Dec 16, 2009

An unequal partnership?

By Ikram Sehgal

While the US is right in supporting the democratic process in Pakistan, most anti-US sentiment prevailing among Pakistanis stem from the Americans' support for pliable rulers who put their own survival and motives ahead of everything else. The broad mass of the intelligentsia and the masses in Pakistan take this as cynical manipulation to gain leverage, at the cost of Pakistan's national interest. The US must distinguish between supporting the system as opposed to an individual. Regrettably, support for the "singer rather than the song" has been a vital flaw in US policy the world over for more than half a century.

Corruption and fraud, symbolised by the presence of Hamid Karzai in office, seems synonymous with the type of rulers the US supports. One does concede that at times cold pragmatism has to take preference over ideals. Unfortunately US policy is often dictated by the inordinate influence lobbyists exercise over the US administration and the US Congress. This fatal "manufacturing" flaw is paid for and driven by the colour of money rather than any ideology.

Its landlocked location makes Afghanistan dependant upon Pakistan for almost everything, even though Iran is developing as a viable alternative route. Logistically, the US cannot wage either war or peace in Afghanistan without Pakistan. Does a land route or even an aerial route through Russia and the Central Asian Republics (CARs) make economic sense? Whether it is food, oil, or manufactured goods, most originate from or transit through Pakistan. In an indirect way our 170-million population is directly affected by the export of our foodgrains and commodities to Afghanistan. Their price would be 35-40 per cent cheaper within Pakistan if the "exports" are stopped or even curbed. Compare the price of roti (bread). it would come down to Rs3 from the average of Rs5 presently. The average of three rotis per individual per day amounts to an additional Rs510 million (or $6 million per day). Pakistan thus spends almost $2 billion additional annually on bread alone!

At least 1.6 million refugees remain in refugee camps since the 80s, another 1.5 million live in Pakistan cities and towns. Add another $5-6 billion to Pakistan's budgetary requirements annually. Pakistani Pakhtuns do have connections in Afghanistan, but these are minuscule compared to the Afghan population's dependence on Pakistan. Stoppage of Afghan transit trade would create a famine in Afghanistan, besides destroying the country economically. In contrast, Pakistan gets almost nothing from Afghanistan except a basketful of sorrows. These include drugs and a weapons culture, a breakdown of our society that has allowed the Al Qaeda cancer under the guise of the Taliban to enter our daily lives. Their currency is to deal out death to innocent citizens of all ages indiscriminately.

For Afghanistan's economy to be energised an industrial potential must be created to add to the services sector, at present the only means of its economic existence. Whether in support of agriculture or building an industrial potential, all men and raw material and technical resources must mainly come from or through Pakistan, backed by the skill and assertive potential of Pakistani expertise.

All of Afghanistan's neighbours put together cannot match Pakistan's interaction. Pakistan's legitimate concerns are far more cogent than India's. The long-term US policy to build up India (Ambassador Galbraith's famous Memo of May 25, 1965) in the region to contain China runs counter to Pakistan's national security imperatives which see China as a credible guarantor of our existence. While traditional friendship with Afghanistan goes back many decades, it is understandable that India would be interested in a friendly government in Kabul but their interest is driven more by anti-Pakistan policy rather than friendship for Afghanistan. To give India a dominant say in Afghanistan is counterproductive, and at the cost of Pakistan's cooperation. RAW took over the Afghan intelligence agencies and started to create trouble for Pakistan on our western borders after 9/11. Paradoxically, India got a "sphere of influence" after the Pakistani army entered South Waziristan in 2004. On persistence from the Bush administration, Condoleezza Rice and company seemed to be comfortable with this, and to even encourage it. Why did the US drones keep a "hands off" policy towards Baitullah Mahsud? Was this naivety on the part of the US? There are lingering suspicions in Pakistan that since US and Indian interests (along with those of Israel) coincide about de-fanging our nuclear potential, the US was consciously helping the Indians cut us down to size.

The US must not fritter the $1.5 billion Kerry-Lugar Bill (KLB) through schemes that will disappear into the public memory not long after most of the money has disappeared into the pockets of consultants and go-between NGOs. The US must target major projects in Pakistan, such as dams, power stations, hospitals, roads and ports like Gwadar and Pasni, as well as north-south road and rail communications. The US must upgrade the quality of the Pakistani Armed Forces, particularly the Frontier Corps, for prolonged counterinsurgency operations, concentrating mainly on providing training, helicopters, night-vision devices and armoured vehicles. Moreover, a counterterrorism force must be funded and trained from scratch. Instead of doling out aid, the US must give us: (1) our legitimate transit dues and (2) market access for our cotton textile and manufactures thereof. Steps must be taken to bring us out of the "nuclear cold," giving us the same parity as the US nuclear accord with India. We cannot be a responsible nuclear nation if we have to depend upon clandestine sources to sustain our nuclear potential!

The US seems endlessly to find fault with Pakistan despite our many more sacrifices, suffering military and civilian casualties at more than a 10:1 ratio. Does it serve US interests to threaten Pakistan time and again unless it "does more"? We can never be equals and Pakistan has more to lose because it cannot walk away from the region as the US has done before. Pakistan's greater stake evens the imbalance of this relationship. For the new Obama Doctrine to succeed the US must understand that the roads to peace literally give through Peshawar and Quetta.

Far more effort is being put into Afghanistan (at the present moment a ratio of more than 30 to 1 in $ cost) than in Pakistan. For the Obama Doctrine to succeed the "on-off" temporary relationship must have more permanence. An effective partnership can only be formed if the US can gain the confidence of the people of Pakistan that the relationship has long-term benefits, and that the US will sustain it. Any partnership that is unequal has the element of failure inherent and no amount of rhetoric can paper over the imbalances in such a relationship.

The initiatives enunciated in the Obama Doctrine incorrectly put in order of priority the most important, "an effective partnership with Pakistan," after the "military surge" and the "civilian surge." The US recognises that Pakistan is central to any lasting solution in Afghanistan, yet there remains a yawning gap (and reluctance) to translate rhetoric into reality. Failure to rectify this major anomaly will render gains made in Afghanistan reversible, as has happened in the past in this unfortunate country.

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