The missed opportunities

Khurshid Akhtar Khan Henry Kissinger, the US Secretary of State under President Rich-ard Nixon, once said: In this world it is often dangerous to be the enemy of the Americans, but to be a friend is fatal. Pakistan embraced the Americans as friends soon after independence in 1947. It had inherited a non-existent econ-omy with no cash, industry or any systems in place and needed monetary assistance and defence capability to survive. It could align with either the East or the West, the two powerful adversaries in the cold war at the time, or stay neutral. Pakistan opted for the capitalist system. In order to neutralise the perceived Indian threat and secure freedom for the Kashmiri Muslims, it was considered imperative to build a strong army. The Americans willingly inducted us in the regional defence pacts of SEATO and CENTO, made our armed forces a regular client for their defence production industry and provided us with 'aid. None of these was for the sake of friendship. They were to serve the American interests in the region. Thus, the Pakistani nation has paid heavily for the friendship with the US. In early seventies, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states were given control of their oil productions. They promptly doubled the price of their oil from $5 to $10 (increased to $145 in 2008) per bbl that revolutionised the global economic structure. The sudden inflow of massive capital had to be invested in developing infrastructure in the desert kingdoms starting from scratch. Pakistan was the obvious choice to meet their requirements, being the largest brotherly Muslim nation in the neighbourhood that possessed the desired technical expertise and resources. However, our leaders lacked the vision to assess the true potential of this opportunity or the determination to put in the hard work to develop on a fast track our indigenous industry to manufacture construction equipment, build capacity to trade commodities and other goods, to execute large construction projects and to provide management and financial services. Instead, we followed the easy path of supplying mainly unskilled manpower and settled for the relatively insignificant remittances of the overseas workers. Other nations quickly moved to fill that space in positions of greater influence and secured more lucrative deals leaving us with the crumbs. About the same time, China began emerging on the world stage as a significant economic and military power. Pakistan played an important role in bringing the estranged US and China closer and open diplomatic ties that eventually led to a huge trade between the two nations. Here, too, we missed the opportunity of claiming our dividends as the facilitator and mutual ally and were left out in the cold. Countries like Japan and Germany rose from the devastation of the Second World War, while South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand from immense poverty, primitive cultures and backwardness to become economic powers and industrial giants during the last 50 years by intelligently exploiting the American patronage. The Pakistan government was the envy of South East Asia during the sixties with its spectacular industrial revolution and ambitious economic plans with the cooperation of the West. Our political instability weakened and diluted our entrepreneurial strengths, self-confidence and our national pride. Opportunities were presented yet again in the eighties and nineties. Our strategic geographical location in the region made us indispensable for the Americans to drive out the Soviets and later to provide logistic support for their 'war on terror in Afghanistan. Our poor negotiating skills, unwise and reckless utilisation of capital, and non-seriousness with the state affairs failed us again in stabilising the economy and building our nation. We succumbed to narcotics and militancy that have turned into monsters beyond our control. Like the US-China axis, we have again become irrelevant in the fast developing US-India axis. Our defence, foreign and economic policies have remained US dependent ever since. We have sustained a huge army by diverting four to six percent of our GDP at the cost of social development, whereas Philippines spends one percent, Sri Lanka 2.4 percent, Bangladesh 1.22 percent and Indonesia one percent of their GDP on defence. In the past, the army had carved a role for itself, with the blessings of the Americans, as the binding force in the volatile political spectrum of our society and to exert influence on the civilians who have yet to organise. Due to our internal weaknesses, we have allowed ourselves to become a pawn and the playground for the Americans to wage their proxy wars. At the behest of the Americans, Pakistan has exposed its western borders to a possible Indian invasion by moving about 140,000 troops stationed there to the eastern border. The army has launched full fledged operations to overpower our own citizens that have misguidedly taken to militancy due mainly to their being outside the loop of the mainstream citizenry and as a protest against the organised violence of the Americans. Thousand of our army personnel and ordinary citizens have been martyred in Swat and Waziristan. Our people living along the border with Afghanistan (where they have close relations and friends) have turned their guns against our army and have penetrated deep into Pakistan with their suicide attacks killing thousands of innocent civilians. Our meagre resources are overstretched pushing our economy towards bankruptcy. Our army is well trained and highly disciplined, armed with nuclear arsenal. The Americans have lately begun to perceive the presence of independent minded elements (that they like to call 'rogue) within its ranks as a threat to their interests. Notwithstanding our sacrifices of our army offering more casualties than the NATO troops and the internal social upheaval due to our bringing the war inside our borders, the American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had the audacity to accuse its front ally of allowing Al-Qaeda safe haven in Pakistan since 2002. Clinton said: I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldnt get them if they really wanted to. The Americans run a huge contingent of intelligence operatives swarming in Afghanistan, within Pakistan and all over the world with all their high-tech gadgets, human intelligence and worldwide cooperation. If there was any such information the Americans would be the first to know. What is more bewildering is our acceptance of the humiliation without a befitting response. Our adoption of the American war in Afghanistan has added another insult to injury. The Pakistani people have rarely had the opportunity to be the masters of their own destiny. Our rulers have let the opportunities of nation building slip by, but never lose sight of any chance to promote personal grandeur. The love for easy money whether American or Arab, has turned our leaders into a dishonest and hypocritical bunch. Our governments have a delusion of a friendship with the sole superpower of the world and never cease to learn that their friendship lasts only until it coincides with their interests. And so it should be for us. The writer is an engineer and an entrepreneur. Email:

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