Pakistan shackled from all sides

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It is Saturday, the 24th of September 2011 and as I look at my computer screen to begin writing an article I have abandoned my original plan to write on one of the two subjects close to my heart: the continuing global financial meltdown attributed mainly to over borrowing by some Eurozone countries or the Palestinian bid for statehood, which has finally laid to rest Obama's claims of following a moral foreign policy with no bias in favour of Israel.

Instead I feel compelled to write about Pakistan and what I regard as a serious escalating issue: of the widening US and Pakistan mistrust; and its repercussions on the hapless people of this country. On Sunday 18th September, the major news story was a statement by US Ambassador Cameron Munter on the state controlled Radio Pakistan "the attack that took place in Kabul a few days ago was the work of the Haqqani network." The commando-style attack, (reminiscent of the Mumbai Attack, the attack on the GHQ as well as on PNS Mehran) was launched on September 12 by militants who occupied an underconstruction building opposite the US Embassy in Kabul and rained rockets and gunfire on the embassy compound killing 5 Afghan policemen and 11 civilians. But what has since been unprecedented in diplomatic parlance was Munter's assertion that "there is evidence linking the Haqqani network to the Pakistan government. This is something that must stop". Sirajuddin's statement that the network is not operating in Pakistan but has moved to Afghanistan was regarded by US officials as a poorly constructed 'smokescreen' that convinced no one. The four-hour-long meeting between Chief of Army Staff Kayani and Mike Mullen in Spain obviously did not ease US concerns. Rehman Malik, the same day, had his work cut out for him: not to respond to US concerns, after all he is not the Foreign Minister, but to refuse to accept the FIA Director General's resignation tendered a month ago in protest against the Supreme Court decision compelling him to work under his subordinate Additional Director General Zafar Qureshi - a man considered by the court as the only FIA official who had undertaken a proactive transparent investigation in the NICL scandal implicating Moonis Elahi.

Meanwhile the hapless flood victims in Sindh, estimated by the government at over 7 million, continued to wait for assistance from the government that never came or were relocated to areas where food assistance was simply not sustained. Save the Children Fund estimates over one million children at risk from diseases in the flood-affected areas. The Punjab, safe from floods this year, was under the dengue deluge with the Chief Minister shutting down overcharging labs and suspending non-performing officials instead of trying to motivate assistance providers to help the people.

Monday, the 19th of September brought further disturbing events to light. The Prime Minister declared Tharparkar calamity-hit and appealed for international help and assistance from domestic political parties, though what benefit that statement brought for the people of Tharparkar remains to be seen, given the perception of poor governance in Pakistan. Fehmida Mirza blamed the National Disaster Management Authority for not reaching the flood-hit areas even one month after the floods and suggested it be wrapped up. She did not propose any alternative. President Zardari, back from his medical check-up in the UK after more than a week, set up a cell to monitor the relief activities in the flood areas while the Prime Minister set up a cell to deal with the dengue issue. The entire week past saw instances of poor governance in state-owned entities on several newspapers' front pages.

However, what was perhaps the most disturbing news of all, (though not surprising as the Prime Minister had cancelled his scheduled tour to New York to attend the UN General Assembly because of the refusal of any major world leader to meet with him, premised no doubt on US accusations) was Clinton grilling an inexperienced Hina Rabbani Khar on the Haqqani network. The State Department official stated that "the issue of counter-terrorism and particularly the issue of the Haqqani network was, as you can imagine, the first thing on the Secretary's agenda and also the last." Khar's subsequent statement that this was not true did not make any waves.

Wednesday saw the murder of 26 pilgrims on a bus destined for Iran in Mastung after their ID cards that would reveal their ethnicity were first checked. Finally, reported in the local press after it was reported in the US media was the news that Shuja Pasha had been in the US on Monday and shown "proof" of the ISI's complicity with the Haqqani network, making his denials superfluous as far as the Americans were concerned.

Thursday newspapers were full of the Chief of Army Staff's invitation to around 40 businessmen of Karachi (only 30 came) to ease their concerns over the security issues in the city. This move is rather peculiar if nor downright unprecedented in democracies. Mike Mullen stated the same day that the Haqqani network is the 'veritable arm' of the ISI and ratcheted up the temperature further by informing the Senate Committee that the ISI was actively supporting the Haqqani network and warned that "in choosing to use violent extremists as an instrument of policy the government of Pakistan - and most especially the Pakistan army and the ISI - jeopardises not only the prospect of our strategic partnership but also Pakistan's opportunity to be a respected nation with legitimate regional influence." What is this 'policy' premised on? The Haqqani network eases difficulties with the Pakistani Taliban, though the general public may find it hard to accept that attacks in Pakistan have actually declined, while the establishment allegedly provides necessary support to ensure Pakistan's role in Afghanistan once the US and Nato forces leave.

Meanwhile the country's economic team, (led by Hafeez Sheikh who left the country a few days earlier to spend time with his family resident in the US) having failed to bring macroeconomic stability through either raising the tax-to-GDP ratio or supporting austerity measures that are urgently needed flew to Washington to attend the World Bank/IMF annual meeting. Prior to departure, the story that the team would neither request reactivation of the stalled IMF programme (stalled due to failure to deliver on the agreed macroeconomic stabilisation programme) or seek a new loan has left a country reeling with the prospect of worse times to come. Hafeez Sheikh has exhibited no backbone in standing up to the shenanigans of his colleagues as well as departments under him, notably the Federal Board of Revenue that cost the exchequer billions of rupees each year in corruption. He must be held accountable for heavier than budgeted reliance on domestic borrowing as disbursement of foreign pledges remain poor, ever rising utility bills due to failure to eliminate the inter-circular debt, which has fuelled food inflation, and last but not least the state owned entities continue to be used as recruitment centers by the PPP requiring ever larger annual bailout packages.

I ask my readers again? What must I write about? The idiocy of Rehman Malik claiming the Haqqani network as sons of our soil when they are engaged in terror activities against our allies in Afghanistan; while the establishment and the Foreign Office continue to deny any complicity - a denial that is no longer seen as effective in distancing ourselves from their actions. The statement by Khar, evidently overjoyed at getting a photo-op with her and husband Barack Obama and his wife, that US may lose Pakistan's friendship if it continues to hurl accusations and Gilani's statement that both countries need each other (we rely on US money as well as military support while the US needs our engagement in its war on terror) have so far fallen on deaf ears in the US.

While holding no brief for US frequent display of double standards in policy, we must acknowledge that our own policy formulators have shown a duplicity that is unrivalled: denouncing US drone attacks that according to WikiLeaks have our politicians' and establishment's tacit support. The US has threatened to put boots on the ground in hot pursuit but may not need to as it has the wherewithal to identify targets deep in our territory, whether through paying for information or indeed through their technology for example satellites, and ensure minimum loss of US life. One cannot accuse the Pakistani civilian government of being in the driving seat with respect to foreign policy, particularly with respect to the US and India or indeed on Balochistan. However, there is an urgent need not for denials that are simply not working but on either providing proof to the world that the US accusations are false or urgently revisiting policy.

Meanwhile Pakistani politicians continue to deny revelations by WikiLeaks, Farooq Sattar having joined the ranks recently, and continue to hurl insults at each other while claiming victimisation. The government is responsible for the economic malaise that besets our country, the ethnic violence in Karachi that continues to have a distinctly criminal flavour, the failure to deliver assistance to the flood victims, the spread of disease in Sindh and Punjab and last but not least, the eruption of financial scams implicating politicians and senior government officials that the government's investigating branch patently protects.

If this brings to mind the mantra, Aik Zardari Sub Pay Bhari (one Zardari has more weight than all others) then one is compelled to define bhari as being resident in the house on the hill off Parliament Street in Islamabad - a house which has yet to clear its electricity bills. I would urge politicians and bureaucrats not to focus on their personal careers (getting a majority in the Senate or getting extensions) but to look at this country that has given them not only their wealth but their very identity. Look at the Palestinians who cannot even get statehood and look at our own actions that are compromising our statehood!


Courtesy: Business Recorder

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