Perspectives on Pakistan
Guest contribution-A message for the EU summit
The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The writer is the High Commissioner of Pakistan to Britain.
By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
Pakistan has a rollercoaster history of civilian and military regimes taking turns. Unfortunately, democratically elected governments have always assumed charge at a time when the political, economic and social crises were at their peak. Dictatorial rulers in Pakistan survived each time for a decade, ironically, due to the fullest support of Western democracies.
This time around, when the Pakistan Peoples’ Party along with other political partners has been democratically elected after enormous sacrifices including the assassination of former Prime Minister Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto the situation is no different. It is rather worse within the entire region. Pakistan’s neighbourhood is extremely hostile, turbulent and posing an existential threat.
Pakistan has been stretching itself thin to sustain the “war on terror”. However the assistance from our Western friends is not equal to the enormous challenges Pakistan faces. The government and the people of Pakistan feel that the situation has not got out of hand yet. But if help from Western powers, to whom wholehearted public support has been extended both in the fight against terrorism and through logistic support for their efforts in Afghanistan, is not reciprocated immediately then the impact on the deteriorating economic situation may provide space – so far blocked – to the obscurantist forces that pose a serious threat to the present democratic dispensation.
In the context of logistics support, our western friends need to understand that 85 percent of Pakistan’s trucking fleet is engaged in supplies for NATO and ISAF forces in Afghanistan, through Torkhum and Chaman from Karachi port using the road network of over 3000 km on the two routes.
Dedication of this transportation source has strained Pakistan’s economy in terms of the erosion of the road network, an adverse impact on climate, the financial implications of security cover that is provided and the non-availability of trucks for domestic requirements. It appears that none of our friends has quantified the negative impact on domestic economic activity and diversion of our resources due to the cooperation on this count.
While Pakistan’s role in the war on terror since 2001 has adversely impacted its economy and social order, the military operations launched since mid 2009 have only accelerated the downward slide. We have suffered from thousands of terrorist attacks in retaliation, taking a huge toll on human lives and causing colossal material losses. Thriving industries have come to a standstill; it has resulted in the flight of capital, and scared away investors. Our development budget for the current fiscal year was allocated as PKR 400 billion, which has now been slashed by the Prime Minister to PKR 300 Billion, as we have had to divert our development budget to sustain the war on terror.
Everybody agrees that Pakistan’s economy has suffered immensely due to our participation in the war on terror. GDP growth declined from 9 percent in 2005 to 2 percent in 2009. Our exports had registered a rise of 22.17 percent in 2003 while it they have now declined to minus 6.57 percent in 2009 due to the increase in the cost of exports, travel advisories and inaccessibility to markets. Export credit cover from the EU has increased on account of the security situation in Pakistan due to which incoming investment and technology upgrades have halted.
We suffered 3,010 terrorist attacks in 2009 up from 575 in 2006. Our unemployment rose from 175,987 in 2005 to 725,039 in 2009. Our loss of investment in 2009 was $3.988 billion during 2009. All in all the cost of the war on terror has been $7 billion per annum to our economy since 2001 and as a developing country, this is a pyrrhic amount.
When Pakistan’s delegation led by Prime Minister Syed Yusouf Raza Gilani attends the second Pakistan-EU Summit in Brussels on 21st April, 2010 his main agenda would be to secure “duty free” and “quota free” access for Pakistani goods entering the European Union, Pakistan’s largest trading partner. There shall have to be a clear signal of the EU’s political support for Pakistan and its continued commitment to combat extremism and defeat terrorism in the region.
Last but not least – and this is the most important message from the point of view of the western alliance wanting to do everything to stabilise Afghanistan – remember the wise words of Lord Patten, former EU Commissioner for External Relations. Writing: “What Ails Afghanistan?” (Wall Street Journal, May 10, 2006), he told the international community that while it had done an enormous amount to help Afghanistan to recover from its failed-state condition, it had resisted tackling the problem at its very root – it did not realise that without a strong democracy in Pakistan stability in Afghanistan would remain an elusive dream.