Published in The News on Oct 2, 2009
The Kerry-Lugar bill, just passed by the US Congress and expected to be signed soon by President Obama, leaves an odd taste in the mouth. After wading through its tortuous prose, Pakistan seems less an ally than a rogue state straight out of the pages of science fiction.
A convicted rapist out on parole would be required to give fewer assurances of good conduct for the future than Pakistan is required to give in order to receive assistance under this legislation.
And for this the Pakistani nation is expected to go down on its knees and thank the US for its unbounded munificence. If this is American friendship, hostility sounds like a better option.
For many Pakistanis Hussain Haqqani is less our man in Washington than our suspect in Washington. To think he stood guardian of our interests when this package was being put together. Pakistan is not tough enough to afford his services. He would be doing everyone a favour, except of course himself, if he returned to his teaching job in Boston.
This bill implies — nay, explicitly states — that Pakistan has been a nuclear proliferator; and that parts of its territory are safe havens for terrorist networks. Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad are listed as such groups. Quetta and Muridke are listed as bases of terrorist operations.
Kerry-Lugar requires the US President to “develop a comprehensive interagency regional security strategy to eliminate terrorist threats and close safe havens in Pakistan, including by working with the government of Pakistan — to best implement effective counterinsurgency and counterterrorism efforts in and near the border areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, including the FATA, the NWFP, parts of Balochistan and parts of Punjab.”
Doesn’t this language suggest that the US President is also president of FATA, the NWFP, parts of Balochistan and parts of Punjab? This is not wounded sovereignty but ceded sovereignty. And for what? A few pieces of silver.
US military spending in Afghanistan every year is close to 60 billion dollars. Kerry-Lugar foresees 1.5 billion dollars a year to us, for five years. This is being hailed as a strategic partnership. Sounds more like the cheapest rent-a-nation contract in modern history.
This at a time when the Pakistan army is doing a better job of fighting terrorism in Pakistan than ISAF forces are doing in fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistani casualties in this struggle far exceed anything suffered by the US. While the US is thinking of getting out of Afghanistan — and American generals are openly saying that at current troop levels the fight against the Taliban is un-winnable — the Pakistan army, in a remarkable turnaround, is rediscovering a new (and welcome) resolve against terrorism.
Pakistan should be commended for this achievement. Instead it is being asked to blacken its face and be grateful for doing so. Have the geniuses who make up the government of Pakistan read this bill? Has the Foreign Office studied it?
The US Secretary of State is furthermore required to certify that Pakistan has made progress on matters such as “ceasing support, including by any elements within the Pakistan military or its intelligence agency, to extremist and terrorist groups, particularly to any group that has conducted attacks against United States or coalition forces in Afghanistan, or against the territory or people of neighbouring countries.”
These are unexceptionable aims. Pakistan should have nothing to do with supporting terrorist networks. But all this was in the past and if it is the past we are revisiting would it not be appropriate for the US Congress to offer a word of apology for the US’s own role in the 1980s in making heroes out of the ‘mujahideen’ — the precursors of the Taliban and from whose midst was born Al Qaeda?
Afghanistan’s present troubles can be traced to the US decision in 1989 to wash its hands off Afghanistan after Soviet forces left. Already there is no shortage of signs pointing to US weariness with the present Afghan war. Shouldn’t the secretary of state also certify that the US again will not cut-and-run from Afghanistan?
This is less an assistance programme than a treaty of surrender. The Simla Accord signed after our defeat at the hands of India in 1971 did not reflect such depths of humiliation. Yet President Asif Zardari and our man in Washington are hailing this exercise as a diplomatic triumph. If this is a triumph, the word disaster would have to be redefined.
Yes, President Zardari is an elected president. Yet that doesn’t stop him from being a clueless figure. He may be a great one for cutting business deals. But he is out of his depth in international waters. That in itself would be no great disability — no president, Pakistani or American, being required to be a Nobel laureate — provided he had good advisers. That precisely is where the rub lies. The people closest to Zardari don’t make up for his weaknesses. They rather duplicate and magnify them.
It is a safe bet that President Zardari has not read Kerry-Lugar and never will. It is a taxing document and the prose is not easy. But he is a victim of his own insecurities –the reputation which dogs him — and it is these insecurities which make him a pawn in others’ hands.
Gen Pervez Musharraf post-Sep 2001 succumbed to American diktat and pressure at the sound of Colin Powell’s telephone call. Powell was the civilized face of the Bush administration, the least threatening person in what came close to being a diabolical cabal. Yet it was Powell — not Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld — before whom Pakistan’s commando-general crumbled.
Musharraf at least had the excuse that the US was in a fearful mood and ruin threatened Pakistan if it did not go along with American wishes. Zardari has no such excuse. Pakistan, after the army’s success in Swat and the cordon thrown around Waziristan, is now on a firmer wicket — the mists of equivocation and vacillation having long since evaporated. But Kerry-Lugar makes it appear as if Pakistan has nothing to hold on to and is ever so grateful for any crumbs thrown in its direction. Zardari and company are agreeing to its terms in the full possession of their insecure senses.
But, say official hailers, Kerry-Lugar triples civilian aid to Pakistan. They are right but on terms and conditions that amount to a ten-fold increase in national humiliation. Pakistan needs all the assistance it can get. It needs to be close friends with the US. After all, fighting Talibanism is testing all our resources — and our resolve. But we don’t have to walk through filth and slime to get such assistance.
By fighting terrorism we do no favour to the US. Talibanism and Al Qaeda are anathema to our founding principles. Iqbal was one of the greatest theoreticians of modern Islam — whose interpretation of religion outraged traditional mullahs. Jinnah was a modernist who would not have understood what Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar stand for.
Standing up to Talibanism terrorism means safeguarding the idea of Pakistan. This is a chance to reinvent ourselves as a nation, to go back to first principles. But Kerry-Lugar, insofar as it reads like a charter of dictation, demeans and diminishes the struggle we are engaged in.
It suggests that Pakistan is a recalcitrant partner, needing to be disciplined and cajoled. It makes it sound as if we are being led unwillingly to the water and would not do what we are doing but for the silver pieces offered us by the US Congress.
It makes us look criminal, in our eyes and in the eyes of the world. It is a certificate of juvenility and if we had any self-respect we would have nothing to do with it. No need to act emotionally. All that is required is a polite no thank you to America. Far from landing us in any trouble it will raise our stock worldwide. And if we remain firm in our resolve to fight terrorism, it is the world which will beat a path to our door.
But for this we need something better than the pathetic team at the helm which is merely adding to our woes. Will Prime Minister Gilani have someone read the small print of Kerry-Lugar to him? Will the National Assembly wake up? And will the PML-N get its act together? Coming days are crucial.