Tell Us the whole truth – Harris Khalique

In Islamabad the other day, many political leaders belonging to the PML-N and the PTI and their sidekicks like the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), journalists and commentators soaked in Islam and Pakistani nationalism who have been clamouring for us to lead an honourable life without being treated shabbily by the Americans and their allied western countries, were offered an opportunity to say a big ‘no’ to all western aid and break the begging bowl.

US Secretary of Defence, Chuck Hagel, has called on the prime minister, the army chief and the country’s senior leadership to remind them of the coalition support fund, the reimbursement of expenses and, on top of it all, the grant-in-aid which amounts to billions of dollars in both civil and military heads that we receive from the Americans. He said, like a diplomat would, that if the Nato supplies are not restored via Torkham in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it will be hard to convince the American Congress in Washington DC to continue providing aid dollars to Pakistan.

Isn’t it but fair to remind us of the aid we receive from them at this juncture? They haven’t yet reminded us of the dominance they have on the international financial institutions, the World Bank, the ADB and the IMF, who fund us in order to run our development projects. They have also not jogged our memory yet for the trade quotas, the military spare parts, the other soft schemes in education, etc which even if we are not entirely dependent on the US for, are funded by mostly other western allies of the US like the British and other Europeans.

Why should we be demanding, expecting or accepting any aid in the first place from countries whose supplies in Afghanistan we wish to block? The logic is simple for anyone except perhaps the PTI leadership who fail to see anything wrong with stopping Nato supplies on the one hand and accepting American and western aid to help run the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government and its developmental programmes on the other. The PTI-led government had the imprudence to accept a Euro80 million (approximately $100 million) aid to help better governance in six districts of the Malakand division – virtually on the eve of blocking the Nato supplies.

How many of the EU member countries are a part of Nato-Isaf is anybody’s knowledge. As sit-ins of the PTI and the JI continue and truckers are stopped from crossing over into Afghanistan, the much astute and worldly wise civil service of the province continues as usual in negotiating fiscal and administrative issues around new and old development initiatives in the social sector, governance and accountability, access to justice, etc with a number of donor western countries or other American allies like Japan besides smoothly running the existing foreign-funded projects. Why doesn’t the national political leadership, struggling to revive Pakistan’s honour, stop all this reliance on charity and foreign assistance?

The British were no less a part of the American war effort, in Afghanistan or Iraq. The current war in Afghanistan, which saw 38 countries involved in fighting Al-Qaeda and the Taliban after 9/11, had the backing of the UN. The British even participated with the Americans in the Iraq war which did not even have any UN endorsement. In Afghanistan, the British sent young prince Harry, third in line from the throne, to serve in their military.

Today, federal and provincial governments, particularly of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are large recipients of British aid. In Punjab, so much of the education provision and reform agenda in public schooling is dependent on British aid. There are other programmes and projects in both Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which aim at making the government more efficient and effective currently funded or being negotiated with the British.

The British government has committed to provide 660 million pound sterling (about US$1 billion) only in the area of education in the next few years across Pakistan. There are other funding streams as well which support budget and off-budget projects. The bulk of this funding goes to Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. There will be no justification to accept British aid by the same logic that those fighting to revive Pakistan’s national honour apply on the Americans. Therefore, the federal, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governments, which are dominated by these parties, may consider not accepting British aid either.

Let us now come to the American development assistance that Chuck Hagel has spoken about more directly. This newspaper reported last month that some development assistance projects supported by the Americans are nationwide while some others are limited to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and/or Fata. These are multimillion dollar programmes spread over three to five years in most cases.

These programmes and projects include, but are not limited to, the Pakistan Transition Initiative which is worth $102 million, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Reconstruction Programme of $82 million, the Conflict Victims Support Programme worth $2.5 million, the Gomal Zam Irrigation Project which will cost $80 million, a number of projects in the area of agriculture policy, agribusiness and innovation which have a value of $75 million at least. The Power Distribution Programme will cost the Americans $170 million while they are providing merits and need-based scholarships to students which worth $7 million and funding a teacher-training project worth $37 million.

There are other large, medium and small-scale projects in the fields of governance, health, civil society support, justice and law, water and sanitation, municipal services, et al. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa alone, over $500 million are being spent on the above mentioned projects and thematic areas. It defies any logic that the PTI-led government doesn’t stop taking this aid from the Americans and their allies at once while blocking the Nato-Isaf supply routes. How can they take a moral position and justify it? The same is true for those from the PML-N raising hollow slogans in the centre and in Punjab.

Whether one agrees with them or not, it is the prerogative of the elected governments, be they be led by the PML-N or the PTI, to take on the US or any other external power if they think our national honour and integrity are put at stake. It is also their prerogative to revise the terms of engagement with these countries if the political parties think that it is seen to benefit the country or the citizens whose interests these parties are supposed to serve.

But how can we continue to accept development assistance in millions of dollars and then stare into the eyes of the western countries we are unhappy with from a high moral ground? I haven’t even touched upon the hardware reliance we have and the substantial assistance we receive from the western countries, primarily the US to keep our defence formidable.

Those of us with some background in engineering or physical sciences know well the difference between the Chinese, North Korean and local technology on the one hand and the American, British and German technology on the other. Khan Sahib is convinced though that he would have shot down the American drone if he were the prime minister. I imagine the pain he would have felt when using an American F-16 to do this job.

Rather than raising slogans or doing brinkmanship with the Americans and the west, the valiant political and military leadership must come forward and tell the citizens of Pakistan that we will not accept any western assistance. And we must also be ready for any sanctions as a consequence.

Like any other courageous people, we must be able to live through tough times with much more energy shortage than now or ever before, set rations of food for each household, massive price hike as a result of a rupee devalued to at least five hundred per dollar in the first go and foreign reserves reduced to peanuts for an import-based economy like ours. If our leadership is not ready to take that path, they should strategise more pragmatically, stop being hypocritical and put an end to this completely misleading rhetoric.