We here at the Outpost enjoy bringing a global perspective to our analysis of events in Washington. So today, in that spirit, we offer a thought-provoking reflection on U.S.-Pakistani relations from the pen of Javed Chaudhry, a widely read columnist for the Urdu-language newspaper “Daily Express.” (As far as we know this is the first time it’s appearing in English — we hope, Javed, that you won’t mind.)
Now, we are the first to agree that tracking the intricate twists and turns in the relationship between Islamabad and Washington is a matter of vital importance. Issues like drone attacks or the monitoring of aid payments or the controversy over Raymond Davis — the CIA operative just released from arrest in Pakistan after the mysterious payment of blood money to the families of the two men he killed a few weeks ago in Lahore — certainly deserve to be explored.
But the occasional brutal reality check can’t hurt either. Sometimes it’s worth stepping back and asking some bigger questions. And that’s what we offer you today.
(Our thanks to Aisha Chowdhry for translating the piece.)
March 10, 2011
“Why should we keep America happy?” This was a simple question, and the man who asked it had an innocent face. He was an ordinary person, a person like the hundreds and thousands of people who are all around us, and we do not even pay any attention to them, nor do we ever think about them.
These people are born without fanfare, and they have to struggle to get an education. Then they spend 10-15 grueling years in search of a job, and when they get disappointed they take up a job as a sales clerk at a store or set up a small street vending business or get work as a servant somewhere. They get married, and then they pass away after bringing up four or five more ordinary children just like themselves into the world.
After this, new ordinary people try to make a life for themselves just like their parents did. These people are like water bubbles. When they are born no one sees them; when they vanish, no one remembers them. They are so ordinary that even their own younger generations do not use terms like “My father used to say this…” One of these ordinary people decided to come and find me, making the trip from Sahiwal to Islamabad. He asked me a harmless question: “Why should we keep America happy?”
I looked at him in astonishment and said, “They are a superpower and we are the beggars of the superpower street, and beggars do not have any other choice but to keep others happy.” He scratched his head in confusion and softly spoke, “If we do not keep them happy, what will happen?” I smiled and said, “Then a lot of things will happen. America will not give us aid. Because of America’s unhappiness towards us, the World Bank, the IMF, the Asian Development Bank and the other donors will stop our aid as well. Our exports will come to a halt and the foreign money that is coming here will also stop.”
He went on scratching his head and said, in an extremely humble way, “Then what will happen?” I replied, “All development plans will stop. Roads, bridges, and underpasses will not be constructed. Construction of new dams will stop. Industries will shut down. New rail tracks will not be laid. New clean water plants will not be built. All plans to eradicate poverty and empower female independence will be stopped.”
He nodded in agreement and said, “Then what will happen?” I answered, “Then the country will become flooded with price hikes and unemployment, and regular every-day goods will be beyond ordinary people’s purchasing power. Flour, lentils, cooking oil, rice, vegetables — everything will become three times more expensive. The country will be flooded with problems like hunger. There will be cuts in electricity, gas, and water supply. The people in the cities will start fighting with each other. We will not be able to import gasoline, so the cars and railways will stop. Medicine will become unaffordable, and our children will not be able to pay for school fees and textbooks.” I stopped.
He kept scratching his head and kept nodding in agreement and I was amazed at his strange questions. He then asked, “Then what will happen?” I said, “Then Pakistan will be in default.” He raised his head in amazement, and asked, “So, what will this do?” I immediately replied, “We will be cut off from the rest of the world. Our airplanes will not be able to land in other countries. No country in this world will ever lend us money. Our foreign assets and bank accounts will be frozen. We will become isolated from the rest of the world and….”
He listened to what I was saying, looked at me and began to laugh. I stopped talking and looked at him with amazement. He chuckled and said, “But how will all this affect ME? My Pakistan is already in default. For three generations my family and I have been bankrupt. I’ve been isolated from my country, my city, my neighborhood, even my own family. Nobody meets with me. Nobody even looks at me. I have no bank accounts in my own country, let alone other countries. I have no assets in my own city. My relatives do not lend me money. And as far as planes are concerned, no one in the past three generations of my family has ever set foot on a plane. So, I don’t care if the entire country goes on default. I would be happy if you too became isolated like me and if you too could not leave the country like me.”
I stared at him in silence and he said, “You say that, because of America’s unhappiness, there will be a flood of unemployment and price hikes in the country. Well, let it come. It does not affect me. I am already living through the devastation of unemployment and price hikes. I have not found a job even after completing my masters degree. I tried to run a business but it failed for lack of capital. As for flour, lentils, rice, cooking oil, vegetables, meat, chicken, and medicine, it has been a long time since I have been able to afford any of them as it is. I sold my motorcycle to pay off a loan. So gasoline is not a problem for me. I cannot afford to pay my electric and gas bill. And there were gas and electricity cuts even when I was able to pay the bills. So that doesn’t seem like much of a threat. What do I care? If cooking oil costs 1000 rupees per kilo or if flour costs 200 rupees per kilo or if meat goes up to 500 rupees? I can’t afford such luxuries as it is. So the price hikes and the unemployment won’t affect me.”
He sighed. I kept looking at him in astonishment as he continued. “And all those things you said about development work, they don’t concern me either. When America was Pakistan’s close friend, my street was still unpaved. The government never constructed a sewage system for my neighborhood. I had to walk two kilometers just to get to school. Now my children walk barefoot two kilometers to get to school, too. I used to sit on a floor mat to get my education. Now my children are also getting their educations on floor mats. In my day there were no heaters, and the school had no laboratories, playgrounds, or libraries. There were no restrooms or ceiling fans. Now, in my children’s time, the school still doesn’t have them. The road in our neighborhood has been a mess since my grandfather’s time. There is no paved road for my daily commute. There was no factory built where I could work. No dams were built. I have no access to health care. I have to go to the market to buy medicine for my headaches. Meanwhile our politicians, our bureaucrats, and our generals can find treatment even for cancer, and it’s paid for by the government. So I don’t care about this development work. I don’t care if they shut it down.” He stopped talking, took a long sigh, and looked at me in silence.
I looked at him angrily and yelled, “So you want this country to go bankrupt? You want this country to be destroyed?” He laughed and said, “Yes, that is what I want.” I asked him in anger, “Why?” He replied, “Because this country is no longer mine. This country is for elite people like you. Elite people like you do not understand what my needs are. People like you are enjoying this country and its blessings. All that this country offers is reserved for people like you. That’s why you want to save this country from default. It’s because you won’t be able to find these luxuries anywhere else in the world at such a low price. You people cannot be generals, judges, secretaries, ministers, prime ministers, or presidents in any other country. You will not be successful and famous journalists, or businessmen, or traders anywhere else. And nowhere else will you find people like us who will bow down to you. So you people want to save this country from default for the satisfaction of your own egos, stubbornness and self-interest. And if this means sucking up to Europe or America, you won’t hesitate for a second. This is in your interest. And for the sake of this interest you’re ready to make any compromise.
“So that leaves us, the 175 million people whose Pakistan already went into default 30 or 40 years ago, under the rule of people like you. We came out of slavery under the British just to become your slaves today. Yesterday they were our masters; today you are our bosses. Yesterday we were the ones who ensured their luxuries and today we are saving your luxuries from default. We have already defaulted. Now it is your turn.”