This is a Pakpotpourri Exclusive
Z A Bhutto wrote The Myth of Independence in the late sixties and it shaped my perspective on the Pakistan-US relationship. A return to the book shows its continuing relevancy today since we find ourselves trapped again in the psychological grip of a unidimensional US-centric approach to external policy that Bhutto warned against. “American policy to bring Pakistan under Indian hegemony” goes the title of one chapter and it rings so true today. What has altered is that the stakes are more fatal because today our leaders are propagating a myth of dependency on the US that is literally deathly. It is preventing us from creating a favourable operational environment in which to tackle our home-grown demons of militancy and terrorism more effectively. Some “liberal” friends like Ayaz Amir have finally acknowledged and written about the need to delink ourselves of the failed US imperialist venture in Afghanistan.
However, we first need to rid ourselves of this myth of US dependency that some have been propagating to justify our seeming helplessness before Washington’s diktat. Not being an economist, my focus is on one part of the dependency syndrome – the military one. However, even as a layperson it is rather apparent that if some of our Pakistani elite can hold millions in property and bank accounts abroad, much of it ill-gotten, then there is sufficient national wealth and resource for development, if corruption was weeded out and the stolen wealth brought back. Again, if only those who should be paying taxes actually paid them, including our political and business elite plus all those professionals whose incomes are not taxed at source, we would generate national revenues. Also it is certainly time to rationalise the tax in the agricultural sector so that it is based on income rather than holdings.
As for US aid, there is always a cost and when we are bandying about figures we should also look at the costs of the present alliance in terms of civilian and military deaths and injuries, displacement of people, markets lost and industries destroyed after we became a frontline state for the US-led “war on terror” which effectively has created increasing terror within Pakistan. One calculation for US aid from 1950 to 2010, is $ 22.87 billion, while losses to Pakistan for the same period have been calculated at $ 60 billion. Many economists have done far more extensive cost-benefit analyses – but don’t expect much from the set of economists presently running our affairs courtesy the IMF with their own vested US interests. The bottom line is that we have allowed ourselves to be dragged into a falsely created dependency on US aid, by vested interests, which has little to do with national needs such as greater access to markets.
The situation is even more farcical in the military field. Much is being made of the Pakistan army general who has spoken in support of the drone attacks. But why the surprise? The US has always maintained that the Pakistan government, including the military, has been complicit in the drone policy from the start. As for this myth that our military is dependent on US assistance, this needs to be exposed. Since 1967, when the US cut off military supplies and spares to Pakistan formally, the Pakistan military has moved towards indigenous production as well as acquisition of major weapon systems from alternate sources. As a result, there is now not only an indigenous conventional capability, but also missile capability with the Hatf series now solid fuelled. The Army’s tanks, APCs and other conventional weapons have no US component. We got some helicopters during the Zia dictatorship, but then they had to be grounded when their sensitive rotors caught dust and US spares were not forthcoming. Now again we have some US weapons systems for the Army in support of the counter terrorism “war” but these are not essential for our offensive strategies. As for fighting terrorism, even the US is now reluctantly conceding that a military-centric approach is wrong and only creates more space for the militants.
The PAF may feel it has a greater dependency on the US in terms of acquiring F-16s but here also we have developed alternatives with Chinese assistance such as the JF-17, the A5 (close support), F 7P (interceptor fighter) and the various Mirage 3 and 5 platforms, purchased from France and Australia but now totally updated with advanced Italian avionics packages. Certainly the F-16s add to the strength of the PAF but for decades we maintained a credible air force without US components. Also F-16s come at a high cost – both financial and political as we learnt the last time we paid for F-16s but eventually got wheat and soya beans. Our air launched cruise missiles also have no US dependency factor. As for the Navy, the main offensive weapon system is the submarine and the subs are French in origin but we are in the process of acquiring indigenous capability.
Even in terms of training, given the disastrous record of the US in fighting asymmetric conflicts from Vietnam to Afghanistan, we hardly need their trainers! Also, unlike a domestic production industry which has hi-tech spin-offs for the civilian sector, importing US weaponry creates an artificial dependency with no local spin-offs. So why is this myth of military dependency being propagated? By vested interests including amongst the military and lobbyists and defence contractors.
If there is a dependency at all, it is a psychological one which is preventing us from extricating ourselves from the US deathly embrace. Bhutto referred not only to Pakistan’s first military dictator Ayub loyally stating to the US Congress (1961) that Pakistan was the only country in Asia where US forces “could land at any moment for the defence of the ‘free world’”; but also to the U2 incident where the US itself was being ambiguous but Ayub admitted that the aircraft took off from Pakistan! Are our military and civilian power holders any different today?
NOTE:Shireen M. Mazari is a scholar and commentator on Strategic Studies and Political Science from Pakistan. She was Director General of Institute of Strategic Studies, a research think-tank based in Islamabad, Pakistan and former Editor of The Nation.