The solitary reaper By Anjum Niaz
The News, May 13, 2008
The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting.
Behold her, single in the field / Alone she cuts and binds the grain, and sings a melancholy strain / Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow/ For old, unhappy, far-off things/ And battles long ago / Or is it some more humble lay/ familiar matter of to-day? / Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain / That has been or may be again?
Anne Patterson's candid talk in Karachi is deeply evocative of William Wordsworth's best-known ballad "The solitary reaper." Democracy is what she reaps. As the great enabler of Benazir Bhutto's and Asif Zardari's safe passage to Pakistan, Patterson suddenly appeared on our political scene last year. Since then she has not left the centre stage. The peripatetic American ambassador's photos, comments and meetings with our heavyweights from Karachi to Khyber are not foreign to us. Today, she's perhaps the most visible ambassador in Pakistan, if not the most photographed among all US envoys ever stationed here. Recently she landed at the Management Association of Pakistan in Karachi at the longstanding invitation of Farooq Hassan, the MAP's executive director.
She told the audience that the spread of anti-Americanism in Pakistan, especially among the middle-classes, surprised her. "I suspect that those who oppose American engagement in Pakistan have limited understanding of how our partnerships – economic assistance and financial interactions – changed the lives of everyday Pakistanis in real and positive ways."
Ms Patterson is right. Her country gives us $1 billion each year since 9/11. Indeed, many lucky dogs have prospered working in tandem with American interests. Bilateral trade booms and dollars keep arriving. Picture yourself as a kid at a birthday party being treated to ice cream and soda, peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches with chocolate-chip cookies. Later you're ushered to the backyard where stands an American oak and tied to it is a giant piñata swollen with toys (which any army in the world would kill to get) and goodies (which any grabber would love putting his/her dirty fingers on). You and other blindfolded kids break the bag with sticks.
Out comes an avalanche of American largesse in the shape of military hardware (for the khakis), stipends and scholarships (for the elite); study tours (for the pushy); media joyrides (for the willing), sexy junkets (for the fun-starved politicians), Ivy-league training courses (for wangling bureaucrats) and truckloads of other stuff most of us don't even know of. Pakistan is the third-largest recipient of American aid after Israel and Egypt. Ambassador Patterson, then, has every right to wonder why Pakistanis look such a gift horse in the mouth!
Not for nothing has the petite envoy warned that the "increasingly prosperous middle class" would be the first to suffer should extremists win. Worry not, she assured, American support for the new democratic government (read Asif Zardari and Musharraf combo) would continue. Her compatriot Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee, who for long cut a striking pose with two thick braids resting on the crown of her head like a queen, recently told the US House Foreign Affairs Committee that the PPP was doing a good job but the fellow to be "watched" was Nawaz Sharif. Why? Because he was acting as the spoiler and throwing a spanner in the carefully crafted plan executed by Anne Patterson tying a three-way knot between the Army House (Musharraf is still a resident there) Bilawal House and Nine-Zero.
Lumped with the unenviable task of cobbling a coalition of the willing ready to tolerate Pervez Musharraf, this continues to be the most challenging chore for the lady ambassador. The more she corrals support for the ex-army chief, the more unpopular she gets in Pakistan.
People loathed the Bush administration for putting on blinkers as temperatures soared and the chants of civil society anted-up against Mushrarraf last summer. Human rights were violated each day; lawyers battered and people killed; false affidavits against Justice Chaudhry filed by the highest in the land committing perjury – a very serious crime and yet President Bush continued to buck up the dictator saying that America was solidly behind him, saying he was the best man to fight "the war on terror." Bush dispatched his top-ranking military and civilian officials to bluster the Pakistani public to back off.
Even those who were not anti-American turned against the US.
It is a given for Pakistanis to transfer their dislike of Americans to the person who is President Bush's envoy in Islamabad. Anne Patterson comes in the firing range but she continues with her mission as charted out by the White House. When Benazir Bhutto's homecoming was marred by bomb explosions killing over 150 innocent people, there was Anne Patterson plunked on the cushy sofas at Bilawal House in Karachi consoling Benazir Bhutto. Later when BB came to Islamabad and met with ambassadors, Ms Patterson was seen playing the role of the dean of the diplomatic corps and hogged Ms Bhutto. She was genuinely saddened at BB's loss.
Perceptions are stronger than actions. As a high-flyer, Patterson appears to invite discordant notes, especially from the media. Some journalists have griped about the dyspeptic distance and a bland expression that meets them when they try approaching the American ambassador. Gripe water then is the best remedy. It's needed to cleanse systems all around. Misperceptions are not helpful. They serve no purpose, only widen the wedge. Pakistan has had a mixed bag of American ambassadors and the vibes they have given out: Some heartfelt; others perfunctory and few insipid. Remember Wendy Chamberlain – the shalwar-qamiz-wearing ambassador who won the media's praise for a cheerful demeanour? She would fast in Ramazan to show respect to her host country Pakistan.
On Sept 13, 2001, the day Bush rang up Musharraf after the bombing of the World Trade Centre and asked Pakistan to join in the "war against terror" the new US ambassador to Pakistan, Wendy Chamberlain, presented her credentials in Islamabad and had a 40-minute one-on-one meeting with Gen Musharraf, in which details of Pakistan's cooperation were reportedly discussed at length. So Musharraf has had the unique distinction of being presented credentials by two American women ambassadors during his endless rule as our president. And both the ladies have been major players in the upheaval-ridden era plaguing Pakistan.
Having retired from US Foreign Service, Ms Chamberlain currently serves as the President of the Middle East Institute. Listen to what she said last September when releasing the report titled "Perilous Course: US Strategy and Assistance to Pakistan."
"First, our assistance and policy is not focused enough on people and their most pressing concerns or aspirations. Secondly, the report offers a straightforward explanation as to why a coherent and effective policy toward Pakistan has eluded us. In a word, it has been our own lack of clarity of purpose. Third, the report hammers home the horrifying truth that we have no plan B for Pakistan. The other example of a foreign adventure in which we stubbornly rejected the advice of many to develop a plan B was Iraq. The consequences there are now painfully evident. My final point is that the report makes the right conclusion that we must be realistic in our aid goals. US assistance will not be able to remake Pakistan, but it could be useful as catalyst for change."
If Wendy Chamberlain's current successor could be the driver behind the "catalyst for change," Pakistanis would open up their hearts and welcome Ms Patterson, the "solitary reaper" like a long lost friend. Granted that the American ambassador's time and energies are consumed in micromanaging and straddling between Peshawar, Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and London, holding marathon sessions with ANP President Asfandyar Wali Khan, Asif Zardari, Nawaz Sharif, MQM Nine Zero stalwarts and Altaf Hussain; granted that she's busy behind the scenes negotiating with Musharraf and the top army brass; granted that she's keeping tabs on terrorist activities, making sure suicide bombers don't kill us, still the lady ambassador must now widen her networking and focus on the people of Pakistan, instead of just the rulers.
Pakistan needs America but its clobbered citizens want recognition, dignity, and respect. America needs to reboot its priorities and come closer to the heartbeats of the downtrodden, and not Pakistan's selfish elite. America's fixation for a "quick fix," be it the Karachi Stock Exchange or shedding Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, has to stop!
America needs to change the direction of its moral compass. Can Anne W. Patterson be the person to do it?