For several days now, I have thought of writing this note to congratulate you on your great luck these past few months. I also have a suggestion to make, but first let me explain why I want to congratulate you.
The tragic events of September 11 found Pakistan dug into a deep hole, a hole dug deeper by each of your governments over the past fifty years. But you cannot thank Pervez Musharraf enough: the man of the hour, who turned a desperate situation to his country's advantage. Since it would have been unthinkable for the Pakistani nation to claw its way out of this deep hole, he took the more pragmatic course, and turned the hole into a defensive shelter.
Over the past months, I have watched with admiration as Pakistan has responded to an old ally's call for help. It is quite impressive how Pakistan mobilized its army, auxiliary forces, and police and, without asking any questions, placed them at the service of American interests in Pakistan: sealing the country's Western borders against Taliban infiltration, guarding American bases in Pakistan, providing extra security to American diplomats in Pakistan, arresting Islamic extremists and handing them over to American justice. The speed of it all is simply staggering.
And now, the entire government has been mobilized in a massive effort to track down the kidnappers of an American journalist. How reassuring it must be to all Pakistanis-after thousands of unaccounted murders over the past thirty years-to witness that their government will now leave no stone unturned to safeguard the life of a single American citizen. I can imagine your elation just thinking what your government wouldn't do if it were a Pakistani whose life was at risk.
It is more impressive that the government of Pakistan has been able to assume these challenging errands without expanding its personnel and, as far as I can tell, without compromising the defenses of Pakistan or the security of its citizens. In all fairness, all Pakistanis should feel proud of these achievements, which have already won the accolades of President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair.
I hope this will not irritate you when I repeat that this has been a rare stroke of good luck for Pakistan. At the risk of sounding a bit rude, I must remind you why. You will agree that Pakistanis had no part in elevating General Musharraf to the Presidency. And it is a lucky thing that ballots do not always decide the choice of Pakistan's leaders. On most previous occasions, you have demonstrated a rare capacity for masochism. You have repeatedly elected leaders who have plundered you.
I, therefore, urge you to recognize a good thing when you see it. And the government of President Musharraf, in its new incarnation since September 11, has definitely been a good thing-and all Pakistanis should recognize it, and be thankful for it. As a token of your gratitude, I hope you have been holding weekly symposia, conferences and rallies to celebrate this new turn in the wheel of Pakistan's history. Now if you will show some political sagacity, and persuade the General to stay on, I assure you he will bring the bliss of Pepsis and the bounty of Big Macs.
At the same time, I have a daring suggestion to make. I would like to urge the government of Pakistan to seize the rare opportunity that presents itself, while the American public still remembers with gratitude the readiness of Pakistanis to join in their war against terrorism at such short notice-in the time it takes to make a phone call from Washington to Islamabad.
I do not think that the American public would think it in bad taste, if Pakistan were to present a petition-with proper humility, of course-to the President of United States and the US Congress to defray part of the expenses it has incurred since September 11, 2001, in the service of United States. Since the war on terrorism has just begun, as President Bush revealed in his state-of-the-union address, I should think that Pakistanis could look forward to many years of policing duties in the region. In the event, you might ask the United States to make a generous appropriation for Pakistan's police force in the US defense budget.
The government of Pakistan should stress that they would love to perform these services gratis-since this in itself is a signal honor. But Pakistan is a very poor country-with three-quarters of its population still illiterate, many millions sick, and many more getting by on a starvation diet. And though you would love to set an example of hospitality, especially when it comes to your American guests, there comes a time when you could do with some assistance.
If the government of Pakistan should decide to make this request--and I think, it should not shrink from it-I give you my pledge, as an American of Pakistani origin, that I will mobilize other 'Pakis' in the United States and lobby President Bush, the Congress and Senate, to ensure that this petition receives serious consideration.
Copyright: M. Shahid Alam.
Shahid Alam is Professor of Economics at Northeastern University, Boston, USA. He may be reached at [email protected].