Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Our misplaced optimism

Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based Think Tank. 22-11-07

Our misplaced optimism

Negroponte’s recent visit to Pakistan was the talk of the country for many days. Everyone was speculating about the purpose of his visit wondering about its effects. The opposition sympathizers tried to relate it to their conveniences hoping that he gave a stern message to Musharraf to lift emergency and hold free and fair elections facilitating their return to power. The government sympathizers thought, or maybe wished Negroponte to favor them outright allowing them to get away with their undemocratic steps. General Musharraf put it in clearest of words claiming that despite the public stand Negroponte and the Americans stand 200% behind him. Strangely we are a nation of 160 million people pinning hopes with foreigners like Negroponte who have the US interests in mind and not ours. Our optimism might be misplaced.

Let us face it American officials have the duty to protect the US interests and not ours. They have a very effective system which constantly monitors the performances of their officials. Upon slight indication of negligence they are made answerable to the elected bodies that can be ruthless protecting the interests of their masters, the people who elect them. This creates a standard behavior pattern in the US officials who guard their interests very jealously knowing fully well that their performance will be assessed mostly on this point and their job depends on it.

General DeGaul used to call the British a nation of shopkeepers in a derogatory demeanor meaning that they always keep their simple monitory interests in sight while devising their foreign policy or conducting other governmental duties. Americans being the nation inheriting the world power status from the British, followed this policy religiously, even more strictly. Despite the different rhetoric they use for different occasions, their policies are always clear, they want to achieve their objectives at the lowest possible cost to their taxpayers monetarily and in term of human lives. Foreign policies based on such principles put them in direct confrontation with the interests of the poor countries on the other side of the table because this entire cost cutting is usually at the expense of the poor country.

Pakistan and the Afghan war is a classical example of callous American cost cutting at the expense of the poor third world country. US won the cold war against a nuclear world power by spending a few billion dollars alone without losing any life. Even the expense was a fraction of what they are spending in an isolated war in a small and weak country like Iraq. The only difference is that on the other side was Pakistan which paid the most price of war in the form of extremism, terrorism, drugs, crimes etc. The list of ills we got from America’s war against the Soviets is so long that it is not possible to enumerate them in a single article. After achieving their objectives they left leaving us with the problems while we were harboring some irrational romantic notions about our relationship with them. I remember an American think tank member visiting Pakistan in the late nineties when repeatedly confronted by the Pakistani press about Americans abandoning us replied curtly “so what? You got the price for your services”.

Americans cannot be blamed for not protecting Pakistan’s interests as it is our duty not theirs. The basic thinking of the capitalist system is very insensitive following the Darwinian principles of survival of the fit. Americans openly declare that they are sincere to their interests and pursue them ruthlessly. Unfortunately if a nation naively harbors some dreamy notions in foreign policy issues, it has to pay the price for this over simplicity. And we are paying the price with interest.

Pakistan’s problem is that because its democratic traditions and institutions are weak world powers are perceived to be having the final say in determining the rulers here. This puts the US in a very powerful position leaving Pakistan nearly helpless. Rulers of all kind, military and political alike, try to outdo each other in proving that they can serve the US interests better and cheaply as compared to their rivals. In this situation a few people do benefit exorbitantly but Pakistan and specially the Pakistanis are left with the mess and the bill which can be brutally expensive.

The most effective and profitable strategy of the world powers is usually to convince the poor country that pursuing their policies is in its interests. With the near absolute monopoly in the media and other opinion making techniques it is usually not very difficult after making influential local allies. No wonder until the collapse of the Soviet Union being anti Russian was the only acceptable patriotic view here. It got so much exaggerated that communism was effectively equated with atheism and fighting it was declared a duty of all Muslims. And we believed it or were forced to do it and paid the price which even our future generations will pay. Now we are being convinced that bombing our own people is in our interests and we are following the advice religiously. We are being compelled to follow the strategies which have failed every where and now even the Americans are themselves changing them.

In world politics interests of different nations do converge at times. Japanese and a host of other nations fully exploited these situations and developed themselves but not us. Despite being a frontline state for decades we are still a poor and underdeveloped nation although with more fissures and violence. We are now equated with Iraq which is not much of a compliment. This cooperation must be closely monitored and guarded protecting our interests. History tells us that US routinely deserts allies after achieving the objectives but there are exceptions. US is a long term ally of the nations that enjoy influence over the American electorate whether in the form of voters or lobbies. With such nations the US can be generous and reliable. Case in point is Israel or Armenia. Pakistan with a significant diaspora in the US can take advantage of this favorable situation by organizing them. Our Pakistani Americans are our most valuable foreign policy asset which needs to be capitalized upon.

Authoritarian and unelected rulers are sometimes called “strongmen” but the world knows that they are most vulnerable and weak because of their flimsy legitimacy. Naturally they can serve US interests cheap so they are preferred over the elected governments who are answerable to millions despite the attractive rhetoric used routinely. These pliable autocrats are occasionally opposed basically to prevent the public backlash that might occur jeopardizing their interests. They are not opposed for higher democratic principles or for the interests of the poor nations. We must never lose sight of this fact.

Pakistan must have good relations with the only super power and take advantage of the situation but during this exercise must protect its interests and back. We should not dwell on high hopes pinned to Negropontes visit and struggle ourselves for our rights. His visit might have caused the release of political prisoners but might have encouraged the bombing in Swat also. If there is any amount of truth about it the benefits might have come at a great, rather unaffordable cost. It is less than dignified to let others openly affect my life and the country’s politics. We must protect our own interests and should not expect others to do it for us. We must take our destiny in our own hands because that is our only guarantee of a bright future. Henry Kissinger once said “the only thing worse than the American hostility is its friendship”. We must never forget this advice.

Mir kya saada hain bemar huey jis key sabab
Usi attar key londey sey dawa letay hain

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