An Islamic NATO, and Other Dreams (Part 3)

Saeed Ahmad Hasan dreams, in the pages of the Islamist daily Roznama Islam, of a “NATO-like” organization for Islamic states, one which he envisions would be based on the spiritual prestige of Saudi Arabia, the economic power of Turkey, and the military prowess of Pakistan.

“The third country is Pakistan whose military power and defense production capacity is accepted in the world. Being geographically extremely important and due to the relationship with Asia’s biggest power China, it is a strong and stable state,” he says and adds: “Therefore, these three countries, jointly with other Muslim countries, should establish a joint forum [i.e., security council] which can be on the lines of the Warsaw Pact and NATO.”

Pakistan is not a “strong and stable” state. Al Jazeera recently carried a devastating article, “Why Pakistan’s economy is sinking.” Here is some of what ails the country as of July  2019:

The growth rate fell by almost 50 percent from 6.2 percent to 3.3 percent. It is expected to go down even further to 2.4 percent next year, which will be the country’s lowest in the past 10 years. The Pakistani rupee has lost a fifth of its value against the dollar since the beginning of this fiscal year. Inflation is expected to hover around 13 percent over the next 12 months, reaching a 10-year-high as well.

Then there is the issue of the ever-increasing debt, which eats up some 30 percent of the budget every year. Pakistan continues to take out loans to be able to cover repayments of past borrowing. It recently signed yet another deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout package worth $6 billion..

The Pakistani authorities have been unable to establish effective tax collection practices. Currently, only one percent of Pakistanis pay their taxes and the country has one of the lowest tax-to-GDP ratios in the world.

Successive governments have avoided imposing stricter controls because they have been staffed by members of the same elites that are actively evading taxes. They are able to do so not only because of government inaction but also because of widespread corruption. In fact, it is cheaper for them to bribe than to pay their dues.

Saeed Ahmad Hasan mentions Pakistan’s “strong military,” but fails to mention that spending on the army is — after debt servicing  — the largest  item on the budget, with one-quarter of annual expenditures going to the military.

The funds the military receives from what is allocated in the budget is in addition to the revenue it gets from its large business operations, which include over 50 commercial entities, generating some $1.5 billion dollars annually. It just recently moved into the mining and oil and gas exploration sector, some of which has been facilitated by Imran Khan’s government.

One can imagine the endless possibilities for corruption among the generals, with such a large non-military business empire to oversee. This rampant corruption demoralizes law-abiding businessmen, while the vast sums spent on the military are a drag on the economy. What Hasan describes as Pakistan’s strength — its military — is the main source of the country’s dire economic condition.

Hasan  then claims that Pakistan, “being geographically extremely important and due to the relationship with Asia’s biggest power China, it is a strong and stable state.” That “relationship” is nothing to boast about. China, ruthless in its pursuit of gain, has signed agreements to build railways and other infrastructure. These are not aid projects; Chinese workers will be employed, and Pakistan, using borrowed funds, will be doing most of the paying. Most of the projects in Pakistan that are part of the “Belt and Road” initiative will directly benefit Chinese exporters, by providing rail service where there had been none, for goods to pass through Pakistan. The Chinese have also agreed to expand Gwadar Port, in Baluchistan, which will be of immense benefit to China, for it will greatly shorten the routes for Chinese exporters to markets in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. A trip that is now 12,000 miles long through the Straits of Malacca will, when the port at Gwadar can be fully utilized, be only 2,500 miles long. China benefits, but it is unclear just how much the “Belt and Road” projects will benefit Pakistan.

Is Pakistan a “strong” state economically? Few Pakistanis economists think so. Pakistan’s economy has “reached the point of collapse. For the first time in four decades of research, I am deeply worried,” said Dr Kaiser Bengali, Dean of the Faculty of Management Science at the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology in Karachi.

Saeed Ahmad Hasan says that Pakistan is “strong and stable.” Stable? Let’s find out how many political assassinations there have been in Pakistan in the last few decades. in 1979, there was the execution of the Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. In 1988, President Muhammad Zia ul-Haq died when his plane mysteriously crashed; it is believed to have been a deliberate assassination. Prime Minister Benazir Ali Bhutto, the daughter of Zulfikar, was assassinated in 2007. In 2010, Imran Farooq, a Pakistani politician living in London, was murdered by people opposed to the political organization he was setting up. In 2011, Salman Taseer, a liberal politician and Governor of Punjab, was murdered by his own bodyguard, who disagreed with Taseer’s opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. In the same year, the Christian politician Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister of Minority Affairs, was murdered for his opposition to the blasphemy laws and for his defense of Asia Bibi, a Christian convicted of blasphemy. These are a representative handful. Since the murder of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a total of 42 Pakistani politicians have been assassinated since 1979. Given such a record of political murders, Pakistan hardly qualifies as a “stable” country.

Every one of Hasan’s claims about Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Pakistan is either wrong or greatly exaggerated. It’s quite a performance, a kind of genius in reverse. But from Saeed Ahmad Hasan, writing in the Islamist daily Roznama Islam, you and I expected no less.

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