Sunday, July 31, 2011

Pakistan: Mythical narratives and anti-Americanism

According to an Amnesty International report of the period, the United States failed to bring to an end “the very human rights crisis that they helped to create” and this has “quite predictably – given effective consent to the Taliban to continue with its policies.”

Ahmadiyya Times | News Watch | Int'l Desk
Source/Credit: The News | International
By Talat Farooq | July 30, 2011

Writing for The News on Saturday, (“US-Pakistan relations: poisoned by a mythical narrative,” July 23) Sadiq Saleem has put forward some pragmatic advice vis-à-vis Pakistan’s relations with the US in the prevailing environment. There is no denying the fact that under the circumstances Pakistan needs to use reason and realism and not emotionalism when dealing with the United States.

Saleem is correct in identifying the existence and perpetuation of the ‘mythical narrative about the glory of Muslims and Pakistan being a citadel of Islam’ and how this narrative has been hijacked by Pakistani elements with vested interests.
However, I am sure Saleem would also agree that the adoption of this same mythical narrative as a foreign policy tool by the Reagan administration in the 1980s (and then unceremoniously discarding it, along with Pakistan and Afghanistan) contributed immensely to radicalising segments of Pakistani society and security establishment.

History, as Saleem has rightly pointed out, has been distorted in our country to tailor it to our ulterior strategic motives. He cites the examples of Tipu Sultan and Sirajuddaula; as far as I am concerned even Mahmud Ghaznavi and Mohammad Bin Qasim can make the list. However, it is only fair to admit that history is usually manipulated by all nations for respective political and strategic ends.

If we look at the American obsession with the ‘Exceptionalism’ myth for example, we are inundated with the glory of the American Manifest Destiny; the fact that American Destiny was erected on the extermination of North American native populations is less heard of. Similarly, while Pearl Harbour is the epitome of the WWII Japanese deception against unsuspecting US military units in Hawaii, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are usually swept under the carpet, which is strange given the American obsession with self-righteousness and ‘holier-than-thou’ morality.

And American history it seems is quite prepared to forgive George W Bush for attacking Iraq and killing thousands of innocent civilians on the basis of false intelligence. I personally find American Exceptionalism and the US being the ‘city on the hill’ and the ‘citadel of democracy’ narrative just as mythically poisonous as any religious or fascist narrative ever adopted in history by tyrants.

The problem with the US-Pakistan relations is that while both the states are creators of the ongoing imbroglio in Pakistan and Afghanistan only Pakistan is touted as the bad guy. While Pakistan definitely contributed to the rise of militancy through its wrong policies in the 1990s, America cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for having helped create proxy forces in Afghanistan in the first place. As the US upped and left the region in 1989 without brokering a peace settlement, it allowed Afghan infighting to grow into a full-fledged civil war that killed thousands of Afghan civilians and drove thousands more to find sanctuary in Pakistan.

The US failed to dismantle the strategic infrastructure in Afghanistan, leaving weapon stockpiles and trained manpower at the disposal of the warring factions. By not helping Pakistan deal with more than three million Afghan refugees the Americans further ensured that the ISI and Pakistani religious groups continued regular supply of recruits to bolster Pashtun groups in Afghanistan. By improving ties with India in the 1990s, while ignoring Pakistan’s national security compulsions and adopting a discriminatory attitude toward Pakistan on the nuclear issue, the US failed to appreciate the fallout of its short-sighted foreign policy.

Throughout the 1990s the US allowed Pakistan to manage the Afghan civil war and adopt the Taliban as its proxy. Human rights abuses under the Taliban failed to impress the Clinton Administration that professed to espouse humanitarian issues. According to an Amnesty International report of the period, the United States failed to bring to an end “the very human rights crisis that they helped to create” and this has “quite predictably – given effective consent to the Taliban to continue with its policies.”

Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who recently introduced the bill to halt US aid to Pakistan, said on the house floor in a September 1999 speech that Bill Clinton’s administration deliberately failed to curtail the growth of the Taliban. He accused the state department of withholding documents that would provide evidence to support his claim.

Rohrabacher said: “I am making the claim that there is and has been a covert policy by this administration to support the Taliban movement’s control of Afghanistan... [T]his amoral or immoral policy is based on the assumption that the Taliban would bring stability to Afghanistan and permit the building of oil pipelines from Central Asia through Afghanistan to Pakistan... I believe the administration has maintained this covert goal and kept the Congress in the dark about its policy of supporting the Taliban, the most anti-western, anti-female, anti-human rights regime in the world. Perhaps the most glaring evidence of our government’s covert policy to favour the Taliban is that the administration is currently engaged in a major effort to obstruct the Congress from determining the details behind this policy.”

Today the US finds itself the victim of the same jihadist ideology that it allowed to take root in the AfPak region in the 1980s and then flourish unchecked throughout the 1990s. The post 9/11 disparity in the US-Pakistan national security interests must therefore be understood in this context.

The ‘bulk of anti Americanism’ according to Saleem ‘emanates from retired military and civilian officials.” That maybe so; but in all honesty, is that the only source of anti American sentiment? I am sure both the worthy writer and the US know better than to resort to such reductionism. If they don’t know any better, then all they need to do is read the history of US-Pakistan relations, especially from 1979 to date and not to forget to throw in some Pakistan specific nuclear sanctions and drone attacks for good measure.

The writer is absolutely correct that it is “the time for compromise not confrontation”. However such logic by definition works both ways. Pakistan may not be in a position to throw tantrums; but neither is the United States. Not when it needs a safe exit from Afghanistan and some serious face saving so as to continue its myth of American Exceptionalism.

America should admit its part in spawning terrorism in our region; it should have the moral courage to confess being part of the problem and not some innocent victim. The current situation can only be resolved if both the states do some serious soul-searching and then look for viable political solutions. Instead of thrashing Pakistan into compliance, the sole superpower should show both honesty and maturity in dealing with Pakistan’s strategic concerns and security compulsions. Instead of behaving like a bully and abusing Pakistan’s sovereignty, the US should show some humility. Being a super power does not mean being an arrogant power; there are responsibilities along with imperial perks.

Contrary to Saleem’s conviction, firepower alone does not ensure victory – a lesson that the US learnt and forgot in Vietnam and is re-learning in Afghanistan. Instead of provoking Pakistan by telling India to become the regional hegemon, the US should help Pakistan and India resolve their differences, including Kashmir. It is, after all, these very differences that are at the heart of all that is happening in the region today.

The writer is a PhD student at Leicester, UK. Email:

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