Tuesday, November 29, 2011

US-PAK relations: Dec 2011

Anti-Americanism was high in the mid nineties among the Pakistanis. I was a student of economics and politics at Leeds. The university was awash with young Islamists who saw the Western civilization as an imperialistic exploiter and conspirator against the Muslim countries. USA was specially singled out as the arch enemy having installed puppet governments in Muslim countries and suppressing the Muslims masses through them.

I decided to investigate. Luckily, I was offered a one year module "US in the World" under Dr Christine Margerum Harlen, and I chose the USA-Pakistan relationship from 1947 to 1997 as my assessment essay. I did not disgrace myself, or so it seemed at the time. 

I could not find any conspiracy in the conduct of US foreign policy towards Pakistan and concluded that in 1997 the US policy had the following major aims in Pakistan, namely:
  • Countering terrorism
  • Stopping narcotics trade
  • Controlling immigration
  • Expanding democracy
  • Countering nuclear proliferation
  • Promoting regional peace and trade (i.e. to keep India and Pakistan away from war) 
I have lost the manuscript of the essay but its structure was to divide the US foreign policies towards Pakistan under each President and to find out the reasons for such policies in the international context, leadership preferences and biases, domestic compulsions in both countries and fate!

Pakistan, at its inception, did not get good press and was seen as an anachronistic state and the preference in the USA was for relations with India. It was the Eisenhower policy of building alliances to share the economic cost of the cold war that saw Pakistan's importance rise in the USA as the Indians had taken a non-aligned stance. The Kennedy years were marked by Kennedy's bias towards India and that had the pivotal effect of Pakistan looking towards China! Lyndon Johnson remained preoccupied with Vietnam and that combined with the civil rights movement in the USA etc meant an off and on relationship with Pakistan then under a military ruler. This frustrated both Pakistan and the USA! USA had given the weaponry to Pakistan for use against the communist enemy but Pakistan had taken it for use against India! USA law prohibited supplies to the countries engaged in wars, but the1965 war happened! Pakistanis got bitter as US stopped supplies. Nixon and Kissinger did not quite like Indira Gandhi and admired Bhutto more, and used  Pakistan's closeness with China to their advantage. This could have been a golden period for both countries but Mr Bhutto could not take advantage presumably because of his socialistic credentials.Pakistan's nuclear initiative triggered American sanctions and a further deterioration of relations resulted. Reagan and Zia era was saw a resurgence of warmth in relations thanks mainly to the hot conflict in Afghanistan in the Cold War to mutual benefit of both countries. The collapse of the USSR and the fall of Berlin Wall pushed US to follow more mundane goals in foreign policy as identified above.

That, it seems, remained the case until nine eleven. The need to invade and occupy Afghanistan brought US close to Pakistan again.

The USA policy makers maintain that they do not have any realpolitik aims in Afghanistan and that they want to help Afghanistan become a stable country presumably through the proven formula of democracy and free markets and by limiting the role of the Taliban and al Qaeeda.

If that be so, the question arises does the US still need Pakistan the same way as it did immediately after nine  eleven? Probably not.

USA should be keen to pull out of Afghanistan as the ostensible US goals in Afghanistan 'now' are rather altruistic. And, it may be that given the weakening economy USA is seeking to share and/or lower the cost/price either through exit or bringing in more partners. Such partners, it seems, are not forthcoming, thus exit seems a plausible option.

Throw in the 2012 re-election bid of Barrack Obama and the complexity of the issue increases even more.

To summarize US policy makers do not have any strategic goals in Afghanistan, their economy is down, and the president faces re-election. The ideal policy would be get out of Afghanistan. That would salvage the economy; a feel good factor for the domestic electors; and USA could hope to pay Afghanistan enough in the hope of achieving its objectives.

All else being equal, what does the USA policy constraints mean for the policy towards Pakistan?

It would be fair to say that since USA needs to exit therefore its policy towards Pakistan would either revert back to pre-nine eleven days if Pakistan does not factor in the exit strategy or may become more entrenched if Pakistan becomes a part of the exit plan.

The events of Memogate and the NATO attack killing Pakistani soldiers on 26 November 2011, may point that Pakistan is not part of the exit plan and hence USA and Pakistan will revert to pre-nine eleven relationship status, all else being equal.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What we can learn from the Army?

Nawaz Sharif and his party PMLN are on the attack against the Army in the garb of their criticism against the undefined establishment. Nawaz Sharif wants the establishment to be neutral in the political process.

In the following lines, I will try to make two points:
  1. We as a society generally and the political parties specifically can learn a great deal from the Army and other military institutes. 
  2. A neutral establishment would mean that the traditional sources of power and influence such as wealth, connections, clan, religious power, peeri-mureedee, sectarian divides, nepotistic advantage can have a free run over the masses and Nawaz Sharif having amassed his wealth would be free to do as he pleases with the not so well off.  
What Army can teach us:

Our political parties and the society generally lack well defined processes for the upward mobility of new entrants. A boy from poor area in a Katchi bastee can only hope to end up as a worker and a sloganeer for the wealthy political candidate and nothing beyond.

On the other hand, a lower class or a lower middle class boy can at a young age through hard work and merit enter the Pakistan Army, compete with the sons of generals etc, excel in his chosen field and can one day hope to command the Army!

There is merit, there is a process and there is an equal and open playing field for everyone in the Army.

Do we have that in PMLN? Imagine Hamza Sharif being a middle class blue collar worker; what chance or future he would have in any of the existing political parties in Pakistan? The answer is "NONE".

On the other hand, Hamza Sharif could hope to enter army and through hard work and merit hope to climb the ranks and end up in command. Albeit he could have faced court martial on any incidence remotely akin to the treatment metted out to Ayesha Ahad. But in our political parties he can still become a candidate for the Chief Minister! This brings out the irony in the criticism that PMLN throws at the Army!

In short, our political parties should first adopt merit, fairness, openness and discipline in their midst and learn from the Army in this regard.

Our civilian government should also learn from the social security system that Army adopts for its ranks and their families. Army has been running this system without fail. Let us look at it keenly and learn from it and perhaps adopt it for the common folk.

Sources of Power:

What powers does one use in the army to get ahead? Hard work and natural talent? What about the existing political structure? Money, connections, sifarish, biradari, greed, force, threats, violence, police, patwaris, guddees and more!

Do the political parties and our Nawaz Sharif follow the law in terms of the campaign budgets? NO. Do you think that PMLN hopes to contest the next elections based on merit and reason alone? NO.

What PMLN really wants is the dance floor to itself without any discipline enforcing bouncers who can check their excesses which are bound to be many.

So who will protect those who follow reason and merit? How do you create an equal playing field. In this respect the establishment does need to, without being apologetic, adopt the reverse discrimination policies such as:

  • Free and equal airtime on TV channels for all the candidates including independents;
  • State campaign funding for those less privileged; and
  • Strict penalties for those using biradri, thana, sectarianism or guddees and the like for political purposes etc.

Establishment needs to create an equal playing field for all and not leave the dance floor open for the dollar wielding and guns carrying politicos. That will ensure that our young and bustling politicos put on their show and have a chance of beating the old fatties.