Monday January 30, 2023

Governing the governors

April 02, 2022

On July 6, 1808 King Joseph of Spain unveiled a constitution. It allowed peasants to retain their harvests, an independent judiciary and abolition of Church privileges. The Spanish peasantry chose to ignore these much needed offerings. Instead, they chose to fight against what they deemed a foreign power’s manipulative innovations. This was because Joseph was Napoleon’s brother, placed on the Spanish throne by French troops. That was what mattered to the Spaniards, not the ideal condition to better their impoverished lives but the reasons and, above all, the person behind it.

During her stint here, US Ambassador Anne Patterson once remarked that “the depth of anti-Americanism in Pakistan, especially in the middle class” had surprised her. She was wrong on two counts – it is not just the middle class but an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis. Second, it is not directed at the American people. It is the consequence of Washington’s decades-long policies regarding Pakistan. In purely Langley terms, it is blowback; the fallout of Washington’s covert and overt actions.

Like military interventions and occupations, removing odious governments by covert means has remained a US foreign policy tool of choice. Used with ruthless impunity since 1898, Woodrow Wilson described it as a duty to “teach them to elect good men”. It is also a fact that these men are from the political elite and propped up by Washington. Having a trussed-up ruler’s loyalty, the relationship is starkly bereft of an honorable and honest relationship with the people of these countries. This equation was echoed in Lord Cromer words about the British Empire’s influence on Egypt: “We do not govern Egypt; we govern the governors of Egypt”.

Any leader who dares pursue independent policies is immediately targeted and made an example. The late Zulfikar Bhutto was one such person. Declassified documents show that President Nixon ordered the CIA to “make the economy scream in Chile to prevent Salvador Allende from coming to power”. Allende did come to power, Washington maneuvered a coup. Allende is said to have committed ‘suicide’ in the presidential palace with an AK 47 that Fidel Castro had presented him. What symbolism could have been a more chilling deterrent for ‘wayward’ leaders? Castro, who avoided various attempts on his own life, once quipped: “If surviving (Washington’s) assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal”.

The macabre scale of these coups and assassinations forced a US Senate investigation. It resulted in an ‘assassination ban’ with the issuance of the 1975 Church Committee Interim Report. President Ford issued an Executive Order which said: “No employee of the US Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination”. Despite this, the assassinations continued unabated. In November 1984, during the Reagan government, there was an assassination attempt on Lebanon’s Mohammed Fadlallah. He survived, 80 bystanders perished.

Donald Trump who ordered the assassination of Gen Qasim Sulaimani bragged on Fox & Friends that: In Sep 2020 “I would have taken him (President Assad) out, I had him all set up”. Joseph Biden recently called Vladimir Putin “a butcher” further saying “this man cannot remain in power”. While not a justification of the Ukraine invasion, the fact remains that by these standards, all US presidents were butchers who should never have been in power in the first place.

During our decades of subservience, false realism, crass demands and moral insensitivity has characterized Washington’s policies toward Pakistan. It calls for a compliant governing setup that kowtows to their diktats intoning thou art king and lord and god.

We have the example of how the infamous NRO that gave a clean chit to those accused of murder and plunder was brokered by foreign capitals. It paved the way for many of them to attain, yet again, the highest seats of power. We all are witness to the fact that the personal coffers of these forever-in-power elite swelled and were supervised with zealous management. Conversely, Pakistan sunk to unimaginable depths. It was a grotesque contrast of elite grandeur and citizen squalour, of dazzling wealth and stark poverty, Washington props and the people a beggared and devastated entity.

The writer is a freelance contributor. He can be reached at: