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Regretful ally

With each passing day, the conviction amongst Pakistanis that they made a mistake in siding with the Americans after 9/11, seems to grow stronger.

world Updated: Sep 10, 2011 23:47 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times

With each passing day, the conviction amongst Pakistanis that they made a mistake in siding with the Americans after 9/11, seems to grow stronger. The argument that America would have bombed Pakistan or squeezed it economically does not seem to matter much. “It’s a huge cost that we have paid over the years,” argues former parliamentarian Marvi Memon, adding that the Pakistan had borne the hidden costs of the war.

Memon resigned from parliament when her party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid) joined the government this year. She reasoned that she did not want to be part of a government “that had bartered Pakistan's sovereignty.”

The killings of civilians in drone attacks have become a rallying point for not just religious parties, who then justify suicide attacks on government installations as a result. Anti-American feelings are helping in the popularity of fringe parties like the Tehrik-e-Insaf led by former cricketer Imran Khan.

A bitter critic of both President Musharraf and the Americans, he says that Musharraf and his coterie of generals amassed wealth post September 11. “They sold people for $200 a head,” he says. More than 35,000 lives have been lost since 2001, roughly 3,000 were security personnel. In addition, there has been a displacement in millions.

Pakistan continues to suffer from multiple crises. Apart from political polarisation, there is a critical law and order situation in some parts, as well as a full-blown insurgency in one province. Much has been stoked by Al-Qaeda and its affiliates. Also, owing to constant attacks, there’s a downturn in foreign investments, leading to more joblessness and poverty.

There are others who argue that at the time the decision was right, but now the cost of the conflict is high. The Economic Survey of Pakistan (2010-2011) says the financial cost of war was $2.69 billion in 2001-2002 but soared to $17.8 billion in 2010-2011. The cumulative cost is over $67 billion since Pakistan became partner in the war.

The country has also suffered as the budget on security has gone up at the cost of socio-economic projects. Attempts by the United States to compensate Pakistan have been half hearted. Funds allocated under the Kerry Lugar Berman bill - $7.5 billion over five years, became a controversy because military funding was reduced. Then, part of the money was diverted for flood relief in 2010. Either way, “what we did not see was bricks and mortar evidence of American assistance to Pakistan,” comments journalist Ejaz Ahmad Khan.

The perception that Pakistan has not benefited from the arrangement does not bode well for the Pakistan-US ties. Already there is friction caused by the Osama raid and the Raymond Davis affair earlier this year. Intelligence sharing may have been resumed with the arrest of Al-Qaeda operatives in Quetta this week, but the suicide hits later suggest that Pakistan pays a price every time it cooperates with the US. But anti-Americanism does not translate into sympathy for Al-Qaeda. The muted response to the killing of Osama is a testament to this. But within the army there is some confusion on how to move ahead. There is a suggestion that General Kayani and ISI chief, General Pasha, are being isolated in their America policies. Analyst Imtiaz Gul argues that the worsening of relations between the ISI and the Americans is also a factor.

As the army tries to reign in the militants, the future of India-centric organisations like the Lashkar-e-Toiba come under question. On one hand, the army is trying to distance itself and on the other, many argue that the Lashkar's activities do not go against American interests in the region. Observers say that the compromise may be that the army has reduced its involvement and the Laskhar is moving to reinvent itself on the other.

The army continues to portray itself as neutral. It lets President Zardari and his government take the flak from anti-American quarters. Observers feel that the immediate future is rocky - any elected government will have to balance its relations with the West and the growing frustration of its people with such an arrangement. The power to tilt the balance, as usual, will remain with the army.

First Published: Sep 10, 2011 23:46 IST