Sep 1, 2010

Being untrustworthy in crisis

Foreign assistance does not respond to development needs but to arbitrary decisions and strategic alliances

By Zubair Faisal Abbasi

International development organisations recently conveyed us a message that the government in Pakistan is untrustworthy and, therefore, humanitarian aid in desirable quantity is hard to arrange. Many of us accepted the argument and started divulging additional reasons on international donors being right in avoiding a direly-needed bout of foreign assistance.

We should try to be critical about such claims which primarily blame the victim. This is especially important because India, which seems to be in the driving seat in efforts to isolating Pakistan, has offered monetary assistance to fight flood and food insecurity.

The international community calls us untrustworthy and, therefore, refuses to cough up some money and wants us to face unprecedented calamity on our own. You call our state institutions untrustworthy. You call us untrustworthy because we got a bigger cheque from the US and refused the communists. Had we accepted the smaller cheque and fought the imposed war against you then what we were supposed to be? Traitors?

But we accepted the cheque and remained trustworthy till the time cheap gun fodder was needed. The transaction was simple and persuasive. We, the untrustworthy, joined the most 'truthful' arrangements like SEATO/CENTO and remained the most allied nation outside the NATO and fought as frontline state -- we remained trustworthy.

Now, once the war-machine appears to be tired, exhausted, and needs oiling we become untrustworthy, corrupt, and extortionists. In fact, we were trustworthy for the expansion of military-industrial complex and now when we need humanitarian assistance we are untrustworthy. Our fragile democracy and a civil government is corrupt and badly-elected by the illiterate and ignorant voters.

Let us be clear, the option for Pakistan is not to drift away from democracy towards military. The country can lapse into the quagmire of militancy. If the current regimes and international community fails in relief, recovery, and rehabilitation, there are chances of unprecedented social and political upheavals.

However, we should have the courage to call a spade a spade. Let us be very clear that a significant part of foreign aid is a high political and strategic drama played on the world stage.

It follows the logic of strategic alignments not poverty or inequality or under-development. Foreign aid in practice is not always a true reflection of global humanitarian deployment but very meticulously designed matrix to keep strategic alliances.

A simple question: how much foreign aid is given to Palestinians who are suffering from poverty and exclusion and how much is given to the other side of the divide? Let us have a look at the World Development Indicators issued by the World Bank in 2001. It shows that South Asia received US $3 per person where around 50 percent of the world's poor live while Europe and Central Asia received US $23 per person of foreign assistance. Sub-Saharan Africa got US $20 while the Middle East which has more than five times higher income than South Asia received US $18 per person.

Development literature shows that foreign assistance does not respond to development needs but to arbitrary decisions and strategic alliances. Therefore, we should be very clear about such patterns before naming Pakistanis an untrustworthy nation.

While aid has been political, much of it has actually been used to tease out the desired kind of 'leadership' from the less-developed yet strategically placed countries. Let us ask ourselves, what kind of regimes have been supported in Chile, Pakistan, Afghanistan and a host of other countries. It appears that the main idea was to support a dictator but he should be 'our' dictator.

The 'trustworthy' governments were installed which suited the vested interests and such installed regimes could thrive only when they captured state resources and diverted them to be aligned with the war-machine of a particular brand.

In fact, we are crafty. We know how to engage and disengage. We know how to save our skin and keep our hands clean. We know how to civilise the world with missionary zeal by keeping people in prisons without a fair trial. Here the reference is not to Guantanamo Bay but to the father of Barak Obama who was kept like this in Kenya by Churchill's empire.

We know the art of blaming the victim. We intervene with financial and military might, we change the whole power structure, get our work done, and leave the corrupt, extortionist, and deceitful governments behind with the people struggling for 'democracy and justice'. Right? But trust me, I am not untrustworthy, these are the powers on the world stage which co-opt with the 'trustworthy' local elites and ultimately I suffer if something goes wrong between you and the comprador class.

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