Pak-US: bridging the trust divide

President Asif Ali Zardari was in Washington to attend the memorial service of US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke. At the service, US President Obama said, “Richard is gone now, but we carry with us his thirst to know, to grasp and heal the world around us.” Mr Holbrooke was a great advocate of Pak-US friendship and was of the view that for a viable solution in Afghanistan, the US would have to bring Pakistan on board. As Britain’s former foreign secretary, David Miliband, wrote: “The key [to success in Afghanistan] is, and always has been, a political settlement that can make withdrawal possible on terms that protect regional and global interests. Holbrooke is gone, but we must learn his lessons.”

Apart from attending Mr Holbrooke’s memorial service, President Zardari held a meeting with President Obama and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. According to Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, Mr Obama and Ms Clinton assured Mr Zardari that “the US will over the next few days find ways to strengthen Pakistan’s economic reform process, while taking into consideration social and political factors”. If the US wants to help Pakistan economically, it will have to use its clout to persuade the IMF not to cut off Pakistan because of the RGST imbroglio. The reason this government has not yet been able to implement RGST is political. Despite the fact that the RGST would in effect be good for Pakistan’s economy, most of our political parties are not ready to support the PPP-led government because of an anti-RGST sentiment amongst the masses. Without a political consensus, the government cannot move an inch on economic reforms.

The US is one of the biggest aid donors to Pakistan. However, there is a rise in the anti-American sentiment in our society. One of the reasons is because of the way the US abandoned Pakistan after the Afghan jihad in the 80s. The US has always been dubbed as a ‘fair-weather friend’ but it is imperative that now that the Americans do not have any plans to leave us in the lurch, cooperation in all fields is forthcoming. Through USAID and other such initiatives, the Americans have been giving developmental aid to Pakistan. In November 2010, USAID officials lodged a complaint with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) after receiving a significant number of complaints about the misuse and misappropriation of funds by the NGOs under the Kerry Lugar aid package. International donors have been reluctant to give money to the government directly because of corruption charges and instead rely on local NGOs to disburse aid money. But this idealisation of NGOs and demonisation of the government is not without fault. This is not to say that all NGOs are dishonest, but donors need to implement a proper mechanism system to monitor aid money. It is also important that our government and media project the efforts by the US government in an honest manner so that all the positive steps taken by them are properly highlighted.

President Obama vowed to “continue to work toward building a moderate, democratic Pakistan, which is the strongest guarantee against the success of terrorists”. In the past, the US has supported military dictators like General Ziaul Haq and General Musharraf instead of democratic dispensations. Now that democracy has finally returned, the US and other countries must stress the importance of a democratic set up in Pakistan and in case of any undemocratic move, they must rally against it. Democracy in Pakistan is not just important for the local populace but for the international community as well.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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