by Sadiq Saleem
In repeated opinion poll surveys in Pakistan over the last one year, there has been one thing constant – the rising anti-Americanism in the country. According to the Pew Research Centre, only 16 per cent of Pakistanis surveyed have a favourable view of the United States and 13 per cent have confidence in President Barack Obama.
Though there are many reasons for this anti-Americanism, what we cannot deny is that it has a great deal with how the discourse has been shaped by the views and agendas of our political leaders, media personalities, journalists, academics and security establishment.
Pakistanis as a nation are riled up en masse over the supposed ‘loss of sovereignty’ over the fact that our ally of 55 years decided to give us unconditional economic aid – in addition to conditional military aid – for a change. At $1.5 billion per year the Enhanced Partnership for Pakistan Act 2009 would make Pakistan the single largest recipient of US government development aid in the world – greater than the Israel economic aid package. And while to many media commentators and so-called analysts $1.5 billion in aid does not seem like a large amount as it is 1 per cent of Pakistan’s GDP and for the government would be 10 per cent of its revenue. It would enable the government to increase spending on education and health by 33 per cent (I am grateful for this information to a California-based Pakistani, Mr Nayyer Ali).
Our very ‘honourable’ political leaders and media personalities lecture and harp on a daily basis how this bill is ‘anti-Pakistan’, failing to point out that this is one among the very few pro-Pakistan American legislations as it would help the people of Pakistan! But then for these ‘honourable’ personalities Pakistan means them – and not the people.
Pakistan’s Ghairat lobby responds to those who disagree by labelling them ‘bay-ghairat’, ‘traitor’, ‘American agent’, ‘kafir’, and a dozen more such epithets. It is interesting how supporting good relations with the US makes one an American agent but advocating a break in these relations does not result in any label whatsoever.
Secretary Clinton’s trip to Pakistan too was portrayed in a very particular way – to highlight this ‘anti-Americanism’ and Pakistani ‘anger’. More focus – and more camera time – was given to anti-American speeches, to students ranting and raving on ‘US policy’ and to how ‘this war’ was not Pakistan’s war. Very little attention was paid to the fact that the leading foreign diplomat of the still only superpower in the world spent three days in Pakistan, emphasised how deep the US-Pakistan relationship is and promised even more economic aid for the Pakistani people.
Again the only time attention was paid to Secretary Clinton’s speech was when she expressed ‘surprise’ at how ‘no one’ in the Pakistani establishment had any knowledge about al-Qaeda and other jihadis, elements at one time sponsored by elements of our state. Here too the focus was on how to show this as ‘American perfidy’ rather than what it really was – frank talk between two friends, especially in the light of Secretary Clinton’s earlier admission and apology about American conduct during and after the anti-Soviet Afghan jihad of the 1980s. Maybe our culture believes in hypocrisy and so we think if we refuse to admit something the world will stop asking those questions. But that doesn’t happen. The world will keep asking and keep stating things and if we don’t give answers they will find ways to find those answers themselves.
We also tend to see events as stand alone things that we can ignore because they will have no impact on long-term policy. That is where we are wrong. Events play in to process and process decides policy. Just as it is wrong to mistake the wood for the trees, similarly it is stupid to do the opposite. From 2008 onwards the Americans have tried to build a relationship with Pakistan that goes beyond the traditional security-based relationship and is more multi-dimensional in nature. However, this is their last and final attempt to try to ‘help Pakistan’ reverse what they perceive as a precarious course.
It is interesting that what Hilary Clinton said during her three-day visit to Pakistan in 2009 is not very different from what President Bill Clinton said when he stopped for only five hours in March 2000. Quite clearly the Americans have been as consistent in their view of Pakistan as Pakistanis have been of the Americans. If we are on collision course should we just increase the pitch of our screaming or actually think about how we can avoid that collision?
For decades we were America’s only ally in the region and we believed that ‘the Americans need us more than we need them’ and since they have no other ally in the region they have ‘no option’ but to stand by us through thick and thin. Even that theory was constantly disproved – in 1965, 1971 and 1989. Now, those days are gone. The US-India relationship, which was mainly economic in the 1990s, has now taken on a strong security and defence dimension. India plans on spending $100 billion to modernise and replace its old Soviet equipment and the Americans are there at the top of the line as suppliers. American companies will build two nuclear power reactors in India.
For the last five years on an annual basis the American and Indian armies have held war games called Yudh Abyas (War Exercise). This year’s exercise included 17 American Strykers – the largest deployment outside of Iraq and Afghanistan for the US Pacific Rim forces. Not only the army, but also the navies and air forces of both countries hold joint exercises on an annual basis. This year the Japanese naval forces joined the joint India-US exercise. Even China and India hold military exercises once every two years.
The US has always been open to the idea of help and assistance of regional powers in Afghanistan and Admiral Mullen has openly talked about Indian military assistance. This has never happened because of American reluctance to upset Pakistan. However, if our anti-Americanism continues the day might come when the Americans do not see the value of their Pakistani relationship. I, and anyone else who points this out, is not an American agent but a voice of sanity in an environment of anger and hate.
In a recent article in the influential Foreign Policy magazine titled ‘US-India military cooperation’ Robert Haddick argues that the rapid expansion in the defence relationship between the United States and India contrasts sharply with the troubled security relationships the US has with China and Pakistan. At the end of his article Haddick warns with little seeming to go right with Afghanistan, Pakistan, or China, US policymakers should be pleased with warming US-India defence ties. When pondering Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China, the US-India defence relationship is something both countries will take comfort in – and may someday need.
Many of you who read this piece will shrug your heads and say ‘so what’ and that is what I fear. This complacency about our relationship with the US is going to hurt Pakistan long-term. We are not Vietnam, Iran or China. Vietnam fought a nationalist insurgency, which so thoroughly consumed the country that it took them years just to reach to the level of a developing country. Iran has oil and ancient roots. And China has a 1.2 billion population, the largest military in the world, soon to be the largest economy and a very strong identity. Even then, each one of them is willing to engage with the US cautiously instead of basing their relationship on rhetoric. None of them is as dependent on US aid as Pakistan. It is time that we wake up as a nation, look around and see the reality of the world rather than living in a constructed reality.