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What has America done for Pakistan?

July 13, 2011

Inherent in that question are assumptions that need to be questioned themselves. Why should America do anything for Pakistan? – Illustrations by Faraz Aamer/Dawn.com

Osama bin Laden has been stolen, Raymond Davis exorcised, and the military’s ego has been hurt once again by men “dressed like characters from Star Wars”. “America is an unreliable ally,” the ISI chief is said to have told the Pakistani parliament in a closed-door briefing.

Pakistan’s ties with terrorists are strategic. Like al Qaeda, Pakistan refers to modern notions of national sovereignty and justice. Like Taliban, Pakistan is concerned less with the enemy and more with spies.

However, our ties with Washington are platonic. If reliability, trust and selflessness are the benchmarks, then the ISI’s evaluation of US foreign policy towards Pakistan is essentially a moral critique.

“What has America done for Pakistan?” parliamentarians asked before calling for a review of ties with the US. Inherent in that question are assumptions that need to be questioned themselves. Why should America do anything for Pakistan?

Pakistan was born a weak state. Soon after independence, Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah asked the US, in a letter sent with his emissary, for $2 billion in military and financial aid, including $170 million for the army, $75 million for the air force, $60 million for the navy, and $700 million each for industrial and agricultural development. He had made a cultural choice.

Pakistan’s first prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan visited US president Harry Truman in 1950 to sell the country’s “geopolitical importance” to the super power. Pakistan’s decision to seek US help against the perceived Soviet designs to reach the warm waters of the Arabian sea was purely strategic.

What the US did for Pakistan consequently produced the conditions that allowed a state that was not expected to last very long when it came into existence, to develop robust agriculture to feed itself, one of the world’s largest militaries and the ability to produce nuclear energy and weapons.

What has America done for Pakistan’s armed forces?

From 1954 to 1956, the US gave Pakistan about $1400 million in military aid, helping an ill-equipped Pakistan Army develop infrastructure, mobility and firepower, and improve command, control, communication and intelligence capabilities for its newly raised divisions. Also in 1954, Pakistan began to receive more than 100 Sabre F-86F aircraft that made the core of its air force. Armed with Sidewinder missiles, these fighter planes gave the Pakistani air force a decisive edge over the Indian one.

Pakistan had also received several hundred M47 and M48 Patton tanks and artillery equipment that gave it tangible superiority over India. By 1971, Pakistan had lost this edge. During the 1971 war, a carrier task force of America’s Seventh Fleet that included nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Enterprise, several destroyers and nuclear-powered attack submarine Gurnard arrived in the Bay of Bengal in support of Pakistan. But Pakistan Army surrendered a day later.

In the 1980s, after Pakistan rejected a $400 million aid package as peanuts, more than $6 billion flew into the country along with weapons that included about a thousand Stinger missiles, as it fought a perceived Soviet threat in Afghanistan and developed a ‘strategic depth’. Since 9/11 (blamed on the ‘strategic assets’ that Pakistan developed in Afghanistan), we received more than $14 billion in military aid and reimbursements, 17 F-16 aircraft and artillery equipment despite substantial doubts on its commitment to the war on terror. Pakistan Navy received the PNS Alamgir frigate, boats, helicopters and two P-3C Orion surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft (with six in the pipeline) and assigned a key role in the Arabian Sea.

What has America done for Pakistan’s nuclear program?

Pakistan’s civil nuclear quest began with the American Atoms for Peace program. It was offered $350,000 to acquire a nuclear reactor in 1955. In 1965, years after scientists Dr Abdus Salam and Dr Ishrat Hussain Usmani traveled to the US, America gave Pakistan its first nuclear reactor. The reactor at Nilore near Islamabad was built by American nuclear engineer Peter Karter and supplied by contractors American Machine and Foundry.

It was only after Pakistan started to develop nuclear weapons that the US imposed sanctions on the country. American concerns of Pakistan’s role in nuclear proliferation eventually turned out to be true.

What has America done for Pakistan’s economy?

Pakistan’s major existential concern in its early years was that all its rivers came from India, and India could block them to cause famines in Pakistan. After negotiations between India and Pakistan failed, America intervened. With input from US public officials, the World Bank spent six years in talks with India and Pakistan to broker the Indus Water Treaty in 1960. After that, the US and the World Bank were major donors to Pakistan’s irrigation system, that included two large dams (Mangla Dam on Jhelum River and Tarbela Dam on Indus River) that added significantly to Pakistan electricity production, and a number of barrages and headworks (Sidhnai Ravi River, Rasul on Jhelum River, Qadirabad and Marala on Chenab and Chashma on Indus).

In the 1970s, American renaissance man Roger Revelle supervised the Salinity Control and Reclamation Program, American agricultural engineers worked with small-town machine shops in Pakistan to help them develop cheap local land-leveling equipment, and USAID’s agriculture chief Richard Newberg developed a fertiliser production and import policy for Pakistan convincing Washington to supply $100 million worth of fertiliser and invest in the Fauji Fertiliser plant.

American scientist Norman Borlaug, with his new varieties of high-yield seed, oversaw the Green Revolution in Pakistan. He received a Nobel Prize in 1970. By 1977, Pakistan’s production of wheat and other food grains had more than doubled and it became self-sufficient in food production. Decades later, Pakistan’s economy still depends on agriculture.

After the failure of its first five-year plan, Pakistan set up a Planning Commission in 1958. The second five-year plan encouraged private enterprise in areas where profits could be made, and government expenditure in less developed areas. It surpassed its goals and Pakistan became a model of industrial and economic development in what is known as the third world (for example South Korea modeled its capital Seoul after Karachi), mainly due to American input and financial aid. After 9/11 when Pakistan decided to join the war on terror, the US helped rescheduled loans of more than $12 billion with members of the Paris Club, allowed duty-free import of hundreds of Pakistani products, and gave Pakistan the biggest economic assistance program since the cold war.

The impact of thousands of Pakistani students, researchers and professionals who were sent on scholarships to universities in the US cannot be measured in financial terms.

And in that manner of argument, it might be appropriate in the end to ask a question that has not been asked so far. What has Pakistan done for the US? What has Pakistan done for the US if reliability, trust and selflessness are the benchmarks?

The author is a media and culture critic and a news editor at The Friday Times.