The US-Pakistan relationship: towards real accountability

In the wake of the foiled bombing of Times Square and attacks on Pakistan's minorities, Pakistan cannot be given a blank cheque in its fight against extremism.
Zainab Mahmood
30 June 2010

Several critics have said that Pakistan could do without the nudges and pushes it receives from its overbearing stepbrother, the US. They feel that countries such as Pakistan, who have barely gotten used to being out of the amniotic sac, should be allowed to discover their own strengths and weaknesses without being criticised and made aware of their shortcomings. This is not only detrimental to the process of evolution of countries like Pakistan but is also a misnomer when it comes to the role that countries such as United States play in this part of the world, not as critics but as overseers.

While sifting through the pages of history one finds that military dictators such as Ayub and Musharraf have been ready to sip tea with the Americans as long as they got something out of it, whilst democratic leaders such as Bhutto dared to bite the hand that fed them for so long, instead rolling out the carpet for the Saudis. The funnelling of millions of dollars to arm the Afghans during the Zia years put Pakistan back into America’s good books, not to mention the generous reward that came with it. The US never came to trust Benazir or Nawaz Sharif during both their terms, despite notions that Bhutto would return as America’s blue-eyed girl with a solemn promise of support, which, as history would have it, never came to be.

Through it all, America has used Pakistan while Pakistan has taken full advantage of its strategic positions as well as its intelligence network, feigning a damsel in distress when it comes to its extremist elements waging Jihad all over the world. What Pakistan needs is accountability. Regardless of the fact that America’s interventions in other countries’ internal problems has at worst awoken dormant conflicts and at best forced reconciliation after civil strife, what matters here is what Pakistan needs. Due to its sketchy back-record and years of mishandling important issues such as economic stability, educational reform and the nurturing of the professional and productive middle class that can propel the nation forward, as well as its irresponsibility as a Muslim nation, Pakistan needs to be taken to task and America is the only state that can do it.

To America, accountability depends on what it stands to gain from a cordial relationship with the oppressors. There is a well of condemnation of the chameleon policies of super-powers supporting corrupt governments and condoning abuse and persecution of ethno-religious minorities in ally nations. Hundreds of citations in Lokman Meho’s sourcebook on the Kurdish question in U.S foreign policy expresses the derisive viewpoint shared by countless critics. When Saddam rolled over the Kuwaitis, the world shivered with horror and dispatched half a million troops. The Kurds don’t control any oil, so when Saddam gassed them, nobody paid much attention. Fast-forward to 2003, in the Saddam-free and U.S-occupied Iraq – the dictator is convicted for crimes against humanity and the Kurds emerge as indirect benefactors hailing Americans as their liberators. The more useful you are, the less likely the US is to air bomb you or feign indifference, although it’s difficult to ascertain which of the two is more hazardous.

The United States has a great deal on its hands. Embroiled in Afghanistan and Iraq and keeping a watchful eye on Iran, China and North Korea, US foreign policy is overwhelmed with challenges with few solutions in sight. But for now terrorism remains its foremost priority and the player holding the knight in this game is Pakistan.

Nationalists and conspiracy theorists draw up images of the guillotine, if Pakistan were to disappoint in the war on terror. In an interview with CBS, Hilary Clinton’s recent assertion of “very severe consequences” had Faisal Shahzad’s time square bombing attempt been successful or if any further successful attacks were to be traced back was more than ominous – it was a down-right ultimatum. A high-level diplomatic source is quoted as saying that if something were to go wrong in this scenario, “momentum could shift and public opinion in the States could demand more action”. With America’s list of expectations increasing manifold, Pakistan is finding itself in a “damned if we do, damned if we don’t” debacle.

America on the other hand is desperately trying to improve its reputation on ground. By providing humanitarian and social relief (read scholarships, relief for internally displaced persons) they hope to lessen the appeal of the Taliban-inspired anti-western attitudes prevalent amongst both the masses and the literate class who are finding the tirades on jihad and condemnation of western policies by new-age media clerics and their pop-star brand ambassadors difficult to ignore. They are also assessing the possibility of using rather than fearing the moderate mullah and his madrassah to spread a more acceptable version of Islam.

What they decide to do in the wake of the recently released Brookings report, is yet to be seen. It paints a troubling picture, stipulating that the entire education system in Pakistan is at fault and stokes the fires of poverty, corruption and militancy. Even though those on ground were already familiar with these facts, the report puts in facts and figures how problematic the whole thing is, illustrating that there is no quick fix, there is no flushing out the problem with billions of dollars of aid coming in for educational programs. This is going to take years and more than that it is going to take honesty. Time and selfless elected leaders, these are two things in short supply in Pakistan.

On Hamid Karzai’s recent visit to the United States, President Obama in their joint public address on regional issues spoke of Pakistan’s “growing recognition that they have a cancer in their midst; the extremist threaten Pakistan’s sovereignty”. With distrust increasing between the provincial and religious parties, disgruntled internally displaced persons, drone-wary Pashtuns, Baloch activists declaring Pakistan a terrorist state outside embassies in London and the ethnic rivalries endlessly playing out on the streets of Karachi, it seems Pakistan is indeed in the terminal stages of fighting its cancer.

The one distinguishing factor that makes the case of religious minorities more of a glaring human rights issue is the lack of political consideration it receives. Second-class citizens in the land they call home, with a widely accepted bias and discrimination choking the Ahmadis, Christians, Sikhs and Hindus struggle to retain some semblance of their traditions and beliefs. Nonetheless, the token permissiveness of the government is shown through celebration of Bahuchara Mata at Hindu temples in Karachi and ubiquitous Christmas decorations and jingles that adorn our shopping malls, radio airtime and television screens come December, portraying how progressive and liberal we are.

But where are the Ahmadis in all this? The invisible minority that we do not want to acknowledge, that is impossible to pigeon-hole, who decides the fate of these persecuted few million? Is the government choosing to look the other way as mullahs continue to unleash fatwas against Ahmadis on TV channels, reaffirming their status as wajib-ul-qatl even after the bloody massacre? Once again, so-called democratic governments show the folly of their perceptions regarding the impact of their silence. The world is watching closely and, with the United States entrenched deeply in Pakistan’s social and ethno-religious problems, a day of reckoning is near.

In the past, the death toll of minorities has remained low enough for the government to avoid sustained international pressure to take action. In the wake of 28 May attacks on Ahmadis and the coincidental re-emergence of Pakistani-trained Jihadists attempting attacks on American soil, the scenario has changed. Such a change is all the more likely following the Waldman report issued by the London School of Economics, suggesting close ties continue between Pakistani intelligence and both the Haqqani network and Quetta Shura and, more importantly, personal assurances from the president of Pakistan to the Taliban militia. How much and how soon will America demand proof of de-islamisation of the Pakistani state, indirectly benefiting the minorities? Some will dismiss it as a “sexed-up” and slanderous report, but it is nonetheless raising a few eyebrows in Washington and Pakistan. Safeguarding the rights and lives of the Ahmadis is certainly not on top of the government’s dossier, but satisfying the United States’ concerns is.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts that human rights are universal and inalienable, i.e. preceding state authority. As Pakistan has continually avoided committing to the declaration, maybe it’s time the United States nudges its ephemeral friend to take not cosmetic actions against its “cancer” but viable and enduring ones. We are graciously accepting help from the forces that “freed” Iraq and Afghanistan, as the Americans, motivated primarily by self-defence, are here to do what is needed, for as long as it takes, ideally without the same kind of collateral damage. At least we will not be condemned to the spread of religious terrorism which is tearing apart communities in Nigeria and Gaza, neither of which, it seems, have enough of what it takes to warrant international intervention. We don’t have oil, but we do thankfully have the jihad-wielding Taliban.

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData