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Sunday, 28 September 2008

Friends rally around Pakistan (Buck up Zardari)

A permanent forum known as Friends of Pakistan was launched in New York on Friday with the mission to help Pakistan out of its economic crisis. It has been estimated that Pakistan would need around $15 billion to prevent its economy from collapsing. The Forum’s first substantive session, hopefully meaning actual execution of commitments, will be held in Abu Dhabi early October. The future host of the forum, UAE’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, said in New York that his country fully backed the initiative to “show our commitment to Pakistan”.

Others too have shown commitment: the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “We are engaged with Pakistan through international financial institutions. We will support the steps Pakistan must take for its economy”. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband saw “a very strong signal of political and economic support to the democratically elected government in Pakistan”. Those who attended the Friends of Pakistan forum meeting were: The United States, Britain, Italy, Germany, France, Japan, China, Australia, Turkey, Canada, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

President Asif Ali Zardari, whose presence at the UN helped the campaign for Pakistan’s economic survival, appropriately remarked: “I don’t want them to give us the fish. I want to learn how to fish and do it myself”. Needless to say, the forum couldn’t have been launched without the help of the United States and the commitment shown by the PPP leadership in Pakistan to fighting Pakistan’s war against terrorists and extremists which cannot be sustained without a dramatic economic revival. And that is exactly why the international community is ready to offer financial help.

According to reports, “Pakistan’s foreign currency reserves are falling fast and, if forward liabilities are included, the real reserves may actually be just $3 billion”. This is money to meet the import bill of just one month. Pakistan’s credit rating has plunged and people who would normally do business with Pakistan are talking of possible default. Mr Zardari said that the world had rallied around Pakistan because of Pakistan’s return to democracy after an eight-year rule by a military dictator. That may not be accurate. The real reason is that Pakistan could go under the anarchism of Al Qaeda after an economic meltdown. An even more down-to-earth reason is that Islamabad is officially committed to the war against Al Qaeda’s terror.

It is, however, unfortunate that back home in Pakistan the perspective of many people is infected with prejudice and politics. A consensus has formed in the media about the lack of wisdom of President Zardari in deciding to go to the United States after the Marriott blast. It was tediously argued that a wounded nation needed its leadership in Islamabad for solace and that Mr Zardari had let them down by leaving the country. Worse, the visit to New York was publicised as a pleasure trip that actually made fun of the suffering of the people back home. Everybody was included in this frog chorus: the economists as well as numberless retired ambassadors and one ex-permanent representative of Pakistan at the UN.

Those who think emotion should come before economic realism also believe that the war against terrorism is not Pakistan’s war and that America is the real enemy of Pakistan because it is working in tandem with India, Pakistan’s traditional foe. They want the Pakistan army, already badly stretched against Al Qaeda, to fight the two enemies — one a global superpower and the other a regional power — with the help of the tribal people of Pakistan who need immediate humanitarian bailout rather than jihad against two such foes. They want to suspend the logistics provided by Pakistan to the NATO-ISAF forces in Afghanistan, knowing full well that Pakistan receives the running expenses of its military action in the Tribal Areas from these facilities.

There are a number of misconceptions in the “consensus” at home. It is believed that if Pakistan acted defiantly like Iran and North Korea it would become powerful and prosperous and may even get international support. But nothing could be further from the truth. Iran and Venezuela are leading the isolationist group, and the latter even spends money out of its pocket to encourage more states to act like them, but they don’t have the kind of money needed to support Pakistan. In any case Iran would be most unwilling to fund a pro-Al Qaeda Pakistan because the terrorists in Pakistan kill Shias as their side business. China too has complaints about its Sinkiang Muslims training with Al Qaeda apart from the fact that Al Qaeda doesn’t help by kidnapping Chinese engineers in Pakistan.

There is too much anger and unrealistic emotionalism over the electronic and print media. Unfortunately there are campaigns launched to malign the government through forgeries and planted lies. This is not the way to treat an elected government especially since it deserves the time and space to prove its worthiness. There will be time enough for that later if it fails to deliver the goods. (Daily Times)

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