No free lunch this

Pakistan’s economy has been tottering for quite a while now. Terrorism and sectarian violence which has been ripping apart the country, especially in the last one decade,  has not only created social and political instability in the country, but economic instability as well. Pakistan has often found itself at the mercy of the US to bring it out of its economic woes. The Americans have bailed out Pakistan many a times, but have always extracted a price for those bailouts. Of late, the relations between the two countries have not been cordial. Also the US troops are soon expected to withdraw from Afghanistan, thereby reducing American footprint in the region to a large extent. Pakistan occupied an important position in the American scheme of things vis-a—vis Pakistan, but now with this imminent troop withdrawal, Pak-US relations seem to hit a dead end.

With not much American aid coming in and with repayments to the various global lending institutions due, Pakistan found itself in a very precarious situation. But Pakistan has found a few more benefactors to bail them out this time. Recently Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud visited Pakistan in February, which was followed by the visit of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah of Bahrain. Both these visits are significant given the political situation in the Middle East. Three years back when an uprising had broken out in Bahrain, by the majority Shia population, nearly 2,500 men are believed to have been sent to Manama, by Pakistan’s Fauji Academy,  increasing the share of Pakistanis in Bahraini security forces to around 30 percent. It will be in place here to mention that the 2011 uprising in Bahrain was crushed largely with Saudi help.

Bahrain has paid $ 750 million and Saudi Arabia $ 1.5 billion to Pakistan. the immediate effect of this massive inflow was felt on the falling Pakistani rupee which strengthened against the greenback following this aid. The purpose of this largess by the Bahrain and the Saudi Govt was initially shrouded in mystery. But subsequently it has become clear that this aid has been given to Pakistan so that it could provide military assistance in the sectarian conflict in Syria and also to Bahrain. Given the recent setbacks that the rebels have faced in Syria and also the snub that the Saudi Govt has received at the hands of the US, first by refusing to intervene militarily in the Syrian conflict and then warming upto Iran, Saudi Govt finds itself increasingly isolated regarding its policy on Syria.

For the Pakistani Army, being a part or providing technical expertise in the Middle East is not entirely a new experience. Pakistan provided technical expertise to various Arab countries when they indulged in big ticket purchases of military equipment following the discovery of oil In the Middle East. Pakistani military experts were sent to various Arab countries most notably Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Syria, Jordan etc. These experts also included the former Pakistani President and Army Chief gen Zia ul Haq, who was involved in the notorious Black September Operation against the Palestinians.

This time also, the signs are quite ominous. Pakistan is willing to become a part of the sectarian strife in Syria as well as Bahrain. Pakistan Army seems more than willing to be a part of this given their income is linked to external funding. By showing its willingness to be a part of the Saudi war in Syria and Bahrain’s own repression of its protesters, Pakistan will only add to its sectarian strife back home. In the short term, the $ 2.25.billion aid will tide over Pakistan’s economic problems, but in the long term its consequences will be disastrous.

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