Autumn has arrived here in Washington. The air has grown crisp, and the leaves are starting to change color. The city is abuzz about the sudden success of the local baseball team, the latest machinations on Capitol Hill, and the fast-approaching presidential election.

Also causing much excitement is the arrival of the season’s new crop of television shows — and especially a political thriller called “Last Resort.” A key plotline of this series, which debuted last month, revolves around an American nuclear strike … on Pakistan.

How curious that this new series envisions a strike on Pakistan, when it is Iran that so dominates American public debate about nuclear matters. Iran, Americans are often told, is menacingly building nuclear weapons — and could, not far down the road, be on the receiving end of a US military assault (albeit of the non-nuclear variety).

But no, “Last Resort” is all about Pakistan. Deep beneath the ocean and off Pakistan’s coastline, Marcus Chaplin, commander of the ballistic missile submarine USS Colorado, is asked to nuke that nation. He defiantly refuses, arguing that the order was not issued through Washington’s proper chain of command. A crew on another US military submarine, furious at Chaplin’s refusal, attacks the USS Colorado. Back in America, news reports announce that Pakistan (not the turncoat sub) has assaulted Chaplin’s vessel. Soon thereafter, two nuclear missiles detonate inside Pakistan.

Even by Hollywood’s standards, this plot is preposterous. I can think of absolutely no scenario that would prompt Washington to order a nuclear attack on Pakistan. A 9/11-style assault on America, traced to Pakistani militants with clear ties to their country’s security establishment? No, the US would restrict any military response to non-nuclear punitive strikes. What if Pakistan nukes India and the US retaliates on the latter’s behalf? I can’t possibly fathom Pakistan ever taking such action against India, much less America responding with nukes. Or what if Pakistani extremists seize power in Pakistan — along with the nation’s nuclear assets — and then unleash nuclear firepower across the US east coast? Perhaps, if it retained retaliatory capacities, Washington might sadly resort to nuclear tactics — but I (unlike others in this town) can’t imagine Pakistani extremists ever nuking America.

The relationship between Pakistan and Hollywood is a fascinating one. Decades ago, when Cold War exigencies produced relatively cordial US-Pakistan ties, Hollywood engaged Pakistan effusively. As my blogger colleague Nadeem F. Paracha has illustrated with his photo histories, American film stars often visited Pakistan in the 1950s to meet dignitaries and shoot movies. In the subsequent decades, likeable Pakistani characters became entrenched in American television culture. Think of the hapless yet respected restaurant owner Babu Bhatt in “Seinfeld,” or the cheerful Pakistani exchange student Raja Musharraf, whose year at a Wisconsin high school was chronicled in the short-lived “Aliens in America” sitcom.

Only more recently, with the souring of US-Pakistan relations, has Hollywood painted Pakistan with a relentlessly hostile brush. Several years ago, a writer for a popular crime series peppered me with questions about what a hypothetical Pakistan-patented attack on America would look like. Who would be the most likely perpetrator? How would the US respond? In the end, the show featured an episode in which the LeT carries out terror attacks in America.

There’s a simple reason why American movies and television shows so often portray Pakistan negatively: Audience preferences. It’s no secret that anti-Pakistan sentiment is strong in America. Hollywood producers aim to attract and maintain audiences. By airing Pakistan-hostile content, they are providing material that will resonate with (or at least not alienate) viewers. A similar dynamic played out — and to some extent continues to play out — with the anti-Arab images that contaminated Hollywood in the 1980s and 1990s.

Back to “Last Resort,” which does contain at least one thread of reality. Chaplin, the commander who defied orders to nuke Pakistan, is a likeable character who manifests sympathy toward the Pakistani people — unlike his civilian bosses back in Washington. This juxtaposition captures the tendency of the US military to be more supportive of Pakistan — and of close ties with Pakistan — than their civilian counterparts (the US-Pakistan relationship, after all, has historically been dominated by military, not civilian, links).

Chaplin and his crew, fearing arrest or worse if they return to American shores, decide to seek refuge on a picturesque island. At that point, Pakistan is forgotten and the plot falls back on the trite themes of isolation, survival and romance.

Still, that jarring nuke-Pakistan plotline lingers. And so does the thought that Pakistan simply can’t catch a break. From the rancorous deliberations in Congress about future aid packages to sensationalist television shows, it’s often hard to find anyone saying anything nice about beleaguered Pakistan.

Those days of American film icon James Stewart hobnobbing with the Pakistani leadership in Lahore have, sadly, long since passed.


The author is the program associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. You can reach him at



The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

The author is the Senior Program Associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. You can reach him at

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments (50)

October 12, 2012 5:25 pm
doomsday scenario for the planet earth.
October 13, 2012 5:25 pm
They chose Pakistan over Iran, because showing Iran would be more sensitive, considering that conflict is more real and a possibility than the Pakistani scenario. It is fiction, and the tv show is in no way encouraging mass murder, or sympathizing with the perpetrators.
October 12, 2012 10:59 pm
It is if you know the impact.
October 13, 2012 1:58 pm
Don't forget that Hollywood movies can build up a case. It has happened in the past if people remember.
October 13, 2012 1:04 pm
Very well said. But you will not be understood by people here.
October 12, 2012 3:56 pm
The demand has already been created in public by propagating negative image of pakistan and now slowly the products are comming out of the industry.A product can only be sold once the demand is created.
October 12, 2012 3:57 pm
The Author is right, there is just too much negative publicity about Pakistan in the US at present. Unfortunately this government and its nepotistic diplomatic appointments are blind to it. Wait for further deterioration in relationships with the west.
October 12, 2012 4:09 pm
Michael, I am in the US and have watched this series. Its unbelievable how childish and racist this series is and that there has been no complaints to shut it. I am boycotting ABC.
October 14, 2012 2:58 am
Those who make movies or even think in their mind about these nukes don't know what nukes are.Just a few can destroy all life on planet and do lot harm than we are told by socalled experts,cos no one has yet really tested them.US or Israel are not countries on some other planet.Those people who even imagine like kids are too ignorant.In my country Japan,just visit Hiroshima and you will have nightmares for months
October 13, 2012 7:21 am
Its fiction not reality. so is starwars and avatar. Hope you dont start debating about their plots as well.
Ahmed Sultan (India)
October 13, 2012 2:31 pm
When Mr. Khan?
October 14, 2012 6:49 am
I can pretend that that this is fiction and it doesn't matter what country they picked. In reality, I am incensed that they chose my country. They could have made up a fictitious country, for e.g. 'Sumibiya'
October 13, 2012 12:14 pm
But there are a lot of anti-Islam/Muslim sentiments.
October 13, 2012 6:05 am
nicely written Micheal.. Though i dont know if Hollywood sells what American ppl want to see or it sells what it want the ppl to see.. but, this season does make a point.. In my childhood, we used to watch USSR, RGB painted as evil etc.. then came the Arabs. Now we are there.. We all know what happened to USSR and the Arabs.. But, its JUST A SERIAL.. Ohh., but why dont we put U.K, France, Germany or Canada in it to nuke..?
October 13, 2012 6:02 am
What you perceive, its most likely you intends to materialize !
Hamza Khan
October 13, 2012 6:00 am
They are just trying to fool american people. They are creating panic in american public through media.
October 13, 2012 8:04 pm
Hollywood is not always about fantasy--Slumdog Millionaire is a stark portrayal of reality behind the facade of marketing campaign called Shining India!
October 12, 2012 2:15 pm
Its just a TV show. No big deal.
October 13, 2012 9:03 pm
Quite likely part of CIA psy-ops.Nothing more
October 13, 2012 9:27 pm
iran doesn't have one taliban or al qaeda.pakistan was the base,the al qaeda to which osama returned.
Mister Toad
October 13, 2012 11:59 pm
Winning hearts and minds the American way.
October 12, 2012 7:09 pm
Although, just a TV show, it could be dangerous in the long run as it prepares a climate for future hostile US action. I really wish the Americans do not go down that path as nobody will benefit in the end. And Michael, I appreciate you bringing attention to such topics. I wish there were more Americans like that case, this world would be a great place to live in!
M Khan
October 14, 2012 9:54 am
America will never nuke Pakistan as Pakistan is an American ally. Ups and downs may come but the relationship of cooperation and development will continue. Long live PAK-USA friendship.
October 12, 2012 9:23 pm
Maybe they are giving us a hint?
Cyrus Howell
October 12, 2012 10:45 pm
I was spared because I don't waste my time watching TV. Did not even know about it until I read this. It must make Pakistanis in America a little uneasy.
October 13, 2012 12:28 am
Anti American platitudes doesn't make for good writing nor does it necessarily gain a following in Pakistan. It's just a movie and America doesn't view Pakistan any different than most of the rest of the World -- as demonstrated by Pakistan being less popular than N Korea by the latest international polling.
October 13, 2012 3:37 am
Well read the article properly. The American public is snti-Pakistan thats why these shows are made and will become a hit probably. And in future, God forbid US can take an action like this if they have their public support. If Michael Kugelman thinks that this is a an important development, as he works for a respected organization and should be taken seriously than God help Pakistan.
October 13, 2012 7:53 am
If you give me the media I can brain wash the entire nation and after decay if you ask 2+2 they would say its all about media wars it can paralyze the nation......
October 13, 2012 7:39 am
You are speaking as if you don’t know anything about Hollywood; there were tons of films about USSR which explored even doomsday scenarios, but all those movies are just movies and never been true. Hollywood is all about imagination, fantasy and technology, and just see it as an entertainment tool and nothing more.
October 12, 2012 5:48 pm
They've destoyed New York city at least a hundred times in movies. What does that signify? US is anti-NYC?
Cyrus Howell
October 13, 2012 12:57 pm
America doesn't panic. They certainly don't take this TV episode seriously.
October 13, 2012 8:11 am
Whatever sells, at the moment sadly, we're among the villains of Hollywood. Unfortunately. many average Americans rely upon Hollywood not only for entertainment, but also for foreign policy advisory. Remember all the movies made during the cold war, even we in Pakistan were scared that the Martians... oops sorry the Russians are coming !!
Tauseef Rehman Khan
October 14, 2012 3:56 am
Pakistan has capability to strike back. Our target will be India and Europe !
October 12, 2012 11:35 pm
Karim, this is how they check the 'temperature' of the public. they float these ideas and see how people react. all the wars they are fighting today were tv shows or movies 15 years ago :) ..kinda big deal if you understand how they operate and manipulate public opinion
October 14, 2012 11:34 am
and what is pakistani mindset about america, who ia giving so much aid to pakistan ??
October 12, 2012 8:10 pm
A nice, sensible article, highlighting the media/Hollywood hunger for an enemy/villain for their productions.
October 14, 2012 7:27 am
I would add one more word in your sentence "Hollywood is all about PROPAGANDA, imagination, fantasy and technology"
October 12, 2012 5:40 pm
It is not just a TV show, it is a mindset, having said that, it is also freedom of speech. But, I don't doubt for a minute that the televised scenario can be executed in real time. Case in point is target of Mehran Base attack.
Farooq Malik
October 12, 2012 3:18 pm
why dont they make one of America turning on its all weather friend ISRAEL and then see the reaction!
October 12, 2012 6:02 pm
I'm living in US for last 25 yrs and I don't think majority US public have anti-Pakistan sentiment. On the other hand, I have noticed that there is more anti-US sentiment in Pakistan. This author is infusing wrong sentiment to Pakistanis. Beware of his articles.
October 12, 2012 6:03 pm
use at least simple English so a common person can understand ur voice...and not only english experts
October 12, 2012 3:47 pm
These are the sort of things that shape up future policies. Watch Rambo II lol. Rambo fighting alongside the afghan mujaheddin (poor peasants who took up arms to fight aggressive Soviets). Media is just way too important to be ignored. It manufatures consent
October 12, 2012 3:53 pm
Put ON your thinking caps folks.
October 12, 2012 4:27 pm
Good synopsis of the show as well as Pakistan-American relations!
October 12, 2012 1:50 pm
I think the question should not be what America would do if Pakistan attacks it with nuclear weapons. Rather it should be what Pakistan would do if attacked with nuclear weapons by the Americans first. In the T.V. show it just rolls over and plays dead
Javed Qamer
October 12, 2012 1:43 pm
I agree with you MIke. American public is fed sensational news in the newspapers against Pakistan. These negative news then forms their basis for anger against Pakistan. American military on the other hand know the ground realities and realize that Pakistan is in a tight spot between the militants and the mullahs.
October 12, 2012 3:32 pm
its not jsut a tv show my dear frnd... its depicting the mind-set of the american society regarding Pakistan. I have encountered so many American bloggers on the internet who support the very idea of nukeing Pakistan, i would even say that every 5 americans i encountered 3 of them supported the idea of nukeing Pakistan! so yes, its not just a tv show, it is a big deal!
October 12, 2012 2:04 pm
So much time-wasting about a rubbish idea/presumption.
October 12, 2012 1:49 pm
It is an irony that for a nation that depends so much on American aid is at odds with it.Regarding the nuclear thing.No nation on earth with the nuclear power will allow any country to unleash it's nuclear arsenal for first strike.They will flatten your country contrary to what your article says.One should face facts , not fantasy.
October 14, 2012 7:04 am
its completely a preposterous tv show...... propaganda against pak..... don't they have better content to show if not then they should carry on with the kardashians.....
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