Feb 17, 2011

Demonization of the US in Pakistan

Demonization of the US in Pakistan
by Ali K Chishti

“When hatred of foreign policies turns into hatred for an entire people and their civilisation, then enlightenment is dead, giving way to demonology – something similar has happened to the US in Pakistan…”

In a recent Gallup survey conducted in Pakistan, 35 percent of the people hold the US responsible for terrorism in Pakistan, 39 percent say it is America’s war that Pakistanis are fighting and 52 percent think that WikiLeaks has been published by the Americans themselves. At one of the country’s biggest universities, the Karachi University, the flag of the US, Israel and India are embossed on a road by an Islamist party for students to walk over as a sign of hate. Recently, Altaf Hussain, the leader of one of the most secular political parties – the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) – lashed out at the US over the Aafia Siddiqui issue.

So why is it that the US, which has given Pakistan billions in aid and whom the Pakistani security establishment holds regular “strategic talks” with, has become a punching bag for all segments of society in Pakistan?

Historically speaking, it was the 1965 war that initiated a burst of anti-Americanism in Pakistan, as it was alleged that the weapons that were to be given to Pakistan were instead given to India. The 1967 Arab-Israeli war fuelled anti-Israel sentiments with images of Abraham tanks on the newly-launched PTV and later in 1971, the futile wait for American fleet to rescue West Pakistan further fuelled anti-Americanism in Pakistan.

While the Americans directly supported the religious lobby throughout the 1980s in countering the Soviet threat, the real dent was the Pressler sanctions stopping the delivery of F-16s and the opposition to the country’s nuclear programme.

It was due to a rise in anti-American sentiment that two right-wing governments were formed in at least two provinces in 2002. The US has not become suddenly more powerful since the end of the Clinton administration, but anti-American sentiments have certainly risen significantly since Bill Clinton left the Oval Office – the proof of it is that the much-ignored phrase of ‘anti-Americanism’ was widely circulated only after the tragic 9/11 incident, motivated not by the actions of the US, but by its reaction, which most Pakistanis think of as against Muslims and not against any group of people or a nation.

Another factor often ignored is the institutional hatred present, especially in the army, and other sensitive security services created by over a decade of sanctions, which created a gap between the US and Pakistani military throughout the 90s. The intelligence community in Pakistan, much like the security establishment, is ‘India centric’, but also confused about the role that the US plays and often sees an American hand in whatever happens in Pakistan. A former intelligence chief, Alam, commenting on the Raymond Davis issue, described the role of Americans in pin-pointing certain targets in Pakistan and using jihadis to launch attacks. When asked about an example, the spy master did not come up with an answer. Another example is of former ISI operative, Commander (retd) Nasir, who also served in the Pakistan High Commission, New Delhi, in the late 80s. He told TFT , “It is the US that is behind the destabilisation of Pakistan. The Americans wants to disintegrate our country.”

Though anti-Americanism has spread into our institutions, it is important to understand that while there is some sort of understanding and alliance between the top brass of the US and Pakistani army and intelligence agencies, the same has not trickled down to the mid and lower cadre of the country’s security establishment. They blame the US for sending out ‘Blackwater’ and even financing Baloch nationalists. A recent example of this is the treatment dished out to Raymond Davis, who is an American diplomat, but is considered and portrayed by the right-wing media as a ‘Blackwater operative’ who went on a rampage to kill Pakistanis.

Let us take the Dr Aafia Siddiqui case, which had over the years been used and initially abused by Islamists and the right-wing to spread anti-Americanism, but has over the years been hijacked and compelled even the most secular parties in Pakistan to issue statements in favour of Aafia and curse the US. “This has happened because anti-Americanism sells in Pakistan,” confirmed a leading politician who wished not to be named. “We are a conspiracy-ridden society and it is politically convenient to issue anti-American statements, as it keeps the people happy and most importantly keeps us away from suicide bombers,” he said.

A classic example of how the US is blamed in Pakistan is how the leader of the Sunni Tehreek, Sarwat Ejaz Qadri, candidly told TFT , “The US helps the Wahabi/Deobandi movement in Pakistan and is using liberals in the country to amend the blasphemy law.”

Another Wahabi/Deobandi cleric, who had been the leader of the National Jihad Council, told TFT , “It is the US that is actually helping Barelvis and promoting Sufism in Pakistan to counter the Deobandi movement.”

While the media contributes to such sentiments with planted and manufactured stories like last year’s fake WikiLeaks story filed by a leading local news agency, or the conspiracy culture manufactured by certain proxies of the state to take the blame off of them, it is the dismissal of American pluralism that has allowed a renewed anti-Americanism to take hold. While no one would defend the controversial US foreign policy in Iraq, the rise of anti-American sentiments is unfortunate and likely to be counter-productive. It is important to criticise the US, but any criticism of a nation needs to be based on detailed evidence rather than sweeping generalisations and prejudices. Given the power and influence of the US, close scrutiny is a necessity, but narrowcast or a priori view of its motives and behaviour will inevitably lead to distortions and foreclose sensible conversation and debates. We need to let go of this blame game and paranoia of foreign powers disintegrating Pakistan. Instead we need to introspect and reform ourselves.


Ali Chishti is a writer based in Karachi. He can be reached at akchishti@hotmail.com

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