With “Frenemies” Like These…

When a blogger calls himself “Attackerman”, you can imagine what type of writing you’re going to get. So we shouldn’t be surprised by Spencer Ackerman’s latest story for Wired.com that terms Pakistan as America’s “frenemy” who is basically holding up NATO supplies in order to extort more money out of the American government – up to $1 million per day. Mr “Attackerman” is just living up to his name.

Spencer Ackerman aka "Attackerman"My problem with the piece by Mr “Attackerman”, though, isn’t his juvenile attempt at “Gonzo” style journalism, it’s that he doesn’t seem to know what he’s talking about. Setting aside his unquestioning acceptance of the US investigation into Salala that conveniently blamed the victim (has any military ever found itself at fault?), Mr “Attackerman” misses the point completely on issues of the economics of war.

One of the key points of negotiations to re-open NATO supplies, as he notes, has been fees for shipping through Pakistan. Transit fees are not unusual and they’re definitely not extortion. If the old fee for shipping supplies really was $0, that’s insane. Oil and gas companies charge fees for transporting resources through their pipelines. So do the countries that the pipelines run through. Trucking companies pay fees, too. All of this is routine economics because transporting goods results in external costs such as pollution and wear on national infrastructure.

BBC reported yesterday that NATO shipments over the past several years have destroyed roads and infrastructure, causing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damages. Does Mr “Attackeman” honestly think that we should have to suffer this loss without any compensation?

Mr “Attackerman” also misses the point regarding the $1.1 billion for what he describes as “services rendered”. What he’s actually referring to are Coalition Support Funds (CSF) that the US promised to reimburse Pakistan and other nations for operation and logistical support of US-led counterterrorism operations.

Reimbursement is the key word. It means compensating for expenses that have already been paid. Much like the damage to roads and infrastructure that NATO supplies cause, we have spent billions on supplies and equipment to support counterterrorism operations. Pakistan is not a wealthy nation like the US – $1.1 billion represents .5% of Pakistan’s GDP but it only represents .00007% of US GDP. This might seem like a small amount to the US, but it means a lot to Pakistan. For the US to withhold this reimbursement appears spiteful. For Mr “Attackerman” to describe it as Pakistan holding out its hand is just insulting.

Mr “Attackerman” is not just an anti-Pakistan agent, though. Don’t give him so much credit. Like I said, he calls himself “Attackerman”, and he doesn’t care who he attacks. He is also happy to attack America’s war against al Qaeda and its counterterrorism strategy, and its top spy agency the CIA. Whoever he’s attacking, though, it usually involves a combination of mischaracterisations and slang words like “frenemy” to make it seem irreverent and funny.

Next week, officials will gather in Chicago to discuss ways to improve cooperation and stop militants from killing innocent people in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Guys like Mr “Attackerman” will write blogs making jokes about it without bother to get their facts right because their job isn’t about facts, it’s about entertainment. I guess that’s fine for people far away from the front lines of terrorism. In Pakistan, we don’t really have that luxury.

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