The revelation that Saudi Arabia is the ‘friendly Muslim country’ that deposited $1.5 billion into the Pakistan Development Fund isn’t a surprise. After all, it could hardly have been Yemen or Jordan; they’re not as well-heeled, and nowhere near as friendly.
Why the Nawaz Sharif government has been the beneficiary of such largesse is also not a mystery. The connections between Sharif and the Saudis are well-established, from the period in exile, to Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s “our man in Pakistan” boast to the Wikileaks cables, alleging Saudi funding for Nawaz Sharif’s 2008 election campaign. The list goes on, detailing the history between the man who has a political party named after him and the family that has a country named after it.
Compare the funding to how much the Saudis gave us during the previous government, you know, the one that made the IP pipeline deal with Iran which never materialised. It wasn't not much, I assure you.
Any transaction is made due to mutual need. The buyer has to have a need for what you are selling and vice versa. For a government that has made reviving the country's economy it's stated objective, the money is certainly a blessing, even if only short-term. The rupee has strengthened against the dollar, giving a degree of credibility to Ishaq Dar’s previous claims and has won the PML-N some plaudits, while also embarrassing Shaikh Rashid and other naysayers.
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That Pakistan, chronically in search of bailouts, needs the money is also beyond dispute. It’s another matter entirely whether this money will be spent in refilling a leaky bucket or fixing the leaks themselves. It’s for the economists to ponder upon and for the government to enlighten us on where the cash is going.
At the moment, we have no idea as to how it’s going to be spent; we’re in the dark and, as any child will tell you, there are things that go bump in the night.
What we can be sure of is that this is not baksheesh, but a payment for services rendered and/or services due. The government of Nawaz Sharif has not received this money simply because the Saudis like him, but because they clearly feel he can deliver at his end of the bargain.
We have a right to know what that bargain is, but once more, this sale is shrouded in secrecy, and secrecy invites speculation.
Some allege that the money is to hold off any operation against the Taliban, pointing to the timing of Saudi visits and the peace talks.
Others say it is for Pakistan’s support in Syria, the diplomatic end of which we have already witnessed.
Still others claim that that is only part of it and that Pakistan has agreed to provide training, arms and possibly even manpower to Saudi-backed rebels fighting in Syria.
Some even allege there is a nuclear component to the deal, with the Saudis anxious to offset Iran’s atomic edge as part of their overall containment strategy. As far as that is concerned, this could well be an attempt to open another front on Iran’s flank; an implied or actual threat aimed at making it tone down what is seen by the house of Saud to be its increased influence in the Middle East.
But once again, we don’t know.
What we do know is that the Pakistani state seems to need a sugar daddy, and that some sugar daddies are more palatable than others.
Rewind a few years to when the Kerry-Lugar bill was in the works and recall, if you will, the absolute storm that was created over its conditions; conditions that were, for the most part, openly mentioned and openly debated. There were accusations that the PPP government had sold out the country, had committed treason. There were carefully orchestrated protests and carefully directed debates to this effect. It was by-the-book, paint-by-numbers misinformation and outrage.
This time around, despite the fact that we don’t know what is being brokered, there is relative silence. Some dollars, it seems, are far more halal than others. Certainly, no one’s ever been accused of being a Riyal khor by mainstream opinion.
States can and do make deals, some of which are publicly revealed and others that must remain secret. This case is a little different though. A people who have been lied to, manipulated and deceived for decades, and who have paid a terrible price for these deceptions need to know what is on the table.
What we don’t know will hurt us.