Paying The Price Of Co-operation

The alliance of military and corporate interests is no secret in Pakistan. State power has always worked in tandem with corporate power. Pakistan’s failed attempt at gaining a trade foothold in Central Asia through its policy of ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan is proof of that. However it is Pakistan’s colonial relationship with the US that fundamentally determines the way the most basic elements of state structure and policy are being re-organized and realigned.

On Dec 31, 2003, there were reports of clashes between US and Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan-Pakistan border near Waziristan, and the bombing of a Madrassah in Waziristan agency by US planes. The state and provincial reactions to these reports shows up the extreme contradictions that have arisen under the ideologically split leadership. The NWFP (North West Frontier Province) government responded with an outright condemnation of US aggression and demanded that the US respect Pakistan’s territorial integrity, while the interior minister basically questioned the validity of the reports and issued a statement asserting that the bombs had actually fallen within Afghanistan. Two days later there were further confrontations between Pakistani and ‘coalition’ soldiers and now the government is forced to acknowledge US incursions in Pakistani territory, especially after US claims that it would pursue attackers and fugitives into Pakistani territory.

For those familiar with Pakistan’s recent political developments, this comes as no surprise. After the recent elections, hailed by the West as the return of democracy in Pakistan, two provinces, Baluchistan and NWFP are headed by the MMA (Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal), an Islamist party with an uncompromisingly anti-US stance, which is alleged to have been the main reason for their electoral victory. This in a country where political parties with an Islamist agenda have never enjoyed widespread popularity and certainly never been elected to power.

Therefore this news was received with apparent shock in the west as well as within liberal and elite circles in Pakistan. There has been intense speculation since then as to how this development would impact on Pakistan’s assigned role as the frontline state in the ‘war on terrorism’ for the US and in the general promotion of US interests in the region. The fact that now most of the fleeing Taliban and other ‘elements’ (as they are called in the Pakistani press) are in the western MMA ruled provinces where they are being hunted down by US forces, is further cause for speculation.

While on the one hand the Pakistani army is cooperating with the US in cracking down on all ‘militant’ (read Islamist) organizations, on the other it is a well known fact that in the tribal western regions of Pakistan, especially under the new government there is widespread sympathy and support for anyone defying the US. One cannot help speculating that it is precisely this opposition which gives the US the perfect excuse to launch an all-out assault on the western regions of Pakistan and the present event could be an ominous precursor to that. After all, manufacturing reasons for military intervention has been honed into an art form as we have seen over the past year.

Meanwhile, the centre and federal interests are scrambling to secure some kind of insurance for their cooperation in the war on Afghanistan. The recent signing of a gas pipeline deal between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan is being touted as a regaining of Pakistan’s lost foothold in Central Asia. It is almost comical how the military turned civilian leadership is avoiding mention of the disastrous consequences of past attempts to acquire ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan.

The Afghan finance minister is claiming that the new gas pipeline will bring prosperity to Afghanistan. ‘Prosperity’ means that it will ‘provide jobs for 2000-3000 Afghans, amongst the hundreds of thousands languishing in abject poverty. It is important to note that the main investment in this project will be that of multinational corporations. It has been well documented in the press over the past year that the lion’s share of the profits will not go to the three countries, but to the transnational energy giants, which will be mainly US oil conglomerates (these include Chevron, Texaco, Exxon, Mobil, BP and Halliburton).

Meanwhile Pakistani prisoners languish in Afghan jails, and Afghan refugees in the strife torn western regions of Pakistan, casualties of the ‘war on terror’. It was reported in the News International (Karachi, Dec 29, 2002),

“ Parents of some 325 Pakistani Taliban fighters languishing in a squalid jail in northern Afghanistan on Sunday appealed to the United Nations, Red Cross and human rights groups to secure their release.

In a letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the heads of other international organizations, they said the Pakistanis who were lured by religious parties to fight alongside the ousted Taliban, were being ‘tortured’ by their Afghan and American captors.”

The Afghan minister has also said that ‘he had no concerns about safety in Afghanistan’. Even though “ (external) conspiracies have pitched Pashtuns against non-Pashtuns, Shias versus Wahabis and left against right.” and “ people are armed to the teeth; they have definite and firm political and active religious affiliations. Two hundred years of the ‘Great Game’ and its renewal has made things worse and caused irreversible damage to the communities and their intra and inter-relationships.” (an interview with Dur Mohd Fazil, NPO-RRA, Afghanistan, reported in The News International, Karachi, Dec 29, 2002).

Non resident Pakistanis, in addition to other nationals, are also casualties of the witch hunt for ‘terrorists’. While Pakistani rulers plead the US state department to reward them better for their cooperation the INS has introduced compulsory police reporting as well as registration of all Pakistanis.

With the Indian authorities threatening to deport the estimated 11,000 Pakistanis living in India and Saudi Arabia deporting thousands of Pakistani taxi drivers, migrant laborers and workers are paying the heaviest price. Stock brokers and businessmen in Karachi, Pakistan’s industrial center, are rejoicing over the influx of the largest foreign exchange reserves ever due to returning workers. But it is the burgeoning number of private banks, property developers and investors who are making a killing while acquiring basic services is becoming an unattainable dream for the many.

The state corporate agenda, as defined by IMF and WB conditionalities is firmly set towards ‘privatization and trade liberalization’ which is supposed to bring ‘poverty alleviation’. These promises are nothing but a way to sugar coat reality for people after the defeat and humiliation of the past year as well as the growing gap between rich and poor and urban and rural in Pakistan.

But Pakistani people are not so easily fooled. Real voices of resistance, whether they are from the tenants at Okara fighting for their land, or students protesting against neo liberal reforms in the education system, are on the rise. This is because people on the ground understand the source of their oppression very well. This is despite the attempts of the liberal elite to whitewash the oppressive policies and actions of our neo colonial rulers and their imperialist masters by preaching compromise under the guise of pragmatism.

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