Pakistan’s Cost of War

By Talat Masood

US think tanks, Congressional committees and State Department officials keep reminding us of the $12 billion of assistance that has been provided to Pakistan since 2001. Nearly 68 percent of this amount was reimbursement of costs incurred by Pakistan military in counterterrorism operations in FATA. And over $3 billion were provided for economic assistance and development. There is no doubt that deciding to join the war on terror led to substantial flow of US and international assistance from individual countries and donor agencies and did contribute for a while in bringing about macroeconomic stability and increased growth rates. But Pakistan soon realised that its fiscal and monetary policies that were heavily reliant on foreign assistance were not able to sustain growth.

What is however seldom realised internationally or by domestic audience that the cost of war that Pakistan had to bear and continues to bear is many times more that the aid that it has received so far. Institute of Public Policy of Beacon House National University in its recent annual report has come out with a comprehensive study of the state of economy in which the economic cost of the war on terror has been estimated since 2004-05 to be $31.4 billion, far in excess of the assistance of $1.7 billion annually.

With expanding insurgency in tribal belt and increasing acts of terrorism in Pakistan the direct and indirect costs are growing exponentially. In 2008 alone nearly 2,500 people lost their lives and about 5,000 suffered serious injuries. There has been massive damage to property running into billions of rupees. In addition the number of militants killed by our security forces during military operations also runs very high. And property damaged has been great. The costs have been increasing as the intensity and expanse of terrorist activity and insurgency is expanding.

The indirect costs include drop in investment, inability to proceed with development work, loss of production time, increase in employment and high cost of supporting displaced persons. As risk has increased so have insurance and other overheads costs.

Pakistan has suffered from flight of capital, closure of business and industrial activity and stock market has taken a deep down turn. Then there are opportunity costs as well. Pakistan’s fight against insurgents has political fallout and the nation is suffering psychologically. Political and social costs have been even higher. This conflict has ruptured the society and given rise to a deep polarisation between ethnic groups, widened the chasm between liberals and conservatives and between the religious and secular groups. It has pitched one religious sect against another and has also introduced an element of class warfare. This insurgency has also exposed the hypocritical side of the Islamic state as it could not effectively neutralise the militants at the ideological and ethical level and had to seek support of the military. This was despite the fact that the militants were presenting the most warped and distorted interpretation of Islam.

Clearly, the insurgency has challenged the invincibility of the armed forces. Although the army’s learning curve has been fairly good and it showing far better results in Swat and Malakand division under the guidance and leadership of General Kayani as compared to its performance during the Musharraf period. We have once again learnt that quality of commanders and soldiers is even more important as we fight in the valleys or do urban combat in Swat and other places. Recent experience has shown that political ownership is the key for mobilising public support in fighting insurgencies.

This insurgency has introduced new weapons and systems. The use of drones by US has been a force multiplier and given a new dimension in fighting insurgencies but has also brought in moral and political dilemmas. On the militants side the extensive use of FM broadcasts both as a command and a propaganda weapon has been a unique feature.

Despite the huge cost of war the results until recently were not very encouraging. It is since the Swat operation has started that there has been a qualitative change in the military operations and the militants are on the run.

The question on the mind of every one today is what is it we want to achieve in the end. Indeed we are fighting this war for our survival and our future and as much for the stability and security of the region and in a larger context for the globe. The overarching mission of our military apart from establishing the writ of the state in all those areas of tribal belt and Malakand division is the preservation of the constitution, democracy and our value system. The sacrifices our soldiers and officers and civilians are making are an investment to ensure a better future for our country for which we should be deeply indebted to them.

In fact Pakistan is a Force Majeure for the entire world and as it happens in Force Majeure regular commitments are replaced with extraordinary measures. This is the reason why the global community must come forward and facilitate.

In parallel, Pakistan should aim at increasing industrial and agricultural production and improve overall efficiency in governance and financial management to meet this extra burden. Seeking financial assistance from allies and international donor agencies to tide over immediate and short term contingency may be acceptable. But leaders who make it a habit and culture of seeking outside financial assistance lose respect and credibility both at home and abroad and find it difficult to motivate their people to fight the militants. What is more vital is to place the country on a war footing and a war economy and be as self reliant as possible.

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