Pakistan and US aid – Time to send the addict to rehab?

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This article is based on the ideas presented in a discussion between Think Tank members of defence.pk

When Liaquat Ali Khan first stepped on to the tarmac of the New York airport in May 1950 (1), he could not have had predicted that his trip to the United States would be the beginning of the world’s most topsy-turvy relations between two nations.

Pakistan’s request for US economic and military aid, in return for its acquiesce to US requests during that visit, set a precedent for the foundation on which bilateral transactions between these nations are based 2. Mr Khan is famously quoted to have said: “If your country will guarantee our territorial integrity, I will not keep my army at all.” (2)

Sixty-two years on, Pakistani-US relations are scraping the bottom of the goodwill barrel for any hopes of recovery (3). Most recently, the US Congress has voted to further curb the one incentive that might get Pakistan to agree with US demands: economic aid (4).

Pakistan’s economy has been struggling since the global recession and the resulting slowdown of its consumer-based economic surge under the military government of Pervaiz Musharraf. An inept government, along with widespread corruption, has brought the country’s major industries and economic institutions crashing to the ground (5).

At this juncture, economic aid from the US is part of the lifeline holding Pakistan’s institutions financially afloat.

Further, Pakistan’s military relies extensively on US military hardware and financial support in its fight against terror within its borders. It would be unwise to deny that the Pakistani establishment has played a double game, allowing US access to strike in some areas of the country, and yet saving some sympathizers to fight in an ultimate end game. However, if this US support stops, Pakistan’s ability to continue to wage even this partially focused war, and provide some semblance of resistance to the extremism in the country, may very well end, bringing severe consequences for the region and beyond.

So what are Pakistan’s options?

At this point, some feel that Pakistan could try and repair relations with the United States so that it may continue to receive US economic support. This, however, is a difficult task. Pakistan’s Foreign Office has failed miserably against a very strong pro-Indian lobby in the US. Pakistan’s US mission has failed to convince the US media, as well as US lawmakers, that Pakistan is the main victim of terrorism and has suffered more than any other country as a direct result of siding with the US in its “War on Terror”.

Most articles in US newspapers imply that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is still secretly helping the Taliban who are active in Afghanistan. That perception is reinforced by the Pakistani media. Most of the guests invited to Pakistani TV programs do nothing but spew anti-American sentiments, completely ignoring that the US has provided Pakistan more aid than any other country of the world. A very large part of the population firmly believes in the many conspiracy theories that float around. They think that the US is out to destroy Pakistan because of its status as the only Islamic nation which holds nuclear weapons. Such sentiments are certainly known to those in Washington. And, so, the US response is not surprising as it has a concrete dimension, that is, the use of extremist ideas and proxies by Pakistan as policy tools.

Another suggestion is breaking with the US, making it easier for Pakistan to keep its strategic partnership with China alive, and, perhaps, enhancing it further. Pursuing a foreign policy independent of the US might lead to severe sanctions, but would it really be that bad for Pakistan?

In a television show, Maleeha Lodhi, former Pakistani ambassador to the US, claimed that Pakistan collected the highest revenues during 1989-2001, when it was under strict sanctions from the Western world. An aspect of this approach could be increased trade with China. The Pakistani government and business community could devise with the Chinese, a strategy to successfully compete with Indian businesses for the Chinese market thereby filling the financial void left by any cessation of US assistance. Such Chinese trade expansion, however, would not be quick. Implementation might require that a few years of extreme economic hardship be borne by all Pakistanis. And, there is no guarantee that China’s patience with Pakistan’s antics won’t wear thin, if it continues its current national security policies.

However, even if Pakistan is able to repair its relations to an extent with Washington, and US assistance resumes, this should be thought of as a short term measure. Pakistan must ensure that none of its institutions seeks a permanent entitlement to US taxpayer monies, nor becomes a parasite on the Chinese. Pakistan should focus on transit (non-NATO) and trade with China, Russia, India, Afghanistan and Iran. It should engage them to forge stable economic relationships that do not thrive on expecting financial assistance.

Good governance is also primary. A Pakistani system that affords representation, and above all, stability, within a framework provided by a leaner more energetic constitution, tied to a large disciplined political party, is one way to proceed. The military should focus its ISI on removing the extremists and on giving the future government breathing space to pursue better terms with all its neighbours.

Pakistan needs to rethink and rebuild itself into a truly representative nation for all its peoples, where the will of the people dictates foreign policy, and not the whims of a few. Only then will Pakistan’s bilateral relations with any nation, including the US, be fruitful and beneficial to all parties involved.

(Compiled by Oscar. With input from Fatman17, Muse, All-Green, Niaz, Aamir Hussain and Araz)

1. http://www.thefridaytimes.com/beta2/tft/article.php?issue=20110930&page=30 – Photo Archive: Liaquat Ali Khan goes to the US (1950) by Pakistan Chronicle’s collection
2. http://criticalppp.com/archives/1580 – Pakistan-USA ties: From Liaqat Ali Khan to Asif Zardari*|*LUBP
3. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/world-view/us-losing-patience-with-pakistan-as-relations-between-allies-worsen/article4238214/ – U.S.
4. http://dawn.com/2012/06/03/us-rejects-majority-of-pakistans-support-fund-demands/ – US rejects majority of Pakistan
5. http://dawn.com/2012/05/21/the-worst-ever/ – The worst ever? | DAWN.COM

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