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Sulks and self-delusion

May 13, 2011

LOST in the strident blame game between Islamabad and Washington in the aftermath of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad is any clarity about the basis of their relationship.

While conspiracy theories and accusations are being hurled back and forth, nobody's asking: what next? This confusion is more pronounced in Pakistan where a humiliated high command is issuing angry statements to little purpose. One example of its fury emerged when Maj-Gen John Campbell, US commander of forces in eastern Afghanistan, said that for two days, he could get no response at all from his Pakistani counterpart.

This sulky behaviour exposes a military leadership unaccustomed to public scrutiny and criticism. Lashing out at their American critics, Prime Minister Gilani has said that “full force” could be used against any further violations of our sovereignty.

But these words ring as hollow as the ones contained in a declaration issued by the Pakistan Ex-Servicemen's Association (Pesa):

“Whereas Pesa agrees that Pakistan is becoming isolated in the region and the world because of our weak nationhood, no common direction, and consequent impoverishment; thus becoming vulnerable to forces hostile to us; it is now essential that a minimum national consensus be created across party lines on the national identity, purpose and vital national interests, for a secure people and a secure Pakistan.”

This ringing declaration with its laudable aims would have had more credibility had any of its authors resigned during our many bouts of military law that did the exact opposite of what Pesa now demands. Sadly, too many of our retired generals become democrats and express their concern for democracy only after they hang up their uniforms. As long as they are on the military gravy train, they are perfectly happy with the power they wield, and the perks that come with it.

Another voice from Pakistan's large population of retired but vocal military officers comes from Brig Farooq Hameed Khan, blogging on a public Internet forum:

“Where is the proof or evidence that it was the real OBL and not his decoy, look-alike or dummy who was killed in the Abbottabad raid by US Special Forces? … The Americans are masters in the art of strategic deception. Was this operation staged to tell the world that OBL was killed in the operation while hiding in a city not far from Islamabad? Was this operation engineered to be Pakistan's 9/11 to embarrass the Pakistan Army/ISI? ....”

Of course one doesn't have to be a retired brigadier to spout such conspiracy theories: the Internet is humming with them from all manner of people. However, the fact that the blogger refuses to accept the word of Bin Laden's wives and daughter suggests a degree of unreality that, coming from a once senior army officer, should be a matter of concern to Pakistanis who paid for his training.

But for me, this confusion emanating from the highest levels of the country's security establishment reflects a lack of clarity about the basis of our relationship with America. This is something the army high command shares with a large number of civilian hawks to be found in TV studios and editorial offices of newspapers across Pakistan. To remind us about the beginning of the US-Pakistan relationship, here is Lawrence Wright writing in a recent issue of The New Yorker :

“It's the end of the Second World War, and the United States is deciding what to do about two immense, poor, densely populated countries in Asia. American chooses one of the countries, becoming its benefactor. Over the decades, it pours billions of dollars into that country's economy, training and equipping its military and its intelligence services. The stated goal is to create a reliable ally with strong institutions and a modern, vigorous economy…

“… The benefits that Pakistan accrued from this relationship were quickly apparent: in the 1960s, its economy was an exemplar. India, by contrast, was a byword for a basket case. Fifty years then went by. What was the result of this social experiment?

“India has become the state we tried to create in Pakistan. It is a rising economic star, militarily powerful and democratic, and it shares American interests. Pakistan, however, is one of the most anti-American countries in the world, and a covert sponsor of terrorism. Politically and economically, it verges on being a failed state…”

This makes painful reading for any Pakistani, but we really need to understand why much of the world sees us in this depressing light. We have been in denial for far too long, and of late, our ruling elites have sunk into self-delusion and outright paranoia. Rather than admit their many failings, they have convinced themselves that there is some dark conspiracy to 'get Pakistan'. In this, they have the support of an increasingly hysterical and irrational media that has thrown objectivity and reason out of the window in a race for advertising and viewers.

As our generals and their acolytes in the media ratchet up their shrill condemnation of the United States, they should remember that Pakistan is not exactly the flavour of the month in America these days. There are voices being raised in Washington to cut off aid to Pakistan in the wake of suspicions that our military was deliberately harbouring Bin Laden.

A school of thought in Pakistan is confident that America needs Pakistan too much to walk away. Indeed, much of our military's approach in dealing with the US appears to be based on this calculation. But we need to remember that President Obama has announced his intention to reduce US troops in Afghanistan from this year. After Bin Laden's death, the pressure to pull out will only grow.

Once the US departs, there will be little incentive to continue to pump military and economic aid into a country that hates it so much. Many of our TV chat show anchors and guests insist that we can do without US aid. But when the tap is turned off, and the price of the dollar goes through the roof, raising the price of borrowing and imports overnight, I wonder if they'll sing the same tune.

They might find that the price of ' ghairat ', or national honour, can be very high indeed.