After a decade of Global War On Terror
--- Economic, social, political impact on Pakistan
The exodus of Russians from Afghanistan, the megalomania of Iraq’s Saddam, the spread of Islam in the West, the domestic and external pressure on the American economy, the 9/11 historical event, and the voluminous studies of latter-day Dr Strangelove’s clones nurtured and financed by massively-funded American think tanks were all contributing factors in a series of initiatives undertaken by Washington that came to be known as the Global War On Terror.
The rise of neo-Christian fundamentalists to counter the upsurge in militant Islamic forces gave strong support to the hype created by President Bush advisors and analysts that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction and enabled him to put in motion the grand plan to globally spread American influence.
Pakistan got caught in this tornado for some understandable reasons. The only Islamic nation possessing the bomb, bordering Afghanistan, controlling supply lines to Kabul, with ethnic and religious camaraderie transcending the border, largely dependant on Washington-controlled financing agencies, with a ballooning population under 25 years old that may be swayed by extremist elements, and the docility of it’s political and military leadership to United States’ dictation. Thus the loud threat of “you with us or you against us” worked pronto and Pakistan was touted as the frontline state in GWOT.
The decade of this GWOT has made Pakistan front-page news day in and day out. Every week some American high-up or some Congressional delegation comes to Islamabad and, while breathing down the neck of the political and military leadership, proclaims the mantra of “Do More”. This has put Pakistan in a precarious position and its impact has been widespread all across the country.
Over this eventful and volatile decade, Pakistan has faced situations that have fundamentally changed its political, economic, and social landscape. The GWOT enabled the democratic forces to unite against a government controlled by President General Pervez Musharraf and negotiate a new political order thru the notorious National Reconciliation Order. This paved the way for Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif to end their self-imposed and forced exiles. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto has been blamed on the terrorists and extremists that are the legacy of GWOT. The Liaquat Bagh Rawalpindi tragedy created a wave of sympathy and her party came into power with her tainted husband anointing himself as President. “Democracy is the best revenge” became the rallying slogan, but political instability, political expediency, and political distrust cast a glooming shadow on all imperative and crucial national decisions. The government hid its weaknesses, its insensitivity, and its inability to undertake decisions by camouflaging it as outcome of its fulltime concentration and determination to weed out terrorism and extremism.
On the social side, the nation has been horrendously affected by the ten years of intense involvement in the GWOT. The most sad and tragic outcome has been the death of over 35,000 citizens and military personnel. Scarce financial resources have been diverted to fighting this war at the cost of neglecting social sectors such as education and health. The track record of various governments has always been pathetic when it came to allocation for social sectors. No government has spent more that 3% of GDP on health and education and the GWOT also encroached on this allocation too. The rehabilitation and rebuilding of war-torn areas put a huge dent in the Treasury. Moreover, biased ethnicity, tribal rivalry, and parochial mindset all gained strength from the after-effects of this war and impacted on the decision making process of the government and the administration.
Pakistan has been the worst sufferer in economic terms because of the GWOT. The Finance Ministry has estimated that the nation spent over US$ 68 billion during the past decade in fighting this war. This amount equals the combined 2010-11 import and export figure. In the past couple of years, the government has drastically cut down essential projects under the Pakistan Social Development Program while also arbitrarily raising electricity and gas rates. The GWOT, coupled with the annual floods, have also messed up the GDP rate which is less than 3% with scant chance of it crossing the 3.50% mark in the current fiscal year. Asian Development Bank has estimated an annual 7% growth rate to absorb the burgeoning labor force that is looking for meaningful employment. This is a tall order and there is no window of opportunity on the horizon.
Pakistan’s image has been seriously tarnished due to the GWOT. This has put pressure on the development of new export markets and affected the comfort zone that importers of Pakistani products had in dealing with their suppliers. The law and order imbroglio, especially in Karachi, has also been detrimental to the progress of Pakistan’s economy. Notwithstanding the highest-ever exports in 2010-11, the fact is that it was more due to increase in world prices rather than additional increase in quantity. Today, unemployment is a major issue and it naturally induces the unemployed to succumb to the “sales pitch” of terrorist and extremist organizations. Pakistan’s defence bill is tremendously increasing inspite of the efforts of the military hierarchy not to open new military operation theatres to fight terrorism.
Pakistan is not being timely compensated by America for the huge expenses incurred by the defence forces. Moreover, the Kerry-Luger-Bremen Act under which development aid would be forthcoming has also been a victim of the change in Washington’s perception of the Pakistan’s efforts. Even the International Financing Institutions, primarily IMF, also get their signals from Washington. Now, Pakistan is compelled to announce that it is abandoning the IMF program and not applying for a new initiative to tackle its economic requirements.
All in all, with a limited financial base, with only about $200 billion GDP, with 185 million people, with tremendous competition in the global export market, with obvious political instability, with rise of extremist Islamic militants, with no signs of cessation of hostilities at the border, and with United States wanting Pakistan to “Do More”, Pakistan will not be the ultimate beneficiary of the Global War on Terror.