by Nadeem Paracha
Recently the monthly Herald published the results of an elaborate survey that it undertook to determine the extent of anti-Americanism in Pakistan. The findings suggest nothing that we do not already know. The percentages in this case hold only an academic interest.
Though anti-Americanism during the Cold War (1949-89) was mostly the ideological vocation of pro-Soviet leftists, today (some twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union), one can safely suggest that America is experiencing its most detested hour. It hasn’t been hated across the board so much and so instantly as it is today, thanks mainly to the many arrogant misdeeds of the Bush administration and its utter deficiency in the art and skill of empathetic and prudent diplomacy.
However, the anti-Americanism virus — at least in most Muslim countries — today is such that the critique that comes with it is largely rhetorical, and, at times, rather obsessive-compulsive. The recent ‘debate’ that took place in Pakistan’s electronic media on the Kerry-Lugar Bill is a vivid example of this trend, in which, it was quite clear that certain politicians, TV talk show hosts and their audiences among the country’s ever growing chattering classes, who were quick to attack the Bill, hadn’t even read the document! Their single cue in this respect was the Pakistan Army’s concerns about certain conditions mentioned in the aid bill, and off they went on a rampage.
More interesting however will be to trace the history and evolution of anti-Americanism in Pakistan. According to a research paper written by Dr Talukder Muniruzaman in 1971 on the politics of young Pakistanis, a majority of Pakistanis viewed America positively and admiringly in the 1950s. The paper also suggests that right up till Pakistan’s 1965 war with India, most Pakistanis saw America as a friend, especially in the context of the Soviet Union’s close ties with India.
According to a lengthy paper (published by Chicago University in 1983) on the ideological orientation of Pakistan’s university students (by Kiren Aziz and Peter McDonough), anti-Americanism among most Pakistanis remained somewhat low even during the celebrated movement (in 1967-68) against the Ayub Khan dictatorship; in spite of the fact that the movement was largely led by leftist students and politicians.
The paper further suggests that anti-Americanism in the 1970s that was ripe among many Arab countries due to the United States’ single-minded support for Israel, started to finally make its way into Pakistani society during the Z. A. Bhutto regime (1972-77); especially when Bhutto started to expand his ‘Islamic Socialism’ doctrine at the international level by striking firm relations with various radical Muslim states and Arab countries. The build-up to this was the otherwise sympathetic Richard Nixon administration’s failure to militarily help its Asian ally during the 1971 war with India.
In spite of this, America remained Pakistan’s leading aid donor. According to Lubna Rafique’s 1994 paper, ‘Benazir & British Press,’ it was only in the last year of Z. A. Bhutto’s regime (1977), that he started to allude to moving out of the ‘American camp,’ calling the US a ‘white elephant.’ He also went on to accuse the Jimmy Carter administration of financing right-wing parties’ agitation against him in 1977.
Throughout the Ziaul Haq dictatorship in the 1980s, anti-Americanism remained a much polarised affair in Pakistan. Most political-religious parties and their supporters, and the industrial class that supported Zia, were either openly pro-America or ambiguous on the subject. This was due to the fact that Zia was an Islamist military dictator who was backed by the Ronald Regan administration with military hardware and dollars during the West’s war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and against ‘communism in the region’. On the other hand, anti-Americanism became rampant among those opposing Zia.
Though by the late 1980s the intensity of anti-Americanism had grown (compared to the preceding decades), it never became violent. In fact, some would suggest that in the 1990s as America largely divorced itself from the region after the end of the Afghan civil war, anti-Americanism actually receded, and Pakistanis got busy tackling the bitter pitfalls of the war in the shape of bloody ethnic and sectarian strife.
Anti-Americanism returned to the fore like never before after the tragic 9/11 episode in 2001. According to veteran defence analyst, Hassan Askari, this strain of anti-Americanism is an emotional response of most Pakistanis to the confusion that set in after 9/11. In other words, this version of anti-Americanism has very little to do with a more academic or concrete understanding of both international and home-grown terrorism. The post-9/11 confusion and emotionalism in Pakistan is given vent and an ‘intellectual tilt’ by Islamist apologists of all shapes and sizes pointing fingers at ‘outside forces’ for the blood that is being shed by home-grown fanatics, is only too visible.
Whereas there was a prominent streak of individualism and romantic rebellion associated with the anti-Americanism of Pakistani leftists during the Cold War, nothing of the sort can be said about the widespread anti-Americanism found in Pakistan today. The present-day phenomenon has become an obligatory part of populist rhetoric in which American involvement is blamed for everything — from terrorist attacks, to the energy crises, to perhaps even the break of dengue fever.