Roots of anti-Americanism in Pakistan
February 13, 2010 Leave a comment
Robert Gates was less than candid when he said that anti-Americanism was a real problem for Washington because “We clearly left them in the lurch when we turned our backs on Afghanistan in 1989-90.” The negative public perceptions about the US are based not on any single event, but on past experience spread over decades. It would be simplistic to maintain that only one incident, despite its extraordinary gravity, could have led to the unpopularity of the US in this country. There is a widespread perception that successive US regimes have let down Pakistan, that Washington has behaved more as a master than ally and that whatever promises it makes, when it needs Islamabad’s services, are forgotten once Pakistan has lost importance in its geo-strategic aims. There is also a perception that American policies, influenced by a strong Zionist lobby, have harmed the Muslim world in general. It is a matter of historical record that despite its avowed commitment to democracy, the US has supported one military dictator after another since 1958, as they were considered to be more pliable than an elected government. Washington invariably looked the other way as the people of Pakistan struggled for democracy. Under Ayub, hundreds of people were put behind bars as they fought for the restoration of their democratic rights or protested against several inequities like press censorship, unjust labour laws, the widely unpopular One Unit, and the absence of equal opportunities for the people of East Pakistan.
The US policy to stand steadfastly behind Ayub Khan, the first military ruler, for a number of years, frustrated the common man. It was widely felt that the US practised policies that were totally opposed to its professed ideals. The US also put its full weight behind Ziaul Haq, who had come to power after overthrowing an elected government. Its support to the dictator continued for eleven years, despite his blatant violation of human rights, suppression of democratic forces, introduction of discriminatory laws, and enforcement of primitive punishments. Hopes that the policy would change after the end of the Cold War turned to ashes when Washington started to patronize Pervez Musharraf, when he readily agreed to become President Bush’s ally in his war against terror and allowed the US to establish bases in Pakistan. Washington continued to distance itself from the political leaders fighting for democracy, till it found that in their absence from the country, the movement by lawyers and civil society for the restoration of an independent judiciary might be captured by the people opposed to US policies. Opposition to popular aspirations has thus alienated the people from the US. Defence pacts like SEATO and CENTO were seen by the common man to provide a shield not only to the US and its allies against communist aggression, but also to Pakistan against India. Pakistan had, in fact, put its national security in jeopardy, as people found, one fine morning, from a threatening statement by Khrushchev, by allowing the US to use the Badaber base for U-2 flights to spy over Moscow’s defence installations. The US refusal to bail out Pakistan against India was interpreted by the common man, ignorant of the details of these treaties, as a gross betrayal by the US.
While the Zionist regime of Israel occupied Arab lands and subjected Palestinians to the worst forms of state terrorism, attacking their habitations at will with military equipment supplied by the US and indulged in targeted killings of Palestinian leaders, America continued to ignore the ignominies and remained Israel’s principal protector, financier and political supporter. Washington simply turned a blind eye to Israel as it continued to pursue, over years, military nuclear technology and developed an arsenal of nuclear bombs. The US, however, took a hostile position when Iraq and Iran tried to follow suit in self-defence. The discriminatory treatment has also led to the blackening of the American image in the Muslim world. The US, meanwhile, continues to act as a master rather than a friend, something resented by many enlightened nationalists in Pakistan, who otherwise strongly oppose extremism and militancy. What is needed by the Obama administration to improve US image is to fully support democracy, respect Pakistan’s sovereignty and make only those promises, which the US can really fulfil, irrespective of who controls Washington. Only time will show if the US is capable of keeping the promise made by Robert Gates, of having a long-term approach to Pakistan that reassures Pakistanis that “we are a long-time, reliable ally for Pakistan; we’re going to be there with them and for them, going into the future. And it’s in every aspect, politically, economically, and so on”.