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A shaky alliance gets shakier

Pakistan's 'sovereign and independent welfare state'

A shaky alliance gets shakier
A heavily barricaded police station in Peshawar
Silent Thinker, Lahore

September 13, 2012

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A major story circulating this week in world media concerned an American lawmaker promoting a bill to freeze United States aid to Pakistan. “We should not be giving foreign aid to any country that is not clearly our ally. This must end,” said Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky in a letter to the Senate majority leader. Paul has called for an early vote on a bill to halt all aid to Pakistan until the country releases Dr. Shakil Afridi, a physician who aided the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in tracking down Osama Bin Laden. Rand’s letter came a day after Afridi stated in an interview that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) regards the United States as the country’s “worst enemy.” While memorial services were held across the U.S. to mark the anniversary of the September 11 attacks in 2001, Pakistani news channels aired panel discussions in which commentators condemned America’s decision to launch a series of foreign wars in response to the attacks. There is no denying that the War on Terror has caused considerable damage to Pakistan in the last 11 years, during which more than 35,000 civilians and soldiers have died in suicide attacks and bomb blasts. The Global Competitiveness Report this year ranks Pakistan in the bottom 20 of 144 world economies. Analysts have calculated that Pakistan has endured economic losses of up to US$78 billion through last year because of the War on Terror. In return, the country has received direct or indirect aid of only US$11 billion. Additionally, Pakistan has received only US$8.6 billion from the Coalition Support Fund since the 9/11 attacks, according to official figures. What I worry about most is not the threats from Rand Paul or the consequences of a curb on international funds. Rather, I fear the next moves of Pakistan’s incompetent and undemocratic government, which will undoubtedly deepen existing crises. Foreign tourists no longer travel Pakistan’s roads with their cameras and backpacks. Human shadows lurch through dark streets at night amid the humid monsoon season as merciless power cuts continue. And clerics renew their calls to protect Islam from foreign religions despite almost a zero percentage of Muslims adopting other religions. The freedom movement in western Balochistan province has reached new heights of anarchy. Poor people are dying every day either by targeted killings, disasters or the ever-escalating cost of living. Drone attacks continue in the Northern Province despite severe criticism. As a retired Pakistan army officer recently told me: “We could not control the homegrown extremists whose hate continues to grow with increasing casualties in these foreign insurgencies. Our policymakers have failed to draw a safe roadmap post-9/11 in the national interest and have mishandled their collaboration with the U.S.” He added: “The country has lost its dignity in bowing to [the U.S.’s] every whim and hoping for more dollars. The preoccupation of corrupt rulers in their quest for power and in their ignorance of increasing fundamentalism has sparked further sectarian and ethnic violence.” The country is now quite literally caught between a rock and a hard place. The Pakistani Taliban blame the establishment for pro-U.S. policies, while the U.S. is becoming more suspicious of our legitimacy as an ally in the War on Terror, especially after the recent statements by Afridi. The fact remains that mistrust between the two sides has always been there. Documents released by Wikileaks last year show that the U.S. placed the ISI on a list of designated terror organizations. Other documents show the U.S. believed it failed to locate Osama Bin Laden sooner because the ISI tipped him off. It is vital to understand that peace can never be imported. No amount of foreign aid can eliminate the extremist mindset. We cannot afford to be at war with a superpower. But at the same time, we have to find ways to coexist peacefully. Our leaders must contain the Pakistani Taliban. The formation of counter-extremist groups in the same localities might be a place to start, and a stable Afghanistan is in the best interests of Pakistan. Perhaps the present government is unable to take the country out of this quagmire. The frail regime, nearing its fifth year in power, has only complicated the post-9/11 scenario. Its successor after the upcoming general election may herald a new spring for Pakistan’s sovereign and independent welfare state. Silent Thinker is the pseudonym of a Catholic commentator based in Lahore 
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