Ten years on

Published September 10, 2011

National Guard troops stand at the World Trade Center as the tribute lights are turned on to remember the victims of the 9/11 attacks on Saturday night. – Reuters Photo

KARACHI: As Americans gather today to mark the anniversary, first after the elimination of the alleged culprit-in-chief Osama Bin Ladin, at the Tear Drop memorial at Ground Zero, the bereaved families who have been in mourning for ten years might reach closure at long last.

The world, however, continues to suffer from the event’s spin-off. The upheaval generated by the terrorists’ action and the US reaction, the ensuing war against terrorism and invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan have led to changes that continue to affect lives of millions around the globe.

Apart from death and destruction in war theatres, the threat – both real and perceived — from an invisible army instils fear in all societies. As nations adjust to cope with the threat by investing in their security frameworks, they tend to undermine their own economies. It is no wonder that trade and business suffered globally as the risk factor hiked up, and the mobility of capital and people got obstructed. Some see the looming global recession rooted in the mindless expensive strategy embraced by the US and its coalition partners. The memory of September 11 evokes nervousness in Pakistan as the country struggles to contain the devastating toll of the lingering ‘war on terrorism’ on its society and economy.

The U-turn towards Taliban angered them and made them turn their guns towards the country caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. The situation was more challenging as sympathisers and sister outfits of Taliban, though more active in the northern mountainous region, existed across Pakistan. The decision to ban some of these organisations did little as they resurfaced under another garb. The new policy, therefore, compelled the security apparatus to invade — or at least reclaim — parts of its own territory, which is not an easy option for any military.

The backlash was a logical outcome. Over the decade, the country has lost about 40,000 innocent civilians and combatants collectively during military operations as well as in attacks by the Taliban. The country had has to deal with the additional burden of handling internally displaced families fleeing the war zones.

The total cost of infrastructure destroyed and opportunities lost calculated by the government add up to around $70 billion over the last ten years. The death toll and devastation was highest in the boarder areas in Northern Pakistan, but none of the major cities has been spared by the attackers who seem hell-bent to cast the world in their own image.

The initial boost that Pakistan experienced post 9/11 as the West rewarded the country for siding with the coalition proved short-lived. As the military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, adjusted to the US demands, sanctions were lifted and the country was allowed re-entry into the Commonwealth as soon as the democratic government was installed in 2008. Some loans were rescheduled and Pakistan received aid liberally beside direct service charges for allowing use of its soil by the Nato forces. The collateral damage of the war was not limited to the loss of life and property. The war economy pushed the social sector on the back burner. Private business suffered owing to deteriorating investment environment. The crowding out of development spending because of rising budget to cover security concerns weighed heavily and the key economic indicators nosedived.

The GDP growth initially hiked from two per cent in 2001 to over eight per cent in 2006, but has since dived back to little over two per cent currently. The inflation started its northward journey and average inflation touched 16 per cent in 2011 from 4.4 per cent in 2001. The external debt doubled over the period from about $30 billion in 2001 to $60 billion in 2011. The currency depreciated its value by more than one-third over the period. From Rs64 to a dollar, today it takes Rs86 to buy one.

The pace of increase in direct foreign investment moderated post-2005. Foreign exchange reserves, however, stabilised as from around $3 billion in 2001, they rose to $18 billion in 2011.

For ordinary people, life became tougher over the period. The urban poor did benefit during the first half of the decade because of massive expansion in the services sector, but indicators suggest that rural poverty actually increased. With sliding growth post-2006, as investment fell and unemployment and inflation rose, Urban Pakistan also went down on the quality-of-life graph. The situation, however, somewhat improved in the second half of the decade for the rural population which benefited from commodity price hike and pro-agriculture policies of the government.

According to the Human Development Index of UNDP, currently 60.3 per cent of Pakistan’s population lives on or under $2 a day, and some 22.6 per cent live under $1 a day. The wealth distribution is estimated to be highly uneven, with 10 per cent of the population earning 27 per cent of income. According to the current UN Human Development Report, Pakistan’s relevant indicators, especially for women, fell significantly below those of countries with comparable levels of per capita income. For instance, Pakistan has higher infant mortality rate (88 per 1,000) than the South Asian average (83 per 1,000). A section of intelligentsia and business representatives hold General Musharraf’s government partially responsible for mismanaging the opportunity in the first half of the decade by diverting increased resources to less desirable options. They believe that a more prudent economic policy of addressing infrastructure deficit and structural drawbacks during the period could have paved the way for more sustained gains to the economy, allowing a wider section of population to benefit. Data confirms that wealth distribution and the income disparity worsened post 9/11.

Despite failings of the current democratic dispensation – and there are many – the majority of people interviewed spared them the criticism and put the blame for weak economic performance even in the second half of the last decade on the military dictatorship. Some acknowledged that it was under a democratic government in Pakistan that the extremist element was isolated to achieve a national consensus against terror perpetrators. They believe that military operations have also been more effective under the parliamentary supervision.

All political parties categorically condemned attacks by rogue elements in Pakistan. However, except for the PPP, the ANP and the MQM, others either oppose the general’s decision to fall in line under US pressure or expressed some reservations over the way the issue was handled by the dictator. Jamat-e-Islami and Tehreek-e-Insaf claimed that they would have resisted the US pressure had they been holding the reigns of power, and demanded revision of the policy towards war on terror to suit what they call “the national interests of Pakistan”.

Though less in numbers, there are people who view the turbulent last decade as a logical outcome of an earlier adventurism by General Zia. In 1979 he decided to fight proxy war for US in Afghanistan to stabilize his rule. They believe that the country was reaping what General Zia sowed three decades back. They, therefore, believe that the country needed to rid itself of extremists and militants to tread on the natural path of development with or without the 9/11 happening. The believe that 9/11 in a way served to bring the cancer that was spreading underneath to surface.

It was surprising that no one mentioned the lost leaders Ms Benazir Bhutto, Salman Taseer and others when counting losses owing to Taliban activism to the polity of Pakistan.

The request of Dawn to the US Embassy to comment on the issue was politely turned down. The information section cited some administrative problems – in particular the absence of US Ambassador Cameron Munter – for not being able to provide their input for this report.

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