IF the US is the 800-pound gorilla that stamps on itself, Pakistan is like a python which thinks it’s crushing its prey but is really asphyxiating itself.
For a couple of days after Mullen’s Haqqanis-are-a-veritable-arm-of-the-ISI allegation last week, it looked like the Americans had finally achieved the improbable: synchronising their tough talk against Pakistan.
In the wake of the Kabul embassy attack, it even made sense why the improbable had materialised: a psychological red line had been crossed by the Afghan militants and the US needed to snarl and snap until the war settled back into a low-level attritional framework.
But the improbable — getting a diverse American foreign and military policy cohort to speak as one, especially when it comes to Pakistan — is actually more like the impossible. Within days, the ‘full-court press’ has started to look like the bench press of a 99-pound weakling.
Mullen didn’t really mean what he said, the Americans began to suggest, the evidence is more like intelligence, it doesn’t really go that far. Yes, the mood is very emotional in DC and in Pakistan, but there’s still work to be done so let’s focus on that, they’ve been saying.
It’s not quite kiss-and-make-up, more an awkward one-armed hug.
The relationship will continue, intelligence cooperation over the capture of yet another Al Qaeda No 3 will be interspersed with spasmodic events like WikiLeaks, Raymond Davis, the OBL raid and the Mullen allegations.
Pressure will mount, pressure will subside, there’ll be paroxysms at times of unhappiness, circumspection at times of measured success and the ungainly and clumsy contraption that is the American policymaking apparatus will continue to make life for itself even more difficult when it comes to Pakistan.
As for the Pakistani side, expect more of the same, i.e. the same cockamamie nonsense that it has propounded for decades.
Part of the reason Pakistan commands so little respect in the world of diplomacy and international relations is that the self-appointed custodians of the national interest are inveterate liars.
The public at large may no longer be aware of this because it has been drip-fed those lies over the years and now trots them out as truth and reality when overcome by bouts of fist-waving, chest-thumping nationalism and patriotism. But the outside world is fully aware of the lies, and it does hurt Pakistan in ways perceptible and imperceptible.
Having thrust the civilians into the foreground to make the same old tired case for Pakistan this time, the same old tired lies are being repeated. They were on display again at the APC.
Pakistan wants peace and security and prosperity. Pakistan rejects all allegations against it. Pakistan is a big cuddly toy that can do no harm. The outside world misunderstands Pakistan. Pakistan has sacrificed much for the cause of peace. Pakistan is just a boy, standing in front of the world, asking it to love him.
Nobody believes it. Not the Americans, not the Europeans, not the Arabs, not even the Taliban. Mullah Zaeef has memorably said: “Pakistan ... is so famous for treachery that it is said they can get milk from a bull. They have two tongues in one mouth, and two faces on one head so they can speak everybody’s language; they use everybody, deceive everybody.”
If outsiders aren’t to be believed, there is a quintessential insider who has said much the same thing that others have long accused Pakistan of.
Riaz Khan, former foreign secretary, has a chapter in his new book on Afghanistan and Pakistan in which he expounds on what he has dubbed the ‘intellectual crisis’ of Pakistan. The chapter is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand, in 60-odd pages, what has gone wrong here over the last 64 years, and particularly the last 30 some.
Given the overwrought and over-the-top theatre of the last week, it is worth reproducing a couple of paragraphs.
Riaz writes: “Yet another concern is the regressive tendency Pakistani thinking has shown towards an easy resort to denial.
This habit has its roots in the convenient myth of non-interference in Afghanistan’s affairs Pakistan maintained during the period of the Afghan jihad in the 1980s.
“[Denial of interference in Afghanistan’s affairs, of Pakistan’s nuclear programme in the 1980s and of support to the Kashmir insurgency in the 1990s] were issues of high national policy on which all states adopt positions in conformity with their national interests. However, issues of lesser import such as the presence of Osama or Mullah Omar or cross-border activity by Afghan Taliban from the Pakistani side did not warrant such categorical denials as were initially maintained in official statements. A matter-of-fact or noncommittal position, taking into account the peculiar condition of the border regions, could do no damage, politically and diplomatically.”
He adds: “When such denials become untenable, they result in a loss of credibility, a situation that ought to be avoided. Again it bears repetition that a state of denial is not peculiar to Pakistan. It is a question of degree and loss of credibility, to the point where even the denial of fairytales becomes suspect.”
Sift through the public bombast and posturing and bristling of the last week and Riaz Khan’s diagnosis becomes all the more poignant. In the face of external aggression, most countries rally to see off the threat. Nothing unusual there.
But it’s been a strange week, even by Pakistani standards. The Haqqanis have practically been embraced as one of our own.
What was once an establishment in denial has become a country in denial. And where previously we were lying to outsiders, now we are lying to ourselves.
The writer is a member of staff.