Magnificent Delusions: Riyadh Summit Edition

Arab Islamic American Summit

It was supposed to be another opportunity for Pakistan to shine on the world’s stage. An international summit in Riyadh attended by world leaders including the American President Donald Trump. We would be standing side by side with other Muslim leaders including our close allies Saudi Arabia and our message would be clear to all. Only, that’s not what happened. We were caught completely off guard. What happened?

The first problem rose during US President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi. According to reports, ‘something has gone terribly wrong‘. The reason for the panic? At the ‘Arab Islamic American Summit,’ Pakistan was not highlighted nor given opportunity to present its view. It was a snub felt across the nation, but should it have been so painful?

There are a few things that must be considered. Fifty-five nations were present at the summit. Keynote addresses were given by Saudi and American leaders who did not mention Pakistan’s sacrifices. It is unfortunate, but we must consider the circumstances. The summit took place soon after a series of mob attacks in Pakistan, statements by IHC and the Interior Ministry whipping up religious anger over blasphemy issue, kidnapping and torture of liberal bloggers, and the state’s full attention being paid to tracking down anyone who criticises Army on social media. Meanwhile, TTP is opening offices in KP.

World forums are not arranged by ISPR to promote the state’s narrative. In this case, it may have been better that nothing was said about the state’s actions. However, our frustration did not stop with our not being praised. Our media spit on other nations terming them as ‘minion states’ and even said that ‘Terming India a victim of terrorism was also a deeply painful insult,’ as if we are the only nation that has suffered from terrorists.

According to reports, PM spent hours preparing and rehearsing his speech for the summit, only to learn that he was not designated a time slot. It was a huge surprise to the entire delegation, but how is this possible? The entire affair appears to be another case of our believing what we want to believe instead of looking at the cold hard reality.

It was not just that we were denied the spot light we believed we deserved, policy statements by our allies were completely out of sync with what we expected also. The Saudi King turned the summit into an anti-Iran platform, terming Iran as “the spearhead of global terrorism”. This means that the Islamic Military Alliance led by our own Gen Raheel Sharif is actually a Sunni military alliance against our own neighbor Iran? We were shocked and surprised, but why? Journalists, bloggers, and even some politicians have warned of this since the beginning. Only problem, these were so called ‘liberals’ who were accused of working against Pakistan’s interests. Once again, we allowed ourselves to believe what we wanted to believe instead of looking at the cold hard reality.

Many have blamed the Foreign Office, or what passes for a Foreign Office in this country, for poor diplomacy that led to these embarrassments. But it is not the FO alone that is responsible, it is all of us. As long as we continue to believe that our wishes are reality, and reality is global conspiracy against Pakistan, we will continue to face such shocks and surprises.

In closing, it should be noted that the day after the summit it was reported that the US is considering slashing military and civil aid to Pakistan, and converting what is left to loans which must be repaid with interest. This should be no problem, though, as ex-COAS Gen Kayani has already said that Army has no need for US funds. And, after all, we’ll always have CPEC…

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.