’s designated successor as army chief. General Kayani is a moderate, pro-American infantry commander who is widely seen as commanding respect within the army and, within Western circles, as a potential alternative to General Musharraf.” Sir Simon Jenkins wrote in the Guardian Jan. 9, 2008: “Backing Musharraf has always seemed “a good idea at the time”. The next person to be cursed with Washington’s favor appears to be Musharraf’s successor as army chief, General Ashfaq Kiyani. However, by opting for the realpolitik of dictatorship the west has not just repressed democracy but aided insurgency and terror.”
Given that Kayani’s rise had been actively encouraged and well anticipated and he was the I.S.I. Chief and Vice Chief of Army Staff during 2004-2007, it is incredible to believe that he had no hand in Mr. Zardari’s rise to power. Kayani must therefore share part if not the whole blame for the policies pursued during 2004-2010 and for thrusting upon Pakistan someone like Mr. Zardari who is nothing but an embarrassment for the country. If Kayani did this under American pressure, that is even worse.
The fact is that the US establishment had a much more bigger and ambitious agenda in which “terrorism” was to become an excuse for military interventions and promoting American security interests in the ‘arc of crisis.’ Unwittingly, Pakistani establishment was to provide that excuse in abundance till it had a rude awakening during 2006-2008 that the US establishment had plans that went beyond the pursuit of Al-Qaeda’s leadership and remained unaffected by the election of Barack Obama as president in 2008. The Pakistani military establishment was also outwitted and outclassed in a global propaganda war when it tried to resist America’s push to expand the Afghan War into Pakistan beginning in 2009. The whole might of the US establishment with its formidable array of network of think-tanks, analysts, journalists and commentators was deployed to demonise Pakistan’s military establishment. They had plenty of ammunition.
Addiction to Arms and Debt
Behind empty rhetoric and public posturing, Pakistan Army generals enjoy close ties with the Pentagon. Their policies have contributed to making Pakistan heavily dependent on foreign debt that has been used for a massive arms build-up. During 2002-2009, Pakistan was the sixth largest buyer of conventional weapons in the world with total purchases of $12.5 billion according to the US Congress documents. This excludes spending on its nuclear program.
It is not just a coincidence that during this period, Pakistan’s total external debt increased by $13.7 billion to $45.8 billion in the beginning of 2009. While the spending on the nuclear program remains shrouded in secrecy and is not subject to any parliamentary or judicial oversight, the some reports indicate that Pakistan has nearly doubled its nuclear arsenal to more than 100 weapons in a few years and appears on track to soon surpass Britain as the world’s fifth largest nuclear power. That may or may not be an exaggeration but Pakistan’s possession of a large number of nuclear warheads is not a secret.
We are borrowing to buy and build arms and sinking into debt while maintaining the myth that we need to borrow for our economic survival and development. It is important to point that since 2006 the net official aid flows (that is aid disbursements from multilateral institutions like the IMF and the World Bank, and other governments) have been small or turned negative because the government of Pakistan has been paying more in debt servicing (principal and interest) than it has been receiving in new loans or aid as shown in the graph.
For example, total aid received by the government (that is excluding borrowings by the private sector) was $4,143 million during the financial year ended June 30, 2010 but during the same paid, the government had to pay $5,107 million in debt (principal and interest) repayments. What it means that the net impact of the aid is actually negative on Pakistan’s economy because the government had to pay a net amount of $964 million to the external donors. This shows that while Pakistan has been piling on debt, it has not used the borrowings properly as is reflected by its growing incapacity to service the debt. Latin America faced a similar debt trap in the 1980s and like some of the Latin countries, Pakistan’s only practical way out may be to seek cancelation of part if not whole of the debt.
Another major reason for the rise of external debt has been mismanagement and incompetence. According to the Debt Policy Statement 2010-2011 published (November 2010) by the ministry of finance, “the currency exposure of foreign debt originates from two sources: USD/other foreign currencies and PKR/USD. This two‐pronged exchange rate risk has been a major source of increase in the stock of external debt over a period of time in contrast to actual inflows.” For example, foreign exchange losses contributed to about $3.1 billion increase in Pakistan’s external debt during 2007-2008 alone.
Many economists, journalists, politicians, analysts, leading columnists, TV anchors, and some former generals do not seem to be aware that:
(a) actual quantum of net aid flows is small (less than one percent) compared to the size of Pakistan’s economy,
(b) almost all the “visible aid” is used to repay the past loans,
(c) the biggest foreign exchange utilization in the past decade seems to have been for the purchase of arms, and
(d) one reason for the rapid rise in Pakistan’s external debt in 2008-2010 was the currency losses (and not ‘new aid’) which could have been avoided if the ministry of finance and/or the State Bank of Pakistan had the necessary expertise to do so.
The above figures do not include Coalition Support Fund (CSF) payments made by the United States government as reimbursements for the expenses incurred by the government of Pakistan. The CSF payments cannot be termed as aid not only because they were reimbursements of actual expenses but also because they mask the more important fact CSF monies have been insignificant when compared with the actual economic (not to mention the human losses ) costs of the “War of Terror” suffered by Pakistan. These are as follows:
CSF Payments US $millions
2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
1260 1127 1536 1674 2726
Consequently, Pakistan now spends more on debt servicing than on defense, and seven times more on arms than on primary schools. In October the government projected that it would increase its defense budget by 25%, or 110 billion rupees, to 552 billion rupees for the current fiscal year while slashing spending on education, healthcare, and infrastructure.
Pakistan has been lucky that that overseas Pakistanis have sent billions home and have been and are the largest source of external financing and foreign exchange. Remittances from overseas Pakistanis increased from $4.6 billion in 2006 to nearly $9 billion in 2010. It is this source, more than any other source of ‘aid’ that has helped Pakistan to face difficult times. But the establishment should not rely on this bonanza. It should reappraise its priorities and take the lead in steering Pakistan away from conflicts and refocus the political economy on generating growth and employment than on arms spending and borrowing.
Price of Conflicts – A Dependent, Debilitated, and Dysfunctional State
“It is often dangerous to be an enemy of the United States, but to be a friend is fatal,” Henry Kissinger used to say during the final years of Vietnam War. In October 2007, I wrote , “Would the so-called War on Terror prove to be fatal for Pakistan?” The crux of the matter is that Pakistanis must disengage themselves from fighting America’s proxy wars and battles in the region, which, since 1980, have cost them more than the all the aid that they received. Pakistan suffered huge losses to the extent of over U.S. $ 43 billion ($10 billion in direct and $33 billion in indirect costs) between 2005 and 2010 according to the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2010, published by the ministry of finance. In sharp contrast, the net financial assistance from the United States, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), was just $4.9 billion during 2005-10, excluding $7.9 billion paid as reimbursements of war-related expenses incurred by Pakistan.
But Pakistan has paid a much greater cost than can be estimated in money terms. Pakistan’s support to the so-called Afghan jihad was the starting point when the seeds of its own destruction were sown. In the first phase (1980-1989), ‘Kalashnikov and drugs culture’ spread in Pakistan and contributed to a gradual break down of the law and order and criminalization of society and politics at large.
In the second phase (1989-2001), once the Afghan war ended and the Americans left, the militants – under the patronage of the state of Pakistan and its intelligence agencies – organized themselves and formed what came to be known as the Talibans. We have seen the rise of the Talibans since then and the havoc it has wrought.
The sharpest rise in the number and frequency of bomb attacks took place after July 2007 following the bloody siege of the Red Mosque, once a recruiting ground for the Afghan mujahedeens in the 1980s, in Islamabad in which hundreds of people, including militants, seminary students, security personnel, and others died in gun battles between the security forces and the students. Red Mosque was controlled by clerics with old and close ties to the intelligence agencies and pro-establishment politicians. But its top clerics turned their guns on Musharraf when he joined the “war on terror” after 9/11. Yet a policy of appeasement was continued through some of his cabinet members.
Over 3,400 Pakistanis were killed in more than 200 bloody incidents of suicide attacks carried out in the three years alone between July 2007 and July 2010. Official figures show that 16 people were killed on average in 215 incidents of suicide bombings across Pakistan during the above period. A record number of 1,217 Pakistanis were killed by human bombs in 80 suicide attacks carried out during 2009. On average, 15 Pakistanis lost their lives in six suicide attacks every month in 2009. There were only three suicide attacks in Pakistan during 2005 and nine in 2006.
It should be noted that it has been disputed that all of the attacks were “suicide bomb attacks” as claimed by the authorities. Benazir Bhutto had alleged just 25 days before her assassination on Dec. 27, 2007 that about 90 percent of blasts in the country were simple cases of bombing but the authorities had dubbed them suicide attacks. Kamran Shafi, a well known columnist, questioned why it was that not a single suicide-jacket maker had been apprehended and prosecuted and why not even one explosives supplier has been caught and brought before a court of law. “We must ask why not one, just one, motivator has been exposed,” he wrote.
Pakistan’s foreign and domestic policies have been inextricably linked and are intertwined but the foreign and defense policies have dominated the domestic policies with economic development taking the back seat, unlike most other Asian countries. Fighting proxy wars for some aid seemed liked a good deal to Pakistan’s ruling elites. That ‘good deal’ has become a nightmare and the threat of the implosion of Pakistani state, teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, is now a global security concern. But do Pakistan’s ruling elites, particularly the top army generals, care or understand this and that the way out of this quagmire would require a change in both foreign and domestic policies?
A Pro-Western Legacy
Although it is common to blame the Pakistani military establishment, Pakistan’s pro-Western policies date back to even before its birth in 1947. Various declassified papers of the British government (e.g. Transfer of Power in India, 1942-47 by Nicholas Mansergh), indicate that the British strategists distrusted Gandhi and were concerned that India, led by the “leftist” Nehru, might fall under Soviet influence. The British found the idea of Pakistan as an independent, pro-Western state quite attractive. Pakistan’s founders sought special relationship with the West, particularly the United States. Pakistan’s every ruler, save Z.A. Bhutto, followed a completely pro-Western agenda hoping that it would serve as a counter weight to India’s threat. However, the world has changed since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1989, and the emergence of China and India as global economic powers in the last two decades, particularly since 2001.
Pakistan has continued to follow the old set of policies overlooking the fact in its quest for containing Chinese influence in Asia and Central Asia; the West’s long term favorite will now be India. Pakistan’s military is strategically useful and relevant to the U.S. and NATO as long as it can serve their objectives in central and west Asia because they (for that matter even Iran or Saudi Arabia) do not share Pakistan’s view of India as a threat to the regional security and peace.
On the other hand, since one of the main strategic objectives of the U.S. is the containment of Chinese, Russian, and Iranian influence in the region, a strategic and military alliance with the U.S. puts Pakistan in a natural conflict with the interests of China, Russia, and Iran.
The continuance of the present set of policies implies that Pakistan may be in a perpetual state of military and strategic tension on both its eastern and western borders. This is an untenable and unsustainable position from all angles; economic, geo-strategic, or political. This fundamental contradiction must be resolved if Pakistan wants to transform itself from a dysfunctional national security state to an Asian country with a promise and start a new era of foreign policy that looks toward East.
Rise of East: Multipolar World
I have tried to provide a framework for a basic and fundamental shift in our strategic and defense priorities in articles written for DAWN since 2006. Pakistan needs a national debate on a fundamental shift in her intertwined domestic and foreign policies. This shift will have to start from the foreign policy. It can’t happen overnight but a beginning has to be made. Pakistan is in Asia and the future belongs to Asia.
The case for a fundamental and strategic shift in the foreign policy is not based on any emotional notion of national pride or anti-West feeling. I had written in DAWN on October 15, 2008:
“The biggest casualty of the western financial meltdown might be the U.S. dominance of the global financial system, the linchpin of its global power. And that it is China, with over $1.8tr in foreign exchange reserves- growing at a pace of $40bn a month, which holds the key to the financing of the astronomical budget deficit that the U.S. will have to run to finance the bailout of its financial institutions. The reports of the death of American capitalism may be exaggerated but there is little question that the financial meltdown means the end of its sole super power status in what was described as a unipolar world.”
The Financial Times said in an editorial Aug. 27, 2010: “Great power shifts are usually accompanied by changes in the international reserve currency. So it is telling that China is taking steps to broaden the use of the renminbi among international investors. Dominance of the global economy, Beijing believes, goes hand-in-and with dominance of the global monetary system.” The Economist noted in an editorial Aug. 26, 2010: “An America that is bleeding economically at home, with unemployment stuck at nearly 10% and debts as tall as the eye can see, is losing confidence in its ability, and perhaps in its need, to shape events in far-flung regions such as Central Asia and the Middle East.”
The long term shift in the balance of economic power from West to the East and Pakistan’s geographical and strategic position makes it an imperative for the country to reduce its heavy dependency on the West in recognition of the reality that this is no longer a unipolar but a multipolar world and China is the second largest economy and financially the strongest country in the world as well as the largest and most powerful Asian country.
Relations with China
Pakistani state is too weak to afford to pursue policies that cause tensions with all of its immediate neighbors – India, Afghanistan, and Iran – and are viewed with skepticism and unease by the Chinese who support Pakistan and put up with its “too close for comfort” relationship with Washington because they also need Pakistan. But they never liked its support for the Islamic militants or its very close ties with Washington.
Hence, while the Chinese gave Pakistan $1 billion during the financial crunch in 2008 as it came close to a default, they in effect told Pakistani leaders to get the money from the West (U.S. /IMF) because that’s how Pakistan is perceived in Beijing; an old friend who is sleeping with a global adversary – America.
A report (China’s caution on Afghanistan-Pakistan, July 1, 2010) by an American think-tank, the Council on Foreign Relations, summarized the Chinese concerns about U.S. – Pakistan relations:
“China’s geopolitical perceptions are also substantially different from those of the United States. The U.S. role in the region is seen by Beijing as a problem both in its own right, because of the strategic threat that China perceives a U.S. presence to represent, and as a source of destabilization in recent years. Many in China believe that the United States is not purely motivated by counterterrorism concerns if at all but has instead a geopolitical objective: to exert control over the region’s energy routes and strategic chokepoints and ‘‘encircle’’ China.
It is a precise echo of Beijing’s concerns about the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, a period which still deeply permeates Chinese thinking about Afghanistan. China also treats the U.S. presence in Pakistan with suspicion. It sees a commercial threat, believing that its companies may lose the privileged access they have enjoyed, and a strategic one, suspecting that the United States (along with India) intends to weaken China’s position, whether by destabilizing its Balochi foothold on the Indian Ocean or by seizing the Pakistani nuclear arsenal that it played a vital role in developing. The Chinese ambassador has publicly raised concerns about the expansion of the U.S. embassy, which is indelibly associated with many rumors swirling in the Pakistani press about a growing presence of U.S. marines and private military companies in the country.”
During the five years period (2005-2010), a small country like Sri Lanka has received more commercial aid from China than Pakistan. Since 2006, Beijing provided Sri Lanka with $3.1 billion in financial assistance for various projects. Its aid to Sri Lanka, which was a few million dollars in 2005, jumped to $1.2 billion in 2009, over half the total aid the island has been offered by various countries. China is Sri Lanka’s largest aid donor today – ahead of Japan or the Asian Development Bank.
The flood aid initially announced by China for Pakistan, around $18 million, was notably small compared to hundreds of millions of dollars donated and mobilized by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. While Prime Minister Gilani can gloat about this, it should be a cause of extreme concern that we are too ready and willing to beg aid (this time, likely to be more debt than aid), practically blackmailing the world by raising the bogey of extremist takeover, and either Pakistan does not have friends in the region or its relations have been visibly cool with them.
Pakistan must remove irritants and possible reasons for mistrust in her relationship with China and give top priority to the safety of the Chinese citizens working or living in Pakistan. It did not help Pak-China relations that some militants, allegedly connected with Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, were accused of serious committing serious crimes against Chinese citizens on Pakistani soil.
It is important here to recount some of the past incidents that caused tensions between Pakistan and China and created misunderstandings. One source of tension between Beijing and Islamabad in the past was the issue of Chinese Uighur separatists receiving sanctuary and training on Pakistani territory. It is part of a covert CIA strategy to let selected Islamic militant groups operate against China and Russia.
Tensions surfaced in Pak-China relations in the summer of 2007 when, according to a former CIA analyst Lisa Curtis, vigilantes kidnapped several Chinese citizens whom they accused of running a brothel in Islamabad. “China was incensed by this incident, and its complaints to Pakistani authorities likely contributed to Pakistan’s decision to finally launch a military operation at the Red Mosque in Islamabad.” It should be noted that a key character involved in the Red Mosque saga was an ex-I.S.I. officer Khalid Khawaja who had known connections with both the I.S.I. and the C.I.A.
Around the same timeframe as the Red Mosque episode, three Chinese officials were killed in Peshawar in July 2007. Several days later, a suicide bomber attacked a group of Chinese engineers in Baluchistan. In August 2008, Islamist extremists abducted Chinese engineer, Long Ziaowei, in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. The Chinese protested vehemently to the Pakistani government and Ziaowei was released unharmed in February 2009.
Following the Mumbai attacks in November 2008, Beijing dropped its resistance to banning the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD–a front organization for the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba) in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in December 2008. China had previously vetoed UNSC resolutions seeking to ban the JuD over the last several years.
President Zardari has apparently gone out of his way to promote relations with China and remove their doubts about him but has had limited success partly due to his own low credibility and cozy relations with Washington, but largely due to the fact that Pakistani establishment still looks towards Washington as the primary source of diplomatic, financial, and military aid because it has and continues to play the Great Game to serve the Western agenda despite the fact China has been the largest supplier of arms to Pakistan through some most difficult times and has played the most critical role in helping her acquire the nuclear technology and capability.
However, China would like to reduce American influence in Pakistan and despite the close ties of Pakistani establishment with the US, has made no secret of this desire. That was the main message of the Chinese President Hu Jintao’s who visited Pakistan in December 2010. This visit was a manifestation of the new ‘aggressive economic diplomacy’ of the Chinese government and took place with a lot of fanfare and signing of memorandums of understanding (MoUs), worth $35 billion. It remains to be seen how many of these MoUs would materialize. However, the most concrete part of the agreements related to China building a one-gigawatt nuclear power plant as part of Pakistani plans to produce 8,000 megawatts of nuclear electricity by 2025 to make up its energy shortfall.
China’s support for Pakistan’s nuclear projects and its ambitions to have land routes all the way to Gwadar port coincide with Pakistan’s pursuit of energy security. Pakistan also wants to have access to Iran’s huge natural gas reserves. But the interests of the United States and its influence in Islamabad have virtually stalled Pakistan’s energy security plans through both open diplomacy as well as covert means.
Selig S. Harrison in his book “In Afghanistan’s Shadow”, [published in 1981] wrote: “A glance at the map quickly explains why strategically located Baluchistan and the five million Baluch tribesmen who live there could easily become the focal point of superpower conflict.” That is true but it is Pakistan’s military establishment and its harsh and often ruthless treatment of Baluchis that has fueled secessionist sentiments.
Balkanization is a Grave Threat
Pakistan is not Iran but could become another Yugoslavia. Today the gravest threat to Pakistan is not external. Nor is it the Talibans or the Islamic extremists who have little popular support. It is Balkanization. Why?
It is an irony that the idea of Pakistan, if not the writ, has become a questionable and sore topic in Baluchistan which constitutes 48% of the country’s land area and despite being rich in natural resources is the poorest of the provinces, with simmering anger and alienation bloodied by a low intensity insurgency. The army establishment has treated the province as part of the grand chess board of the geopolitics of energy and the “great game”.
In the northwest and tribal areas, a prolonged armed insurgency by the terrorist groups has severely damaged the capacity of the state. The greatest casualty has been its credibility in terms of its failure to perform its most basic duty; to protect the lives of its citizens by maintaining peace. Floods have destroyed hundreds of homes, villages, roads in large parts of the province already traumatized by violence and battles between the security forces and the terrorists.
It has not been safe for years to travel in the rural Sind during night without the risk of attacks from armed gangs or being kidnapped. The poverty levels there would shock even a lower-middle class office worker living in the big cities. A drive from Punjab to the poorer south is enough to see the stark contrast between the lives of peoples who supposedly live in and are citizens of one country. This is an ugly reality that people in vast areas of the southern Punjab and the rural Sindh have not progressed much beyond the point they were three decades ago.
Pakistan is controlled by a military and civil complex, largely drawn from northern and central areas of its largest province -Punjab, which governs it by striking deals and arrangements with disparate power centers and groups in the minority provinces and areas. Dr. Mubashir Hasan, a founder member of the Pakistan Peoples Party wrote in Pakistan’s Express Tribune that a critical limb of state, the civil services, has collapsed and the government and its administration are too feeble, discredited and unpopular.
This situation has made the governance more dependent on the army making the country largely and practically ungovernable. Pakistan Army’s narrow power base in the central and northern Punjab – has further alienated the rest of the country, rightly or wrongly, fueling anger and secessionist sentiments, aggravated by a sense of social and economic injustice as central and northern Punjab is also the richest region. In the past four decades, Army has been used to suppress opposition or insurgencies in every province except Punjab.
That only the Army that was effective, to the extent it could, in rescuing the victims of Pakistan’s floods in the summer of 2010 and responding to the emergency points to a greater irony. Not much else works in Pakistan. Nothing or nobody is more responsible for this pathetic state than the Army generals themselves.
Hence, Army’s intervention, in the form of a coup or a quasi-coup would be a monumental and grave blunder. Pakistan’s current and multiple crises present an opportunity to reform the political system and processes so the army never does have to intervene; mainly for its own sake if it wants to keep the country in one piece. But where one does start?
Pakistan Needs to Make Friends in its Neighborhood
To defuse tensions and improve relations with India and Afghanistan, Pakistan
(a) Should not let the Kashmir dispute hold the process of normalization of relations with India. Pakistan must attach the highest importance to the resolution of water disputes with India, given the long-term decline in its water resources and their significance for its agrarian economy. Pakistan’s long term water situation is extremely precarious. Water availability has plummeted from about 5,000 cubic meters (m3) per capita in the early 1950s to less than 1,500 m3 per capita in 2007. All forms of communication including travel, telephone, internet, radio and television must be opened between Pakistan and India to help develop better understanding between the two peoples; and
(b) Pakistan must restrict her involvement in Afghanistan only and strictly to the extent it is necessary to maintain peace on the borders and in the north-western Pakistan because it is in her best interests to focus on domestic stability and economic development. Also, the U.S. must end its military and covert operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan and stop the counter-productive policy of supporting corrupt and unpopular elements.
Pakistani policy makers need to realize that they can no longer afford to play the “Great Game” or that Pakistan needs to control Afghanistan to protect her strategic interests from Indian designs. They need to face the bitter reality that Pakistan cannot fight a war for even a short while – few weeks at best – because it will go bankrupt and would have to accept humiliating cease-fire conditions dictated by Delhi and Washington. Kargil provided a miniature sample of this scenario.
Many of the arguments advanced by Pakistani establishment or those of pro-establishment analysts are based on ill-informed and short-sighted considerations and half-baked notions about security threats or delusions about Pakistan’s strength as a nuclear power. This lobby works overtime to spread and manufacture conspiracy theories so that the attention of the masses could be shifted to India, Israel, or the U.S. without them raising the difficult questions about the policies carried out by the establishment itself. This mindset sadly reflects a lack of vision for Pakistan’s future and its role in the region and the world. Musharraf’s misadventure as Army chief that led to the Kargil debacle was a manifestation of such short-sightedness and lack of vision.
For decades, Pakistan’s state-dominated education system and media, particular some large Urdu newspapers, have perpetuated myths that created a mindset that has become a hindrance to a realistic appreciation of Pakistan’s international standing and its weaknesses as a state in the modern world. This mindset has misplaced notions about (i) superiority of Muslims over Hindus, (ii) a glorious imperial past that is no more; and thrives on clichés like, “only if the Nation could unite, we can defeat India” or “we are a brave and ghairatmund people.” There is no place for delusions or hallucinations in the real world. It is time to wake up!
Indian hawks, inside or outside the government, may talk tough sometimes but there is no question, whatsoever, of a full scale military aggression from India because she is a rising global economic power and it would be foolish of her to jeopardize its economic growth and billions of dollars in investment flows to have a fight with Pakistan, which is seen as a small but troublesome neighbor.
As far as Pakistani military strategists’ theory of bleeding India through militant activities is concerned, this is a pipedream given the precarious state of Pakistan’s economy, turbulent politics, and the emergence of India as one of the fastest growing countries with the fourth largest economy in the world in purchasing power parity terms and among the top ten ranked by foreign exchange reserves. Given the periodic episodes of Pakistan-linked terrorist attacks in India, it may play games in Afghanistan but their significance is overplayed by Pakistani establishment to justify wasteful spending by the Military Inc. and on F-16s.
With respect to Pakistan’s relations with Iran, she must not allow any covert activity from its territory against Iran and should seek to improve bilateral ties by focusing on the grievances of Iran, particularly with respect to Pakistan’s relationship with Talibans and the United States.
Pakistan must seek greater ties in trade, industry, and technology with countries like Japan, Korea and Taiwan and look more towards the East. It should diversify its sources of oil imports away from Saudi Arabia and explore prospects in Central Asia, Africa, and even Latin America and also develop its own natural resources. Pakistan’s excessive dependence on Saudi oil has been a cited as a contributory factor in the growth of extremist groups in Pakistan who enjoyed Saudi support or sympathies.
Economic Development must be the Top Priority
No sustainable economic development is possible without (a) major changes in Pakistan’s foreign and defense policies and (b) without the political will to introduce and implement the economic reforms. This is the why even a government comprising of the best technocrats is doomed to fail.
In the introduction of my book, “The Gathering Storm: Pakistan, Political Economy of a Security State”, I wrote in December 2007 that Pakistan could not afford to continue the policies of a national security state that failed to address important national priorities even during a period of benign global economic environment that lasted from 2000 to 2007. I added:
“The cost of these policies has been high: low agricultural productivity, fragmented and uncompetitive textile industry – its largest, incompetent and inefficient security forces, an apathetic populace and a weak and vulnerable economy without sustainable growth prospects. While so far the casualties have been the democratic process and economic development, any further delay in addressing the core issues may hurt more than just democracy and development. It may imperil the future of the state of Pakistan.”
Pakistan’s young and impoverished population is a ticking time bomb. The official poverty indicators have understated the true and real extent of poverty for years, a fact admitted by the World Bank officials in private. Pakistan’s social and human development indicators lag well behind similar indicators of poor countries. Overall, Pakistan fares better compared to only Sub-Sahran Africa or exceptions like Tajikistan or Laos. Tertiary education enrollment rates are estimated at about 4% of the eligible age group (17-23), and less than 8% of the workforce has received formal training. Female literacy rates are low at 42%, and under-five mortality rate is the highest in South Asia with chronic child malnutrition around 40%.
A 2008 United Nations assessment estimated that 45 out of 170 million people across the country are severely food-insecure. The vast majority of rural households are more than 10 kilometers away from basic services that include district administration headquarters and health centers and only 2.8% of the rural households in Pakistan use an appropriate drinking water treatment method, such as boiling or filtering.
The military establishment needs to show some foresight and understand that F-16s or nuclear bombs do not provide security but economic development, together with investment in human resources, in a peaceful environment does. Pakistan can learn this from China. Pak Army must re-evaluate the balance between Pakistan’s relations with the U.S. and China. For starters, its leadership’s goal should to be to have as close a relationship with the Chinese leaders as it has developed with the Pentagon and the C.I.A.
Pakistan can learn from the East Asian experience, particularly from China’s policy to focus on economic development and put conflicts on the back burner and not by sinking deeper into more debt or buying more weapons. Pakistan now has little choice but to make economic development its most important domestic and foreign policy objective. This process must start with a gradual disengagement from the external conflicts and redefining ‘security’ to include energy, water and food security as being critically more important. The peace dividend alone, in the form of higher and more stable economic growth, would more than offset the illusory benefits of ‘foreign aid’, a large percentage of which is used to serve old debts.
“Pakistanis too broken to rebuild in flood crisis”, was the headline of a newswire story conveying the feeling of despair and despondency among common Pakistanis after 2010 floods. The challenge for Pakistan is to bring back hope to its poor, hungry, and homeless; for its generals to show that it is not an Army with a country but one that cares for its people and offers them a future; and for its millionaires and affluent to demonstrate that it can survive as a viable country that is not an aid-addicted client national security state which enriches its elites at the cost of the lives of its people.
Pakistan has experienced martial laws or army-controlled governments masquerading as democracies since 1977. It is not going to be taken over by the Islamist extremists or go through a popular revolution. For the foreseeable future, the army will be most important and decisive factor in shaping the future of Pakistan, with or without martial law. Pakistan’s fate will also depend on the behavior of its powerful and wealthy elites who will also have to decide whether they would continue to act as bystanders or do something to reverse the march toward self-annihilation. Doing nothing may not be an option anymore! Because the other choice is to let the brittle state of Pakistan wither away and slide further along the path of anarchy and disintegration.
The first and foremost condition to bring hope to the people is to reassure them that the state exists and is relevant to their ordinary lives. While the importance of constitutional, economic, and judicial reforms cannot be denied, the poor and extremely diminished capacity of the provincial and local administrations to perform the most basic of the state functions and deliver essential services is a serious impediment to any reform initiative. Pakistan desperately needs to mobilize financial resources as well as undertake a massive surgery to repair its severely debilitated administrative infrastructure. Developing and rebuilding the physical infrastructure requires both.
The Way Forward
Historically and ironically, the Army establishment – the most powerful force in the country that really matters and can make a difference – has not shown enough realization that the cessation of all external and domestic conflicts is the most critical and essential pre-condition to undertake the urgently needed economic and administrative reforms. It may have arrived at a critical and perhaps the most decisive juncture in the last forty years after the huge devastation caused by the floods.
The army leadership can and must take the lead and put India, Afghanistan, Kashmir, and nuclear issues on the back burner and focus on nation rebuilding. It can begin this process setting an example through making deep and voluntary cuts in military expenditure and then by asking the “civilians” to do the same. The army cannot and should not ‘help’ by imposing martial law or some modern form of it but by sincerely strengthening and helping the civilian institutions stand on their feet to perform their roles without aspiring to do the job itself.
Pakistan needs effective governance and to create fiscal space to make investments to repair and rebuild its administrative and physical infrastructure. This can be achieved by downsizing of federal government’s military and civil bureaucracy, decentralizing governance by empowering provincial and local governments, strengthening their capacity, and by mobilizing domestic resources.
Pakistan cannot achieve a sustainable growth rate necessary to support its around 2% population growth rate and reduce poverty without huge investment in basic infrastructure and human resources. A February 2008 report by the World Bank warned, “Without adequate irrigation resources, power, and transport infrastructure, the very sustainability of Pakistan as an independent nation may be at stake as shortages could lead to increased social discontent and disharmony amongst the federation and the provinces.”
Since Pakistan is so significantly behind other Asian countries with whom it competes in international trade and for investment capital, it should invest much more than the averages to catch up. Pakistan needs to spend 8-10% of its GDP on education and infrastructure. This is not possible without drastic cuts in defense and establishment expenditure, reducing corruption, and more and better tax collection. According to the Transparency International, the most corrupt sector is the government procurement which alone eats away at least 40% (or over U.S. 3 billion) of Pakistan development budget or 2% of the GDP. The country must introduce tax reforms to increase its abysmally low less than 10% tax-to-GDP ratio to at least 15% within the next five years.
But all of the above requires peace and putting an end to all external and internal conflicts and restoration of conditions that are conducive to resource mobilization, economic reforms, and restoring order in the society. The State (the army in effect) has no any option now but to change its national priorities and external policies to find a way to transform Pakistan from a dysfunctional client national-security state – which has been and continues to be in a state of constant tension with its neighboring countries – to a modern, tolerant, federal, and plural democracy with a sustainable economic development model which is appropriate for a country with one of the world’s largest, fastest growing, and youngest populations.
The forces of exploitation and status-quo have thrived not only due to the support from the US but also because of the fact that the people themselves have allowed retrograde and corrupt forces to divide, coerce, silence and deceive them. Ultimately the people would have to rise and reclaim their country. The main obstacles to the creation of a free, just and democratic Pakistan are the establishment (including its civilian collaborators and pseudo-nationalists) and America. It is a tall order but there is no real way forward unless people recognise that the establishment represents internal hegemony and the US external. The forces of status-quo have prevented progress toward a modern and democratic society while the US has used Pakistan for its regional and global security interests and to fight the proxy wars which drained her energies and undermined development. Hence, there is no way to free Pakistan and move into the 20th century (we have not completely come out of the 19th century) without confronting both internal and external hegemony.
It is ironic but realities cannot be wished away. Army holds the country together. If it does not take the lead and makes the right initiatives in the right direction, there may not be any rational reason or room for hope for Pakistan. It may be too much to expect power-broking and scheming mortals with limited intellect and vision to become saviors and nation builders overnight. But the choice is quickly becoming stark. Act to save the state of Pakistan or let it wither away under the weight of its own his history and blunders of the self-serving and short-sighted ruling elites.
Pakistanis are accused of apathy (as were the Egyptians for decades) but the people are not fools. Yes, they have been exploited, divided, deceived, suppressed, and kept poor and deprived for decades but one can fool people for long but not forever. Some people who have little knowledge and understanding of how the nations develop and build, talk of Pakistan’s dependency on the US. They should know all American-supported dictatorships piled up huge amounts of foreign debt not because a country needed them or used the debt for real development but it was a pay-off to the corrupt elites so that they could continue to support America’s political and security agendas. The latest example is that of Husni Mubarak. Egypt has $30 billion in foreign debts and Mubarak has amassed a fortune of more than $70 billion. Did American politicians wake up in the last few months and realise Oh my God, Egyptians need freedom, social and economic justice and Mubarak must “do more?”
Our problem is not economic but political. It always was and which is why the people of Pakistan must understand this “great and dirty” bargain between Pakistan’s elites and the US government. They will have to rid themselves free of this unholy alliance if Pakistan is to be saved. They will have to understand that there are people on both sides of the so-called ideological divide – liberals and extremists. Both are serving American interests. Nothing new. Husni Mubarak was secular and liberal. King Fahd is a “devout” Muslim and a fundamentalist. Both served the US interests in the Middle East.
Pakistan’s way forward – if there is one – is for the people to recognize this game and oppose all leaders, parties, and institutions who are not pro-people. Ultimately, the masses will have to rise for their own interests even if the generals show some signs of sanity and act. Till the people do not, there is little hope that this circus of Pakistan’s politics will stop. A circus which has clowns like Zardari and Sharif, artificial anti-American fundamentalists like Fazalur Rehman, fraud revolutionaries like Altaf Hussian, confused politicians like Imran Khan who flirt with stooges of establishment, pretenders to being “defenders of national interests” like the Generals, and sidekicks of the establishment like many judges and corrupt media barons.
Disengagement, Realignment, and Empowerment can help Pakistan find its way out of the quagmire and move forward. It cannot hope to transform itself unless it Disengages itself from overt and covert conflicts; external and internal, Realigns its foreign and economic policy focus from the West to the East, and Empowers its people through genuine and not ‘manipulated or rigged or hijacked’ democracy.
About the Author
The writer is an independent consultant specializing in international investments and strategy. He is a former head of London-based Citigroup’s global emerging markets investments group (2001-2005) and also served as director (1997-1999) of Citibank’s strategic planning unit. As a student political activist during 1977-80, he worked with Benazir Bhutto. Since 2006, he has written articles on political and economic issues and published (2008) a book, “The Gathering Storm in Pakistan: The Political Economy of a Security State” He did his masters in international economics and finance from York University, Toronto. He can be reached through the blog www.stateofpakistan.org