9/11: Lessons for Pakistan (Pakistan Observer)

A GENERAL belief prevails that 9/1l was a tragic event that took place fourteen years ago. A dominant account suggests that the US has fought and won wars against global terrorism and now there are only local conflicts in the Middle E…

A GENERAL belief prevails that 9/1l was a tragic event that took place fourteen years ago. A dominant account suggests that the US has fought and won wars against global terrorism and now there are only local conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan that are the responsibility of local populations and their neighbouring countries.

The fact is that 9/11 continues to influence international politics and internal dynamics in many countries, including Pakistan. In the last fourteen years, extremism and terrorism in the Muslim lands spread rapidly; and the Western world was radicalized. Religious differences became a defining idiom in international relations. Suspicion and mistrust grew. States relied on surveillance and security structures to monitor activities of their and foreign citizens; and economic development, investment and welfare in the countries hit hardest by terrorism took a back seat.

The first lesson Pakistan should learn is that before our country joins international coalitions, all state institutions and stakeholders should be taken into confidence. More importantly, those taking decisions should consult people, who will bear the brunt of any such decision. Other states’ leaders turn to their institutions and allies to seek advice before taking such decisions. We should do the same. The purpose should not be to hamstring or immobilize decision making during crises but to make it more informed and responsive to our state’s short- and long-term interests.

Since 2002, Pakistan has received US $ 18 billion in assistance from the US, out of which $ 10.5 was allocated for economic and humanitarian purposes, and roughly $ 7.5 billion for security. In addition, Pakistan has received approximately $ 13 billion under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) as reimbursement for Pakistan’s logistical and operational costs. In the coming financial years, the assistance is likely to gradually decrease.

The US lawmakers believe that these are huge amounts given to Pakistan. Pakistan does not have a scientific method of calculating its cumulative tangible and intangible losses incurred as a result of the war against terrorism. That is why, it keeps citing modest, ballpark figures. The figure given by the latest Economic Survey of Pakistan is US 107 billion. The actual losses are much more and should not be less than half a trillion dollars all things considered.

During the past decade, Pakistan continued to trapped as a frontier economy never transitioning to a global emerging economy. (There are strong signs that we may make that transition now.) Pakistan’s involvement in the war on terror was a major, if not the primary, reason for this handicap. This realization has not sunk in, because we mention it to the US and international leadership and officials only in passing and intermittently.

Whenever we have to negotiate such multi-year assistance packages, we should involve all departments of the government to prepare a comprehensive brief. 9/11’s aftershocks had negative impact on our growth, trade, industry, agriculture, environment, and even culture and image. To deal with the evident and unforeseen consequences of 9/11 for our economy, we needed indigenous and external resources. That gap is still there, as we try to make our economy more productive.

Our relationship with the US should be broad-based, broader than cooperation on security matters. Our focus should be more on trade in goods and services, foreign direct investment, a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT), visas for our students and professionals, and civil nuclear energy. Our six-baskets strategic dialogue – comprising economic and finance; defense; law enforcement and counter terrorism; security, strategic stability, and non-proliferation; energy; and education, science and technology – provides a good framework for developing stronger security and economic. This also has the advantage of involving key departments of our state.

As US National Security Adviser Susan Rice said during her recent visit, the two countries should put their bilateral relationship on a stronger and sustainable trajectory for the long-term.

Pakistan, despite being the closest ally of the US in the war against terrorism, arguably next to Afghanistan, has not been able to leverage this relationship for strategic and economic advantages whereas India and Afghanistan have.

Delhi and Kabul also use the US to send messages to Pakistan, which are often based on flawed or biased intelligence or at times mere hearsay. The US tends to give high credence to them, because of their establishment’s own misgivings about Pakistan. This cycle should be broken by giving full Pakistani perspectives to the US interlocutors.

The US has leaned on us to do more to help revive stalled negotiations for Pakistan. Pakistan is already doing that most eagerly of its own volition and in its own interest; but the US should use its immense influence to break the nexus that is bent on killing the Murree initiative.

The current methods being used by the West to contain the chaos in the Middle East and North Africa will not succeed. There is a distinct possibility that the violent extremism in the Middle East could metastasize to other Muslim countries and the West itself.

The healing of wounds and psychological scars that 9/11 left behind has not started. In fact, 9/11 has fuelled extremism and thrown up new forcers advocating hatred and injury. We need new metaphors to deal with this phenomenon and strive toward global harmony.

Pakistan is routinely projected as an insecure and volatile state. We have to cast off this image. Most Pakistanis believe that the Western media and policy-makers will help us do that. I disagree. It is primarily our responsibility to project the true picture of Pakistan, even as we ostracize terrorism from our land.

Finally, Pakistan should extricate itself from a geo-strategic overstretch. Our priorities should be elimination of terrorism, economic development, internal stability and national unity. There is a pressing need for reflection, recalibration and rebalancing.