It was 24 September, 2001 that we had a meeting with an American delegation, which had arrived to discuss what Pakistan could do for them post-9/11. I was a member of the armed forces’ team, which was detailed to determine how we could move forward in meeting U.S. demands. There were a series of meetings and we shuttled between the Presidency and a house in F-7 Sector in Islamabad, trying to arrive at a modus vivendi and operandi, following the collapse of the Twin Towers in New York City. The Americans were rearing to teach Mullah Umar and the Taliban a lesson in a hurry, while Pakistan found itself between a rock and a hard place. General Pervez Musharraf wanted the Americans to undertake a swift, short operation with as small a military footprint, and be done with lest the militant forces unleash themselves against Pakistan. Pakistan was in an unenviable situation while the General relished the idea of the Americans suddenly becoming beholden to him. In principle it was decided that Pakistan would become a member of the coalition launching Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). A decision, which would have a far-reaching effect on the region and the world- children would no longer be able to go to their schools without a care of the world nor would government buildings be accessible to people, without stringent and cumbersome security checks.
On September 26, I was tasked to take another team to carry out a survey of our airfield infrastructure that could be used in various unanticipated contingencies. It was made clear to the Americans that no offensive operations would be launched against Afghanistan from Pakistani soil nor would combat aircraft be based here. It was a day-long activity, which took us from Chaklala to Gwadar and back. The irony of the changed situation was not lost on my fellow American passengers. They were uncomfortable reconciling the past reality of debilitating, decade-long U.S. sanctions imposed on Pakistan and the new, inevitable dependence that they had been forced to accept in the changed circumstances.
For the duration of 12 hours that we were forced together in the confines of a Fokker F-27 aircraft, the Americans showed their regret about how Pakistan had been treated in the preceding eleven years by United States Government (USG). They were reminded that, we Pakistanis were used to this on-again-off-again relationship and that this cycle had been repeated many times. However, they promised that, henceforth things would change and that USG support would be for the long haul. And that they were aware of the mistakes that had been made and they would definitely make amends. I was aware that our relationship was asymmetric and all the cards were held by the Americans and conveyed the same to them. However, they were insistent that there was a realization on the part of USG about the past mistakes and this time it would be different.
They wondered about the intensity of anti-American sentiment amongst the Pakistani public. It was highlighted to them that Pakistanis bore no grudge toward the American people but they certainly did toward the USG, because the relationship between the latter and Pakistan oscillated between being an ally and a perceived enemy. This thesis was illustrated by the fact that when Bill Clinton swung through South Asia in March 2000, he stayed five days in India and five hours in Islamabad during which he refused to be photographed, or shake hands, with General Musharraf. Also he arrived in the company of decoy airplanes and drove on the wrong side of the road on his way to Islamabad from the airport. The twin cities were under a lock down during his short sojourn and one could only see the police and the army on the road. On the contrary, the Chinese Prime Minister, Zhu Rongji came calling in May 2001. He arrived in public view. There were children lined up along the roads of his passage and he stayed for three days. He felt welcome, unlike Bill Clinton. Why? It was because the actions of the USG have many times been hostile to the interests of Pakistan, while China has always been friendly. So they were asked as to who was at fault, Pakistan or the U.S.A? Their response was that history would not repeat itself and mutual relations would stand on a much more solid foundation.
However, soon after Kabul was “liberated” and “pacification” of Afghanistan started, rather unsuccessfully, Pakistan again became the villain. Contrary to Pakistani advice, they did not include the Pashtun majority in the pacification effort nor did they deploy enough troops to prevent the Taliban from crossing over into Pakistan. Yet they continuously blamed Pakistan for something they were unable to do themselves. There were demands on Pakistan to “do more” while they themselves did less and less. The coalition support fund (CSF) was cited as a favour to Pakistan, while it was a reimbursement for the expenses that had been incurred. Over the last 15 years CSF was worth $20 billion and was projected to be a huge amount, while their overall Afghan adventure cost them a trillion dollars. Even the much trumpeted Kerry-Lugar act, which was named EPPA (Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act), failed miserably. Of the total $7.5 billion allocated, only $1.8 billion have been disbursed so far. The reasons are elaborated in the report released by the USAID Inspector General’s Office which stated that “Competing priorities have complicated USAID-Pakistan efforts to achieve long-term development under EPPA.” The State Department’s short-term objectives over-ruled the long-term objectives of USAID. In return for this aid the USG wanted to control Pakistan’s political, social and military priorities. The State Department mostly rejected the inputs of its own ambassador in Islamabad. The latter understood the situation on ground better than the former but to no avail.
All through these years their Congressmen, Senators and CENTCOM commanders have projected Pakistan as a hurdle to their success in Afghanistan or even the enemy. The Quadrilateral forum comprising the U.S.A, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan was established for bringing peace to Afghanistan. Pakistan was continuously coaxed or pressurized to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table for peace in Afghanistan but whenever that objective appeared attainable, drones were used to target Taliban leadership to sabotage this effort. Finally, we have gone the full circle. Now India, Afghanistan and U.S.A. have decided to attempt to make Afghanistan peaceful and Mr. Kerry has told Pakistan to not feel isolated. How funny could one get? Even if Pakistan was to accept all mistakes others allege it to have made, it still pales in front of the blunders made by America and its allies. They set the world on fire by invading Afghanistan and Iraq in unnecessary wars of choice. Their leaders like George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Tony Blair are guilty of war crimes for killing hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children, and making millions homeless. Now that these dispossessed want to escape from the inferno created by others, these migrants have invoked the ire of right wing ultra nationalists in all their countries. All the lofty ideals of brotherhood, equality, human rights and compassion have been overwhelmed by bigotry and racism. We the underdeveloped have got everything wrong but the world is being driven by greed, falsehood, deceit and arrogance of the rich and powerful and yet they hope to live in peace.
A bit of digression from the topic under discussion, recently, the outgoing Director of UNDP, Mr. Marc-Andre Franche, was critical of the Pakistani elite for taking advantage of the cheap and uneducated labour to enrich themselves at the cost of the poor and under-privileged. This criticism is equally valid for the multinational corporations (MNCs) and their parent/host countries who have exploited the labour in the developing world to manufacture goods cheaply and maximize their profits while paying little heed to the human conditions in the sweat shops. According to World Systems Theory, development and underdevelopment are the two sides of the same coin, whereby poor, or so called ‘developing’ countries, cannot catch up with the richer and more industrialized world, since it is their poverty which enables the richer world to sustain itself. Also according to anthropologist Arturo Escobar, the highly technocratic nature of international development, which includes UN agencies, has become a mechanism of control comparable to colonialism and cultural imperialism. The developed west was in favour of globalization when their MNCs were reaping the riches but when the factories shifted overseas, free trade has become a villain and everyone wants to undo free-trade bilateral or multilateral agreements.
Coming back to the subject, in this changed scenario of the USA turning its back on Pakistan, once again, and embracing India, the region is expected to get another dose or jolt of display of American hubris or might. This is not a welcome situation but then Pakistan is not the cause, but rather a victim, of this geo-strategic realignment. However, the situation, while undesirable, is not entirely gloomy. We have the support of China, which is a rising and an increasingly assertive power. CPEC is a thorn in the side of all regional and global powers not involved in it. It threatens to reorder the trade and economic opportunities in the region and beyond. So Pakistan needs to ensure an expeditious completion of CPEC-related projects. The enemies would buy politicians to sow discord and aggravate inter-provincial differences to sabotage this fantastic geo-economic opportunity. There is no need to be afraid; every challenge is an opportunity. We cannot allow India to have talks on Indian agenda only. If the bilateral relations face a rupture, so be it. Indian violence on Kashmiri citizens and Narendra Modi’s admission of involvement in, and support of, terrorist activities in Baluchistan are reasons for Pakistan to drive the agenda and awaken the world’s conscience- if there is any such thing when Muslim interests are at stake. Recall how conveniently Muslim Indonesia and Sudan were forced to give up East Timor and South Sudan respectively, while Kashmir and Palestine continue to live under Indian and Israeli occupation for the last seven decades. All this while the West wonders what causes Muslim animosity towards their governments.
We need to display national unity and solidarity. This is not the time of disruptive petty political games. The success of every sitting government may be a loss of the opposition but is a gain for the country. If this government is thrown out, even though we may hate it, it would make trillions of rupees worth of projects to become stalled. This would be Pakistan’s loss. Right now it seems the biggest problem we have is that a few ambitious individuals are not ministers and another individual not the Prime Minister!