Follies of the past

A US delegation led by the Special Envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, met President Zardari in Lahore. The president took up serious issues with Holbrooke keeping in view present and past circumstances in the region. Of great significance was President Zardari’s mention of fighting a ‘rival ideology’ in the past along with the US and the West. The reference was obviously to the Afghan communist regime and the ensuing battle between the mujahideen and the communists after the Soviet forces entered Afghanistan in support of their co-ideologists. President Zardari told Holbrooke that it was because of the Afghan jihad that militancy rose in Pakistan. Though this is certainly not something new for the Americans, the president’s reminder about the West’s role in general and the US’s role in particular in leading to the rise of religious extremism in this region is noteworthy. The covert support of the US for the jihadis in the Afghan war is no secret. It was a policy of the Cold War era, the West being an anti-communist bloc. Neither the US nor Pakistan thought much about supporting religious fanatics at that point in time, focused as they were on the struggle against communism. The unforeseen and unintended consequences of that strategy have landed the whole region in a mess today.

Once the Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan, the US and the West did not look back at the war-torn country after 1989. The Afghans felt betrayed after all their sacrifices. Pakistan was left to pick up the pieces. Instead of starting a rehabilitation and reconstruction process in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other regional players started to pursue their own vested interests there. The mujahideen fell into a debilitating civil war in an already battered country and later on the Taliban were unleashed. At the end of it all, Pakistan was responsible for installing the most barbaric of regimes in Afghanistan, that of the Taliban. The US is as much responsible for this crisis, or maybe even more so, than any other regional player. If it had not left the Afghans high and dry after the war, things could have been significantly different. Pakistan was also greatly affected by the American indifference and consolidated the trend towards becoming a national security-driven state almost to the exclusion of everything else. Rising inflation, poverty, unemployment, the energy crisis, etc., are the costs of past historical follies. President Zardari’s reminder to Holbrooke was in this context.

The president told the delegation that the economic cost of waging the war against terror has left a dent in an already weak economy. The US delegation informed him that the Obama administration would be clearing the dues of both 2008 and 2009 Coalition Support Funds (CSF) soon. President Zardari called on the international community to help boost our economy. We would like to remind the president that no domestic or foreign investor would want to invest his money in a country that is in a state of war. Asking for a Marshall Plan may not be feasible. We need to gradually but incrementally build our economy. Instead of remaining a national security state, we need a transition if we want to develop.

On another note, Mr Holbrooke got upset during a meeting with politicians when they criticised American policies. A diplomat is known for his sang froid and should be used to hearing all types of things. Instead of getting angry, Mr Holbrooke should have answered their grievances like Hillary Clinton did when she visited Pakistan last year. It is not befitting for an envoy, and a ‘special’ one at that, to flare up just because there has been a rise in the anti-American sentiment in Pakistan. After all, the US is guilty of pursuing policies that are not very popular with the people. The Americans should not only listen to positive criticism but also learn from past mistakes. History should not be repeated this time at least.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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