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What keeps Obama awake?

Published Jun 23, 2013 09:26am


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THE actor George Clooney was quoted by the January 2012 issue of Esquire magazine as having asked President Obama: what single issue keeps him awake at night? The president’s answer: Pakistan.

Clooney said “I get that” and the “question of whether Zardari’s government is actually in control or whether the military is. And how close the Taliban, or Al Qaeda, or whoever else, is to having their hands on real weapons of mass destruction. It’s the closest government there is to allowing those weapons to either be used or sold…”

Clooney, of course, does not really ‘get it’. He was regurgitating the myths propagated against Pakistan. Hopefully, an intelligent and rational leader like Obama does ‘get it’. Such dire conclusions, portraying Pakistan as the “nexus of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction”, have been concocted from fact and fiction, old and new, by Pakistan’s enemies for reasons that are not secret.

It is at best hypocritical for America to carp about the Pakistan military’s role after depending on it for so long to do its bidding. The anti-military complaints commenced when it resisted compliance with US wishes.

No doubt, over the last three decades, Pakistan has seen a dramatic rise of Islamic extremism. The US, which masterminded the injection of 40,000 Islamic fighters into Afghanistan during the anti-Soviet war, surely shares a considerable part of the blame.

Most Pakistanis are “moderate” Muslims. Over 90pc voted for the mainstream, non-religious parties in the recent elections.

During the 1990s, Pakistan did extend support to the militant struggle in Kashmir, as a reaction to India’s military suppression of the Kashmiris. This was halted under US pressure.

When the US used the Tajik-led Northern Alliance to oust the largely Pakhtun Taliban regime, the support of Pakistan’s more numerous Pakhtuns for their Afghan kin was entirely predictable. And, Al Qaeda’s leadership, after it was allowed by US forces to escape from Tora Bora, survived in the porous border regions and filtered into Pakistan’s cities.

The anti-Pakistan propaganda does not mention that Pakistan’s agencies have been responsible for killing or capturing most of the Al Qaeda members. They did not need indiscriminate drones to do so. In response to US desires, Pakistan also deployed over 150,000 troops on its western border to prevent “cross-border” attacks on US-Nato forces in Afghanistan. Then, responding to US priorities, Islamabad made the mistake of sending its military against the Mehsuds in South Waziristan, leading to their alliance with Al Qaeda and the subsequent formation of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), whose agenda is to attack Pakistan rather than the US.

Pakistan has paid a heavy price for its cooperation with the US “war on terror”: over 50,000 civilian and military casualties and enormous damage to its economy and growth. Yet, the US wanted Pakistan to “do more”, especially to intervene militarily in North Waziristan against the Haqqani group (which was not involved in the anti-Pakistan attacks). It was Pakistan’s resistance to this demand which elevated the “blame game” against Pakistan from a secondary to the principal US instrument to secure Pakistan’s compliance with US demands.

Moving from cooperation to rivalry, the US sent in hundreds of its “agents” into Pakistan. The drone strikes multiplied. Then followed, in quick succession, the Davis affair, the secret operation to kill Osama bin Laden and finally the Salala air attack.

Meanwhile, the A.Q. Khan episode was utilised to escalate the pressure against Pakistan and restrain its strategic defence programme. The canard was diligently propounded that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons may be taken over by militants or the Pakistan Army come under the control of extremists.

Pakistan-US relations have been brought back from the brink of the Salala aftermath. A modicum of civility has been restored. This may be due to the US need for Pakistan’s cooperation to ensure an orderly withdrawal of most of its military forces from Afghanistan and to help negotiate a cessation of hostilities there.

But putting Pakistan on the defensive on terrorism and nuclear proliferation has made it possible to sideline several of its legitimate concerns: drone strikes; the TTP’s “safe havens” in Afghanistan; the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) insurgency allegedly operating from there; India’s growing military role in Afghanistan; and the nuclear and strategic discrimination against Pakistan.

This is the time for Pakistan to press Washington to respond to its concerns. Reportedly, Pakistan has played a crucial role in securing the Afghan Taliban’s readiness to distance themselves from Al Qaeda and enabling the forthcoming launch of the US-Taliban talks in Doha.

Pakistan has also reportedly facilitated a dialogue between the Taliban and Northern Alliance. Now that the US will be talking with Mullah Omar and the Haqqanis, and working for the cessation of violence, it cannot justify its drone strikes.

Pakistan’s current leverage can also generate a genuine American endeavour to end support to the BLA and TTP in Afghan territory. Karzai will need to be brought to heel.

Pakistan’s mediatory role will not please India which can try to trip up the talks. If this happens, it will be up to the US to reverse its promotion of India’s military presence and political influence in Afghanistan.

Clearly, if Pakistan-US relations are to be normalised, the myth of Pakistan as the “most dangerous place in the world” needs to be disavowed by the US.

The forthcoming visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry to Pakistan offers an opportunity to put an end to the US demonisation of Pakistan. Kerry is perhaps the sole senior member of the Obama administration with some empathy for Pakistan. Yet Islamabad cannot be too optimistic. There are already murmurs about the Islamist sympathies of this government.

After the 1998 India-Pakistan nuclear tests, when I drew the attention of a Chinese colleague to America’s discriminatory treatment of Pakistan, he observed: “Pakistan is two things: one, it is an Islamic state; two, it is a nuclear-weapon state. The combination is not acceptable to the US.”

Hopefully, this conclusion will soon be outdated and insomnia no longer trouble the US president.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Comments (17) Closed

Feroz Jun 23, 2013 10:19am

With this level of introspection, integrity and intellectual honesty, no one need to wonder why the country finds itself where it is. This race backward into the seventh century will reach its logical destination a lot faster than citizens can imagine. Keep it up Munir Akram, you are almost there !

Manjit Sahota Jun 23, 2013 11:49am

Most Pakistanis are

JN Jun 23, 2013 01:43pm

If the USA was so upset about the Pakistani Nuclear Bomb, they would have given you the "Iran", treatment and would have brought Pakistan to its Knees.


Ameeds Jun 23, 2013 02:40pm

The sad part of We the Pakistanis is that we always need someone else to blame. Whole world is moving forward and We the great pakistanis are moving backward and yet we continue to blame others.

Why should US care of Pakistan's interests when we don't give a damn about good governance and checks within Pakistan.

fida sayani Jun 23, 2013 02:59pm

You and your alike keep on harping about the sacrifices Pakistan has made for USA in terms of destruction of the country and the death of its citizens. I have a simple question " who asked you to do that ". Answer: " you did it for American dollars ".

Alex Jun 23, 2013 03:31pm

This terrorism business is amazing. Everyone is making money. Crisis, what crisis? Please sign up today for your own private part in the "show business".

Ajay Jun 23, 2013 03:35pm

Lots of distortion of facts and half truths by the author; These are :

-US allowing Al Quaeda to escape from Tora Bora. (it was the Pakistani forces which did that) -US support for Anti Pak forces in afghanistan (figment of authors imigination).

I think Pakistan realizes that it has an upper hand after US withdrawal and they are back to their exploitation game.

Vikrant Jun 23, 2013 06:16pm

The last two para effectively summarize just why Pakistan is Obama's (and indeed most of the world's) worst nightmare.... and this author's "optimistic" note sounds more like a wish for Elephants to one day learn to fly! Mind-blowing indeed are this man's thoughts... hard to imagine just how other diplomats managed to keep a "straight face" when confronted by him in his working days. Truly he is best kept safe in some far corner of a newspaper column, where his diatribes can do no harm - just provide readers a few derisory laughs...

Joe Jun 23, 2013 07:47pm

Pakistan is fortunate to have the writer of this article being now a retired diplomat, and not an active diplomat. Narrow-mindedness makes for curiously entertaining reading in a newspaper article. It would be disastrous as a formal expression of national policy in the world's forums. .

Mustafa Razavi Jun 23, 2013 09:13pm


And which century are you racing for?, Hmmm, which century was Ashoka born in?

Mustafa Jun 23, 2013 09:24pm


They couldn't bring Syria to it's knees, which has a population the size of Karachi and an area the size of Sindh.

vikram Jun 23, 2013 09:56pm

If this man was a senior diplomat and if others of his ilk occupy decision making positions within Pakistan, then it is beyond hope. The article is delusionary, with no signs of being in touch with reality. The reality is that Pakistan is a nation with a devastated economy, a population that is consumed with a dangerous religiosity with no end in sight.

Pakistan to take its righful place in the comity of nations needs to start looking inward. Examine what it can do to right itself. It needs to stop dreaming of becoming a great military power(it does not have the size for that). It should endeavour to become an economic power. Singapore and South Korea(how time turns tables) should be its role models. The world owes Pakistan nothing and the sooner it comes to that realisation the better. What is this "discriminatory" treatment. Should India complain of China's discriminatory treatment or whine about Saudi Arabia's vis a vis Pakistan? Little chidren can complain about their parents treatment of them. Nations do not have parents and have to deal with other nations as equals. In the grown up world, there is give and take. You give something to get something. What you give and get depends on what you have and what you need. Like in business, you sometimes make a bad deal. You just move on and do not make the mistake again. That is the recipe for success. Unless this happens, Obama will keep having sleepless nights.

masmanz Jun 23, 2013 09:58pm

Thank you for an excellent analysis Mr. Akram. Wish those in power in Pakistan were able to convince the Bush and Obama administration to fight this so-called war in a more intelligent way without this huge collateral of thousands of innocent lives.

Tas Jun 23, 2013 10:14pm

I had sent a comment with regard to the statement that 'most Pakistanis are moderate Muslims' by indicating that about 84% of Pakistanis are for the Sharia law( which is not the hallmark of a moderate country) compared to about 10 % in Turkey which can legitimately be called a moderate Muslim country. However, you chose not to post it. You have a strong tendency to reject comments which don't suit you.

Dr. D. Prithipaul Jun 23, 2013 11:03pm

Munir Akram writes with the fervour of the pot calling the kettle black. The courtship of America was consciously done by Pakistan. It conformed to the idea of Pakistan. It still does, though the courtship extends to China. Jihad as a way of life is not moderation. To call it moderation is to justify its correlation in the ensuing ethnic cleansing as the realisation of the purpose for which the country was after all founded. In short Pakistan is still seeking for a meaning of its history. Blaming America all the time is an admission of a certain form of intellectual bankruptcy.

Fiic Jun 24, 2013 03:16am

I propose Munir Akram for Booker prize for best fiction. Also a reservation for him in a padded cell for his delusions.

vikram Jun 24, 2013 07:31am

Dawn, a newspaper that supposedly stands for free speech does not publish my comments .Is it because they mention religion or the military? or is it something else? In any case, it is pathetic.