Where the problem lies

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Pakistan and the US share no conventional binding factor: borders, social fabric, ethnicity, language, religion. The US is a rich country and Pakistan needs aid, and that is the thread that joins the two. When the US requires more services from Pakistan it adds extra warmth, and when it does not, the relations become cold. Meanwhile, unlike China, the US neither cares about Pakistan’s interests and the threats we perceive. Similarly it is not antagonistic towards Pakistan as India is.


Gen Zia turned Pakistan into a battlefield. He was able to get rewards for this like in the form of a prolonged rule, dollars, modern weapons and F-16 planes. The war in Afghanistan ended and the enemy was defeated, and this also resulted in the end of the friendship. In the changed situation, Pakistan was accused of being a nuclear-armed centre of Islamic fundamentalism. Pakistan is listed as being among the most dangerous nations, although it was one of the most favoured ones not long ago. Right up to 2001, the US media, think tanks and lobbies had consistently depicted Pakistan as a dangerous, irresponsible and failed state. But this perception changed when the US needed Pakistan after the Sept 11 attacks.


For this reason we see anger against such treatment. Initially the Pakistani media and politicians described the US as an unfaithful friend. Religious and nationalistic political parties in Pakistan were of good help as they lack a positive alternative agenda. They tie together their followers with projection of bigger threats and this new anti-US campaign became a badly needed negative item in their political agendas.


In the 1970s and 1980s it was typical for leftist political parties to term the US as the world’s biggest problem, and in the 1990s the rightist, such as the Jamaat-e Islami, joined the chorus. Parties like the JUI also benefited from this new situation as they were supported in their activities by the Pakistani establishment.


By 2001 the US image in Pakistan was as a state which could not be relied upon for the solution of any problem. From 1991 to 2001, the Pakistani establishment, an addict of US aid and support, desperately tried to entice the US once again, using all positive and negative means. However, 9/11 changed everything. The complete obliteration of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban from Afghanistan became the topmost priority of the US and thus the services of Pakistan again became essential. Pervez Musharraf offered his services and thus Pakistan became a frontline state in the War on Terror. The establishments of the two countries met after one decade.


That phase of relations was ideal for the eradication of mutual negative images. But again, this new friendship was based on a single-point need and was loaded with mutual distrust, coupled with a bad legacy of the past. Accordingly, the US establishment continues an anti-Pakistani propaganda. Here in Pakistan too, the establishment keeps anti-US sentiments alive as a bargaining tool. Pakistan was a frontline ally and in this position it became the recipient of millions of US dollars so that it could fight against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Yet, from time to time, lobbyists, media reports, think tanks, congressmen and the US media criticised Pakistan.


At this point, the Pakistani establishment also followed old lines. The creation of the MMA is one example. Army generals were supporting the United States and at the same time retired generals were leading anti-US campaigns. In private they turned a blind eye to the US drone attacks and in public, through the media, they strongly criticised the attacks. On the one hand, they issued visas and on the other they leaked reports to the media regarding the activities of Blackwater in Pakistan and investing in a popular political campaign against it.


The result of such policies proved very problematic. In the present situation, anti-Pakistan lobbies and sentiments are now getting more powerful in the US. In Pakistan the establishment could not cooperate any further with the US due to huge public pressure against such cooperation. The anti-US sentiments once common in the lower middle class now spread to all strata of Pakistani society. Pakistan is still a required player in the US great game but the Americans could not reciprocate in the way it previously did. The Pakistani establishment, while not in favour of complete opposition to the US, could not work as closely and freely with it as in the past. The Pakistani establishment is suffering the results of its double standard and the same is true for the US establishment. At least Pakistan could do something better as far as this country is concerned.


The government, the media and important figures in society should inform the nation about the true nature of Pak-US relations with the utmost honesty. At the same time, we must make it clear to the US what we can afford to do, and are willing to do, as well as what is not possible for us to do or which policy could clash with our core national interests. The truth is that hypocritical policies are responsible for our present situation. Kashmiris are not happy with Pakistan and Afghans hold Pakistan responsible for all their sufferings. Hypocrisy works but for a short time. What the US will do is its own headache, but let us give up hypocrisy at our own end.


The writer works for Geo TV. Email: saleem.safi@janggroup.com.pk