Debt of Gratitude

Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf addresses reporters at Camp David
Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf addresses reporters at Camp David, June 24, 2003 (Photo: Stephen Jaffe/AFP-Getty Images).

On June 24, Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, made a much-anticipated visit to the United States, where he visited President Bush at his Camp David retreat. The two men discussed Pakistan’s role in the war against terrorism, the Kashmir dispute, and Pakistani recognition of Israel.

Musharraf left the meeting with a pledge from his host of US$3 billion in economic aid over five years. If approved by the U.S. Congress, half of this package is to be used to pay off Pakistan’s foreign debt, the other half for military purchases. Trade and scientific agreements were also signed.

But there was no consensus in the Pakistani press about whether the trip had been a success. As the Business Recorder noted (June 26): “The package easily lends itself to the glass half-full or half-empty analogy.”

Anwar Ahmad, writing in The News (June 30), summed up the complaints of Musharraf’s critics, noting that the meeting produced “no debt write-off, no increased market access, no encouraging word on Kashmir, no balm for the Pakistanis in the United States, no F-16s, the promise of a measly five-year aid package of $3 billion, and a near-commitment to throw Pak troops into the Iraqi inferno.”

More specifically, many analysts observed that the aid package was insufficient to cover Pakistan’s post-Sept. 11 losses. Attaul Haq Qasmi, writing in Daily Jang (June 27), noted that the “American government has itself declared that Pakistan suffered a $10-billion loss as a result of the policies the United States required of it after the Sept. 11 tragedy.”

But, as Rasul Bakhsh Rais made clear in The News (June 28), not everyone was so pessimistic. “Realistically, what could be better than [what] we have got?” he asked, pointing out that “as this relationship grows and confidence in each other further develops, there will be more avenues of cooperation between the two countries.”

Several commentators worried that the aid was a quid pro quo for Pakistani support of a U.S. agenda. Zubeida Mustafa, writing in Dawn (July 9), likened the package to an “American noose round our neck,” which “only reinforces the begging-bowl image which has stuck to us since Pakistan emerged as an independent state in 1947.”

In Rais’ piece for The News (June 28), he noted three entailments implicit in the aid: “First, Pakistan will continue to support the United States in Afghanistan, work with the Karzai government, deny its territory to the Taliban and
Al-Qaeda, and help the U.S. authorities capture the wanted figures. Second, Pakistan will not share its nuclear technology and material with any power,...will tighten its domestic control mechanisms, and will support the general efforts
controlling nuclear proliferation. Third is the tricky issue of restoring democracy.”

An editorial in Nawa-i-Waqt (June 26) further suggested: “Pakistan will be pressured to recognize the illegitimate state of Israel. It might also have to accept a specific solution to the Kashmir issue that runs against the interest of Kashmiris and Pakistanis. Besides, Pakistan will be required to send a contingent to Iraq to lend support to the U.S. troops to crush the Iraqi resistance. This will be seen as a reprehensible move that runs against the Islamic spirit. The United States is planning to target Iran as it did Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus, it seeks Pakistan’s support to launch a strike against Iran.”

Many harped on the U.S. refusal to sell F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan. “It was imperative that Pakistan be given the F-16s to maintain the military balance between India and Pakistan,” wrote Mukhtar Ahmad Butt in Daily Jang (June 28).

Although most writers agreed with this conclusion, at least some could understand the U.S. logic. Talat Masood wrote in Dawn (July 9): “Firstly, [selling Pakistan F-16s] would have seriously affected the U.S. strategic relationship with India, which it greatly values. Second, F-16s are capable of delivering nuclear weapons, and that would go against America’s non-proliferation policy.”

The site of the meeting—Camp David—was also the subject of much discussion. Dawn’s Mustafa noted (July 9): “Sycophants were ecstatic over the fact that the president was one of the very few world leaders to have been
invited to Camp David....[Indian] Prime Minster Vajpayee had not enjoyed a similar honor.”

But others, such as Shafqat Mahmood, writing in The News (June 27), claimed that while the United States “will provide the atmospherics to stoke our ego,” they will “give very little” of substance. He continued: “They agreed to receive [Musharraf] at Camp David and we couldn’t contain ourselves. He is the first South Asian leader ever to be invited to this retreat, was the official spin, as if this by itself was a great achievement. We walked around with a general air of triumph as if the battle had already been won. The small matter of our substantive agenda reaching a satisfactory conclusion shrunk into the background.”

The fact that the meeting took place at all, commentators agreed, showed how much has changed for Pakistan since Sept. 11, 2001. The News’ Mir Jamilur Rahman wrote (June 28): “The Camp David talks were a roaring success for the policies formulated by Gen. Pervez Musharraf in the aftermath of 9/11.”

Najam Sethi of The Friday Times noted (June 27-July 3): “Considering that Pakistan not so long ago was a ‘pariah state’ with a ‘useless dictator,’ this is not a bad beginning.” And as Dawn’s Mahir Ali pointedly reminded his readers: “There’s a minor irony in the fact...that in the run-up to the 2000 presidential election, Bush was deemed to have flunked the foreign-policy test when he drew a blank on being asked to name Pakistan’s new military ruler.”