Anti-Americanism in Pakistan
The News, October 11, 2008
By Sadiq Saleem
It was a special moment in Pakistan's history when the military and intelligence chiefs briefed parliament on the war against terrorism. The in-camera briefing affirmed the supremacy of Pakistan's Constitution, which makes parliament with elected representatives of the people the chief decision-maker in the country. At the same time, it showed the importance of Pakistan's military to its security. But those who owe their political careers to a culture of military coups have expressed "unhappiness" over the "inadequacy" of the parliamentary briefing. They are seeking "strategic" knowledge about why we are fighting in Fata and for what objective as if the nation still needs answers to these elementary questions.
The problem with some Pakistani leaders is that they believe in gaining cheap popularity by tapping into anti-American sentiment. Since the end of the dictatorship of Gen Ziaul Haq there has been a segment of politicians, religious leaders and so-called strategists who paint the United States as Pakistan's enemy. In doing so, they have strengthened India's hands. It is one thing for Pakistan's leaders to criticise or push back the US policy, as President Asif Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Kayani have all done in the wake of US military incursions into Fata. But to position Pakistan as an enemy of the United States and to invite Americans to look upon Pakistan as their enemy is an invitation to disaster.
For decades, Pakistan has allied itself with the western powers to protect itself against India. During the cold war, Pakistan was at an advantage because India was seen by the US as a Soviet friend. But the US did not fulfil Pakistan's expectations in fighting India. With the end of the cold war, Indian policy changed. For Pakistan, this was a moment to reposition itself and ensure that India's overtures to Washington did not marginalise it. Instead of reaping the benefit of earlier alliance with the US, Pakistanis squandered their energy in following the whims of Gen (retd) Aslam Beg, Gen (retd) Hamid Gul and Qazi Hussain Ahmed in pursuing the dream of doing to the US what the Mujahideen in Afghanistan had done to the former Soviet Union.
The truth is that the defeat of the Soviets was made possible by the US support and global terrorism creates mayhem but does little to change the international order. The US will not come to its knees by al-Qaeda ramming planes into buildings in New York or with wars away from its shores in Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite the global financial crisis and military difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States firmly remains the world's most powerful country. India recognises that and is befriending the US so much so that in a recent global opinion poll more than 60 per cent of Indians said they liked the United States. Pakistanis, by being painted as America's enemies, are creating circumstances that would squeeze our country from all sides.
China remains our good friend but even the Chinese, with their massive investments in the United States and their total reliance on the US market for trade, do not go to the extents some of our leaders do in condemning or criticising the Americans. When China's prime minister was recently asked on a US television how China viewed itself in relation to the US, he said China did not see itself as a superpower and certainly not as a competitor to the United States. Quite clearly, there is greater realism in China about the global power equation than there is at the end of a Pakistani "train march" or in the columns of self-professed Pakistani strategic thinkers and super-patriots.
It is time we took stock of our own position and saw clearly where we stand. These are difficult times for Pakistan. Probably never in our history have we been beset by such a range of challenges. A raging insurgency in Fata and Swat is threatening to widen its footprint. A month or so back, there was talk of the fall of Peshawar. Balochistan is feeling alienated. There are almost weekly suicide bombings in the country. The economy is facing a meltdown--the rupee having lost a quarter of its value in three months. The energy shortage is hurting every aspect of national life. The price of food is rising exponentially.
The Pakistani public is rightly incensed over violations of Pakistani sovereignty by the United States but the way to deal with that is exactly what President Zardari and Gen Kayani have done. Their views were articulated well by Pakistan's ambassador to United States Husain Haqqani, who said these incursions did not advance the interests of the United States and gained nothing except infuriating the Pakistani people. Haqqani conveyed the national sentiment without creating a backlash or breakdown in bilateral relations. Smart diplomacy and well-articulated Pakistani positions on international TV serve the national interest much better than hysterical anti-US pronouncements in media accessed only by Pakistanis.
The elected Pakistani government, as well as the military leadership, understands that the national pride is just as important as tangible national interests. Nations have gone to war over matters of national pride. But we must not allow our righteous wrath to descend into hysteria. Rhetoric must not lead us in a direction that in the end does more damage to Pakistan than these US incursions ever could.
One of the greatest attributes of successful nations is to pick fights that are winnable. It was an aphorism in the American west in the heyday of the gunslinger that don't reach for your gun unless you mean to use it and if you mean to use it make sure that you use it well. The flared tempers in Pakistan have led to talk of "taking on the Americans and teaching them a lesson". This is dangerous talk and we need a reality check. There is no comparison between the US and Pakistan. For one thing the two countries are allies. Both want to eliminate terrorism from the Pak-Afghan border areas, though their approaches differ. The economic meltdown that stares Pakistan in the face would be a reality but for assistance from our friends, including the US.
China, the universally acknowledged up and coming power, makes allowances for real politick. Witness its acquiescence in allowing the Nuclear Suppliers Group to make an exception for India on nuclear matters. Smart nations know which fights to pick and where the benefits of confrontation finally outweigh those of cooperation.
A nation's conduct internationally is a mixture of its reality and aspirations. The two cannot be divorced from each other. We need to strike a balance between the needs of national pride and our national interests and priorities. Our priority right now should be to strengthen our newly established democratic order, inject vigour into our economy, restore the law and order situation, generate energy to set our industry and commerce in motion, help the common man get food for himself and his children and to educate our people so that they are capable of meeting the challenges of modern living and of capitalising on the opportunities it offers.
The choice before us is whether to follow the path of Germany and Japan who have risen from the ashes of the kind of defeat and humiliation that we mercifully have never had the occasion in our history to experience and become great powers or wallow in misplaced national pride and be reduced to becoming another Somalia or even Afghanistan.
Sadiq Saleem is a businessman and part-time analyst based in Toronto, Canada.firstname.lastname@example.org