Foreign Policy Blogs

Pakistan’s Full Stop

Let’s not treat the current diplomatic standoff between the United States and Pakistan as the complete end of all ties. Both the countries have only punctuated the terms and conditions of their decade-old alliance. Had they spared a modicum of time back in 2001 to understand and respect the limits and ‘national interests’ of each other, they would probably not end up disappointing one another and trading allegations publicly.

Last week, Admiral Mike Mullen blamed the Haqqani Network of acting as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency. “With ISI support, Haqqani operatives planned and conducted that truck bomb attack, as well as the assault on our embassy,” remarked retiring Mullen who has been known for his soft corner for the Pakistani military.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, on the other hand, insisted in a fresh interview with Al-Jazeera English that she was “quite sure” that the American Central Intelligence (CIA) also had links with “may terrorist organizations around the world… this particular Network [the Haqqani Network] they continue to talk about is a network which was the blue-eyed boy of the CIA itself for many years.”

Pakistan has barely been a reliable partner in the war on terror. Links between the country’s military and Islamic militant groups have already been known to different governments of the world and political experts as well.  What is striking at this point is Pakistan’s public support of a terrorist network. The civilian government and the powerful military, which have had a long and bitter history of animosity and mutual mistrust, have publicly said that they are absolutely determined not to accept further American ‘dictations’.

While de facto head of Pakistan General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani called an impromptu meeting of the top military commanders to renounce the American “allegations”, the relatively powerless prime minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani of the Pakistan People’ Party has summoned an All Parties Conference (APC) on September 29.

Corps Commanders’ meetings and APCs are simultaneously convened in Pakistan under extraordinary circumstances. Such developments are witnessed when the country is in the brink of a war or confronted by ‘external aggression’.

It is difficult to make sense of Pakistan’s politics without knowing a bit of Urdu language. Pakistan’s political narrative is heavily dominated by terms like غیرت(Ghirat or honor/pride), سازش (Sazish — conspiracy) and سودا بازی sodabazi—sell out).

For a long time, Pakistanis have been made to believe through a media that receives dictations from its conservative army that their national pride has been sold out to the United States. Many Pakistanis look at their country as a US colony. In addition, some of them also think that the US enjoys limitless influence on their country. The Pakistani masses earnestly believe that a bird can’t fly or a prime minister can’t get elected inside Pakistan without Washington’s prior approval.

Why do they think so?

Pakistan is a country badly divided between the extremely rich&powerful and the extremely poor living in rural areas. The country barely has a middle class. There is hardly any contact between the ordinary people and the corrupt ruling elite. It is the paradox of Pakistan where anti-American sentiments may run extremely high but the common man in the streets still looks at the US with naive expectations that it can bring down inflation in the country and punish corrupt politicians.

Hence, anti-American politics serves the interests of the corrupt politicians and also provides the common people a common enemy to blame for their domestic mess.

We know why Islamabad will not take action against the Haqqani network because it does not want to lose a potential partner in a post-American Afghanistan in 2014. Pakistan sees the Network close to its interests to counter India’s influence in Afghanistan. Furthermore, if Pakistan takes stern action against the 15,000-Haqqanis, who have a strong base both in Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan, then the latter is likely to face the heat of more Taliban attacks on its military and civilians as a reaction to the government support to the Americans against the network.

In Pakistan the future belongs to any individual or institution (such as the army) who restores the country’s “national pride’ and gets Pakistan rid of its longstanding “American slavery.” Pakistani politicians, including the Prime Minister, are confident that a “bold stance” against the United States will further popularize them not only inside Pakistan but in neighboring countries like Afghanistan, Iran and many countries of the Muslim world where anti-American sentiments are appallingly high.

Lastly, Pakistanis also know that the Americans have played their stint in Afghanistan and the time has come for Islamabad to assert its regional interests loudly and clearly even if they clash with Washington’s interests.



Malik Siraj Akbar

Malik Siraj Akbar is a freelance journalist based in Washington DC. A 2010-11 Hubert Humphrey Fellow, Malik is the editor-in-chief of The Baloch Hal, the first online English newspaper of Balochistan, Pakistan's largest province. He worked for five years as the Bureau Chief of Daily Times, a reputed Pakistani English newspaper.

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