Perspective 360°

Is the Nato blockage helping or hurting Pakistan?

Published 23 Mar, 2015 06:14pm

It all erupted in early November, when Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan vowed to block North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) supply routes to Afghanistan in a bid to end US drone strikes in the country. Prompted by the drone attack which killed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Hakimullah Mehsud at a moment when, Khan argued, peace talks seemed a real possibility, and with the support of its ally, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), the PTI led anti-drone protests which have since rocked parts of the country. But while Nato routes have so far been successfully arrested – amid US threats to cut billions’ worth of aid money – is the blockade helping or hurting Pakistan? Are we taking a stand for the human rights of our drone victims when the government won’t, or using domestic unrest to pursue foreign policy interests?

The drone issue pits the moral with the practical: The senseless suffering of a population on the one hand, and the intricacies of negotiating an allied partnership, however toxic, with the most powerful country on earth on the other. The Pakistani state has long been accused of publicly condemning drones while secretly supporting them — perhaps, such duplicity and lack of clarity cannot but invite individualist and disunited approaches to the drone issue such as Khan’s. While the likelihood of protesting our way to the cessation of drone strikes is close to nil, especially given the alternative supply routes available to the US (however costly), the question remains: When the country cannot even unite around a single policy, what hope does the PTI have of single-handedly achieving its lofty goal?

“This is a tactical success for the party’s protest,” insisted Shireen Mazari, the PTI’s information secretary. “However, strategic success will come when the US commits to stop drone attacks on Pakistan.” Nevertheless, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif warned that isolation caused by the protests could only hurt Pakistan. “We live in a globalised world where no one can afford isolation at any level,” he said. Meanwhile, officials assured US Defence Secretary of State Chuck Hagel of “immediate action” to resolve the crisis during the latter’s visit to Islamabad.

Now, we are faced with numerous practical concerns: However unsavoury the realisation, Pakistan cannot afford to lose the billions in US aid that it receives each year. Moreover, transporting Nato supplies is an industry in itself. On December 19, 2013, PTI activists distributed gur and shawls to disgruntled truckers who complained about potentially losing their jobs. A forwarding agent involved in the Nato supply business told the daily Dawn on condition of anonymity, “Since [the] Nato supply business is stalled, the money circulation capacity of local businessmen has strained and foreign exchange has also stopped coming from foreign firms.” Trucking companies also charge up to 5,000 rupees per day for the number of days the trucks are delayed, and between 30 to 120 US dollars per container to the final recipient of the shipment, which is either Karachi or Afghanistan. In the case of the latter, Pakistan must front the Afghan companies’ fees until the supplies arrive there.

Yet, morally speaking, is one using economics to justify an occupation next door? Is one saying that the US dollars weigh more than civilian blood in drone-affected areas? The PTI may say so. But if human rights, justice and self-determination are what Khan’s party is fighting for, then it cannot continue to ignore the pandemic loss of life inflicted by the TTP, nor the oppressive militant rule so many Pakistanis live and die under. A life is a life; does it matter who fires the bullet?

Turning a blind eye to local killers and demanding an end to foreign ones (who are ostensibly after the same guys we are) obscures who our real enemies are. In fact, a recent report composed by 16 intelligence agencies across the US said that the Afghan Taliban and other militant groups will increase in strength by 2017, which will no doubt have implications back home. The inability to ask the right questions or develop a coherent stance on militancy proves that our blood is cheap — even to us. Are we surprised that the Americans find it cheap too?

— Compiled from news reports