By Talat Masood
Anti-Americanism continues to rise unabated in Pakistan. It is not confined to fringe elements alone but is spreading in the mainstream. A few recently retired military officers and politicians have gone as far as accusing US for abetting and supporting acts of terror that have engulfed the country. This is despite the fact that President Obama and the administration has made serious efforts clearing up misunderstandings and reducing the inherent tensions not only with Pakistan but with the Muslim world in general.
Washington has tried to redress the past policy mistakes of abandoning Pakistan by developing a long-term strategic relationship. It has expanded, in scope and depth, Pakistan’s economic assistance threefold and doubled military assistance, totaling $2.2 billion annually. The Enhanced Partnership Act, notwithstanding its intrusive clauses and abrasive wording, is a clear manifestation of breaking from the past. The United States has also been highly supportive of Pakistan at the World Bank, IMF and other multilateral forums to ease its financial crisis.
Furthermore, on a larger canvas, President Obama has tried to reach out to the Muslims and expressed as a matter of policy his desire to develop a relationship on the basis of mutual respect. He has repeatedly emphasised his close personal links with Muslims and frequently reflects warmly on his experiences in Muslim countries during the early part of his life. His speech at the University of Cairo and prior to that in Turkey was a clear indication of this shift. The immediate withdrawal of some of the draconian measures like water boarding and his plans to close Guantanamo Bay, although as yet to be implemented, are all signs that were meant to reduce the cleavage with the Muslim world and an assurance that the US is not at war with Islam but is only fighting those radical Muslim elements that have taken arms against them. The Nobel Peace Prize award to Obama was an acknowledgement of the transformational changes that he was aspiring to bring in American policy.
But nothing seems to work. Even when the US administration or the military leadership makes a statement that the resolution of the Kashmir dispute would contribute towards regional stability, it is viewed with great scepticism. Similarly, when top US military and government officials publicly acknowledge that Pakistan’s nuclear assets are safe it fails to resonate.
In short, cynicism and dislike for America has reached a point of no return among a certain class in Pakistan, and from their point of view nothing that US does can possibly be good for the country. And they cling to the mantra, despite repeated assurances, that Washington’s interest only lies in taking out our nuclear assets.
What then are the reasons for this distrust and how far are these allegations of the US wanting to destabilise Pakistan, with the help of India, credible?
Any major power, when it adopts a security or foreign policy, always weighs the flip side of everything. If Washington were to destabilise Pakistan as a deliberate policy, then the ensuing chaos will create a vacuum that would surely be filled by the Taliban and jihadi forces, posing a far greater danger to the US, India and the rest of the world. It would be absurd for the US to simultaneously fight the militants, be it the Taliban or Al Qaeda, and support them.
The fact, however, is that the internal and external policies Pakistan has pursued in the last three decades to advance its perceived national interests were flawed and have come to roost. Regrettably, we are in a state of denial and not prepared to accept that militancy is not home grown, and has taken root with the people. There is no doubt that American policies along with Indian designs have accentuated Pakistan’s regional problems. But the answer to our insurgency and the expanding frontiers of terrorism lies primarily with us. It is the responsibility of our leaders to give clarity in defining the nature of threat and mobilising the nation’s resources, both human and material, to combat it successfully. Failure to do so has resulted in the spread of endless rumours generally to the advantage of the militants. We are also failing to optimise the exceptional support that the international community is willing to extend in these difficult times.
This is also true that the legacy of betrayal is so strong and deep-seated that the US will have to work very hard to overcome the prevailing suspicions. The US administration will have to make a categorical assertion that Blackwater or its associates are not operating in Pakistan if confidence in the public of its sincerity is to be restored. The policy of employing drones needs also to be reviewed so that Pakistan military’s involvement at the intelligence and operational levels is fully integrated.
Otherwise every drone attack fuels anti-Americanism and exposes the contradiction in our relations, neutralising the tactical advantage that its employment accrues.
It is equally important to realise that, while we are passing through the worst of times, not everything is lost. There are many positive elements that are emerging as we wade through the present crisis. Despite all odds, a democratic system however fragile has been put in place. Institutions have started functioning, the judiciary is asserting itself, and media is robust debating every facet of our political, economic and social life and acting as a watchdog on our leaders. Parliament has yet to energise but is under public pressure to assume its responsibilities of legislating and assisting in the formulation of national policies. The civil society is emerging, albeit somewhat gradually.
Tragically, the nation is paying a heavy price in blood and sweat in combating militancy. It is forcing us to reform or face the consequences of an existential threat. The cumulative impact of these developments whether it is pressure of media, civil society or the violent acts of militants is bringing about fundamental changes in the society. Feudalism and tribal hierarchy is on its way out and politicians canot fool the people, and the military is in no position to capture power. Militancy is now compelling the government to act and reach out to the tribal people whom they neglected for 62 years. Similarly, the insurgency in Baluchistan is forcing the government to take political and economic measures that it denied to them. The military is acting against the proxies that at one time it patronised. The society is in flux and anarchic but there are several positive happenings as well.