Lahore — Ever since 9/11 and the subsequent 2001 invasion of Afghanistan by the US, Pakistan’s world has been in turmoil.
Officially America’s ally in the so-called War on Terror, Pakstan has actually been one of its biggest victims. Just recently, Pakistan was punished as the US Congress passed a bill imposing more conditions on aid, including specifically linking receipt of that aid to Islamabad’s cooperation in the War on Terror, and to efforts to curb terrorists, including the Haqqani network.
Myra McDonald in her recent article states:
“The society which is being shaped by the Afghan war in ways which neither Pakistan’s neighbors, nor western powers, would choose. The airstrikes, coming soon after the forced resignation of Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani for allegedly seeking American help to curb the power of the military, have added fresh oxygen to a combustible mix of anti-Americanism and religious nationalism enveloping Pakistan.”
So where should Pakistan go from here?
A good start would be for Pakistan to work at becoming less dependent upon the US. For while the interests of Pakistan and the US may converge on many points, including in Afghanistan, on many deeper, more vital points, they do not.
The US, understandably, wants a greater involvement of India in Afghanistan, as a counterbalance to Iran and China in that nation. This however, is naturally the opposite of Pakistan’s interest.
The issue in Afghanistan is neither the Haqqanis, the Taliban, nor anyone else. The problem in Afghanistan is foreign involvement, and particularly the presence of foreign military forces.
Pakistan lies ravaged, with her economy destroyed, thanks to the country’s deep involvement in the “War on Terror.” Until and unless NATO (really US) troops withdraw, there will be no peace, in either Afghanistan or Pakistan.
Without peace, Pakistan continues on the path of destabilization.
However, the departure of foreign troops does not seem imminent. According to Ben Farmer of the British Telegraph newspaper, the Obama administration is now “negotiating” a “pact” with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai that could leave American military “trainers” — thousands of them — as well as special operations forces, private mercenaries and the US Air Force, settled into some of the enormous Afghan bases the Pentagon has built there, where they will stay until as far into the future as 2024.
Pakistan should take steps to hasten the departure of US troops from its neighborhood. If Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in cooperation with Iran can outmaneuver Bush, Obama and the Pentagon and convince the US to sign the US-Iraq Withdrawal Agreement, Pakistan too, can convince NATO that the presence of their forces in Afghanistan is self defeating.
It shouldn’t be too hard. As Ahmed Rashid, in his article, The Way out of Afghanistan, points out, “None of the attempts at rebuilding the Afghan state over the past nine years have really worked. What assurance is there that they will work by 2014?”
Also importantly, Pakistan must expand on its trade base on two levels; regional and international.
Regionally, the country must strengthen friendly relations with nations of southwest Asia region, entering into trading contracts and other “soft” interactions with Turkey, China, Iran, Nepal and Sri Lanka (according to Sri Lanka Customs statistics, the value of total trade between both countries was $345 million in October, representing a 4.5 percent average annual growth from a level of $169 million in 2005).
More broadly, Pakistan must press not for aid, but for market access to western countries. US has recently suspended some $800 million in aid to Pakistan (mostly military). This may be offset by China, our largest trading partner. Pakistan received some $9 billion in infrastructure and mining aid from China last year alone! However, Pakistan must increase trade with other western countries, too. Removing eggs from the US aid basket just to replace them with Chinese eggs could eventually make for trouble!
The point is that the recent policy of limiting trade and aid has given the US immense leverage to call the shots where Pakistan is concerned, because Pakistan has allowed itself to be too dependent upon this one connection. There are lessons to be learnt here: Political independence and sovereignty require economic independence.
So the question then is: Is Pakistan ready to be finally politically independent?
Yasmeen Ali is a Pakistani attorney and university professor who lives in Lahore. She offered this article, which ran originally in her own blog, PakPotpourri2, to ThisCantBeHappening! for publication in the US. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org