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Selling Off Af-Pak

A few days ago, the West’s favorite Pakistani journalist, Ahmed Rashid, wrote a ‘guest column’ on the BBC website in which he suggested that the Afghan governance model be transferred to Pakistan:

“Pakistan’s Reconstruction Trust Fund could be run by a board that included the World Bank, other international lending agencies and independent and prominent Pakistani economists and social welfare figures with no ties to the government.

“Pakistanis would still take all the major decisions, but those who did so would not be the cronies of the president, the PM or the opposition leaders.Pakistan’s finance bureaucracy and army would have seats at the table, but certainly no veto powers over how the money is spent.

“Their job would be impartial implementation of recovery overseen by the Trust Fund. Such a fund would not just monitor the cash, but help the government put together a non-political, neutral reconstruction effort. It would also help plan long-term economic reforms….”

The notion that that the World Bank, IMF and friends are ‘non-political’ and ‘neutral’ is risible and not worth wasting time on, especially given that their supervision of Afghanistan’s largest bank (largely owned and controlled by the Karzai family and just as corrupt as Zardari and his cronies) doesn’t seem to have been all that effective since it collapsed just as the BBC website published the path-breaking text.

Of course it is undeniable that the inner decay and disintegration of Pakistan, about which I have been writing for so many years, proceeds apace. A profound disillusionment accompanied by nihilism had already set in some decades ago, when, in one of his poems, Faiz Ahmed Faiz referred to the fatherland as ‘a forest of dead leaves’, ‘a congregation of pain.’ It’s got worse since then.

As if the Af-Pak war (supported by Rashid and company) isn’t bad enough. The backlash it has created in the shape of armed religious extremists bombing targets in every major Pakistani city is out of control. Or to put it another way, if the Pakistani state with its half-a-million strong army, its countless networks of military and police intelligence operatives embedded in every corner and institution of the country, is incapable of penetrating and isolating the groups carrying out the bombings then the end is truly nigh.

Or could it be that the intelligence services that have been infiltrated from within and without. Otherwise how to explain the timing of some of the attacks targeting internal enemies or foreign intelligence agents and soldiers would be a total mystery. Take this from a few years ago: US and NATO intelligence guys and gals decided to meet for an informal lunch at a fancy Islamabad restaurant. The location and guest list is secret, known only to themselves and their trusted security guys within Pakistani intelligence. A well-placed bomb disrupts the lunch leaving bodies in its wake.  And this definitely wasn’t Wikileaks.

Political corruption has wrecked the country on other levels with widespread anger against the politicians and despair at the inability of anyone to do anything. The alienation from politics runs deep and the average citizen regards politicians in power as a filthy business and tries to retreat into private life. The active citizen, for the moment at least, is a disappearing breed, despite the courage of a tiny minority of activists and journalists who refuse to give up.

The country stumbles from one disaster to another and with the gulf between the super-rich whose wedding feasts are flown in from Dubai and who have built schools, universities and hospitals for themselves and ordinary middle-class families who cannot afford or access these facilities looking desperately for ways to migrate elsewhere, no longer easy because of the heightened security since 9/11. And this is only 20 percent of the population.

The talk-show presenters who speak of a cleansing revolution can never make one and those below, whose sufferings become visible only when disaster strikes, are so demoralized and fearful and concentrating on feeding their children and themselves that meaningful political action is far removed from their thoughts at the moment.  The religious extremists, mercifully, remain unpopular. Their development model is hardly a secret in the region.

Ahmed Rashid wants to hand the country over to the United States and institutions under its control. Surely this is a bit mean spirited to the other world powers. Given the dodgy state of the US economy he would be better advised to expand the list. Perhaps four global multinationals (based in the United States, Germany, China and Russia) could set up a consortium (AFPAKCO) and start bidding for failing states, starting with Pakistan.

What Blackwater, its subsidiaries and rivals are doing for the US and British armies, could be replicated in civil society by big banks, oil giants and the nuclear industry. They could take over and run a few countries and if they messed up the World Bank and IMF could bail them out.  The elites, many of their number already on the payroll, would happily sell out completely. And if the consortium were broad-based enough then the Pakistan Army would willingly police the new structure in return for a larger monthly check than it receives currently from CENTCOM.

Where once the East India Company took over an entire subcontinent, all that is needed now is for the AFPAKCO consortium to buy a Northern sliver. This time economic self-interest might dictate educating the population, making sure the work force was reasonably fed (genetically modified foods would come in handy on this front) and kept relatively healthy.

Of course the media, so wild these days and out of control, would have to be restrained and tuned to the needs of AFPAKCO. Here the BBC, CNN and Fox could just take-over and Rashid would be a good person to appoint as the first Director-General of the consolidated PTV.  Whether a few porn channels should be allowed for recreational purposes is a tactical question, though on this front many of the politicians currently wasting their time could provide useful advice and service.

In 25 years time, let us be pessimistic, a huge anti-AFPAKCO uprising might erupt and bring about real change and independence on a very different basis and under a new leadership untainted by blood ties, corruption or collaboration. Now that would be a new start.

TARIQ ALI’s latest book “The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad’ is published by Verso this month

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Tariq Ali is the author of The Obama Syndrome (Verso).

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