Under the Af-Pak club knife
By Imtiaz Gul
The News Aug 15, 2009
Almost 15 countries, including the US, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Spain, France, Australia, Japan and Italy, have appointed special envoys to advise on how to help Pakistan sail out of rough waters. The overriding objective is to protect Pakistan against radical gangs, including those inspired by Al Qaeda or Mulla Omar’s Taliban. Their desire to prevent Pakistan from slipping into further chaos or from falling into the hands of the hodgepodge of militants also translated in the $5.28 billion commitments at the April 17 Tokyo conference. Of the $5.28 billion pledged for 2009 and 2010, Pakistan expected to receive at least $2 billion by December 2009.
But, as evidenced by remarks of Minister of State for Economic Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar during a joint press conference along with Richard Holbrooke, the US point man on Af-Pak, Pakistan feels frustrated by the non-realisation of the Tokyo commitments so far.
While the Pakistani frustration makes sense from the cash-starved government’s point of view, a number of factors go against quick disbursement of the financial pledges made in Tokyo by the Friends of Democratic Pakistan (FoDP).
Meetings with, and statements by, at least three Af-Pak envoys between July 17-24 provide ample explanation as to why members of the international support group – namely FoDP and the Af-Pak club — are reluctant in matching Pakistani desires.
A few observations and conclusions drawn from these meetings and statements by Af-Pak ambassadors merit mention in the context of Pakistan’s expectations of the friendly countries.
One of the most frequently quoted observations relates to government’s inability to match friendly countries’ eagerness to bail Pakistan out. Obligations are valid both for the donors as well as the recipient country and in this case Pakistan must prepare plans which are credible and practical, one of the envoys observed, apparently feeling frustrated by the snail-paced preparation by the key ministries as to where it plans to place the donor money.
Many Af-Pak envoys believe the government is high on rhetoric and low on concrete and credible planning and development strategies. The absence of convincing explanation as to how exactly the government proposes to spend the money pledged by the FoDP.
Holbrook probably made the most pertinent remark during the press conference in Islamabad when he said: “We are ready to help but it is Pakistan that shall have to take care of some of very fundamental issues” (that have hardly changed since 1980s when an American expert attempted to assess Pakistan’s needs).
Another envoy remarked that “if it were for Pakistan alone, they would have furnished a long shopping list for us but they need to demonstrate their seriousness about addressing fundamental issues of governance and management.”
Secondly, most of them also point out that Pakistan’s tax base is very narrow. They ask as to when the big feudals (who are an essential part of almost every government), industrialists and businessmen will agree to pay taxes which are in accordance with their incomes and commensurate with their life styles.
Thirdly, most of the Af-Pak envoys seem to have coordinated their response to the Malakand military operation. They appreciate it, probably taking cue from their American colleague. But, if scratched for detail, questions as to whether the entire operation reflects a sea-change in the establishment’s view of the militants or whether it has been a selective approach remain unanswered.
Fourthly, doubts still surround as to whether groups such as TTP and Lashkar-e-Taiba are also being taken on as a logical consequence of the Swat and Waziristan operations and as to whether people like Baitullah, Hakeemullah, Faqeer Mohammad, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, the Haqqanis and Maulvi Omar will also be hunted down.
It is difficult to talk of differentiation among these people – good Taliban, bad Taliban – when talking of how to counter terrorists. Such a differentiation amounts to peddling excuses for particular state or personal agendas. So runs the argument by one of the envoys, who says that the militants obviously use ideology as their weapon, and socio-economic security gaps and poor governance provides them with the ammunition to attack the state. The special envoys say that government and the military must display unflinching resolve vis-a-vis these ideological-driven agents of terrorism.
Fifthly, some of the envoys feel frustrated by government’s apathy to basic issues of governance and justice delivery systems. We must all understand that this is not America’s or Europe’s war alone. It is everybody’s war and if some people fail to understand this, that is like playing into the hands of those fighting states.
Much more than the promised financial help, what must worry the Pakistani leaders most is the fact that the Af-Pak club is increasingly becoming a prism through which these countries jointly monitor and adjudge Pakistan. The intense engagement with Afghanistan and Pakistan on the one hand, and the agreement on the Indian importance for the entire region, is resulting in unprecedented unanimity of thought and coordination of action among these countries. The British high commissioner’s July 29 assertions that “there are strong indications that OBL, Zwahiri and Mulla Omar are hiding in Pakistani territories and that Pakistan must help get to them” also underscore the unanimity of the Af-Pak club demands on Pakistan.
The emerging international consensus on Pakistan’s internal political dynamics, led by Richard Holbrook, is both a boon and a bane. It represents a daunting challenge for Islamabad to intelligently lap up the boon and discard the bane in a way suitable to its interests. The government must understand the FoDP is not a coordination forum but a mechanism to channel aid based on strategies that the government puts on table for donors’ consideration. But the aid will come through only when the special envoys approve these strategies. Finance Adviser Shaukat Tarin fears an up to $400 million shortfall in the Tokyo pledges but in reality it may be much larger if scepticism surrounds Pakistan’s intentions and aid utilisation capabilities.
(The author is the chairman, Centre for Research and Security Studies).