Pakistan has just suffered its most horrific earthquake in nearly a century. At the time of writing the estimated number of dead and injured is 20,000 & 42,000, respectively. There is a high likelihood that these numbers will increase as more and more villages, towns, and buildings are discovered to have been razed to the ground. Stories of several schools with young children being wiped out by the sheer power of the earthquake make all of us following the situation tremble at the unthinkable thought.
President Musharraf of Pakistan has declared his countryâ€™s need for support at this hour. It was rather unusual hearing these pleas from a man who tends to mask himself as a knight-in-shinning-armor in no need of anyoneâ€™s help and more than willing to tell those who question or advise him to shove it. Of course, this is only a veneer that cloaks the reality of his hyper-machismoism against some â€“ like womenâ€™s rights groups â€“ and his meekness against others â€“ Uncle Sam.
And so there are some initial pledges of aid to Pakistan: The European Union has pledged $3.6 million, Australia $380,000, and the UK $177,000 and a 60-strong team to help with on-the-ground work. What about the country for which Pakistan took a complete â€œU-turnâ€ in its whole framework of foreign policy after 9/11, for which Pakistan was an indispensable ally in the â€œwar on terror,â€ for which Musharraf had himself experienced at least two assassination attempts, and for which all types of ideologies â€“ such as â€œenlightened moderationâ€ â€“ have been cooked up to serve the needs of the neo-liberal Empire? What about the United States and its generosity to its dear friend Pakistan? A paltry $100,000 is our answer.
This buying on the cheap of certain allies whose services are required by the Empire is nothing new. So-called allies that are more aptly described as client states or puppets neednâ€™t be concerned about whether or not theyâ€™ll be compensated; rather, they should simply do as theyâ€™re told or look at the Vietnams or Cubas of the world to figure out what the penalty for disobedience will be. The US consistently pressures the Pakistani regime, like it has done and continues to do to other regimes, to take positions and actions contrary to the wishes of the overwhelming majority of its population. Musharrafâ€™s attempt to help his friend Bush out in Iraq by sending troops was so scandalous and contemptible that he simple wasnâ€™t able to pull it off. However, something as deeply unpopular â€“ the â€œnormalizationâ€ of ties with Israel â€“ he does think that he just might be able to pull off if rendered support from well-placed power centers in Washington and at home.
It will also be interesting to see how some of the gulf Arab states respond to this enormous crisis of a fellow Muslim â€œbrotherlyâ€ country. The outrage is still held in the hearts of many who noticed how the governments of Kuwait, UAE, and Qatar quickly pledged one hundred million dollars each (and Kuwait an additional $400 million in free oil) to the US in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but did not show the same alacrity or generosity in their response to the far greater Asian tsunami, and only forked the cash from their purses when their â€œhonorâ€ was put in question by many, including the majority of Muslims, who found their stingy reaction repugnant.
Whatever one may think of the politics of such cozy relationships between the US and unaccountable governments in the Third World, the story seems to be a simple but sad one. The regimes of these countries offered the friendship of the US outlived their real life expectancy in power by many years, thanks to US support. Washingtonâ€™s assurance of adhering to the principle that stability and its geo-strategic interests requires keeping the Musharrafs and the â€œpetrol stationâ€ monarchies of the Middle East in power, and the heavy weaponry and arming-to-the-teeth this necessitates, has allowed these illegitimate governments to fare quite well. But as this devastating earthquake in Pakistan has shown, even if their governments are close allies of the US, the peoples of these countries should be under no illusion of getting anything positive out of this â€œfriendlyâ€ arrangement. In the majority of the cases, with neo-liberalism and militaristic Empire-building on the march, the results are in fact quite the opposite.
Perhaps embarrassing Washington and the Gulf Arab states is unfortunately what is once more required to get more crumbs from their massive treasuries and limitless personal bank accounts. Let us hope and pray, for those affected by this disaster and future ones.
Junaid S. Ahmad is a law student at the College of William and Mary. He can be reached at [email protected]