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The politics of aid

June 27, 2003

Part I: The handshake at Camp David

No popularly elected minister of the Jamali government has been taken by Musharraf to the US. Shaukat Aziz is the only minister who has accompanied him, ostensibly to assist the general during discussions on the question of future US assistance to Pakistan and to be present during the signing of the bilateral investment and trade promotion agreement.

Another person, with Cabinet status, but not a member of the Cabinet, who has reportedly accompanied him is Sharifuddin Pirzada, who is designated as adviser on foreign policy and national security.

In Pakistani political circles, Pirzada is viewed as an evil genius. He acted as the constitutional adviser to Zia-ul Haq and helped him control the judiciary and tampered with the Constitution. After seizing power on October 12, 1999, one of Musharraf's first acts  was to appoint Pirzada as his adviser to perform a similar role. He made the judiciary approve Musharraf's seizure of power under the doctrine of necessity, rejected petitions against Musharraf's referendum and upheld his right to amend the Constitution.

Pirzada is even closer to the ruling families of Saudi Arabia than Shaukat Aziz and had in the past played an active role in persuading Saudi Arabia to fund the Pakistani military nuclear development programme.

The inclusion of Aziz and Pirzada in the entourage indicate that Musharraf anticipated America' suspicion over the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. He also anticipated that concerns over Pakistani collusion with North Korea and alleged activities of pro-Iran rogue elements in the nuclear establishment might also figure in his discussions with President Bush at Camp David and hence wanted them to assist him.

The joint press conference addressed by Bush and Musharraf after the meeting was silent on this issue, but media reports and a subsequent media briefing by US officials indicated that Pakistan's role in the proliferation of nuclear and missile technologies, its cooperation in the fight against terrorism and the need for the restoration of genuine democracy in the country were the three principal subjects of the discussions between the two leaders.

Commenting on the three billion dollar aid package -- half in economic and half in military assistance -- spread over five years announced by Bush, an unnamed senior administration official tried to dampen any Pakistani euphoria by stating as follows during the media briefing:

'This is a multi-year program, Congress has to approve it, we have to make sure that it makes sense. That is why -- I'm not using the term, conditionality, but basically you've heard me raise major issues, as I was talking earlier. And for Congress to appropriate the funds -- and, indeed, for the government to seek the funds -- I think we're going to have to be satisfied that Pakistan is indeed working vigorously with us in the war against terrorism, is working vigorously to ensure that there is no onward proliferation and is moving smartly towards democracy. I'm not calling those conditions, but let's be realistic, three years down the road, if things are going badly in those areas, it's not going to happen. We're not going to request it, Congress won't appropriate it. And that is a bargain that the Pakistanis are entering into with their eyes wide open.'

In Pakistan, the religious and other Opposition parties have ridiculed the over-projected results of Musharraf's meeting with Bush and made unfavourable comparisons of the readiness with which Musharraf accepted the new aid offer despite the conditions attached and the contempt with which Zia rejected a US aid package as peanuts and refused to accept any conditions. Typical of the sarcastic comments in Pakistan are:

  • Liaquat Baloch of the Jamat-e-Islami: The nation should be informed which US demands Musharraf had accepted in return for this dole. Musharraf had rendered great service to the US by supporting its 'operations to kill Muslims,' but he got only 'disgrace' in return. The nation was under a burden of $38 billion debt, and this grant would bring no change in the lives of Pakistanis. Musharraf would have to hold talks with the Opposition parties after his return from the US.
  • Farhatullah Babar of Benazir's Pakistan People's Party Parliamentarians: The package was far too short of what could have been achieved given the losses incurred in economic, political and social sectors by Pakistan because of its support to the international community in the fight against terrorism. The package is very small compared with what US Centcom itself admitted on its official web site recently that Pakistan had suffered a $10 billion loss as a result of it offering its land and air facilities and other logistic support in the fight against terrorism. Zia got 4.2 billion dollars of aid and 40 F-16s from the US in return for offering the country as a frontline state and to fight the proxy war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. During Benazir Bhutto's first government Pakistan got $4.6 billion and 60 F-16s from the US even while Pakistan did not have to pay the price of a frontline state. Musharraf has miserably failed to capitalise on the fallout of September 11.
  • Makhdoom Javed Hashmi of Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League: The package is disappointing. Pakistan had suffered a huge loss during the war on terrorism in Afghanistan, and this is only a peanut.

In background briefing for the Pakistani media, Shaukat Aziz has been claiming that there are no conditions attached to the package and that even though the US has not accepted for the present the supply of new F-16 aircraft, the military component of the package could be used for the upgradation of Pakistan's existing F-16 holdings.

Despite the encomiums showered on Musharraf by Bush for his 'courageous' role in the war against terrorism, the duplicity in Musharraf's stance on this issue became evident in his statements during last year's visit as well as during the current visit. His last year's visit took place at a time when the ISI had already informed him that Daniel Pearl, the US journalist, had been murdered by his kidnappers and that Omar Sheikh, who masterminded the kidnapping, had surrendered. But Musharraf chose not to share this information with his hosts lest it affect the atmospherics during the visit. He gave them the impression that Pearl was alive and that he was hopeful of finding him alive. He also stated that Osama bin Laden could not be alive.

During the current visit, he has admitted the possibility of bin Laden being alive and claimed that the difficulty faced by his security agencies in smoking out Al Qaeda remnants was due to the fact that they were operating from the inaccessible localities of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas where, according to him, no army, either of the British or of Pakistan, had ever set foot in the last 100 years. He further claimed that for the first time in history he had sent his army into those areas to hunt for Al Qaeda remnants.

Nobody pointed out to him that all the important arrests made so far were not in FATA, but in the main cities of Pakistan. Abu Zubaidah was captured in Faislabad in Punjab, Ramzi Binalshibh and Walid bin Atash in Karachi and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Rawalpindi where he was living right under the army's nose in a house at a walking distance from Musharraf's house.

These arrests showed that the terrorists were operating right from the heart of Pakistan and not from inaccessible areas where no Britisher or Pakistani soldier had ever gone, as claimed by Musharraf. Even bin Laden, injured and partially paralysed by a sharpnel, was reportedly undergoing treatment in the Binori madrassa of Karachi and was shifted from there to NWFP only after Binalshibh's arrest in Karachi last September.

The encomiums showered by Bush on Musharraf for his efforts to reform the madrassas and modernise the Pakistani education system made one wonder how well-briefed he is on the state of affairs in Pakistan.

Last year, Musharraf did proclaim an ordinance making it obligatory for the madrassas to register themselves and to take the government's prior permission before admitting foreign students. When the fundamentalists protested, he made the registration and the adoption of the curriculum prescribed by the government voluntary and said that those who did would be entitled to government financial assistance.

Out of the about 8,000 madrassas, only about 1,000 have registered themselves and the remaining 7,000 have refused. According to media reports, there was a record rush of students to join the madrassas this year as compared to previous year. Flow of foreign students, particularly from Iraq, has also increased. What modernisation of the education system by Musharraf was Bush talking of?

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B Raman

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