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July 23, 2011

US-Pakistan relations: poisoned by a mythical narrative


July 23, 2011

The arrest some weeks ago of members of the religio-political movement Hizb-ut-Tahrir for trying to penetrate Pakistan’s military-intelligence security establishment should have generated a wider debate about the ideological influences that are undermining professionalism in our civil and military establishment.
The attack on the GHQ, several ISI buildings and PNS Mehran would not have been possible without at least some serving personnel sharing secret information. Unfortunately, the media is too busy covering daily political happenings to go deeper into what truly ails the country.
At the heart of the extremist influence within the ranks of our security establishment is the mythical narrative about glory of Muslims and Pakistan being a citadel of Islam that has been taught in our schools and blindly accepted for a long time. This mythical narrative has a strong Islamist tinge and is more or less reflective of the worldview of religious-political parties.
Over the last few years anti-Americanism has been added to the already strong dose of Islamist revivalism and Jihadism that has been made into Pakistan’s ideology even though it has nothing to do with Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s thinking.
Our mythical narrative makes us believe that Muslim decline in the subcontinent had less to do with power realities and more to do with some Muslim leaders being all too willing to compromise with the British. Few Pakistanis now remember that the creation of Pakistan became possible only because Sir Syed Ahmed Khan encouraged a segment of erstwhile India’s Muslim population to seek western education and collaborate with the British. Collaboration with the global power of the time, not confrontation and jingoistic defiance enabled us to become an independent nation when Quaid-i-Azam supported the British and Gandhi opposed them during Second World War.
We are told that Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore, would have given the British a bloody nose if

Mir Sadiq of Deccan had not joined the British. Nawab Sirajuddaula would have been victorious if Mir Jaffer of Murshidabad had not withdrawn his cooperation. The truth is that Tipu had chosen alliance with the French, another foreign power, against the British. With Muslim and Indian power in decline, the competition for influence was between the technologically superior European nations.
Tipu’s ally was unable to offer him enough support in time to defeat the British. Mir Sadiq made the right choice in aligning with the power that prevailed. Similarly, Sirajuddaula had isolated himself and even with Jaffer’s forces may never have been able to prevail in the battle of Plassey of 1757. Lord Clive had better guns and a better military strategy. But better poems can be written about Tipu’s honour than about his failed strategy and we choose to perpetuate the myth of poems than the strategic realities of history.
Extrapolating from the mythical narrative, we are told that Pakistan can somehow have the United States on its knees if only everyone in Pakistan drank from the same fountain of ideology as the critics of US-Pakistan relations. The harsh reality is what we witnessed on May 1-May 2 when the US demonstrated its superior military prowess and killed Osama bin Laden, considered a hero by many in Pakistan, in his well-built compound in Abbottabad.
The US has a more powerful military and its reach is far greater than we allow our people to realize. The strength Pakistan has to face potential Indian aggression or the threat posed by terrorism comes from superior US military technology that simply cannot be matched by some of the countries currently engaged in anti-Americanism.
Anyone who advocates close ties with the US is simply being realistic and pragmatic but the Ghairat Brigade does not want the discussion to focus on reality. They harp on about pride and honour, the stuff of poetry, even though similar pronouncements in 1971 resulted in Pakistan’s dismemberment that may well have been avoided through pragmatism.
Just as Tipu could not win against the British because his allies could not deliver to him in time the firepower he needed, Pakistan should not lose its alliance with America while chasing allies that might not match American power. More importantly, we must make sure that the US remains on our side instead of turning against us. If the US reaches the conclusion that Pakistan is not only a bad ally but rather an enemy, Abbottabad will look like a tea party compared to the oncoming battles of Plassey. This is might be the time to tone down the anti-American rhetoric.
It is ironic that the bulk of anti-Americanism, which is fuelled in the Pakistani media, seems to emanate from retired military and civilian officials. In this category one finds retired foreign service officers like Asif Ezdi, Riaz Khokhar and Tareq Fatemi telling Pakistanis how confrontation and defiance is the better course in dealing with the United States. One also finds retired generals like Hamid Gul and Asad Durrani advocating a similar course, without explaining why they did not choose that path while in service. Recently I read an article by retired economist Arshad Zaman arguing that we should choose poverty with national honour over progress without pride.
Why is it that these people have suddenly become anti-American, especially after leaving service while in service they had no problems working with Americans or seeking American aid or support for Pakistan? Can any of them present evidence of similar advocacy of the “Let us break with the US” view openly or behind closed doors during the course of their service?
Sometimes I wonder if anti-Americanism of the retired sahibs reflects a desire to find relevance in the current media environment. Deep down the anti-American retired servicemen cynically know the truth. Unfortunately, their search for something to do in their retirement years poisons the well and creates difficulties for those who have to conduct policy now.
If we listen to recent remarks by leading American officials, whether civilian leaders like Hilary Clinton or military officials like Admiral Mullen and General Petraeus, the American attitude is gradually becoming almost as anti-Pakistan as the Pakistani opinion is anti-American. This is time for deft diplomacy and not for raising temperatures.
Maybe retired officials should accept that currently serving officials know more about the current state of affairs than they do. For the retired personnel their point of reference is what they knew when they were in service. Maybe it is time they accepted that things have changed and the Americans might be willing to inflict more damage on Pakistan than was the case in the 1980s or 1990s when a small dose of anti-US ranting simply helped extract a higher price for Pakistan.
This is the time for compromise not confrontation with the United States. Sir Syed and Quaid-i-Azam Jinnah, not mythical versions of those defeated in defiance, should be our role models right now.
Sadiq Saleem is an analyst based in Toronto, Canada. Email: [email protected]

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