Letter from Pakistani Americans to Members of Congress
By Saud Anwar
I am well aware of the many occasions on which the Indian government has, when faced with a domestic calamity, engage in knee-jerk allegations about Pakistan’s direct and indirect role even as events continued to unfold. In all of these instances – the Mumbai event does not yet appear to be any exception – the eventual dissemination of the facts has established the Indian government’s allegations as partial and incorrect. I would like to draw your attention to a report complied by Pakistan Public Affairs Committee on the sufferings Pakistanis have incurred for their participation in the war on terror, and other facts from the past where such allegations were proved to be baseless.
The people of Pakistan have suffered significantly since 2001, in multiple ways. It might be said that they have borne the brunt of the impact from the global phenomenon of terrorism we confront today. According to economists and Pakistan’s assessment estimates, the Pakistani economy has suffered a net loss of $34.5 billion since the war on terror began.
The number of suicide attacks targeting the people of Pakistan has grown dramatically: in 2007 and 2008, the number of deaths related to the war on terror has also been monumental. Since 2001, the war on terror has brought with it the death of 5,517 civilians and 2,726 military personnel in Pakistan. The loss of Pakistani military personnel dwarfs the losses suffered by US and NATO forces. At the same time, many of the civilian deaths have been the result of “collateral damage” from actions undertaken by either the Pakistan military or US/NATO forces in pursuit of terrorists and militants; such “collateral damage” is a high price for any government to pay and fosters a receptive environment amongst the public for both anti-government and anti-US sentiment.
I quote the above statistics to highlight the point that Pakistanis themselves have suffered tremendously and made exceptional sacrifices in combating terrorism and its adherents. Yet, in the past year, many in the media and in government have questioned Pakistan’s level of motivation in pursuing the war on terror. In light of suffering and sacrifices of Pakistan’s citizens, I find it difficult to seriously entertain this line of questioning. While there may be disagreement between the US and Pakistan governments as to the particular tactics used to combat terrorism, a successful partnership between the two countries relies on a commonality of the overarching purpose. I believe this commonality of purpose is very much in place, just as the commonality of the threat is readily apparent.
In conducting the regional war in Afghanistan, the US has reimbursed Pakistan for its services and assistance, which has recently been the subject of negative media coverage. I imagine you are aware of the reality that according to a congressional briefing in the past 7 years, US aid to the people of Pakistan has totaled $2.37 billion. The $6.672 billion that were given under the Coalition Support Funds (CSF) are actually reimbursements and are not officially designated as foreign assistance, while the people of Pakistan endure an estimated economic loss of $34.5 billion, loss of life in the thousands, and a rapid deterioration in their personal security.
With the perspective provided by the above-mentioned facts and recognizing the current challenges of a strong anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, the last thing we need are policies that would further alienate the Pakistani people and damage our interests in the broader region. Yet, it is exactly such policies that a small group of our Indian-American colleagues, who lack a broader understanding of the on-the-ground realities, are proposing. It should be very clear to us that the overwhelming majority of people in Pakistan do not support or condone terrorism. However, our current tactics, including the attacks by US drones and missile hits in Pakistan, have resulted in significant collateral damage, diminishing the domestic credibility of the Pakistani government as it propagates the war on terror and fueling anti- American sentiment. Dealing with this sentiment should be our first priority.
At this time, even as we thoughtfully apply military force to ensure our security, our policies should be focused on a long-term plan for stability and prosperity within Pakistan. These policies should be implemented through direct involvement in projects that would be visible and positively affect the lives of the country’s people, and which would represent a long-term commitment and partnership. The need to invest in Pakistan’s healthcare, education, economy and infrastructure is very clear and has been appropriately identified by Vice President Biden, Senator Kerry and Senator Lugar.
There is also a need for clear understanding that Kashmir is no longer a bilateral issue between Pakistan and India. Indeed, it is the raison d’être for the Indian policies towards Pakistan and many of the militant groups that persist in Pakistan and which complicate the ongoing struggle on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. For over 62 years, Pakistan and India have not only failed to make any meaningful progress on this issue; through nuclearization and highly-emotional foreign policy actions, they have placed one-third of the world’s population under the threat of extinction on more than one occasion. I would like to remind you that, on the basis of Indian allegations against Pakistan that are now known to be false, after the 2001 attack on its Parliament, India placed over half a million military personnel at Pakistan’s border, resulting in both countries pointing nuclear arms at each other. In today’s environment, such threats would necessarily dilute the Pakistani military’s focus on the militant threat along the Afghanistan border.
The conflict over Kashmir needs to be resolved based on principles of human rights and the UN-sanctioned right of self-determination for the people of Kashmir. Over 60,000 people have died and numerous others are missing in what is alleged by international human rights groups to be one of the world’s worst human rights violations in recent history.
The entire region of South Asia, including India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, has to be viewed as a single unit with respect to stability. Stability in Pakistan is a requisite for stability in India and in Afghanistan. Policy suggestions by some of our Indian-American colleagues would lead to further instability in the region, a further imbalance of power; an increase in anti- American sentiment will only make the region more volatile and negatively impact US interests in the region.
I urge you to consider my recommendations as I strongly believe that they are in the best interests of the United States and of South Asia countries.