While the counter-insurgency
in Swat is now in its final act, the Army has already
in the preliminary stage of launching full-blown operations
in South Waziristan. The militants in this region
are still in disarray after the death of Baitullah
Mahsud, and even though claimants to leadership make
their appearance from time to time, it is clear that
internecine quarrels and infighting has decimated
their ranks considerably and left them in some disarray.
At the same time one must note that the drone attacks
have been very effective, in place of 1 out of 10
strikes succeeding, the ratio is now almost 10 out
of 10. This is no miracle but a clear indicator of
close coordination with Pakistan in both the field
and in the US "Command and Control Rooms"
within Afghanistan. If not a Pakistani hand on the
trigger, certainly a Pakistani presence there is making
"actionable intelligence" successfully actionable.
Even than we have reached a crossroads of sorts in
our relationship with the US, the economic portion
of the Kerry-Lugar Bill is very welcome, the "Security
Assistance" portion is downright insulting. For
the benefit of readers, I am re-publishing my article,
"CHARITY OR A RIGHT?".
The quantum of sacrifice rendered by this country
since 1979 because of Afghanistan is a matter of record.
Gen Ziaul Haq dismissed the initial figure of US$
300m offered by than US President Carter as "peanuts".
Though this figure went up substantially thereafter
with Reagan as US President, what we have received
since than from the US in aids and grants, barring
a decade plus of sanctions during the 90s (because
of the Pressler Amendment and the nuclear explosion
in 1998) for the moral, psychological, human, material,
etc losses we have suffered, can well be equated to
peanuts. Since 2001, US financial and material support
has been substantial but never enough as compensation
for the nation being put under internal seige and
virtually beggared all around in the process.
While being grateful to Senators Kerry and Lugar for
the intent, purpose (and efforts thereof) to bring
necessary succuor for the continuing miseries of the
broad mass of the people of Pakistan by the passage
in the US Congress of the Bill by their name, the
whole exercise will likely become counter-productive
to fostering goodwill among Pakistanis for the US.
This is not only unfortunate but tragic. The economic
side (Title I), US$ 1.5 billion every year for five
years, benchmarks notwithstanding, is most generous
and badly welcome to an impoverished and almost bankrupt
country, the conditionalities attached to the Security
Assistance portion (Title II), of which the figure
is not known but is believed to be cumulatively close
to US$ 1 billion per year, It is not only downright
insulting, it would be unacceptable to any self-respecting
nation. Acquiescence would mean Pakistan tacitly accepting
being actively engaged in "cross-border terrorism".
The sequence of the conditionalities spelt out is
coincidentally strikingly similar to the charge-sheet
that Indian leaders tend to tar and feather us with.
In the world's most famous democracy the inordinate
influence of lobbyists is a major imperfection. This
is not the language of the US Govt, the Indian hand
by proxy was certainly manifest in the drafting thereof.
The building of the Aswan Dam by Russia got them undying
love from the Egyptians because it impacted on their
lives and destiny. Similarly the US should have focussed
on a couple of huge dams and power projects, eg the
Mangla Dam. Cheap electricity and available water
is (and will be) badly required by the people of Pakistan.
Allocating funds for purchase of aircraft for a black
hole like PIA instead of dams and power projects is
mind-boggling! As for the Security Assistance portion,
without being insulting about its unacceptable conditionalities,
we should politely say "thanks but no thanks"
and consign it to the dustbin. One should not look
a gift horse in the mouth, but how does one resuscitate
part of a horse half dead in the water? As for the
military hierarchy getting on a high horse (no pun
intended), they got us into this mess in the first
place by day-dreaming that a clique (albeit in the
name of democracy) rendered weak by having the albatross
of NRO tied around their necks would deliver the democratic
credibility required by Pakistan after 9 years of
Musharraf's "enlightened democracy". If
anything Musharraf's policies should have taught the
khakis that leaders perennially threatened with survival
can readily offer anything, what stops them from readily
bartering away the nation's sovereignty?
There must be a paradigm shift in our thinking, pragmatic
policies must adopt international practices. One thing
is clear, we cannot afford a Taliban-Jihadist success
in Afghanistan, we have a vested interest in the US
succeeding. The Afghanistan war is possible because
US and NATO logistics are mostly transiting through
Pakistan. Certainly there are other routes to landlocked
Afghanistan by road but the distances to be covered
are fairly large, logistically difficult and far more
costly in comparison to the Karachi-Kandahar and Karachi-Kabul
routes. Russia's gas pipelines to Europe are subject
to service fees for the transportation of gas from
their origins through to the various countries consumer,
Russia and Ukraine had a very public spat about "service
charges" when Ukraine asked for an increase in
the charges for the right of way. Our roads and bridges
are being subjected to heavy and constant wear and
tear, charging fees for the transit of supplies is
our right. The quantum of fees maybe negotiable, the
right is not. Transportation charges for Pakistani
exporters and importers have gone up substantially
locally because in the US pays fairly high freight
charges to the transporters. This increases our import
bill substantially, our exports have become more costlier
and thus less competitive, overall affecting our balance
of trade adversely.
One can always depend upon the reliable Dr Farrukh
Saleem for correct statistics, he is impeccable about
the figures he quotes. His best estimates about US
money being pumped into Afghanistan, about US$ 6 billion
per month on US and NATO forces and about US$ 1.5
billion per month (US$ 18 billion annually) in support
of the Karzai Govt and the Afghan Army. If we take
US$ 72 billion annually (for US forces alone), the
conservative estimate is that about US$ 50 billion
(65%) is meant for supplies, ie. ammunition, fuel,
rations, etc. International practices for transit
fees range from 15 to 20% ie other the actual freight
charges within Pakistan. Taking the lower figure of
15% this comes to about US$ 7.5 billion annually.
Without resorting to ultimatums, we should negotiate
a figure of about US$ 6-7 billion annual "transit
fees" per year from the US for a period of 3
years, and re-negotiate again if the requirement is
still there after 3 years. In relative terms this
would still be about 30% of funds doled out to Afghanistan
directly and only 6-7 % of the total outlay annually,
in population terms 18-20 times more for each Afghan
than for every Pakistani despite Pakistan suffering
3-4 times more military and civilian casualties and
far more material damage than all of Afghanistan annually.
Pakistan should rightfully earn "transit fees"
and not hold out a beggar's bowl, prosecuting its
own "war against terrorism" and fighting
counter-insurgency at its own will "on an as
required" basis. Morally speaking, why risk a
developing country like Pakistan for the quagmire
that is Afghanistan?
The Musharraf regime did negotiate reimbursement for
use of our air bases, direct military costs, etc but
failure to drive a hard bargain stemmed mainly from
fear for his own survival. This set the stage for
the economic predicament we are in, frittering away
the funds to keep the population happy (feel-good
environment) by supporting a consumer-oriented economy
instead of using the money wisely by investing in
socio-economic projects of substance. Funds meant
for the military were diverted to supporting consumer
imports, all adding to our deficit fuel and electricity.
Dr Farrukh Saleem holds that perhaps we could perhaps
have succeeded earlier, we lack the strength (and
the political courage) to negotiate such an arrangement
now. Despite being in desperate economic straits,
our political leadership must stand up and be counted
as the leaders of any sovereign nation should. Or
stand aside and let this nation get on with its existence!
M. Ikram Sehgal