False nationalism

July 21, 2011

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THE comprador, clientelist military of a clientelist state has suddenly found its own sense of pride and nationalism. A military which has been critically dependent on US aid for far too many years has now turned around to say that it will ‘rely on domestic resources’ to make up for the $800m cut, or threat of a cut, by the Americans.

Given the nature of the political economy of Pakistan and of its military, at a time of a fiscal crisis in the state, this is a serious joke.

The amusing part of this newfound, false nationalism of Pakistan’s military is that the latter has not in the past ever said ‘no’ to US or any other aid, and nor has it said that it will ‘rely on domestic resources’. This has been said by all civilian governments, in jest of course, whenever they were denied financial assistance, but this is the first time that Pakistan’s armed forces have woken up to their own very compromised, comprador status. Moreover, just to underscore how false such statements are, one needs to be reminded that the $800m which might be cut is a mere one-third of what the US is to give Pakistan’s military this year. The remaining $1.6bn which Pakistan’s military (and not Pakistan’s government — a critical distinction) receives, will of course be utilised in the way the Americans demand of Pakistan’s military.

One needs to explain and emphasise the nature and extent of US military aid to Pakistan’s military to highlight how critical this has been to Pakistan’s army, a fact which will show why this newfound nationalism is so false and such a joke. For instance, just in the period since 2001, over the course of what was called the war on terror, the US gave the government (or the country) of Pakistan $12.14bn over 2002-09. Of this, as much as $8.91bn, or 73 per cent, was classified as ‘security-related’ aid to Pakistan, most of which was given as part of the services provided by Pakistan’s military, as part of the Coalition Support Funds. Clearly, the Bush-Musharraf relationship was largely the US providing aid to Pakistan’s military, and not to its people.

It was only after the change of government in both countries that the nature of the aid-giving relationship with Pakistan changed. Once the Obama administration took over and the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act was passed there was a considerable shift towards non-military aid to Pakistan. In 2009 and 2010, as much as $6.61bn was authorised by the US administration, although not all of it was disbursed. Of this, as much as 44 per cent was meant as non-military aid, for economic-related purposes, a huge, and critical, shift compared to the past.

What these numbers show is that a considerable part of assistance from the US to ‘Pakistan’, has actually come to Pakistan’s military. To emphasise this point further, if we look at the current fiscal year, the US is said to have earlier promised $2.4bn specifically marked as assistance to Pakistan’s military or military aid.

In the same year, the Government of Pakistan in the budget, allocated Rs495bn to the military. Hence, the US taxpayer was funding the equivalent of (or an additional) 41 per cent of what the Pakistani taxpayer was providing. By all accounts, a very considerable amount and a significant proportion of expenditure by, and on, Pakistan’s military. Pakistan’s military is still critically dependent on US aid.

The second consequence of the statement by the Pakistan military, of relying on ‘our own resources’, is equally troubling.

First of all, ‘our’ resources are in particularly bad shape, thanks mainly to a huge military budget over the years of as much as six per cent of GDP in some years in the past, down to around 3.7 per cent of GDP today. Even in the best of times, this is a huge expenditure for the common person in Pakistan to bear, considering that a very large section of the rich and elite do not pay income taxes, and most taxes are collected through indirect taxes. But at a time when the state is faced with a fiscal crisis, the demand for more of ‘our’ resources as military expenditure is a cruel twist in an all-too-familiar tale.

Although Pakistan’s economy is nowhere in crisis, it is in some difficulty. The fiscal deficit has risen to levels where it adds continuously to increasing debt, and is probably nearer five per cent of GDP today. Critically, the fiscal crisis of the state is reflected in the fact that while the military gets around 3.7 per cent of GDP, development expenditure receives maybe just half of that. Pakistan’s economy cannot maintain this imbalance between development and military spending, and this is the real crisis of the Pakistani state.

For the Pakistan military to say that it does not need US military aid, is clearly incorrect, and even the Americans know this is not true. And for the military to say that they will rely on ‘our own resources’, is equally false, for the military has already squeezed much of ‘our resources’ leaving little for others. Pakistan’s military has determined Pakistan’s nationalism and its ideology for far too long. It is critical that civilian democratic governments claim the right to determine what the nation represents. For this to happen, they will need to assert their own agency, something at which they have so far failed miserably.

The writer is a political economist.