SOME marriages are made to last. The marriage between Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip, for example, despite the marital squalls that a naval officer and his working wife had to endure, has lasted 70 years. That is longer than the marriage of convenience between Pakistan and the United Sates.
Since 1947, Pakistan has espoused more US presidents than Elizabeth Taylor did husbands. Each betrothal brought to the fore its own character, its own intensity, its own protestations of fidelity, its own satanic suspicions. Some US presidents like Lyndon B. Johnson had visited Pakistan. He was so enamoured that he hosted a Karachi camel driver named Bashir in Washington DC. President Richard M. Nixon came when vice president and again as president to solicit Pakistan’s help in opening a back channel with the People’s Republic of China. John F. Kennedy sent his wife Jacqueline as his proxy, a trend followed by Hillary Clinton. Her husband Bill Clinton came later to castigate the new, insecure Chief Executive Gen Musharraf.
President Barack Obama, despite his early friendship with Pakistani fellow students (from whom he learned how to make daal) never found the time to visit Pakistan. President Donald Trump has no intention of doing so. For him, Pakistan has all the stale allure of a spent spouse. He cannot wait to extricate himself from an unwanted relationship. That would explain why suddenly, on New Year’s morning this year, he awoke from a hamburger hangover and tweeted that the cost of the relationship with Pakistan — $33 billion over 16 years — was unbearably high. He wants out. Donald Trump is used to divorces. What matters to him is not the length of a marriage; it is the quantum of the exit settlement.
For Trump, Pakistan has all the stale allure of a spent spouse.
One does not need to be a divorce attorney to dissect the validity (or otherwise) of Trump’s accusations. One need only access the Congressional Research Service report on Pakistan prepared in November 2017 and disseminated amongst multiple congressional offices. An annexure to that report tabulates ‘Direct Overt US Aid and Appropriations for and Military Reimbursements to Pakistan, FY 2002 — FY 2018’. There, in the final column, is the tell-tale total: $33.927bn.
Had someone in the White House staff with an axe to grind against Pakistan (might it be his ambassador to the UN the Pakistan-phobe Nikki Haley?) shown Trump that statement, and the morning 2018 dawned all he could remember was the glaring total, not its confusing detail.
Devils though, as divorce attorneys know to their client’s cost, lurk in the detail. Out of the total of $33.9bn, Economic-Related Aid comprises Rs$11.1bn, of which $8.7bn was disbursed as Economic Support between 2002 and 2011. That leaves $8.2bn of Security Related Aid. Again the bulk of this — $4.1bn was applied towards Foreign Military Financing. Another $2.3bn was taken up by the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Fund/ Counterinsurgency Capability Fund overseen by the Pentagon and the State Department respectively.
The Economic Related Aid and the Security Related Aid are dwarfed by the Coalition Support Fund reimbursements (CSF). These reimbursements are against claims prepared by the Pakistan armed forces for supplies, services and logistics provided to the US-led coalition in its war in Afghanistan. These claims are verified by the US government auditors and then (depending on the whim of the administration) approved for reimbursement to the Pakistan government, usually with a six-month time lag. Since 2002, these have ballooned to $14.5bn, of which $8.8bn was disbursed before 2011, seven years ago.
The Pakistani public sees only the Economic Related Aid of $11bn, which is less than one third of $33bn. The other $22bn is the cost of toys for the boys. It is obvious who will need to take Trump’s threats to cut off security aid seriously.
There was a time when Pakistan chose to be monogamous, loyal to only one superpower. Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto changed that. Taking a cue from his hero Napoleon Bonaparte, who described China as “a sleeping giant”, Mr Bhutto helped a groggy China totter to its feet diplomatically. Every successive government has benefited from Mr Bhutto’s initiative, even though few have given him due credit.
If any superpower understands Pakistan, it is not the United States but China. It has seen Pakistan survive earthquakes, floods, social traumas, the murder of its leadership and the massacre of its schoolchildren, political upheavals, dismissal of elected prime ministers, self-satisfied pontification by ousted leaders, and now the soufflé aspirations of a sportsman-turned-politician who might soon announce his third marriage.
Perhaps Trump’s next tweet will not be about aid, but to Imran Khan, celebrating the triumph of hope over experience.
The writer is an author.
Published in Dawn, January 11th, 2018