Saturday 7 April 2012

Zardari visit to focus on mutual prosperity (PO)

By M D Nalapat
Those who know everything end up knowing nothing. US intelligence agencies suck up every bit of information that money and machine can pick up, and in the process, end up fundamentally misreading ground realities. Such an example has been followed by NATO, and has led to the numerous disastrous evaluations made by that military alliance, most recently in Libya. While President Nicholas Sarkozy of France is known to be a cowboy, prone toride roughshod over commonsense in his decisions, it was a surprise to see UK Prime Minister David Cameron trot meekly behind Sarkozy in the disastrous intervention in Libya against a Head of State who had surrendered his WMD, his intelligence secrets and almost 80% of the treasury to various members of the NATO alliance. Intervention in Libya was seized upon by Sarkozy to convey an impression of toughness and idealism that was severely tarnished by his marriage to a much younger woman known to favour the company of billionaires, in the process abandoning a dutiful and elegant - albeit middle-aged - wife. Since his marriage to Carla Bruni, the French president’s main achievement is to have produced a child with her. That, and ensuring that Libya becomes a haven for terrorists and a prolific source of illicit arms for violent groups across Africa 

However, Libya is only one of the many locations where NATO intelligence has gone horribly wrong. In the case of Afghanistan, the Taliban revived because of cash given by the alliance to warlords who were (not so secret) supporters of the militia. It is with NATO money that the Taliban have once again become a force, and it is because of NATO tactics that an organisation that was detested by the people of Afghanistan has once again found support within the broader public, as being the only group willing to take on the foreign occupiers of that unhappy country. Just as the situation in Iraq stabilised only when US troops abandoned their shows of force and retreated behind the barracks - albeit after a surge in numbers - so also the Taliban will be on the defensive only after NATO troops leave Afghanistan to its own people. The sight of heavily armed troops with a legal license to shoot and kill innocents on suspicion is driving the people of Afghanistan into the embrace of extremists. However, NATO continues to believe in the spin that it has fed to media outlets such as CNN and BBC, that its troops are beloved by the Afghan people, who - or so NATO media claim - are “unhappy that they are to leave in two years time”. In fact, if they were to leave in two weeks time, the people of Afghanistan ( minus the few that profit out of the occupation) would be even happier. NATO has burst out of the boundaries of Europe, but its mindset remains that of 19th century Europe, a continent that believes it has the right to order around the rest of the world, and does so with brute force whenever it finds a foe that is weak enough to safely be attacked.

In Pakistan as well, NATO - headed by the US - has lost the plot. While in the case of Myanmar, Hillary Clinton foams on about the military being in command, the same US Secretary of State has not been able to conceal her dislike for President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan, perhaps because he shares so many personality traits with Bill Clinton. During the controversy over the re-instatement of the Chief Justice of Pakistan and the discussions surrounding the giving of an extension of tenure to General Ashfaq Kayani, it is no secret that in both cases, the US was opposed to the wishes of the civilian President of Pakistan and helped force him to agree to both the re-instatement of Chief Justice Choudhury and the extension of tenure to General Kayani, despite the fact that these decisions severely weakened the civilian government in Islamabad. While it dislikes the generals in Myanmar, the US State Department teamed up with the US Department of Defense in being ultra-respectful of the Pakistan army as compared to its treatment of the civilian administration. It is only during the past year that there has been a small change in such open preference by the US and other key NATO powers for the men in uniform in Pakistan over elected officials. In contrast, India has always favoured the civilian side, except when US pressure forced then PM Atal Behari Vajpayee to give a red carpet welcome to coup master Pervez Musharraf twelve years ago.

It is again no secret that India was unhappy at such a stance by a country with which it is steadily entering into a close partnership, although fear of US reaction kept such disquiet from being openly expressed in public. Of course, the huge group of those in Delhi who sing whatever tune is the current NATO favourite began a drumbeat of commentary that India should “recognize reality and accept that General Kayani and not the President or Prime Minister of Pakistan was the person to deal with”. Fortunately, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, despite his affection for several of the NATO allies, has continued the traditional policy of giving pride of place to the civilian administration, despite the lack of results of such a policy.

In any country,the military is much less concerned about economic issues than the civilian administration. Even in the US, the Pentagon has openly complained about cutbacks, ignoring the immense economic hardship being endured by more than 60 million citizens in that country. In the USSR and in the Iran of the Shah ,the military consumed so large a share of national resources that the economy faltered and living standards fell. This was in contrast to Deng Xiaoping, who downsized the military because of his focus on the economy. China’s military began to grow substantially only by the mid-1990s,when its economy took off into superpower range. As for India, the only reason why the country is being able to spend so much on purchasingforeign armaments (it is the world’s largest purchaser of such items) is because its economy is growing despite an incompetent and corrupt government.

The calculation on Raisina Hill is that the people of Pakistan share with the people of India a common desire for economic betterment, and that as a consequence, will welcome an India-Pakistan partnership that assures hundreds of thousands of new jobs on both sides of the border. Those involved in such calculations say that India-Pakistan trade can jump to more than $20 billion in two years, and to $50 billion in five years, if the two countries jointly frame policies that synergies mutual strengths. The green signal for the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India-China pipeline is indicative of the desire by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to ensure that Pakistan becomes as crucial an economic trading partner of India as China has become His early comments showed that President Zardari accepted the need for playing the business card with India, and indications are that a substantial contingent of businesspersons from Pakistan will be present in Delhi on April 8,the day the President of Pakistan visits his country’s eastern neighbour. Indications are that visa procedures will be substantially liberalised for business travellers from across the border, and that Pakistan will be given favoured access to key markets in India, so that exports multiply in value.

Once business links become strong, this lobby will become an effective force in pushing for better relations across the entire spectrum of India-Pakistan relations, including contentious issues not related to trade and commerce. At present, neither Pakistan nor India has a strong lobby on the other side. It is hoped that the business community will perform this function in a few years time, especially in a context where economic ties between China and India are blooming. So important is India as a trading partner for China that state-owned enterprises in the PRC are in favour of good relations across the Sino-Indian border, much more so than the PLA, which is still cautious and conservative while looking at India.

That President Zardari is going to the famous dargah of Ajmere Sharif has also gained him appreciation in India, where General Zia’s refusal to go to that shrine three decades back is still remembered, as also General Musharraf’s “lack of time” to visit the dargah. It is known that those who favour a more Wahabi outlook are opposed to visits to Ajmere Sharif,and by making it the center point of his brief stay in India, President Zardari has sent a message across the globe that he is on the side of religious moderates rather than conseratives. Not, of course, that this will be understood in the NATO capitals that have done so much to weaken him over the years. However, India is different. Unlike the US, this is a country that appreciates the moderate stand taken by President Zardari for peace and prosperity, and is preparing to give him a warm welcome when he arrives, and to ensure that he returns with concessions that will generate substantial economic benefits to Pakistan.

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