The lopsided balance sheet - Ardeshir Cowasjee - Sunday, February 20, 2011

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IN November 1946, Mohammad Ali Jinnah sent his friend and confidante Mirza Abol Hasan Ispahani along with Begum Shah Nawaz, a Muslim League leader from Punjab, to the US to put forth the Muslim League argument and to counter Indian National Congress propaganda.

In September 1947, Mr Ispahani returned to Washington as Pakistan’s first ambassador to the United States.

In his first official letter to Mr Jinnah, the ambassador quoted from the statement he made before President Harry S. Truman while presenting his credentials seeking “to develop and maintain friendship and collaboration” with the US. Mr Jinnah’s reply was “So far so good, but the real thing is how America will, in fact, react for the benefit and the mutual advantage of both.” Since then the two countries’ relations have come a long way and had many ups and downs but one thing has been constant.

The job of the Pakistani ambassador to the US has never been an easy one. Like Ispahani, he/she must seek “friendship and collaboration” from the Americans while fending off charges from the ever-expanding ghairat-wallahs of compromising the nation’s (lost) honour.

Since 1947, Pakistan has received $27.8bn in civilian and military aid. In addition, mainly due to American support, Pakistan also obtains other multilateral aid. Pakistan is one of the top five recipients of aid from multilateral agencies like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). We have consumed $18.5bn from the World Bank, around $16bn from the IMF and $15bn from ADB.

Despite all this aid and assistance from the Americans, as a nation we Pakistanis love to hate the US.

Some have even convinced themselves that Pakistan is so important to the US that the ‘low’ quantum of aid is somehow an insult to the great Pakistanis. The US is a significant importer of Pakistani goods and remittances from Pakistani-Americans bring in an average of $4bn every year into the economy.

The tendency to hate America while loving its aid has led us to look askance at every ambassador of ours who has tried to build ties with the Americans. Since 1947 Pakistan has sent 20 ambassadors to the US, an overwhelming majority of them retired generals or political appointees.

The longest serving ambassador was Lt Gen Ejaz Azim (July 1981-September 1986) closely followed by Lt Gen Sahabzada Yaqub Khan (December 1973-January 1979), and the shortest Maj Gen N.A.M. Raza (October 1971-April 1972).

Muhammad Ali Bogra, Pakistan’s second ambassador to the US put in two stints as our envoy because of his popularity in Washington (1952-1953; 1955-1959). It was during his ambassadorship that Pakistan and the US signed a Mutual Assistance Treaty in 1954.

The Eisenhower administration even attempted to mediate with India to resolve the Kashmir dispute. But Bogra was always labelled as a ‘pro-American ambassador’ by the anti-Americans of left and right. An ambassador to a foreign country needs to be someone who has positive feelings for that country because only then will he or she be effective.

But we like to shoot the messenger when we do not like the message. US aid does not come without conditions, the most basic of these being that the recipient of aid respect (if not appreciate) the donor. We want the billions in aid and are simultaneously proud of being the only nation to have attacked and burned a US embassy and that too in 1979, when there were no US forces in Afghanistan or drones about which to complain.

Someone started a rumour that the Kaaba had been seized by the Americans and mobs marched to attack US consulates and embassy buildings around Pakistan. Later it turned out that the seizure of the Kaaba was the work of a self-styled mahdi.

It has become fashionable and trendy to have a go at the current ambassador to the US, Hussain Haqqani. In a front-page profile, the New York Times described Haqqani as an “adroit envoy” who is a “relentless, unyielding defender of Pakistan’s image and reputation”. But in our own media he is accused of all sorts of things, most recently of issuing visas to too many Americans.

Around one million Pakistanis live in the US and approximately 150,000 Pakistanis travel to the US every year. Hundreds of these Pakistanis end up in US prisons on various charges, ranging from murder and terrorism to credit card fraud. No one in the US media, however, questions their ambassador for granting visas to Pakistani criminals and thereby compromising US sovereignty.

We, on the other hand, are extremely concerned about the threat posed by 3,000 or so American diplomats, officials and security personnel who were given visas last year. Pakistan is hardly a favoured tourist destination these days; few others than those coming on official duty wish to ‘rush’ to Pakistan.

Under the watch of our man now in Washington (his flaws and faults notwithstanding) Pakistan has secured from the US, for the first time, a multi-year commitment for massive civilian assistance — a total of $7.5bn over five years. For those who think US aid is paltry, they must remember what happened when Nawaz Sharif, inspired by the ghairat champions, declared that Pakistan could live without aid by raising funds from Pakistanis.

The ‘Qarz Utaro, Mulk Sunwaro’ campaign resulted in raising a mere $167m against an outstanding debt at the time of $58bn.

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