U.S. State Department Funding the Sunni Ittehad Council

January 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

The twitterverse has been abuzz this week with revelations of how the U.S. State Department has been spending its money in Pakistan. A couple of interesting items to note:

The U.S. funded the Sunni Ittehad Council for holding a rally in 2009.The Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) is a rabidly extremist religious outfit that most recently gained notoriety for offering Rs. 100 million for the gun that Mumtaz Qadri used to assassinate Salman Taseer a year ago. (Taseer was assassinated for his stance on changing Pakistan’s blasphemy law.) In other words, the Sunni Ittehad Council is a nasty piece of work. So what’s the U.S. doing funding such very ugly people? Well, the U.S. has decided that it hates the Taliban more than anybody, and any enemy of the Taliban is a friend, and since the SIC hates the Taliban (for very narrow sectarian reasons), that makes the SIC a friend of secularism and democracy, and thus Uncle Sam’s buddy. Note that the SIC is a Sufi Barelvi outfit, which isn’t supposed to make sense, since the U.S. has also declared that Sufism will save us from terrorism, but these are exactly the kinds of absurdities one ends up with in U.S.-foreign-policy-land.

Another interesting item of note is the nearly $1 million in funds given to film projects by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy (who has made the films Terror’s Children, Pakistan’s Taliban Generation, Reinventing the Taliban, Pakistan’s Double Game, and many other terror-themed films among others). There are two projects being funded: one, an animated series for children that will focus on identity and history, and two, a series about “ordinary heroes” in Pakistan (I’m going to guess that at least some of these heroes fight the Taliban in their spare time). Given what we know of her past films, and of course about the U.S. agenda, one can only imagine what kind of nonsense will be concocted for these new projects.


Here we go again, again

September 26, 2011 § 1 Comment

The current war of words between the U.S. and Pakistani governments is just the latest installment of the soap opera that is U.S.-Pakistani relations. The pattern is typical, predictable, and actually quite stable: the U.S. makes demands on Pakistan; Pakistan rebuffs the demand; the U.S. responds with “evidence” of Pakistani complicity in fomenting terror (usually in Afghanistan but also in India); Pakistan negotiates on the initial demand, giving in to some of what the U.S. wants but still rejecting some part of the demand.

So too is the case with the latest “revelation” last week by Admiral Mike Mullen and other U.S. officials that the Pakistani government is actively sponsoring terror in Afghanistan via the Haqqani clan. According to this formulation, the Haqqani network is a state asset that is activated by the ISI in order to maintain leverage against Afghanistan and, by extension, the United States. That is seemingly explosive stuff, but predictably, as early as the next day, we were seeing statements by U.S. and Pakistani officials that they were still interested in “working with each other.” And today, we see that the U.S. State Department spokesperson has stated that “State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said that the US government was committed to its relationship with Pakistan and wants to work constructively with Pakistan on the Haqqani Network.” Ah yes, “work constructively” – that lovely phrase that hides the ugliness of just how much pressure is applied to other countries in order to coerce them to do the bidding of the U.S.

On the same day, Republican Senator Mark Kirk did his part to play the role of bad cop by stating that the U.S. government should “cut military assistance to Pakistan in the light of the allegations made by the US administration and military about Pakistan having links with the Haqqani network.” We have lost count of the number of times that Some Important Person or the other has called for cuts to U.S. aid to Pakistan in the last couple of years. It’s amusing to note that despite such threats and protests, the aid continues to flow, mostly in very generous proportions (Pakistan still remains the second largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Israel). Maybe, just maybe, there’s something in it for the Americans?

All of this is certainly not to minimize the sheer venality and, frankly, stupidity of the Pakistan establishment, in its attempt to manipulate various domestic and foreign actors and try to maintain leverage against the U.S. The Army, the ISI, Zardari and the other civilian politicians – they would sell their own mothers down the river before they would do what’s right for the Pakistani people. And sadly it’s the Pakistani people who continue to pay the price of this absurd but very costly soap opera.

Another reminder that Pakistan belongs to Military, Inc.

August 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

On July 12, the United States announced that it would withhold US$800 million from Pakistan’s aid budget. This was intended to be a Stern Warning to denote that Washington Means Business when it says that it wants the Pakistani Army to do its complete and total bidding. (After all, what did the Army think all of those billions were for?) The truth is that these funds have only been suspended and not canceled, and we can expect that the aid will resume its flow once the Army and the U.S. come to a new agreement on drone strikes, U.S. covert operations and movement of CIA assets within Pakistan, and of course on targeting those factions of the Pakistani Taliban that the U.S. deems a threat. But what has been telling in this minor kerfuffle is the response of the Army establishment (via the statement released by the Inter-Services Public Relations agency):

“In line with the position taken in the Pakistan-U.S. strategic dialogue in March 2010, it is being recommended to the government that the U.S. funds meant for military assistance to Army be diverted towards economic aid to Pakistan.”

This is not, of course, a grand gesture on the part of the Army that acknowledges the tremendous drain of resources that the Army places on Pakistani society – resources that would be far better used (even in a strictly neoliberal economic sense, in terms of return on investment) in areas like education, health, and infrastructure. In fact, this is the latest strategy being employed by the Army, which continues to use the elected PPP-led government as a vehicle for advancing its own interests but using the cover of electoral democracy to disguise its actions. What this means is that the PPP government is now very publicly hand-in-glove with the Army, and will dutifully transfer the foreign aid being given to them for non-military purposes over to the Army. This strategy also means that the Army brass has also discerned rather shrewdly the game afoot in Washington. As lawmakers in the U.S. become increasingly hostile to Pakistan, and increasingly start using Pakistan as the scapegoat for failed U.S. foreign policy in the region, calls to suspend military aid to Pakistan will become stronger and stronger. So the Army is simply staying ahead of the rising tide. True, it’s short-term thinking, but that seems counter-productive and illogical only if you don’t assume that ALL the Army cares about it is its own very narrow institutional (and frankly, even very personal individual) interests.

Meanwhile, the Army’s statement also had this to say:

“[The Corps Commanders] reiterated the resolve to fight the menace of terrorism in our own national interest using our own resources.”

Hey, generals, here’s a message for you: those are not YOUR resources. They are the resources of the people of Pakistan, and they rightfully belong to the people of Pakistan. You have no right to them. If you want to play war games, go get your own toys.


The “War Economy”

June 7, 2010 § 1 Comment

Pakistan’s 2010-2011 budget was unveiled a few days ago, and there aren’t too many surprises in it. It confirms what we already knew, that the country is in deep trouble with regards to deficits, and the solution of the government is to propose more borrowing. The government also proposes increasing tax revenues, which is based on the government’s agreement to the IMF’s “recommendation” to impose a Value Added Tax in the country (the tax will be implemented starting October 1 of this year). The budget also trims the deficit by reducing some expenditures.

But of course the item that cannot be touched is military spending. That not only remains unchanged but has in fact been increased by SEVENTEEN PERCENT! No other item receives this treatment. And the justification for this outrageous increase? The finance minister, Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, says that Pakistan currently has a “war economy,” which requires a singular focus on the war and presumably he means that all else must be sacrificed for its sake.

It’s hard not to fantasize about the education budget being increased by seventeen percent, or housing for poor people being increased by seventeen percent, or maternal healthcare being increased by seventeen percent… well, you get the idea. What the minister, and the government, fail to realize is that the people of Pakistan have already been living under desperate conditions, and the REAL war that needs to be declared is on poverty, on gender inequality, on the stigmatization of non-Sunnis and non-Muslims, and many, many other problems that plague the country. For example, after 63 years of independence:

The literacy rate is 55%.
Women’s literacy rate is still only a little over half that of men’s.
As many as a quarter of children do not get basic immunizations.
Women have a 1 in 74 chance of dying in childbirth.
One-third of newborns are underweight.
Malnutrition is rampant.
One-fourth of people live on less than US$1 per day.

(Data courtesy of UNICEF)

The problem is that in a “war economy,” the largest consumer of national resources, i.e., the military, will only extend its monopolization of the Treasury. We are told that this is necessary, that it is for our own good. But isn’t it necessary to increase the literacy rate? Isn’t it necessary that women stop dying in childbirth? Isn’t it urgent that children be immunized and that everyone have safe and clean water to drink? The opportunity cost of military spending, which is what we COULD be spending on instead, is very high indeed. We need to remember that if we weren’t spending on tanks and F-16s and generals’ salaries, we could provide all the basic needs of the Pakistani people. Every single one of them. For everyone.

So this latest euphemism isn’t just a “screw you” from the Army, it’s an attempt to further scare Pakistanis into allowing precious national resources to be used for the military, and for the Pakistani people to take on yet more debt to keep the Army engorged. The destinies of future generations have been mortgaged for the sake of the “war economy.”

Meanwhile, the IMF and the World Bank keep pressing Pakistan to reduce social welfare spending, reduce corruption, privatize state-owned enterprises, raise taxes, raise electricity tariffs, etc etc. The “Friends of Democratic Pakistan” group, a set of countries including the United States, which promised Pakistan US$5.3 billion in 2009, has suspended payments pending “reforms” including the implementation of the Value Added Tax (which will be disastrous for consumers, poor people, small businesses).

Yes, Pakistan can manage its financial affairs with greater efficiency. But these “friendly” sources never ask Pakistan to reduce the biggest drain on Pakistan’s economy: military spending. Instead we get euphemisms like the “war economy.”

Help Internally Displaced Persons in Pakistan

June 16, 2009 § 11 Comments

Dear Friends,

Action for a Progressive Pakistan has joined with SINGH Foundation to help Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Pakistan, now numbering almost 4 million, who are fleeing Taliban and military violence in the Swat region. SINGH FOUNDATION WILL MATCH EVERY DONATION DOLLAR FOR DOLLAR UNTIL WE REACH OUR TARGET OF $10,000! Your donations are tax-deductible to the fullest legal extent.

All proceeds will go to Sungi Development Foundation, a progressive community-based development organization that has been active in NWFP in Pakistan for more than a decade.

To donate by PayPal, click here.

To donate by check:
Make the check out to “SINGH Foundation” (please put “APP Swat Relief” in the memo)
Mail checks to:
SINGH Foundation
c/o Ramakrishnan
50 West 97th St., #15T,
New York NY 10025

Questions? Email us at progpak@gmail.com

THANKS for your support of humanitarian relief in Swat.

In solidarity,

Action for a Progressive Pakistan

SINGH Foundation: http://www.singhfoundation.org

SUNGI: http://www.sungi.org

Reading on the New Refugees

June 4, 2009 § Leave a comment

A Weaver’s Welcome on the new refugees in Pakistan and how Pakistanis are coping. The author, Kathy Kelly, who also organized Voices in the Wilderness to end UN sanctions on Iraq, traveled with a delegation to Pakistan recently.  An excerpt of her article:

The trauma endured by the refugees is overwhelming. Yet, numerous individuals and groups have swiftly extended hospitality and emergency aid. We visited a Sikh community, in Hassan Abdal, which has taken in hundreds of Sikhs, housing them inside a large and very famous shrine. Nearby, we stayed for several days in Tarbela, where families in very simple dwellings have welcomed their relatives. The townspeople quietly took up a collection to support the refugee families….

Generosity in the face of such massive displacement and suffering is evident everywhere we go. But Pakistan needs help on a much larger scale. The U.S. has pledged 100 million dollars toward relief efforts. Two other disclosures about money budgeted for Pakistan should be considered in light of the unbearable burdens borne by close to two million new refugees. First is the decision to spend 800 million dollars to renovate and expand the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad and to upgrade security at U.S. consular offices elsewhere in the country….

Read the full piece here.

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