PML-N Government Appreciates PPP Policies

Nawaz Sharif taking lessons from Asif Zardari

It is said that the imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If this is the case, the recently displaced PPP government’s most admiring flatterer is none other than Nawaz Sharif. After taking control of the government since only a few short months ago, the PML-N chief has taken page after page from the PPP’s agenda, claiming it as his own.

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Roti ki koi shehriat nahi hoti

Red Cross office where gunmen kidnapped aid workers

Two items in the news this week should be dominating the discussion of current events. First is that 100 people in Lahore have now died from contaminated drugs. Adding insult to injury is that fact that, according to Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif, the victims tended to be the poor who received the drugs for free. The second news item that should be driving the public discussion is the rising number of kidnappings of foreign aid workers.

It infuriates me when I hear people like Imran Khan talk about refusing all foreign aid. The wealthy celebrity Imran Khan has never wanted for anything in life and will never have to humbly accept aid to feed himself and his children. If foreign aid is refused, his comfortable life will not be affected. But that doesn’t mean that nobody’s lives will.

Last year, Government of Punjab chose to turn down an American offer of $127 million for health care. It was a purely political move by the Pubjab government who hoped to woo voters by acting tough on America after the Abbottabad operation. Shahbaz Sharif said the decision was taken to “get rid of the foreign shackles”. But what was the real outcome? Hospitals could not afford critical supplies and schools could not be built. It was the poor who suffered.

There are two common excuses for being against foreign aid. The first is that foreign aid workers are secretly intelligence agents trying to destabilise Pakistan. To believe this is to believe that a 70-year-old man with heart disease is CIA’s top secret agent. If this is the case, we should be rejoicing. What do we have to worry about?

The second excuse is that foreign aid workers are just trying to win ‘hearts and minds’ and that they are not sincere in their charity. Why else would they print USAID on things if it wasn’t just a public relations campaign to spread sympathy for the West? But can’t the same be asked of groups like Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation who never fails to cover everything in sight with their name and logo? Isn’t FIF just a PR wing of Hafiz Saeed’s ‘other’ groups? Get some food, hear a lecture on the glorious Kashmiri jihad.

I’m a firm believer that aid is not the solution to the country’s problems, and that increased trade and private investment are what is really needed if we are going to be able to work our way out of the economic hole that we find ourselves in today. But I am not so blind and uncaring to believe that some aid is not absolutely necessary for the time being. And letting the poor starve or die from lack of medication will not improve my ‘self esteem’.

Militants are treating the poor as their hostages. They don’t have to hold a gun to the poors’ heads. Their weapons are the food and medicine that the poor need to live. The poor don’t ask about a food’s nationality. They don’t ask medicine where it prays. They don’t care if the person helping them is Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Pakistani, American, or Italian. And we shouldn’t either.

Stop Putting Down Pakistan!

A recent commenter wrote something that I read and hear very often, and that always infuriates me. The comment was on a post about foreign aid, and the commenter wrote that Pakistan should not be a beggar nation and should stand on its own feet. I reject this entire way of thinking and wish people would stop calling our country a beggar!

The ‘beggar nation’ slur always comes up whenever there is some discussion of foreign aid, usually from the US or IMF. Now, there may be a good reason not to accept a particular aid package from the US or loan from the IMF. But saying that Pakistan is a ‘beggar’ is offensive and, I have to say it, not very smart.

First, do you think that people outside Pakistan do not hear what we are calling our own country? Already there are too many misconceptions about Pakistan, why would you reinforce these stereotypes by calling your own country a beggar?

Second, let’s look at what is actually being referred to. With aid packages, particularly from the US, I do not like the term ‘aid.’ It sounds too much like we are taking alms. But this is hardly the case. For example, current US ‘aid’ is really more ‘investment’ in Pakistan. The Americans invest some money in building our infrastructure, energy capacity, etc. and they receive dividends in having a peaceful and prosperous partner.

Nobody in Greece calls their country a beggar because the EU will help them stabilize their economy. Nobody calls the USA a beggar because their economy relies on Chinese investment. Nobody calls Iceland a beggar nation after it took a £1.3bn IMF loan. Nobody calls Turkey a beggar nation because they receive some aid from the US. I think you get the idea.

The fact is that we live in a world with an economy that is more connected than simply one nation standing alone. Just as two brothers may invest in each other’s business because they know that the family will be more prosperous if both succeed, so nations invest in each other so that the world community will be more prosperous and provide more opportunities to improve the lives of all citizens.

And being a respected member of the world community has other benefits as well. Not only does it provide better access to foreign markets and investors that can improve our economy, nations that join the world community have more influence in global affairs.

Look at the difference between Iran, a nation that refuses to be a part of the world community, and Turkey, which is well respected. Turkey not only has a better economy, but when Turkey makes some criticism of Israel, the world powers listen. When Iran makes some criticism of Israel, nobody takes them seriously. Would you rather Pakistan be like Iran or Turkey?

Pakistan has in its reach the opportunity to be an influential member of the world community. In doing so, it would help improve our access to foreign markets and investors and it would give us more influence on world affairs. But all of this can be gone if we continue to recite anti-democratic propaganda and put our nation down. So, please, stop calling my nation a beggar. It is simply not true.

U.S. Congressman Calls for “Fundamental Reappraisal” of US Aid to Pakistan

Gary Ackerman, chairman of the congressional subcommittee that held a hearing on Pakistan on Wednesday, has called for a “fundamental reappraisal of US assistance to Pakistan.”

Ackerman said, “The United States is at a crossroads with Pakistan. It is clear that despite the deaths of many, many Pakistani soldiers and police, the fight against terrorism has not gone the way we would have hoped. It is equally clear that Pakistan is no closer to genuine democracy and arguably a good bit further away. It’s time to change course and build a new and different relationship with Pakistan.”

In his opening remarks, Ackerman who heads the House subcommittee of the Middle East and South Asia, said, “We have for too long provided the military with the bulk of our assistance and neglected assistance aimed at building and strengthening democratic institutions. I am not suggesting that we cut all military assistance, it is clear that we need to help Pakistan acquire the capabilities, by the way, that Pakistani officials tell me they need. But when I see them using their national funds to purchase F-16s of anti-submarine surveillance planes, I can’t help but wonder whether they don’t have an enemy other than terrorism in mind. The United States needs to be clear that our first, second and third priorities will focus on counter-insurgency equipment and training, whether we are using FMF or authorizing commercial sales, that provides the Pakistanis with the counter-terrorism capabilities.”