Economic Consequences

In its editorial of Wednesday, ‘Change of tone‘, Daily Times makes an important point that is not getting enough attention in the latest round of anti-American fist-waving. What is the economic impact of this behaviour?

The cost of the downward spiral in US-Pakistan relations has already sent shock waves through the economy. The stock exchange plunged amidst fears of a breakdown in relations, the rupee floated to around 90 to the dollar, partly because of the ‘dollarisation’ currently underway amidst fears for the future. These negative signals should give pause to all stakeholders to reconsider their fiercest belligerence against the US. We may not like much of what Washington does or even how it does it. But it is not only the US that has constraints so long as it is engaged in Afghanistan. We too have considerations to weigh, first and foremost the struggling economy and the future of a rescue sans US aid and goodwill.

Leaving aside for the moment the unquestionable foolishness of thinking we can defeat an American attack*, we need to consider what impact this anti-American drum beat is already having on our nation.

Yes, Hamid Gul and Ansar Abbasi are crowing about ‘national unity’ behind hating America; and Imran Khan calls for officials to refuse US aid from his sprawling Bani Gala mansion; and self-appointed patriots blog from their AC apartments in Dubai about how cutting ties with the Americans will magically revive the Mughal Empire.

But let’s set aside fantasy fiction and for a moment. Even if Pakistan refuses the billions in aid provided by the US, what about the $5 billion in trade between the US and Pakistan? Are we ready to give that up as well? What about the $1.8 billion in remittances that were received from Pakistanis working in America? Do we expect American companies to look kindly on Pakistani job applicants if we declare war on them? American aid might be ‘peanuts’, but a billion here, a billion there – pretty soon you’re talking about real money!

I know, I know. The cost of war greatly outweighs the meager sum we receive from the Americans. The security situation in Pakistan now is scaring away investors. Who is going to invest in Pakistan once the Americans are gone? Oh, yes, China. But actually, China only accounted for 4.4 per cent of exports last year compared to America’s 15.9 per cent. And even though American aid to Pakistan is ‘peanuts’, Chinese aid amounts to only 3 per cent of those peanuts. Just shells, really.

I know that we are all frustrated. We’re sick of the bloody war and would like an easy solution with a clear villain to blame. But the situation is much more complex than that, and we need to be realistic about the consequences of our actions. The Daily Times is spot on:

Emotion may be cathartic, but it is rarely a good substitute for calm, considered policy, especially in the delicate position Pakistan is placed in, and the fact that the country the gung-ho amongst us want to take on is the sole superpower in today’s world. Not only should the current furore be cooled, diplomatic efforts must find ways to continue to enjoy, if not the goodwill and friendship, at least the tolerance of the US. Any other path will damage Pakistan immeasurably.

If you want to know the alternative, just look at how Afghanistan ended up.

*Spare me the comparisons of an American-Pakistani stand-off to Battle of Badr, please. I know my history, and I also know that the kafirs in 7th century Arabia did not have F-117A Nighthawk stealth aircraft armed with GBU-27 laser guided bunker buster bombs and submarine launched inter-continental ballistic missiles.

What exactly does Pakistan want?

Jalaluddin Haqqani

That is the question ricocheting off the walls in offices from DC to Islamabad. It pertains to the barbed issue the infamous Haqqani network. Often described as “the Sopranos of Afghanistan,” the Haqqani network is one of the most powerful actors in the region – a brutal crime family established under the father, Jalaluddin Haqqani in the days of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Haqqani network is now operationally run by his son, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who by all accounts is much more an extreme Islamist than his father ever was.

The reason this thorny issue is now front-and-center of US-Pakistan relations is because significant individuals on the American side are now pressing for Pakistan to take action against the Haqqanis. Ranging from Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to the top American diplomat in Islamabad, Ambassador Cameron Munter, the US has built up a chorus of voices demanding Pakistan tackle the group responsible for scores of attacks within Pakistan, and increasingly in Afghanistan. The final straw seems to have been the recent attack on the American Embassy in Kabul, in which 5 Afghan policemen and 11 civilians (including 6 children) were killed. The bombing had all the hallmarks of the Haqqani network, and thus began the full-on pressure for Pakistan to finally go after them.

The Zardari administration has responded swiftly and strongly to American accusations the ISI is supporting the Haqqani network. In a brief statement, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said the charges about his intelligence agency’s ties to the Haqqani militant network were baseless and part of a “blame game in public statements.” Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, in the United States to attend the United Nations General Assembly, said “Anything which is said about an ally, about a partner publicly to recriminate it, to humiliate it is not acceptable.” Speaking about the sudden rupture in relations, Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani said the United States “cannot live with us and cannot live without us.”

Lost in the middle of the rhetoric is the pause for introspection so badly needed within the halls of power in Pakistan. The US is accusing our ISI of working with the Haqqani network – a group that readily (and proudly!) admits to massacring our citizens and those in our neighboring Afghanistan. We need to ask ourselves a few questions going forward:

1. Is there institutional support for the Haqqani network? Thorough investigations are in order before we issue muscular refutations to the Americans.

2. Why do such depraved groups feel secure in Pakistan? How did our country get to the point where the Haqqani network decided to set up headquarters in the tribal areas of North Waziristan? How did we reach the point where Osama bin Laden settled in Abbottabad? These facts should trouble each Pakistani – we have lost too many of our own to their sick thinking to continue ignoring the fact they live on our soil!

So where do we go from here? US-Pakistan relations are at a critical juncture. The way we handle this going forward may very well set the tone for our partnership with the US for years to come. Our uneasy alliance with the United States can fall neatly into place if we can align our national interests. To do so, we must first acknowledge some bitter truths.

The US is poised to pull out its troops from Afghanistan, and there is no doubt Pakistan will be a key player in the ensuing political development. It is in our best interests to look at the situation from all angles instead of muddling through and pushing back with denial after denial. Only then can we truly realize what Pakistan wants, and what it needs to do.

The noose around our neck and how it got there

This week’s latest episode of Pak-US topi drama is discouraging for a number of reasons. The most obvious being that extremist militants really are a shared enemy of Pakistan and America, and neither side is able to defeat the menace without the other. The worst case for America is that it retreats back to the other side of the world and holds up on its own to lick its wounds. But the worst case for Pakistan is, well, it’s worse.

Cyril Almeida thinks that, even removing the fuel of American troops from Afghanistan will not make the problem of militancy any more manageable. He warns that ‘the narrative may be neat, but its fallout could be anything but’. I fear that he’s right, and it only takes one look at a map to understand why turning a blind eye towards militants – even those we see as ‘assets’ – is a losing strategy.

Our Eastern border hardly needs mention. Whether or not the Indians trust us, we certainly do not trust them. Even with enough nukes to destroy India many times over, we still feel the need to keep building more. And with the issue of Kashmir still unresolved, that is not going to change any time soon. Certain groups in society still romantacise about the Kashmir jihad and openly encourage groups like JuD to give up their facade of ‘charitable’ work and re-focus on attacking Indian positions. And elements in India, too, have their own suicidal tendencies in this regard, making the Eastern border a defensive priority as long as issues remain unresolved and groups like JuD are perceived as operating freely.

On the Northern border with China, we have what is probably the healthiest relationship of all. But China, a friend, shouldn’t be our fantasy. Part of this is the fact that China, too, has no patience with extremism and militancy, and will quickly turn from friend to foe if they believe their own security is at risk. We already made the mistake of looking to the US as being a our saviour no matter what poorly conceived adventurism we found ourselves in. Let us not forget that when Nawaz Sharif went to China for help during the Kargil misadventure, they sent him packing.

To the Northwest, war continues to rage in neighboring Afghanistan. We are told that this is a fight against the Americans who are occupying their country and that once the Americans leave, peace will return. But this is not what was being said by Afghans themselves. Former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani said that the violence is not caused by the Americans, and it will continue long after they leave.

The people are justifying the war they have waged and say that they are fighting the war because of the presence of the foreigners. This is not the case actually. This war was going on prior to the presence of the foreigners here and will continue after the foreigners go from here.

Rabbani’s murder earlier this week has been treated in the media as an American conspiracy, with the usual talking heads quoting Afghans as blaming ‘foreigners’ for problems. This may be true, but perhaps we should ask which ‘foreigners’ the Afghans are blaming for the violence in their country.

“Death to the foreign puppets,” they shouted. “Pakistan is our enemy.”

To our West, Iran has closed the trade gate and is moving security personnel to the Pakistan border because of the threat of militant groups from Pakistan. Sadly, this is not a aberration, but is the third time this year that Iran has shutted its doors to Pakistan. What should we expect from a Shia nation when an anti-Shia militant leader receives payments from Punjab government, is set free by Pakistani courts, and then a few weeks later dozens of innocent Shia are murdered by this same militant group? If sectarian killers are believed to operate with impunity in Pakistan, can we honestly expect our neighbors to treat us as anything but a pariah?

American foreign policy deserves criticism. But there are plenty of Americans who are making these criticisms themselves. Why should America listen to us when we refuse to get our own house in order? We’ll find ourselves with much more influence if we can be honest about our own foreign policy mistakes. More importantly, we can still reverse the disastrous course that we find ourselves on. The concept of ‘strategic depth’ was supposed to keep us from being surrounded by a hostile India. Instead, it threatens to make us surrounded with a hostile India, Afghanistan, Iran, and China. That’s not security, it’s suicide.

What is clear is that we need a strategic re-thinking. The old doctrines left over from Cold War era adventurism are out of date an inapplicable in today’s world. Lashkars and proxies were meant to keep the noose from around our necks, but it turned out they were the very rope that could hang us. We still have time to pull our heads out and claim our proper role as a leader in the region, but only if we’re willing to let the Americans worry about their own problems and make an honest appraisal and reversal of our own strategic mistakes.

Case Studies in Dignity & Self Respect: Turkey vs. Iran

Obama listening to Turkish PM Erdogan

Yesterday I wrote about Dignity, Integrity & Self Respect and how to get there. I argued that these qualities can’t be gained by intransigence, deception and denial, but must be earned through honesty, sincerity and responsibility. Today I want to follow up with some examples from modern geo-politics that demonstrate my point.

Earlier this month, Turkey announced that it will partner with the US to host part of NATO’s missile defence system.

Under the Nato plans, a limited system of US anti-missile interceptors and radars already planned for Europe – to include interceptors in Romania and Poland as well as the radar in Turkey – would be linked to expanded European-owned missile defences. That would create a broad system that protected every Nato country against medium-range missile attack.

This makes sense for Turkey since it will help protect the nation’s security. But it doesn’t mean that Turkey is an American stooge or a servant of Western hegemony. Far from it. At the same time that Turkey was cooperating with the Americans to secure its borders, they also expelled the Israeli ambassador when he refused to apologise for the Gaza flotilla raid that killed Turkish citizens and spoke out loudly in favour of Palestinian rights. If one were to listen to our ghairatmand conspiracy walas, this would be a seeming impossibility. How can a country be partners with the Americans and not fall prey to their US-Hindu-Zionist mind control? Because Turkey is reasonable and realistic, it is respected when it disagrees with the US and taken seriously on the world stage.

Compare this to Iran that rigs elections, spreads ridiculous conspiracy theories, and acts as a destabilisers in the region. When Turkey speaks out about a serious issue like the rights of Palestinians or economic markets, the world listens. When Iran rants and terms the holocaust “myth”, the world laughs at them. And when they speak out for the rights of Palestinians, nobody listens. This week’s UN meeting is a case in point.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, much diminished at home by his confrontation with the country’s supreme leader, has said the same thing so many times at the United Nations that it has taken on the aura of a ritual monotony. When a Western ambassador was asked what he anticipated from Mr. Ahmadinejad’s speech, he quipped, “We are preparing our usual contingency walkout plan.”

Right on schedule, Mr. Ahmadinejad prompted a walkout by the United States and Europe by implying that conspiracies lay behind the Sept. 11 attacks and the Holocaust.

This is the question we need to ask ourselves. Do we want to be indignant or effective? Being indignant is easy. All you have to do is pound your fist and point your finger and don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks. You can feel self-righteous and superiour, but you will never succeed in changing anything.

The other choice is to be effective. That requires being realistic and being responsible. It requires taking a long view of history, recognising our limitations, and working towards achievable solutions even if they come only incrementally. When a country follows the Turkish path, it has the ear of world leaders. And when you have the respect of the world, self respect comes naturally.

Dignity, Integrity & Self Respect

In a debate on Twitter recently, Dr Awab Alvi wrote that “Pakistan needs a position of dignity, integrity & self respect vs being run by Foreign nations”. I agree completely. Actually, I suspect Dr Awab and I would agree on a lot of things. Where we diverge, though, is on the path to get there. Some in Pakistan who are jokingly called as the Ghairat Brigade (they call themselves PTI among other things) believe that these traits of dignity, integrity & self respect are found through intransigence, deception and denial.

Intransigence vs Integrity

Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. But having strong moral principles does not mean refusing to admit when you are wrong. Anytime some criticism is made of Pakistan, we immediately point fingers in the face of our critics. This is especially the case when any criticism is made of the military. But our military is made of men, not angels, and like all men they make mistakes. This is only natural, and not a humiliation. Even the mightiest armies of history are known to make miscalculations. Oh how Napoleon would take back his invasion of Russia! The Japanese their attack on Pearl Harbor! The Americans their Vietnam! It is the true friend who warns you when you are taking the wrong path. It is your enemy who quietly lets you go astray. Integrity is gained by honesty and responsibility, not stubborn refusal to admit mistakes.

Self Respect vs Deception

To listen to the Ghairat Brigade, we can never have self respect so long as we accept foreign aid. We must stand on our own feet. But standing on your own feet doesn’t meant that you refuse help. Should students refuse scholarships? Should the poor refuse zakat? Actually, the student who humbly accepts his scholarship, just as the poor man who humbly accepts zakat to feed his family are able to stand tall with self respect even though they are accepting help because they are using it to improve their opportunities, to make something of themselves. They are taking responsibility for improving their lives and not blaming others as their excuse to not improve.

The Ghairat Brigades say that all our problems are caused by someone else. If we just cut ties with the Americans, there will be no poverty, no corruption, no violence. Just this week LeJ killed dozens of innocent Pakistanis, and the same day I saw the Keyboard Commandoes of Lashkar-e-Ghairat telling people that there is no such thing as LeJ – it is a RAW conspiracy! As long as we are lying to ourselves, how can we ever hope to respect ourselves?

Dignity vs Denial

In his latest piece for Express Tribune Raza Rumi makes clear the problem with denial.

The anti-Americanism paranoia about India, imagined plots to steal our nuclear weapons and the ultimate ‘terrorists-cannot-be-Muslims’ mantra have entered the popular imagination of Pakistanis. These days, there is an overt attempt by several analysts, opinion-makers and even academics to rationalise conspiracy theories. Reportedly, a UK-based Pakistani academic delivered a talk at a Karachi seminar, rationalising the conspiracy theory that the infamous Blackwater (a US contractor) was responsible for attacks on mosques and shrines in Pakistan.

This is no longer a laughing matter. It is a serious state of collective denial that needs to be unpacked and rectified for our long-term stability and survival. This will lead us nowhere: we deny that there is violence against women, we deny that there is rampant child abuse; and we reject that we have allowed for a large section of society to get radicalised in the recent decades. We deny that our textbooks are poisonous for young minds, for the hate they spread, and we refute that sermons given in the name of a peaceful religion actually talk about killing non-Muslims. Above all, there is a widespread denial that minorities of Pakistan are increasingly under attack, including the Shias, Ahmadis, Zikris, and not just non-Muslims.

Denying our problems doesn’t give us dignity, it gives us problems. Dignity is something you get when you admit your mistakes, admit your problems, and work sincerely towards solving them. When you refuse to admit reality, even in the face of all evidence, you cannot have dignity. Rather you become a laughing stock to the world. Every nation has problems. It is those who admit them and face them that hold their heads high on the world stage. It is tyrants and dictators who try to hide in the shadows so that people can’t see their true face.

The Right Path

Pakistan needs a position of dignity, integrity & self respect, but it’s not going to get this via a programme of intransigence, deception and denial. Dignity, integrity and self respect are the products of honesty, sincerity and responsibility. Most of my friends can recite a hundred year’s worth of mistakes and misdeeds by the Americans. But if asked about certain black marks in our own history, they look totally confused and say that they’ve never heard this before. And why? Because for generations the Ghairat Brigades have been editing history books, inventing conspiracies, and blaming everyone in the world for all of our problems. They have tried for decades to improve the nation by intransigence, deception and denial, and look where it has taken us. Enough.

If we truly want to try the ‘untested’, we should not repeat the same mistakes of the past by basing our hopes in intransigence, deception and denial. We need to take the path of honesty, sincerity and responsibility. Only then we will find ourselves in a position of dignity, integrity & self respect.