How America Looks at China, India and Pakistan

China, India and us
By S. Akbar Zaidi, Dawn, August 16, 2008

IN 2004, I was invited as a visiting professor to teach a course at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at the Johns Hopkins University in Washington D.C. I taught a course on the political economy of the development of South Asia, to postgraduate students, many of whom were second-generation, US-born Indian and Pakistani Americans.

Washington D.C. is not known as a town which has a very vigorous and exciting academic environment or reputation, perhaps with the exception of SAIS, despite the fact that it houses some quality universities.

Since it is the seat of government, it is known more for its non-governmental policy input and influence. It has numerous ‘think tanks’, an oxymoron if ever there was one, all of which are involved in research, policy and advice, which produces an environment very different from that of a university campus.

While the quality of research and output from many of these think tanks is quite good, though highly varied, the nature of enquiry varies markedly from the way research is conducted and produced in universities. Perhaps the one clear difference is that think tanks focus on perceived ‘problems’, find policy ‘solutions’, and are seldom shy of giving authoritative advice to their own government as well as to other countries.

Moreover, the output from such think tanks involves far greater input and suggestions from those who themselves are involved in making policy, while the university environment allows the production of a far wider canvas of knowledge, both theoretical and applied.

In 2004, at the time when President George W. Bush was seeking re-election, whenever a discussion would take place about South Asia or Asia or the world more generally, one would constantly hear of China’s success and how it had emerged as a great global economic and regional political power. In 2004, often India would be added on as a potential economic power as well, but always as an afterthought.

Pakistan at that time was always marginal to the main arguments related to progress and development, and while the US had occupied Afghanistan and there was a war going on on Pakistan’s borders, the US administration’s main interest was Iraq. During this period, Pakistan was a stable country being ruled by a military general well supported by President Bush. Many analysts had written at that time that the Nov 2004 US elections were as critical for President Bush as they were for his friend, Gen Musharraf.

Having just spent another few months lecturing and doing research in the US, I observed that the two most marked changes that have come about in Washington’s perception in this regard are as follows. India is no longer seen as another possible giant like China, but is always mentioned alongside China, as ‘China and India’. Half the world’s energy problems, its environmental problems, food shortages, etc. are (incorrectly) blamed on the high growth in ‘China and India’. At the same time, both China and India, and no longer China alone, are also seen as possible solutions to many of the world’s problems.

It is worth mentioning that in 2008 the term coined earlier for the four major emerging economic powerhouses, Brazil, Russia, India and China — BRIC — was seldom used and replaced simply by China-and-India. Moreover, the new China-India equation is also grudgingly being recognised and accepted as a shift from the world hegemony and dominance of the US, perhaps towards a multi-polar world sometime soon in the 21st century.

The rise of India to the equal status of China contrasts sharply with the perception of Pakistan today. In the few months that I was in Washington, Pakistan was almost always mentioned with regard to the war on terror. There were seldom any positive views expressed at seminars and policy debates about Pakistan. It was always on how to curb the rise of Talibanisation, to end the growing insurgency, and little else.

Moreover, senior State Department officials, as well as other policymakers and even US academics, treated Pakistan as some subservient dominion of the US, where questions of Pakistan’s sovereignty were disdainfully dismissed. Quite often senior policy analysts would make the prediction that ‘Pakistan won’t last very long’, but would quickly add: ‘but we won’t let that happen’.

On one occasion when I asked Mr Negroponte whether he thought that Pakistan was paying an excessive price in terms of the ‘blowback’ of US action on its borders and whether he thought there was a difference in how Washington and Islamabad viewed the war, he replied that this was Pakistan’s war as much as it was America’s and that they were working on this jointly. Prime Minister Gilani echoed something quite similar when he visited Washington recently.

I do not for a moment believe that the US is responsible for how poorly Pakistan’s image, based on its reality, is projected globally. Unlike many people who find blame for Pakistan’s ills in either the US administration and its dismissive policy towards Pakistan or the IMF or the World Bank, I have always felt that Pakistan’s leadership and its elite are responsible for where we are. Just as much as both China and India have framed their own destinies, so has Pakistan. In an era of globalisation and emerging regional and world powers, all countries are influenced by global and regional powers, trends and pressures. Yet, the leaders of China and now India, use those influences and possibilities to their advantage.

Pakistan, however, is a sad story, too familiar to those of us who continue to live here. By blaming foreign powers or multilateral agencies, or as now, by increasingly looking towards them for salvation in the form of aid or assistance, we merely play out the script that they write for us. Only if it were to be recognised that the causes for Pakistan’s problems, failures and crises are to be found in Pakistan itself, where those who have been in power or have access to it have been responsible, only then can one work towards any possible correction.


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