Can Pakistan Afford to Break with the United States?
Roughly three months ago, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, unveiled the decision of his government to review Pakistan’s relations with the United States. He was upset with Washington for scuttling the peace process with the Taliban following a drone strike in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Close aides to the minister took his statement with a grain of salt because a review of relations with the U.S. requires homework and determination, both of which are lacking at the moment. Since its creation in the late 1940’s Pakistan has relied on Washington for military and economic aid, which has led to Pakistan’s dependency on external help. According to the Congressional Research Service, Pakistan received $25.9 billion USD from 2002 to 2012. Out of this, $7.226 billion went to defense and $18.686 billion went to economic development programs.
By the end of this year, Pakistan expects to receive $686 billion from Washington. And according to Center for Global Development, Washington has provided $67 billion to Pakistan from 1951 to 2011, a portion of which was misused or misappropriated by corrupt Pakistanis. Furthermore, Pakistan’s military, especially the air force, is heavily dependent upon the U.S. for aid, training and hardware. Its advanced weaponry is largely American made. If Pakistan severs or significantly alters its relations with the United States, the fact that aid could end or be curtailed will play into Pakistan’s decision whether to move forward.
There are several other aspects of Pakistan’s dependence on the U.S. For instance, the U.S. is the biggest market for Pakistani products. According to the Federal Bureau of Statistics, 15 percent of the total exports ended up in the United States.
Interestingly, the United States is among just a few countries with whom the balance of trade is in Pakistan’s favor. From January to October of last year, the trade balance remained in Pakistani’s favor by $1821.9 million USD, despite the fact that a number of export orders were not met due to the state of Pakistan’s failing infrastructure.
According to various estimates, more than one million Pakistanis are living in the U.S. and they play a significant role in the socio-political uplift in their homeland. According to the State Bank of Pakistan, the total remittances Pakistan received during 2012-13 was worth $13.920 billion. The United States is also the destination of a large number of Pakistani students. According to the United States Educational Foundation in Pakistan (USEFP), 25 thousand Pakistani students completed their education in the United States during the last five years. Interestingly, a significant number of Pakistani students who enrolled in the United States in 2012 were studying subjects like physics, engineering, mathematics, and medicine. The role of these students in raising the bar of education back home cannot be ignored.
These realities reinforce the reality that Pakistan’s dependence on the U.S. is deep. However, it is the economic dependence, which forces Pakistan to arguably mortgage its sovereignty to the U.S. One can, in this regard, refer to the Kerry-Lugar-Bergman Act or the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009, which had sought an unrestricted access to Pakistan’s national security apparatus.
However, Pakistan certainly has a number of options available to break its dependence with the U.S. For instance, each year Pakistan depends on around $10 billion in foreign aid to keep its economy afloat in return for which it has made compromises in the past to meet its aid commitments. The government could end this problem by improving governance alone. According to Fasih Bokhari, the former head of the National Accountability Bureau, around $52 million USD is misappropriated daily in Pakistan. Similarly, the government can generate an extra $500 billion by controlling corruption which in the end only hurts Pakistani entrepreneurs and businesses.
There are many other avenues available to generate additional resources. For instance, the estimated worth of the market for halal meat in the world has swelled to $2 trillion to meet the demand of the Muslims who are at present 30% of the total population of the world. Currently, this market is dominated by countries like Australia, New Zealand and Denmark. With 70 million cattle heads and buffaloes and 89 million goats and sheep, Pakistan can earn at least $5 to $6 billion annually by entering this market. Notwithstanding an agreement, which is in place, Malaysia is already wary of Pakistan for failing to provide it with an agreed quantity of meat while adhering to international standards.
On the diplomatic front, Pakistan needs to diversify its strategic relationship with the West. In order to the end arm-twisting from Washington it should establish economic relations with its neighbors. Pakistan must have a working relationship with India. By giving India a corridor to the Central Asian republics, Pakistan can have good trade relations with India which eventually could create a conducive environment to resolve the Kashmir issue amicably. India over the last two decades has attained such a level of economic development and international clout that Pakistan can hardly achieve any concession from it at the moment by following a policy of brinkmanship.
Without these steps, Pakistan will continue to rely on the United States for economic and military support. By normalizing relations with India and reaching out to country’s outside of the West’s sphere of influence, namely Russia, Pakistan can develop domestic and foreign policy goals independent of Washington. Talk of a ‘complete review of relations’ with the United States is mere lip service to placate anti-Western elements within Pakistan and does not address the serious internal problems that Pakistan faces.
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