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From the desk of Chief Editor

Dear Readers,
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

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