Category: Articles, Ayaz Amir

What’s Pakistan being taken for?

by Ayaz Amir

Pakistan is key to America’s salvation in Afghanistan. Without the Pakistan army actively engaged in the border regions called FATA, American and NATO forces in Afghanistan would be hard-pressed to sustain their ground.

Any innocent could be forgiven for thinking that given this crucial role some gratitude and some ungrudging help would come Pakistan’s way. But what the United States is pleased to offer in the shape of the Kerry-Lugar bill is peanuts: 1.5 billion dollars a year, for five years.

This is being dressed up as an act of unparalleled generosity, which is scarcely surprising given that those who give, even if very little, are apt to flatter themselves by making it appear more than it is. But what is surprising is that we are proving to be the chumps that we always tend to be when dealing with America.

Instead of looking cynically at the Kerry-Lugar bill and running a fine comb through it, we are behaving like a latter-day Uncle Tom, grateful for the small change (in relative terms) we are about to get, almost like a tip for services rendered.

America’s military effort in Afghanistan costs upwards of 60 billion dollars a year. This is the backdrop against which to see our 1.5 billion dollars, which don’t seem like an awful lot then.

In Swat, Dir and parts of Buner our army has suffered heavy casualties. If the US military had suffered a quarter of these casualties in the two months or so since the Swat operation started, there would have been a storm in Washington.

But since it is Pakistan’s ‘peasant’ army suffering these losses it is a different matter altogether. Washington, however, is not to blame. If we remain chumps when it comes to bargaining with the US, the fault is not in our stars but us. Other countries will not put a proper value on us or what we do unless we first put a proper value on ourselves.

If we go about with hangdog looks, our leaders ever so grateful for the smallest attention they get, we shouldn’t be surprised if others treat us like a doormat.

If Richard Holbrooke or his kind assume the airs of civilian field marshals the moment they step on Pakistani soil it is because we allow them this freedom. If we invite being patronised we will be patronised. This doesn’t mean that to prove ourselves we be rude, sullen or belligerent.

Recent events in Iran are diminishing the attraction of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a role model. But it does underline the importance of acquiring some self-respect. Once we have that, the world will see us through different eyes despite our troubles.

In truth we have forsaken the right to call Iqbal our national poet. What commonality is there between his poetry and our way of life? The way our leaders conduct themselves — fawning when they should know better not to, listening to lectures when they should have the wit and understanding to educate foreigners about the reality of Pakistan and its neighbourhood — shows no sympathy or connection with Iqbal.

There should be no commemoration of Iqbal Day and no changing of the guard at his tomb — betwixt Lahore’s great mosque and the imposing façade of Akbar’s fort — until we learn to conduct ourselves with greater national dignity. There is no shortage of fools in this country who in a spirit of absurd patriotism say we shouldn’t be seeking American assistance.

Stalin was not above seeking American assistance during the Second World War. Britain could not have fought the same war without the help of America’s Lend-Lease Programme. We are engaged in a war which has two dimensions to it. It is our war because religious extremism unchecked would have devoured the meaning of Pakistan.

With the Taliban triumphant we could have become a Somalia or a Sudan but not anything like the Pakistan our founding fathers were trying to create. But it is also America’s war. We didn’t ask America to jump into Afghanistan but for reasons of its own it did. And now it is stuck there, the seemingly quick victory of 2001 turning into an extended nightmare.

A complete victory in Afghanistan the Americans cannot win. This they are now admitting themselves. The utmost they can hope for is a partial victory, or something that can be sold as victory: a gradual withdrawal, as in Iraq, without too much loss of face. This aim is unachievable without the open-ended help of the Pakistan army this side of the Durand Line.

Given these huge stakes, what’s wrong with Pakistan asking not to be taken for granted? The Kerry-Lugar bill with its absurd conditionalities we should not accept. We should engage with the US, learn how to make the most of its friendship, but we should be playing a smarter game of poker.

We should ask for — nay, insist on — trade concessions, on favoured access to the American market. Our textile industry, our largest industry, is near death point. It badly needs reviving. So what if the US is in recession? Which other country in the world is fighting America’s war the way we are? Britain has not more than two-plus brigades in Afghanistan. The focus of our entire army is now on the western front. We deserve fewer lectures and more actual help.

We should insist on a cancellation of all our American debt and insist on much, much more than the pittance now going through the US Congress. What if the Indian lobby on the Hill flexes its muscles? We should turn around and ask it to fight the battle of Afghanistan on its own. This should not mean ending the fight against the Taliban.

That we cannot afford because the alternative is unthinkable. But it should certainly mean doing things on our own and cutting the American presence in Pakistan down to size. The Americans are onto a good thing. They want to eat their cake and have it too. We should be pressing our own point of view. This, however, would require a different man in Washington than the smooth-talker we have.

Haqqani is a very clever man who has always put himself first. Anyone wishing to learn the timeless art of self-promotion can do no better than learn at his feet.

Too often he sounds like an American appendage, an extension of the State Department, no doubt an asset in American eyes but a bit of a liability for us.

e need someone more in tune with the new realities emerging after the Pakistan Army’s rethink about Swat, FATA and the threat from the Taliban, someone who can make a slightly different pitch, pander less to American prejudices and make out a better case for Pakistan than the peanuts packaged in the Kerry-Lugar bill.

We shouldn’t be punching above our weight. We tried doing that in Afghanistan and were hoisted on our own petard. Punching above one’s international weight is a British specialty, a compensation for loss of glory and empire. But we shouldn’t be under-punching either, as President Asif Ali Zardari manages to do every time he ventures abroad.

As if his previous misadventures in the verbal field were not enough we now have the spectacle of him being trumped by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

In Yekaterinburg (Russia) the first thing Singh said to him (in remarks obviously rehearsed beforehand) was, “My mandate is to tell you that Pakistani territory should not be used for terrorism against India.” Zardari could have countered with a suitable reply such as that his concern was to see that Indian consulates in Jalalabad and Kandahar were not used as staging posts for subversion against Pakistan. But that would have required other gifts than he has.

(The picture of Zardari on the occasion leaves him looking like a chastened schoolboy in the presence of a senior professor.)

It is in our interest to seek good ties with India, just as it is in India’s interest to have a better relationship with Pakistan. The drumbeats of jihad should be a thing of the past but this shouldn’t mean keeling over in the other direction and giving the impression that we are supplicants for peace and dialogue. Peace with India, yes, but on a reciprocal basis and, preferably, without any more lectures on terrorism.

Tailpiece: The army chief, Gen Ashfaq Kayani, has grown on the job and is definitely a more confident man than when he took over from Musharraf. The Malakand operation and preparations for an assault on Waziristan have to a large extent rehabilitated the army’s image, badly tarnished by Musharraf’s policies. But it would be a pity if any of this went to Kayani’s head.

We need good and able military commanders. But we’ve had enough of military saviours and can do without more in the future. And, perhaps, we can do without army chiefs trying to become F-16 aces.

A flight through the clouds of Waziristan — a final victory lap, so to speak — may be in order once Baitullah Mehsud is beaten. Before that it would look a bit like President George Bush’s landing on the flight deck of the USS Constellation with a banner at the back proclaiming “Mission Accomplished” when, as events in Iraq were to prove, the mission had barely started.

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