- The war on terror was a windfall for Pakistan?
On 1 January, 2018, Donald Trump issued this statement via Twitter: “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” This statement has upset almost every Pakistani from every walk of life. In his statement, Trump indicated a change in policy regarding Pakistan.
Every country that provides aid puts its personal interests first and foremost. The US aid given to Pakistan after 9/11 was in exchange for the military operation against the Taliban on Pakistan’s north-western border. This was done in order to curtail the insurgency in Afghanistan from Pakistan with the aid of Pakistan’s army.
The war on terror compelled Pakistan to change its policy towards militias operating in its territory. These militias could have, in the future, become so strong that it would have been impossible for the state to control them. Moreover, this war on terror made it possible for legislators today to think about mainstreaming the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Without the myriad of military operations in the region, this would have been unimaginable. Therefore, the war on terror was a windfall for Pakistan, not just in terms of billions of dollars in aid, but also in terms of getting rid of certain militias which had plagued the country for years.
However, certain sectors of Pakistan were not happy with the policy shift. These parties included the weapons black markets, drug lords, and smugglers who operated in and throughout the FATA, religious leaders of powerful seminaries, and the establishment itself. But, in the end, they had to capitulate to mounting international pressure.
Any country’s sovereignty is directly proportional to its economic independence. Relations with fellow countries can be based on equality only if you are economically strong, otherwise, as a nation your sovereignty is bound to be infringed upon
Fast forward to today: the US is questioning Pakistan’s resolve as a loyal ally. It is thereby questioning if Pakistan is actively and whole-heartedly fighting the Taliban. Pakistan maintains that it has abandoned its old ally, but the US does not seem convinced.
To understand Donald Trump’s recent statement, it is imperative to understand his mindset. He is a businessman who understands the power of money and knows very well how and when to use said power.
Looking at the internal situation of Pakistan, our economy is on the brink of collapse. To have US aid suspended in such situation is a matter of concern. The dollar price will rise even further, resulting in higher inflation. The manufacturing capacity of the country has not improved due to an energy shortfall. Both public and private sectors heavily rely on imported goods, including food, clothing, and pharmaceuticals.
What exactly does Trump want? A popular theory is to claim that he is part of Jewish and Christian conspiracies, whose sole object is to harm a major Muslim country with a strong military. That is fine for an emotional speech in a political rally, but a far cry from actual realities.
It is true that without the backing of Pakistan the Taliban would not have been able to occupy Kabul in the 1990s. It is also true that at the moment India is exerting deep influence in Afghanistan and it is therefore it has become necessary for Pakistan to counterbalance its influence there. For this purpose, Pakistan needs strong groups in Afghanistan with the ability to reduce Indian influence therein. However, will the support of these factions in Afghanistan to achieve this objective isolate Pakistan in the world? Are the means employed by Pakistan to counter Indian influence in Afghanistan acceptable to the outside world, or should it change its policy and consider different options to achieve its goals?
For Pakistan to change its policy, the civil government must have absolute authority. When the civil government is not powerful, the policy making options for state institutions are reduced and strategic decisions are not taken.
Pakistan somehow sustains democracy, but the democratic government is not powerful enough to bring about a major change in the policy regarding India and Afghanistan. You can judge the weakness of the civil government by the fact that within the country it was not able to repeal the black FCR law in the northern areas despite both full support from opposition parties and overwhelming public demand.
The change US wishes to see in Pakistan’s foreign policy is only possible if democracy gains strength, which does not look likely in the near future.
The lack of flexibility in our foreign policy has strained Pakistan’s relations with its neighbours. Our ruling elite has falsely assumed that as China is investing heavily in Pakistan. They assume it will help Pakistan tackle its internal, external, and economic issues as well, and therefore Pakistan does not need aid from any other country. It is not wise to completely rely on another country, no matter how good an ally it might seem to be.
Any country’s sovereignty is directly proportional to its economic independence. Relations with fellow countries can be based on equality only if you are economically strong, otherwise, as a nation your sovereignty is bound to be infringed upon. Ex prime minister Nawaz Sharif said: a slave democracy is a type of dictatorship; similarly, economic dependence on foreign states leads to neo-imperialism.
We should learn from history and not forget that in the 1960s Pakistan and the US were on very friendly terms but the US deceived Pakistan in the War of 1971. Countries only progress under democratic governments and western forces too exclusively bully countries with weak democracies.
Dictator-controlled Syria and Egypt are prime examples. Russia is calling the shots in Syria and the US has a strong influence in Egypt. Iraq, after establishing a democratic government, now talks to superpowers like the US and Russia without qualms. To achieve status and honour as a country on the world stage, you must improve your economy and strengthen your civilian government so that it can make the necessary decisions.