The high cost of ‘ghairat’

By Irfan Husain
Saturday, 07 Nov, 2009

JUDGING from the heated bombast that passes for informed debate on our airwaves, it would appear that ghairat, or honour, is a virtue restricted to those who permanently inhabit our TV studios.

People like Imran Khan have been frothing at the mouth against the Kerry-Lugar act, insisting that we reject the $7.5bn, five-year aid package (extendable to 10 years). Our cricketing hero was holding forth on an Urdu channel the other evening, claiming that we could easily raise this amount by cutting expenditure and recovering money stashed abroad by corrupt elements.

According to him, we should not sell our ghairat so cheaply, and learn to stand on our own feet. But no such objections are ever raised when the IMF or the World Bank impose strict conditionalities on how their loans are to be spent. For years, we have accepted, often under duress, tough fiscal measures as part of these loan packages. And here we are, getting an outright grant of $1.5bn a year without any strings, and we are screaming like infants being forced to swallow a draught of bitter medicine.

Here’s sobering news for those who think it would be a simple matter to get this kind of money for the social sector: nearly 90 per cent of the non-development federal budget is spent on subsidies, defence and debt servicing, leaving around 10 per cent for administrative costs and the social sector. And if Imran Khan thinks crooks are going to queue up to return their ill-gotten wealth, he has a higher opinion of them than I do.

This is the kind of muddled, ill-informed thinking that marked our media’s interaction with Hillary Clinton recently. Watching the American secretary of state talking to some of the leading lights of our private TV networks, I was struck by how angry they all looked. Ms Clinton, on the other hand, was relaxed and articulate. She reminded me of a patient adult, gently chiding and cajoling a bunch of sulking teenagers.

One well-known anchor with an Urdu channel, his face contorted with rage, virtually shouted at her: ‘Do you know how many bases the United States has in this country?’ Smilingly, Ms Clinton countered: ‘Do you know how many billions of dollars the United States has given Pakistan?’And this is the bottom line. As both Ms Clinton and Senator John Kerry have said, if Pakistan doesn’t want the money, nobody is forcing it down our throats. But it seems that we want the money and keep our ghairat at the same time. For a country that has been surviving on external assistance for decades, the sudden realisation that we should stand on our own feet is odd.

Nawaz Sharif, rejecting the Kerry-Lugar act, asked how long we would go around with a begging bowl. I recall his ‘kashkol tor do’ (‘break the begging bowl’) campaign when he was in power in the 1990s. Thousands of ordinary Pakistanis (including my late mother, much to my chagrin) responded and sent personal savings to support this initiative. Nobody knows what happened to this money, but it certainly did not help in ending our aid dependency.

Interestingly, all those demanding that we reject the offer of American assistance are sleek and well-fed. In this entire long-winded debate, I have not heard anybody say one word about the illiteracy, poverty and disease the aid package is meant to reduce.

Critics have said that in the past, such initiatives did not make any difference, and things have not improved as a result of foreign aid. We forget that with our population growing as fast as it has in the past, we have created our own problems. The reality is that today, there are four times more Pakistanis than lived here in 1947. Without any foreign assistance, there would have been widespread starvation.

It is certainly true that huge amounts have been frittered away on useless projects, while much of this assistance has ended up in the personal accounts of politicians, bureaucrats and generals. Hence the American insistence on monitoring how money disbursed under the KLA is actually spent.

This entire bad-tempered discussion reveals the intensity of anti-Americanism that has been whipped up by a large section of the media. Virtually no anchor in Urdu chat shows challenges a panellist and asks him or her for proof for the most outlandish assertions. So widespread have these perceptions of American ill intentions become that a friend’s driver casually said the other day that the Americans were arming the Taliban. When I asked him why Washington would arm the foe that was killing US soldiers, he had no reply beyond ‘I read it in a newspaper.’

We have been so blinded by our rage against America that we forget that currently there is a clear convergence of interests between their goals and ours. Both countries want peace in Afghanistan and Pakistan; and both are fighting the forces of darkness. So while our approach and tactics may differ, we need to get along well enough to coordinate the fight more effectively.

In the real world, you do not have to love your allies to conduct a successful military campaign. In the Second World War, the Soviet Union fought with the US and Britain to defeat Hitler. Nazi Germany was the common foe, and the threat it posed brought the communists into the anti-fascist alliance. Clearly, there was no love lost between the USSR and the West, but common interests drew them together.

Critics of the act assert that this assistance is being offered in America’s self-interest, making it sound like an accusation that proves Washington’s bad faith. Actually, all countries act in their own self-interest. In this case, the American Congress and the administration are convinced that in order to stabilise Pakistan, it is necessary to address the many social and economic problems we are struggling with. And without a viable Pakistan, Afghanistan cannot be fixed. Hence the Kerry-Lugar act.

Who in Pakistan can possibly close his eyes to the reality of the situation we face today? Unless power generation is enhanced quickly, the economy will soon collapse completely. Parents are often forced to send their children to madressahs because there are not enough schools. Here they are often brainwashed into joining the terrorists who are threatening to destroy the state.

Large sums are needed to overcome these and other challenges. But money alone won’t solve these problems: political will and a consensus are needed. What we don’t need are mindless slogans of ‘go America go!’

A comment:

By hypocrite (pkpolitics)

Mirror Mirror who is uglier than I

I dont particpate in election process and yet I cry for democracy,
When I participate in elections I vote on thebasis of ethinicty, sect, language or pressure,
I want to develop the country yet appoint my incapable and corrupt cronies as ministers,
I believe in justice and onlyfor others,
I dont pay taxes though I am billionaire,
I believe in every human being equal and I make my servant stand for me in queue as I have many servants,
I dont follow traffic rules as I have big SUV,
I have my kids get education outside Pakistan and I want to improve eductaion standard in Pakistan,
My family gets treated outsuide Pakistan and I want to provide helath care to all Pakistanis,
I spend my vacations outside Pakistan and want foreigners to visit Pakistan as a toursim spot,
I vowed to defend my country and kill my own brethern,
I live in palaces and promise to provide shelter to all pakistanis,
I believe in idelogy and dont mind if my party kills any one who opposes my party,
I am follower of religion yet run after plots, ministries and money,
What I thik or believe is correct and everything else is wrong,
I want aid from whatever means but dont want to follow conditions for fair disbursement of aid,
I want multiple year visa or USA citizenship but I believe that USA is our enemy,
I am part of each government but I cannot take blame for non development of country
I am part of each opposition but cannot take blame for non development of the country
When I want to play I want to be the captain and everyone to follow my dictatorship but I dont want to play under anyother captain,
I believe in one for all and all for one yet when my friends are in distress I run away,

No one is uglier thanI as I am the ONLY hypocrite