By Swapan Dasgupta
Around the time the authorities in Pakistan first began appealing for international assistance to help the victims of the devastating floods—what the UN, with characteristic hyperbole, has called the "greatest humanitarian crisis in recent history"—I was driven to send a Tweet: "Pak…has specialised in milking adversity for profit."
Predictably, the message drew many adverse comments. I was charged with insensitivity, narrow-mindedness and what not. The underlying theme was that suffering is suffering and there was no need to politicise it. Fearing I may have dialled a wrong number, I opted out of this debate.
It now transpires I was being unduly squeamish. The past fortnight clearly suggests that my fears of Pakistani intentions aren't born out my own hateful prejudice: it is shared by much of the world, although they wouldn't be indiscreet to say so publicly.
Last week, the UN appealed to the world community to raise $460 million in aid. So far, according to the Wall Street Journal, around $228 million has been raised. Writing from Islamabad, the correspondent of London's Daily Telegraph noted: "International aid officials are struggling to raise funds for Pakistan because of what they call an 'image deficit'. Business leaders inside the country are also offering goods and services rather than cash in order to make sure funds are not misused."
The fears don't seem to be misplaced. Just as the military hardware donated to the Pakistan military by the West to fight the hateful Taliban in Afghanistan have a strange habit of being diverted to the eastern front, aid to Pakistan ends up in strange sort of places. It has been revealed that nearly $300 million of assistance for the 2005 earthquake that killed 80,000 people (mainly in the so-called "Azad Kashmir") were diverted to other, presumably worthwhile, causes. Syed Adil Gilani, the head of the Pakistan chapter of Transparency International told The Times (London) last week that of the estimated 87 billion Pakistan rupees spent by the Federal Flood Commission since 1977, anything between 60 to 70 per cent has been embezzled.
OK, you may well say that the failure to distinguish between public funds and private resources isn't exclusively a Pakistani failing. Those following the murky saga of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi would be inclined to believe that the awesome record of the Federal Flood Commission across the border may well be matched by those who, we have been promised, will be severely punished after our national pride has been salvaged in October.
However, before the sadbhavna brigade rushes to the facile conclusion that India and Pakistan are brothers-in-corruption, it is necessary to impose a small caveat. The money squandered or pocketed in connection with the CWG is money paid for by the beleaguered community of Indian taxpayers. Unlike the socialist 1960s when India led a ship-to-mouth existence and ministers went begging bowl in hand for aid, today's market-driven India taxes its own people and businesses and then proceeds to misuse the money.
Pakistan is cleverer. Our neighbour doesn't bother too much with internal generation of resources. It leverages its strategic importance to ensure that some gullible foreigner pays for its profligacy.
Pakistan has turned extortion into a fine art. In the 1980s, General Zia-ul Haq cleverly exploited Pakistan's position as the frontline state in the jihad against the godless 'evil empire' to ensure happy days for the military. After 9/11 and the initial shock of the 'with us or against us' threat issued by the Bush administration, Pakistan perfected the ability of "looking both ways"—British Prime Minister David Cameron's evocative phrase. The military was generously funded by the US, NATO countries, the Gulf states and China, and multilateral agencies underwrote the country's development. From this largesse, a significant amount was conveniently diverted to bankrolling the Taliban in Afghanistan, not to mention shadowy groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba which trained its guns on India. In other words, US and British soldiers in Afghanistan were being killed and maimed by weapons paid for by the American and British taxpayers. When West occasionally opened its eyes and threatened to choke the unending supply of dollars, Pakistan would simply retort 'no money, no cooperation'. The threats have always worked.
Pakistan has emerged as the world's most deft blackmail state. Now blessed with nuclear weapons and a quiet but unbreakable alliance with China, it is smiling all the way to the bank. Floods or earthquakes, democracy or dictatorship, LeT or A.Q.Khan, Pakistan has got away with murder because it knows exactly how to threaten and how to extort.
This may be why those noble souls in the West who donated so generously for Tsunami relief and for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti have suddenly become tight-fisted over Pakistan. And it is this 'image deficit' which prompted Pakistan to even accept the $5 million offered by India, a generous sum considering that China—now the world's second largest economy—has donated only $7.2 million. Recall that when India offered a larger sum in 2005 for the victims of the earthquake, Pakistan left the gift unopened.
India's liberal chatterati say that we should be honoured and flattered that Pakistan accepted our donation. They say we should give more. For what? Must the guns to be deployed in the next terror attack be paid for by the Indian taxpayer?
There is a simple way out: let Pakistan stew in its own juice.