Reality dictates reopening of NATO supplies
By Babar Ayaz
Basic litmus test which a government’s action or a policy should pass through is simple: that its outcome should be in the interest of the teeming millions of the country. This broad test is universal and applied by the pro-people journalists and politicians. Unfortunately, in Pakistan it is applied sparsely.
Now let’s litmus test the belated government (read the establishment) decision to reopen the NATO/ISAF forces supply route from Pakistan. As expected there is uproar on this decision from the rating-seeking media and right wing politicians. First, it should be clear that what outcome we want for the people of Pakistan — ego massaging of the people, or the economic relief for the people? The proponents of high national values and pride of the country talk about the national sovereignty, blood of Salala Check Post martyrs, Pakistan selling itself cheap and ban on drone attacks. Those who are the real decision makers have the stark realities in front — one, Pakistan cannot afford to be completely isolated from the world’s most powerful 48 countries that form the NATO/ISAF alliance. Why? Almost 42% of Pakistan’s exports go to these countries; two, the majority of foreign assistance and investment comes from these countries; three, Pakistan’s air force, navy and army are badly dependent on US and other Western countries armaments and their spares; four, these countries have the power to get Pakistan slapped with the worst sanctions for harbouring terrorist groups like the Afghan Taliban including Haqqani group, Lashkar-e-Taiba and other franchisees of Al-Qaeda; five, as Pakistan moves away from or rather takes a hostile posture towards the US and its allies the Indian influence with them increases in geometrical proportion; six, stalemate with the US and its allies was sidelining Pakistan from the Afghanistan solution table; and most importantly it has to be realised that Pakistan can be economically defeated without firing a single bullet if the West and India collude. Net impact of all these – the poor man will suffer the most, not the Prado and double cabin Mullahs who preach a high nationalistic line.
It is indeed easy to sit in the opposition and on talk-shows, where no single questions can be discussed in depth, and brag about national pride and sovereignty. Some politicians give the example of Iran and Turkey that they have managed to withstand the pressure of US and its allies. Let’s take Iran first. Iran has oil and gas dollars which it is earning in spite of sanctions. It is the major supplier of oil to India, China, some European countries and Africa. This helps it to keep the domestic prices suppressed, but at the same time as the money is getting concentrated in the hands of the rentier classes the poverty is increasing. It is smuggling oil to all its neighbours like Pakistan and Afghanistan, which according to a former Pakistani diplomat is even used by the US army.
Now we move to Turkey. It is conveniently forgotten that while Turkey had taken a stand not to support the invasion of its neighbour Iraq, but it also did not give sanctuary and arms to the Sunni militants who were resisting the US forces. Unlike Pakistan, Turkey has not used armed Jihadi groups against any of its neighbours as a tool to further its foreign policy. It has a strong economy and is almost part of Europe. It is fortunately not placed next to turbulent Afghanistan. In spite of an Islamic party’s rule Turkey maintains diplomatic relations with Israel. And, the major point missed by our zealots is that Turkey is part of the NATO forces that are fighting along with the US in Afghanistan and not covertly supporting Taliban like Pakistan.
Let’s take a look at the other myth that people of Pakistan are against opening the NATO line and are anti-US. The polls by the US agencies cannot be accepted as gospel. In the first place their sample size is too small to know what people think and second, it is how the question is framed matters and leads to a desired answer. Before moving forward and taking you on a quick trip of Pakistan let me make it clear that I am not saying people like the US, but that they want normal relations and not an antagonistic relationship with it. They don’t want to suffer economic hardships as a consequence of upping the false pride ante. Sweeping statements regarding the so-called public opinion of the 180 millions of Pakistan are heard ad nauseam. The fact is that Pakistani public opinion has never been monolithic because it is a multi-ethnic and multi-structural society. Just analyse how different people think in Pakistan. Both Baloch and Pakhtun population of Balochistan is not anti American as we are told. The Baloch are more anti Pakistani establishment and seek the American help to get them their rights, if not the independence; and Balochistan Pakhtuns mostly led by Samad Khan Achakzai believe that Pakistani agencies support to Afghan Taliban should be stopped to restore peace in their area. Travel down to Sindh. The Sindhi majority votes for PPP which is not an anti-American party and the nationalists again want the US help to get independence of Sindh. The Urdu-speaking Sindhis of this province vote for MQM which is a secular pro-West political part. The businessmen of Karachi back them fully. Further to the North in the Sariaki belt the people are docile and are ambivalent on such issues of foreign policy. The majority votes for PPP. Yes, there is a strong militant Islamist strand in some pockets of Sariaki areas, which is in fact closely tied up with Tehrik-i-Taliban and Al Qaeda. They are powerful because they have guns and trained militants, but in numbers they do not represent the public mood. The real anti-US sentiment is in central and Northern Punjab that too in the middle and lower middle classes who are directly affected by the jingoism and propaganda by the religious parties and media. Even in central Punjab the sizeable businessmen know which side their bread is buttered. However, the mood of this area also depends on the political stance of three parties – PML (N), PPP, TIP and the mother of all parties — The Army. Up in the North, close to the war theatre the lines are drawn more clearly – ANP and PPP which have the majority, therefore it can be said represent the popular mood are not anti-US. On the contrary ANP is at war with Taliban as over 500 office bearers have been killed by the TTP. In the last elections in spite of the anti-West hype what happened was that the majority voted for the parties which were anti-Talibanisation and pro-West. The religious parties, which are in the forefront of Difa-e-Pakistan Council – DPC, secured only a handful of seats. Given this ethnic and political tour, the media should be careful in making sweeping statements and should take the sample surveys with a bottle full of salt.
The problem with Pakistan’s establishment is that right from its inception it has fallen victim to the propaganda it generates. After the May 2 Abbottabad humiliating fiasco which rubbished our intelligence agencies intelligence; and security forces security preparedness, the media, political parties abetted with the establishment in deflecting the people’s anger to the US to cover up their failure. Whether the DCP was cobbled by the establishment or it appeared logically is immaterial. What is important is that their viewpoint was projected and amplified to save the skins of those who failed the nation. Now when forced by the domestic weaknesses and international pressures right decisions have to be taken, the same hype built against US and its allies is challenging the sane decision. As sanity and religious and nationalistic extremism are bound to clash – the people will continue to suffer the instability. (firstname.lastname@example.org)