Thursday, 23 February 2012

A study of Anti-Americanism in Pakistan

A study of Anti-Americanism in Pakistan

(Part 1)

Yours is a great country with enormous resources of wealth, experience and technical skill. We, who believe in individual initiative, effort and enterprise do not believe that the era of private ownership is over. But we do believe that we have entered upon an era when capital should come out of its shell and move in the spheres of international social objectives and move on from exploitation to production.
Your country fought for its own independence once. You have been great exponents and the jealous guardians of freedom. Words from your Declaration of Independence and your constitution have inspired men in far-off lands. You have shown to the world what human effort can do for human welfare. You have no colonies and I believe no territorial ambitions. Has not your history therefore equipped you more than most nations to be among the leading architects of the enlightened internationalism of the future?”
(Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan’s speech at Berkley University, May 16th, 1950)

Every year, thousands of bright and young Pakistani students apply for admission to colleges in the United States of America. A few hundred of them are finally selected and even fewer students actually make it to the US for college education. Hundreds of thousands of people from Pakistan apply for a US Visa every year; most of them want to go there just for a job. Thousands of doctors, engineers, lawyers and businessmen from Pakistan have permanently settled in the US and are contributing to the country's economy by sending remittances. Financially, US has helped only Israel more than Pakistan in the last 60 years.
American money began flowing into Pakistan in 1954, when a mutual defense agreement was signed.According to the agreement, Washinton agreed to provide a military and economic aid program to Pakistan worth 105 Million Dollars a year. By 1957, the covert U.S military commitment to Pakistan had grown to 500 Million dollars a year(Dennis Kux, The United States and Pakistan, 1947-2000:disenchanted Allies, Woordow Wilson Press, 2001) Under Ronald Reagan, U.S. aid nearly quintupled: about three billion dollars in economic assistance and two billion in military aid. The U.S. provided over $11billion in aid to Pakistan since 2001. In 2010, $4.5 billion-one of the largest amounts ever given to a foreign country-aid was given to Pakistan. United States is redirecting another $50 million to flood aid from earlier projects. (Lawrence Wright,  The NewYorker, 16 May 2011)

Despite all the above mentioned facts, the first thing that a Pakistani thinks in case of a national tragedy is that 'America is behind that tragedy'.
A survey for international broadcaster al Jazeera by Gallup Pakistan found that 59 percent of Pakistanis felt the greatest threat to the country was the United States. A separate survey by the Pew Research Center, an independent pollster based in Washington, recorded that 64 percent of the Pakistani public regards the U.S. “as an enemy” and only 9 percent believe it to be a partner.
Cultural Critic, Nadeem F Paracha writes, “the present-day phenomenon in this context has become an obligatory part of populist rhetoric in which American involvement is blamed for everything — from terrorist attacks, to the energy crises, to perhaps even the break of dengue fever!”.

Tufail Ahmed( Director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC) in his article for viewpointonline, noted that “Anti-Americanism is one of several dominant narratives that have taken hold over mass consciousness in Pakistan. Anti-Americanism has emerged as an ideology, as an overriding system of ideas. Writers, politicians and commentators frequently use the ideology of anti-Americanism, sometimes intentionally and mostly unintentionally, to explain the causes of various problems in terms of America’s international role. As a dominant perspective, anti-Americanism has come to acquire an autonomous reality of its own. It hegemonizes minds and prevents people from seeing facts as they exist.”
A lot of research has been done to understand this tricky relationship between the United States and Pakistan’s people despite the former’s largesse towards the country.
According to a research paper written by Dr Talukder Muniruzaman in 1971 on the politics of young Pakistanis, a majority of Pakistanis viewed America positively and admiringly in the 1950s.
The paper also suggests that right up until Pakistan’s 1965 war with India, most Pakistanis saw America as a friend, especially in the context of the Soviet Union’s close ties with India.
According to another paper published by Chicago University in 1983, on the ideological orientation of Pakistan’s university students by Kiren Aziz and Peter McDonough, anti-Americanism among most Pakistanis remained low even during the celebrated movement (in 1967-68) against the Ayub Khan dictatorship – in spite of the fact that the movement was largely led by leftist students, activists and politicians.
Professor Vali Nasr in his book, ‘Vanguards of the Islamic Revolution’ writes that the religious parties (especially JI)  began attributing the Pakistan Army’s defeat in 1971 to the ‘decadence and debauchery of men like General Yahya Khan’ and due to ‘Pakistanis’ failure to become good Muslims.’ However before that, a large number of Pakistanis began blaming the US because it had ‘failed to help Pakistan in the war.’

Part 2

History tells us that relations between Pakistan and United States started on the right note, as demonstrated by aforementioned speech of Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan. It was followed by the decade of co-operation between the two countries in matters of trade and military training. As we can see, the seeds of perceived animosity were laid during the 1965-71 period during which United States stopped the military aid to both Pakistan and India in the wake of the 1965 war. The people responsible for arousing these sentiments were the dexterous politicians of Pakistan and to some extent the religio-political parties and they did that just to mask their own shortcomings.

A similar attitude was shown by Mr. Bhutto when he blamed the alarming political situation upon the machinations of United States that wanted to “stop him from forming a Muslim-bloc”. In his book ‘Political Dynamics of Sindh 1947-1977’ Tanvir Ahmed Tahir suggests that the post-1971 anti-Americanism in Pakistan was more an occupation of progressive and leftist groups. This is confirmed in Hassan Abbas’ book, ‘Pakistan’s drift into extremism: Allah, the Army and America’s War on Terror’.

According to Lubna Rafique’s 1994 paper, ‘Benazir & British Press, ( Rafiue, Lubna. Benazir and British Press. 1986-1994, Gautam Publishers, Lahore,
Pakistan, 1994) it was only in the last year of Z.A. Bhutto’s regime (1977), that he started to allude to moving out of the ‘American camp,’ calling the US a
‘white elephant.’ He also went on to accuse the Jimmy Carter administration for financing the religious parties’ agitation against him in 1977.

After the ousting of Mr. Bhutto came the martial law  decade(1977-88) orchestrated by General Zia ul Haq. The setup that came to power because of unrest created by parties that were essentially anti-American in outlook ended up becoming a pawn in the hands of the same Americans. Zia-ul-Haq milked the opportunities when neighbor Afghanistan was attacked by USSR and a communist government was installed there. The flow of dollars towards the coffers of Pakistan continued until 1986. In 1985, Section 620E(e) (the Pressler amendment) was added to the Foreign Assistance Act, requiring the President to certify to Congress that Pakistan does not possess a nuclear explosive device during the fiscal year for which aid is to be provided. With the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, Pakistan’s nuclear activities again came under intensive U.S. scrutiny and, in 1990, President Bush again suspended aid to Pakistan. Under the provisions of the Pressler amendment, most bilateral economic and all military aid ended and deliveries of major military equipment ceased.  In 1992, Congress partially relaxed the scope of the aid cutoff to allow for food assistance and continuing support for nongovernmental organizations (Congressional Research Service Issue Brief for Congress on Pakistan-U.S Relations, Feb 2006).   

It was followed by the dwindling relations between the two countries in the 90s  culminating in an ebb in the relation during 1998 following the Nuclear tests conducted by Pakistan. Interestingly, when the Pakistan Army was caught with its pants down in Kargil, it was the United States that acted as the peace-ensurer   following an ugly fight. 

The Musharraf era (1999-2008) witnessed the ascent of Pakistan-U.S relation to an altogether different level of co-operation following 9/11 attacks. Despite the fact  that not a single Pakistani was involved in the horrendous attacks on World Trade Center, Pakistanis were targeted by and large by the American media and hate-crimes surfaced against Pakistanis living in the United States. The U.S attack on Afghanistan did not help regarding the negative feelings harbored by Pakistanis towards U.S since the 70s and then the 90s.           
This anti-U.S sentiment was cashed by the alliance of religio-political

parties in NWFP(now 
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa), one of  Pakistan’s

bordering Afghanistan and for the first time in the 
history of Pakistan, religious parties won a landslide 
victory in 2002 elections. On the official front, Pakistan
was awarded the non-NATO ally status while the
leaders of various parties kept blaming America for all
the ills in the country. The top command of Al Qaeda
and Taliban sought refuge in the treacherous terrain of 
semi-autonomous tribal agencies that form Pakistan’s 
border with Afghanistan. This led to unmanned drone 
strikes by the U.S to eliminate threats to its personnel in 
Afghanistan and its own security. The drone strikes not 
only killed the insurgents but also the innocent people
present around that area creating strong grievances 
against the mighty America and its army. This issue 

was used to create furor by religious parties and right-
wing politicians including a certain Imran Khan. 
Massive sit-ins were held at various places in the 
country and media fueled the emotion even further by inflammatory programs. In the last one year, several major developments happened vis-à-vis relations with the United States that have made the relation more unstable than it already was. Raymond Davis, a security contractor, killed 3 people at a busy thoroughfare in Lahore, a U.S SEAL team raided a house in Abbotabad killing Osama Bin Laden and 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in a gunfight with NATO forces at the Afghan Border.

Part 3

Regarding the basis of hate towards the US, Professor Hamid Kizilbash’s paper in 1988 stated that Pakistanis give three kinds of reasons for negative feelings about America. One involves U.S. policies toward Pakistan such as failure to come to Pakistan's aid during the Bangladesh crisis, using Pakistan for its own interests, and opposition to Pakistan's peaceful nuclear program. A second deals with American global policy, including support of Israel, opposition to Iran's present government, and use of force against small Third World nations. The third includes American involvement in Pakistan—for example, support of the military regime, obstructing a settlement of the Afghan issue, and responsibility for the decline in the value of the local currency.

Columnist Fasi Zaka in one of his columns suggested that the kind of anti-Americanism found these days (among the middle-classes of the country) is extremely ill-informed. He wrote that a lot of young Pakistanis are basing their understanding of international politics by watching low-budget straight-to-video ‘documentaries’ on YouTube!
The unfortunate fact is that most of Anti-America bashing is done for all the wrong reasons. United States of America is no beacon of International justice nor are they the mega-scheming empire that we so love to depict in our lengthy and flowery diatribes. U.S.A is neither the “great Satan” nor is the “defender of democracy”, it is somewhere in between these two extremes.   The most accurate basis of U.S-bashing would be to criticize the impunity with which that country holds the rest of the world accountable based on its standards or the brazen use of force by the United States across the globe(and NOT only against the Muslims-contrary to popular belief) over the last 70 years.  Ironically, more people in the United States itself and in Europe protested against the Iraq war than in any of the Muslim “Ummah”. While we are at it, it should also not be forgotten what the “Muslim Imperialism” did in its own days. If Mohammad bin Qasim can come all the way from Hijaz to Sindh just because of a letter written by a woman, Moosa bin Naseer can send an army to help Count Julian across the Mediterranean, G.I Joe also has the equal right to retaliate when a bunch of dimwits attack its homeland via flying planes. America is not controlling the world like we think it is. Add this to the fact that more than 90% Pakistani people have never been to the U.S and have never met an American in real life.

Another ugly issue surrounding the prevalent anti-Americanism is the hypocrisy of it. Most people attending the “Go Amrika Go” rallies would love to get a U.S Visa and spend their rest of lives in the same country whose flag they burn on monthly basis for fun. People like this can be seen queuing up outside American fast-food chains, they like to wear American brands(new or second hand), they watch American films, follow the trends set by Americans, use American-built devices like a Personal Computer or an iPhone and the list goes on and on. It would be unfair not to say that one characteristic that unites us Pakistanis is this hypocrisy that we fail to see. 
U.S is not the wealthiest country in the world, rather it the country with the most loans. The unemployment rates in United States are rising on weekly basis, people are getting their homes taken away from them, if “Amrika” is so powerful, Why can’t it help its OWN people? We have been made to think via convoluted conspiracy theories that Amrika has some kind of Vendetta against Muslims. No doubt, a lot of Muslim countries have been at the receiving end of Amrika’s wrath including Iraq, Afghanistan and lately Libya. But does that mean what was happening at Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya was Justified.? The genocide being committed by Saddam and Qaddafi was “western propaganda” only? Al-Qaeda was a bunch of average  bearded guys who played for the same football team? As a society, we do not want to tolerate any dissenting voice and I am already expecting remarks branding me “another American agent” or  “Amriki apologist” and all my protestations will be useless when that happens.At the end, I would just like to re-quote Mr. Tufail Ahmad, “It[Anti-American sentiment] hegemonizes minds and prevents people from seeing facts as they exist” 

(also published on Pak Tea House, Part 1Part 2 and part 3)

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