After Davis, what?

01 Mar 2011


SO the cat is out of the bag. Raymond Davis, or whatever his real name is, was a CIA agent. But should that shock us as is being made out by media analysts and the parties demonstrating on the streets? Don’t we all know that governments spy on one another? And with each other’s knowledge?

Many former high-ranking Foreign Office functionaries have categorically said on television that Pakistan also sends undercover agents to other countries and they go under diplomatic immunity as members of the mission. The host country knows about it because the exchange takes place on a reciprocal basis. One former foreign secretary made it clear that if Davis was declared persona non grata and expelled, one of our diplomats in Washington would also be sent home.

Raymond Davis made the mistake of crossing the ‘red line’ and was detected. Therefore the killings were followed by the brouhaha. But will this episode end without damaging Pakistan? It is strange that our analysts, who should know better, are posing naive questions. One TV anchor asked rhetorically, “If our diplomat had killed two men in cold blood in Washington, would the Americans have allowed him to go home under the cover of diplomatic immunity?”

Obviously not, because the US is a superpower and Pakistan is not. In short, we have an unequal relationship, notwithstanding the hype about state sovereignty. We have trapped ourselves in an unsavoury situation by tying ourselves too closely to the American apron strings with the incumbent indignity.

The need of the hour is to cool down tempers and at the same time quietly distance ourselves from Washington to ensure that we do not have to entertain more of the likes of Raymond Davis on our soil.

The time has come for a serious rethink of our foreign policy and this cannot be done in the glare of publicity. We need to realise that ‘the burden of US aid’ that our leading intellectual, the late Hamza Alavi, had written about in 1962 is growing heavier by the day. It has implications for our politics, economy and foreign policy. It is also demeaning.

We owe largely to the Americans our failure to evolve a stable democracy in the country. A quote from an article by Hamza Alavi (1998) speaks volumes for the American role in this context. Alavi wrote, “The US attached great importance to the role of the army in Pakistan’s political system. A ‘Summary Presentation of the (US) Mutual Security Programme’ published in 1957 stated, ‘From a political viewpoint US military aid has strengthened Pakistan’s armed services, the greatest single stabilising force in the country’.” With this ‘stabilising force’ constantly calling the shots, can a civilian government really function autonomously?

The economic dimension of our relations with the US has been equally damning. The aid that has flowed into the country is difficult to estimate given the different methodologies used to calculate it. Pakistan is said to have received $15bn in economic and military aid from the US in 1947-2004. In 2005-2010, another $12.8bn was dispatched. But only a fraction of this was economic aid and not all of it arrived here.

Although our government uses the quantum of aid received as the yardstick to measure its foreign policy successes, it is strange that this aid has not given us a sound and thriving economy. Worse still, the conditions attached to the aid inflow have forced the government to reduce subsidies causing an increase in the incidence of poverty in the country. Yet our leaders feel no indignity in going around with a begging bowl to world capitals. Being awash with funds, the country finds itself rife with corruption.

The ‘burden’ of US aid in the defence sector has not won us any security either. On the contrary, it has developed in us a delusion of power prompting us to enact Operation Gibraltars, Kargils, Kabuls and Mumbais with abandon. True, that is how the big powers of the world operate. But did we have to attempt to join their ranks by conducting a nuclear test and then threaten to use our nuclear weapons? With this mindset we felt no compulsion to seriously attempt a rapprochement with India, our neighbour to the east, with which our destiny is tied by virtue of geography.

In the process, we have neglected our own people who constitute the human capital of the country. The UNDP’s Human Resources Report 2010 released last week informs us that 54 per cent of Pakistanis are suffering from multidimensional poverty, which means they are impoverished not just in terms of income but also education, healthcare, water, sanitation and so on. So great has been our emphasis on defence — in terms of military manpower and weapons — that human security has been thrown to the winds. Pakistan has fallen below the South Asian average in all key indicators and the gap is growing.

In this situation, can we afford to play ‘I spy’ on an unequal footing with powers that belong to another class? When we try to compete with them, we inevitably invite their retaliation and contempt. The world has had its fair share of Kim Philbys, Mata Haris and Rosenbergs. Let us keep out of this. The Raymond Davis episode has demonstrated our vulnerability. Why don’t our TV anchors tell viewers this in plain terms and prepare the people for the hard slog that will be inevitable when US dollars stop flowing in. The government will then learn the virtues of self-reliance.