Hey, Big Spender

28Jul09

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Xinhua/Reuters Photo

Hillary Clinton went to India, and all we got was a special envoy.

 

Pakistanis are very uncomfortable, indeed, with the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent visit to India. The same pictures have run repeatedly on all the television channels. Mrs Clinton is animated and lively, her head thrown back in laughter as she announces the latest agreement with India. It doesn’t help that Indian Foreign Minister S. M. Krishna is by her side. It also does not improve matters that the agreement in question paves the way for billions of dollars’ worth of weapons contracts as India becomes one of the biggest spenders on arms.

As Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, Research Fellow at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute, said with urgency, ‘Not one of the biggest, India is the biggest defense spender in the world right now. And a 34 per cent increase in their defense budget does not send out the right signals to Pakistan.’

So what do you do when the biggest spender on military equipment is also an emerging global power, has some of the richest men in the world as nationals, is your neighbour, and has been your perceived or projected (at this point, many Pakistanis acknowledge the enemy lies within) arch-enemy for decades?

Well, you could turn to your allies such as your best friend forever, the United States. It seems that’s when you find yourself floundering and fumbling as you mumble, ‘Et tu, Brutus?’ You’d think Pakistanis would be used to it by now, given the history shared with the United States. Pakistan has complained bitterly of having been abandoned by its long-standing friend time and again through the course of history. Ironically, it was Hillary Clinton who made the surprisingadmission that the criticism was justified.

According to retired diplomat, Zafar Hilaly, it makes no sense for American companies to be selling military equipment to India as it only serves to make Pakistan insecure, which works in nobody’s interest – certainly not that of the United States. ‘As long as we’re anxious about the Indians, we’ll keep our troops on the eastern border rather than bring them in to fight the Taliban in Waziristan or deploy them along the Balochistan border in case of spillover from the latest US offensive in Afghanistan.’

If one were to be charitable, one would concede that the United States is in the midst of a recession, and selling arms is quick and easy money. But it’s a little hard for a third world country to be charitable toward the only superpower in the world. It becomes especially difficult when this country is at war with its own people, has over two million of its population living in refugee status, and is coping with riots over amenities as basic as electricity and water.

And as we talk about charity, Pakistan has once again asked for more military aid. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani made the request to Richard C. Holbrooke, the US Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. While Mr Holbrooke applauded Islamabad on taking on the Pakistani Taliban over the past few months, there are no commitments forthcoming. Not only that, he qualified the military’s ‘success’ in the Swat operation by pointing out that with the top leadership of the militants still at large, ‘there’s a long way to go.’ It must be conceded that this is not far from the truth.

Now in all of this, it must be said that the most significant damage may be to the resumption of the India-Pakistan peace process. For Pakistanis to think that the agreement between Washington and New Delhi could lead to an arms race in the region is a bit delusional. The cash-strapped government of President Asif Ali Zardari is scarcely capable of spending billions of dollars on military equipment when his people are burning tires over power breakdowns.

However, after Sharm-al-Sheikh, where the two prime ministers met on the sidelines of the Non Aligned Movement Summit, when Indian hawks were accusing Manmohan Singh of selling out, the Pakistani media was full of praise for the statesman. There was hope of composite dialogue despite the fact that Pakistan decided to release Hafiz Saeed, the head of the Jamaat-ud-Daawa, formerly the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group believed by the Indians to be behind the Mumbai attacks of November 2008. Shortly before the Singh-Gillani meeting in Egypt, the Pakistan government declared it did not have the evidence to detain Saeed to which the Indian media reacted with displeasure (and for good reason – Pakistanis should demand an explanation why there was no evidence collected against a known terrorist over the many years he was detained). Even so the mood was optimistic between the neighbouring countries, and it would be a real shame for that to go awry.

Then again, it could just be that Pakistan is scared it might lose its BFF to India.

This post was first published on the 28th of July 2009 on dawn.com

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