THIS AID IS DANGEROUS
Published: Tue, 07/05/2011 - 10:06 Updated: Tue, 09/27/2011 - 08:23
Pakistan will not break up in the near future, nor go bankrupt. Repeated injections of foreign aid will keep it afloat, but also feed the very forces that threaten its chief donor, the US
Hardnews Bureau Delhi
Pakistan is in the throes of countrywide consternation, with serious concern being voiced about its prospects as a country, and whether it would experience the ‘descent into chaos’ visualised by the noted Pakistani writer Ahmad Rashid. A look at trends in Pakistan’s security, political and economic life, and the policies of countries having a determining influence on it, may supply the answer.
Since May 2, 2011, a series of incidents have caused widespread shock and dismay, undermining the standing of the army leadership and security agencies — the country’s mainstay. Abbottabad raid, PNS Mehran strike, murder of Asia Times’s intrepid investigative journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad, whose mutilated body was found in a canal (he had informed friends about threats from ISI before his abduction), video footage of the Pakistan Rangers shooting an unarmed youth at point-blank range (they watched him bleed to death even as he begged for assistance) — these are just a sample of incidents that have left the public disconsolate, ruing the state of the country and deeply pessimistic about its future.
Balochistan has not received much attention in the world press, but is very much the focus of countrywide attention in Pakistan. It is a place ravaged by extreme poverty and deprivation, a burgeoning secessionist movement, atrocities by security
agencies, attacks on Punjabi settlers, and the Taliban insurgency.
Meanwhile, an explosive situation continues in the Af-Pak theatre of the ‘War on Terror’ — with no signs of any real scope for improvement. Despite sporadic drone strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces of Pakistan, the International Security Assistance Force has on hand an all-debilitating war with no visible end — so long as sanctuary and support is available on the Pakistan side of the Durand Line, from the army leadership, and from Saudi and Gulf country financiers and suppliers, whom the US has failed to deter.
Pakistan’s economy is another cause of national despair. A countrywide crippling power shortage has marred industrial output, agriculture, trade and commerce, as well as the social and domestic sectors. Rising costs of essential commodities, unprecedented high levels of unemployment, and grinding urban and rural poverty — juxtaposed with the sight of a ruling class revelling in ostentatious living — have all heightened the pervasive sense of misery, anger and hopelessness.
Then there are the mafias — in transport, narcotics, real estate — and diverse cartels that control Pakistan’s economic life, with scant respect for laws and menacing the very semblance of civilised life.
And, above all, there is rampant extremism, spread by the madrasa movement and Saudi-funded Wahabi propaganda — out to tear apart the social fabric, especially its weave of Sufism and moderate Islam. There is fear and foreboding, with murders in broad daylight of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer (whose killer, his security guard, was then showered with rose petals by lawyers) and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, devastating bomb attacks at Sufi shrines, Shia mosques and imambaras, slaughter of Ahmadiyas and repression of Christians.
Although Pakistan may seem doomed to a worse fate in the near future, clearly there is a strong mitigating factor too — support from external sources. The US, Saudi Arabia and China see a stake in ensuring the country’s survival, and even as they compete among themselves for influence in Pakistan, they form the bulwark of the wide-ranging support it receives — financial aid, food aid, civilian material supplies, military aid, political support, humanitarian assistance etc.
The US, consistent with its policy over six decades, will keep up its massive and diverse forms of assistance, and will also support Pakistan in international fora and through international organisations like IMF, UN and NATO. Its current disenchantment with Pakistan for its duplicitous policies will be superseded by its other concerns — maintaining the supply route to Afghanistan that runs through Pakistan, protecting its agencies’ access to local sources of information and logistics, and ensuring that its aircraft can enter and overfly Pakistan’s air space.
Growing Chinese support, too, is certain as it would help them further their goodwill and leverage in Pakistan. Their long-term objectives are to use Gwadar port near the mouth of the Gulf of Hormuz as a strategic asset; build rail, road and oil pipelines from the Arabian Sea to the Karakoram; exploit Balochistan’s mineral and hydrocarbon wealth, and Afghanistan’s minerals; build overland access to Iran’s hydrocarbon resources, and hydrocarbon and mineral resources in the Central Asian republics; secure the overland trade route to Europe; and safeguard the Xinxiang region from Islamic radicalisation.
Staunch Saudi support is also assured. Spreading Wahabism by massive funding of madrasas, mosques and Wahabi clerics across Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia, is a central element of Saudi foreign policy. With the Pakistani army leadership’s collaboration, this influence has now firmly gripped the country’s education system, even at the pre-school level. The Saudis would only build further on this strategic gain, and so Pakistan can rest assured of financial aid, oil and political support from them, as well as from other Gulf Cooperation Council countries.
Great Britain remains a mother figure for Pakistan. Though a much reduced power in world affairs today compared to its stature in the heydays of its empire, the UK still has a mindset, systems and procedures that explore global dimensions for its foreign and security policy. Pakistan still ranks very high in the UK’s security determinations for the same strategic reasons that had led to its creation in 1947. In its own interests, the UK would not want to see Pakistan fail as a nation-state.
Moreover, countries such as Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia, besides several European Community countries, are
expected to follow the lead of the US in supporting Pakistan.
So it is clear that Pakistan will not break up in the near future. It will not go bankrupt. It will sustain, kept afloat by massive and repeated injections of external aid. But what form will the country take? What kind of entity is it mutating into?
Certainly, the society will be radicalised along Wahabist lines, even as sectarian violence — against all other sects of Sunni Islam, Shias, Ahmadiyas, Christians and other religious minorities — intensifies and reaches new levels of brutality. The moderate elements will remain helpless spectators, while the political leadership, and more importantly, officers of the armed forces, get increasingly radicalised. Thus, openly Wahabi elements, besides ‘closet Wahabis’, may end up controlling the seals and locks to Pakistan’s nuclear weapon systems, and the technology and materials for nuclear weapons, with ominous ramifications for local, regional and global security. These very elements will be the principal and immediate beneficiaries of international aid.
Undoubtedly, significant reduction and eventual withdrawal of the US and NATO military forces from Afghanistan would lead to an internal struggle on ethnic lines. The Afghan National Army, largely non-Pashtun, would not be tenable in the preponderantly Pashtun areas of southern and southeastern Afghanistan. The illusory ‘Durand Line’ would be even more illusory as a border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The provinces of Nimroz, Helmand, Kandahar, Zabul, Ghazni, Ghor, Lowgar, Nangarhar, Parwan, Wardak, Paktia, Paktika and Khost, would comprise a separate, de facto, political space. In a few months, if not weeks, these Pashtun provinces and the whole region from Balochistan to Chitral would be dominated by Al Qaeda, even as the rest of Pakistan is rapidly radicalised with extremist Islam.
Indeed, it is a misnomer that Al Qaeda, the Taliban insurgency, and the current army leadership, as well as its broad rank and file, are unallied. Those who go by that erroneous notion do so at their peril.
This emergence of Pakistan as a major base of Al Qaeda and radical Islam with global ambitions would pose a serious threat to the West, but would, paradoxically, also draw heavily on resources from the West — the generous aid to Pakistan.
The long-term prospect, therefore, is grim and fearsome — an intensely anti-US, nuclear armed and radicalised Islamic State in Pakistan, a proactive sponsor of international terrorism and jehadi Islam, warring within itself, torn by ethnic, sectarian and separatist strife, suffering a failed economy and corrupt governance structures, and, overall, broadly posing an existential threat to the whole world.
Ironically, this emerging monstrosity would be pumped up by external support, with the US, its chief donor, unable on geopolitical considerations to resist Pakistan’s seductive attraction, but certain also to be its most prominent victim.
Winston Churchill had once said: “Appeasement is feeding the alligator hoping the beast will eat you last.”