Civil war and bankruptcy stare Pakistan

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Pakistan is faced with the most serious threat to its existence comparable to what it faced in 1971 when it resulted in the breakup of the country. It is on the verge of bankruptcy; the skyrocketing food and fuel prices have led to extreme uncertainty among the masses who are unsure where their next meal would come from. This is compounded by intense US pressure to attack militants in the tribal area. The US is pushing the government into launching a civil a war that the present crop of Pakistani rulers are unable to resist. Ironically, some tribal militants are on the US payroll and are also working to advance the US agenda.

Over the last few months, Pakistan has recruited tribesmen to become part of the Lashkar (tribal militia) to fight the militants. They have been armed and financed by the military; this is essentially an American enterprise executed through Pakistan. On a surprise visit to Islamabad on October 18– American officials have made a habit of making “surprise” visits to Pakistan–Richard Boucher of the State Department was all praise for Pakistani military operations in Bajaur and Swat that have killed thousands of people. The anti-US militants have reacted strongly to such developments, especially the creation of a tribal lashkar. They sent a powerful message by attacking a tribal jirga in the Orakzai agency early last month when it was discussing plans to confront the militants. The decision to create a lashkar to fight the militants is fraught with grave dangers: it will create animosity between tribes that will continue long after Uncle Sam has been driven out of the region by the increasingly effective resistance in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has deployed 180,000 troops along its border with Afghanistan but in the weeklong briefing by the new ISI chief, lieutenant general Ahmed Shuja Pasha, to a joint session of parliament that ended on October 17, he admitted to that the army had lost 1500 soldiers over the last seven years. There is fear that such deployment could lead to all-out war along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. If the highly trained Pakistan army cannot defeat battle-hardened militants who are giving a bloody nose to American and Nato forces in Afghanistan, what chance does the ill-equipped tribal militia have?

This, however, is not Pakistan’s war despite loud pronouncements by President Asif Ali Zardari and his equally subservient Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gailani, that it is. Such statements are made to secure American largesse for the bankrupt country but Zardari’s trip to New York in late September and his meetings with US officials including US President George Bush did not yield any results. His fantastic announcement that Pakistan needed $100 billion to survive was greeted with howls of laughter. A bankrupt America is not in a position to hand out even $10 billion, much less a $100 billion. It is not clear why Zardari thought he would be successful in securing such a large package from the Americans.

His attempts to secure financial handouts from the Chinese and the Saudis were similarly rebuffed. Neither is willing to hand out cash to a government headed by a person universally recognized as a thief. Some people in Pakistan have asked, if Zardari is such a patriot, why does he not return a portion of the billions he and his equally thieving wife, now dead, looted from the country? The Chinese and the Saudis essentially told Zardari to put his money where his mouth was. Besides, the Chinese had handed out cash once before and were burnt. They were not going to make the same mistake twice. As for the Saudis, their man in Pakistan is Nawaz Sharif, a political rival of Zardari. The Saudis signaled that they would not betray their friend.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), considered the lender of last resort by many Pakistani officials, was approached on October 22 for a $4-$5 billion bailout package otherwise the country would default on its debt obligations. At a meeting in Dubai, the IMF agreed to provide the money but it came with stringent conditions, including the removal of subsidies on many essential items such as food and fuel. This will push prices even higher making life much more difficult for ordinary people who are already reeling under backbreaking prices. Some of the conditions may not be met, such as increasing taxes or enlarging the tax base. Pakistanis are reluctant to give taxes because successive governments have been extremely dishonest. The present set of rulers is even more removed from the masses that view the rulers as waging war against them on behalf of the US.

Under such conditions, the government should have launched a plan for reconciliation and bring all segments of the population together. Instead, it has launched wars of aggression against its own people creating further divisions in society. The more the people express hatred for America’s anti-human policies, the more the government emphasizes its loyalty to Washington. It is this disconnect between the rulers and the ruled that has led to Pakistan’s precipitous fall. If Pakistan’s enemies had planned its destruction, they would not have succeeded as well as the rulers have through their ill-conceived policies.

One wonders whatever happened to the billions of dollars Pakistan was supposed to have had as foreign exchange reserves only a few months ago?

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