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Old Tuesday, May 13, 2008
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Default Why US matters so much to our politicians and military

Why US matters so much to our politicians and military

By Anjum Ibrahim

ARTICLE (May 12 2008): We in Pakistan operate within a conundrum: our leadership has remained focused on one individual - be it military or civilian - and seeks to subjugate party members and, in doing so, rewards not the competent but the sycophant, thereby giving rise to a lota culture where no shame is felt in subjugating one's will to that of a leader; and it is equally well established in this country that many a Pakistani leader has allowed a foreign power to exert undue 'influence' in our internal affairs as a means to guarantee his/her own political fortunes.

So a leader typically portrays a position of strength in internal party politics and a position of weakness with reference to the foreign power. That the foreign power is unanimously thought to be the United States where the political fortunes of many of our military rulers as well as civilian prime ministers are alleged to begin and end is, perhaps, best epitomised by the deal that was allegedly brokered by the United States between the two most unlikely partners: Benazir Bhutto and Pervez Musharraf.

The outcome was the National Reconciliation Ordinance that sought to cancel all past corruption cases against all non-convicted politicians/bureaucrats/army personnel in return for abstaining from rather than voting against President's Musharraf in his re-election bid last year.

However there is general agreement that President Musharraf's eight-year rule went the extra mile to appease US sensitivities and in the process allowed the US to selectively invade our border regions as and when it received intelligence of Taliban/al Qaeda presence - intelligence that nine times out of ten was later proved to have been inaccurate but, nonetheless, accounted for a significant number of Pakistani civilian deaths. Dismissing these deaths as collateral damage or alleging that they were terrorist strongholds further alienated the people of this country as the affected provided proof to the contrary to the media.

The recent visits by the US Ambassador to Asif Ali Zardari (though it has been alleged that initially she was summoning him to her office), Nawaz Sharif, Altaf Hussain in London as well as her recent visit to meet with MQM leaders in Karachi, and the visit by the four member ANP team to the US under a shroud of secrecy, are viewed with skepticism and almost contempt by the people of this country. To dispel the impression that the meetings with the US Ambassador entailed succumbing to the US will, it has become almost customary to reiterate the coalition policies which are obviously counter to what the US has unambiguously striven for: a policy of confrontation with the Taliban requiring continued military operations and insistence that the emergency imposed by Musharraf on November 3 was unconstitutional and illegal.

General public anger against America is fairly common in this country. And it is not only limited to the fundamentalists residing in our border regions but has permeated every facet of our society, including the civil society and the middle and upper classes even as they strive to send their children to study in US universities. The depth of anti-Americanism in Pakistan was recently acknowledged by the US Ambassador and she argued that "those who oppose American engagement in Pakistan have a limited understanding of our partnership."

She is absolutely right. The assistance as well as 'connections' at various levels that the US routinely employs to tie the hands of Pakistani governments, are well established. On 6 December 2007 Richard Boucher, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, revealed the extent of the assistance package to Pakistan before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Subcommittee on International Development, Foreign Economic Affairs and International Environment Protection: Since 2002 the US provided economic assistance totalling $2.4 billion; security assistance amounted to $1.9 billion; and more recently the US has begun a five year $750 million development plan for Pakistan's frontier regions that supports the government's nine year $2 billion plan for tribal areas' sustainable development.

Holbrooke, Assistant Secretary of State, reportedly told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that "it is better to spend $100,000 on renting a tribal than spending $100 million on killing him and his tribesmen." Holbrooke was urging the Committee to increase assistance under this head. No one in this country would argue against such logic. It is indeed preferable to invest in development in an effort to counter terrorism than to invest in upgrading the killing machinery.

In addition there is a $300 million per year US assistance for Economic Support Funds and $300 million in Foreign Military Financing for Pakistan as part of a five-year $6 billion presidential commitment made by President Bush in 2004. However these payments are all subject to vigorous audit.

In the latest report on Pakistan, the US Government's Accountability Office has noted that from October 2001 (in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks) till June 2007 the US reimbursed Pakistan $5.6 billion in Coalition Support Fund for military operations in FATA. In other words, Pakistan has been amply compensated to fight the war on terror under the rules formulated by the Pentagon. President Musharraf's oft-repeated denials in this regard sound hollow in the face of such assistance.

Questions are now being raised in the US about whether this $5.6 billion assistance was spent appropriately or not. According to a report, Pakistan used the bulk of this money to pay for heavy equipment better suited for a regional conflict with India rather than to fight the insurgents in Waziristan. The Pakistan Ambassador in the US rejected this claim: he asserted that it is up to Pakistan to spend the money as it deems fit - a sure shot way to alienate the government he is trying to enhance relations with.

The question we, as Pakistanis, need to ask ourselves before dismissing the kow-towing of our leaders to Washington is what would a country that provides so much funding to another expect in return? This was explained most succinctly by Richard Boucher on December 6, "Our strategic goals in Pakistan are broad and our programmes will require strong oversight to ensure that our assistance is accomplishing our foreign policy goals." And what are US foreign policy goals in the region: to see the annihilation of al Qaeda and the Taliban. And this was precisely what Musharraf's policy was geared towards, post 9/11.

It is also relevant to recall that the US also exerts considerable influence through multilateral donor agencies like the World Bank and the IMF through its share ownership in these institutions. Thus a supportive US chair at the Board meetings will almost certainly guarantee that loans will be approved.

US influence on other Western governments is also considerable and there is evidence to suggest that many a creditor nation has extended assistance to Pakistan because of US exerting its 'influence'. It must be recalled that after the nuclear blast the decision not to extend assistance to Pakistan and India did not come from the World Bank offices but from the State Department.

The US is also an important trading partner for Pakistan. The US remains the single largest export market for Pakistan accounting for a little under 30 percent of our exports. After Saudi Arabia, the US is the second major contributor to our imports, around 8.1 percent of the total. Thus as a major trading partner the US is also extremely important and no government or politician can alienate the US if it is to strengthen the balance of payments position which has the trade balance as a major component.

Thus the US Ambassador is right. We don't seem to have enough gratitude for what the US has pumped into our economy. But then while the leaders seem content with the cost benefit analysis of the assistance, the public is not. We don't want Pushtuns killed, they say. We do not want US drones killing women and children in our mosques, they loudly proclaim. And we do not want the export of terrorist acts to our major towns and cities as a consequence of army action in border areas, they lament.

The Ambassador needs to respond to these general concerns and then we may begin to love the American administration as much as we love to be educated in US universities, listen to US music, watch US TV serials and films and avidly follow the US presidential primaries hoping for a Democrat win. rm=&supDate=
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