WASHINGTON DIARY: Huffing and puffing —Dr Manzur Ejaz

Ultimately, after the US consultants and intermediaries have taken their cut, Pakistan will get about three to four hundred million dollars which cannot do much when the country is several billion dollars short of its obligations and needs

The saga of the Kerry-Lugar aid bill to Pakistan has become as surreal as it can get. Every concerned sane person is wondering what the fuss is about. Conditions attached to this bill are the same as in most previous such bills. Furthermore, why is such a big deal being made out of the bill when it cannot go very far in pulling Pakistan out of its ongoing economic crisis?

I asked the Washington correspondent of a major Pakistani English daily about the reason for all this huffing and puffing by the media, diplomats and the government. He put the entire blame on Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington, Mr Husain Haqqani. In his view, all the media criticism originated because of Mr Haqqani’s assurances that he has convinced US legislators to drop the conditions and pass an unconditional aid bill for Pakistan. It turned out that other than some rephrasing —for example, “India” was changed to “neighbouring countries” — the language of the bill remained the same as the original and most of the conditions still attached to it.

Such diplomatic ventures to please the bosses in Islamabad have been seen before. Most probably, the passage of the Kerry-Lugar Bill was timed with President Zardari’s visit to New York. Washington-based Pakistani diplomats always try to use such manoeuvres to show that they are delivering concrete results. In this case, it must have been planned to create the impression that President Zardari is not returning home empty handed. And the diplomats wanted to take credit.

It turned out that President Zardari has returned empty handed because the Friends of Democratic Pakistan and other such groups that Zardari tried to woo did not do much beyond issuing encouraging statements. The Kerry-Lugar Bill was already in the works and had been cleared by dozens of US Congressional committees and its passage was a foregone conclusion. Therefore, it does not have much to do with President Zardari’s visit. Furthermore, the promised aid by this piece of legislation has been sold to Pakistanis many times over by US and Pakistani diplomats.

Washington, assisted by Pakistani diplomats, has been using a clever method to mislead the Pakistani masses. One piece of aid may be repackaged many times. For example, let us say that the US announced an aid package for agriculture, health or education at the beginning of the year. On the arrival of every Pakistani top boss in Washington, a bigger US aid package will be announced without mentioning that most of the money in the new aid package was already announced months ago. Some Pakistanis cannot decipher the falsehood of these announcements. Every Pakistani diplomat, whether in Washington or Islamabad, along with the bosses, has been taking part in such misleading publicity stunts.

As for as the conditions attached to the bill, they have been same as in every other aid bill. Now, one can call them enslaving or one can declare that accepting them is like a Pakistani signing a surrender treaty. But the Pakistani economic system is a declaration of surrender in itself. Further, one feels that Pakistanis have accepted the US as a big bad father figure that is mistreating them at every step. However, no Pakistani ruler is ready to disown this father figure. So the relationship continues.

As said earlier, the condition of the Pakistani economy is a statement of surrender itself because, structurally, it cannot survive without a sugar daddy, be the US, China or someone else. Put simply, if every big institution is losing billions of dollars and the taxable don’t pay taxes, how can the country claim independence or have the guts to say no to a few billion dollars coming from somewhere at any condition?

Presently, state corporations like WAPDA are losing between five to six billion dollars annually despite higher prices and fares. The country cannot pay for electricity bills resulting in endless load shedding crippling every business and industry in the country. Pakistan has no money to service its debts or pay for the defence and security expenditures.

Given these conditions the Kerry-Lugar aid money is peanuts: it cannot even make a dent in the ongoing economic crisis in Pakistan. Ultimately, after the US consultants and intermediaries have taken their cut, Pakistan will get about three to four hundred million dollars which cannot do much when the country is several billion dollars short of its obligations and needs. Therefore, to pretend that the passage of this aid legislation was worthy of so much discussion and debate is beyond comprehension.

The writer can be reached at manzurejaz@yahoo.com
Published in Daily Times and reproduced by permission of DT

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