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The Washington Diary

December 25, 2011

A recent CBS News poll shows that a majority of Americans believe Pakistan is either unfriendly (39 per cent) or an enemy (24 per cent). Twenty-one per cent say the nation is friendly but not an ally. And two per cent call it an ally. -AFP Photo

For Pakistan in the United States, the year 2011 was like 2001, a game changer. But while the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks brought Pakistan back into the game, events happening in 2011 are pushing it out.

Pakistan is once again becoming an untouchable commodity in the United States. In 2001, Pakistan was a former Cold War ally, which played a key role in defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan, but useful no more.

In 2011, Pakistan is once again seen as a military-ruled state which cannot be trusted, particularly not with nuclear weapons. There are already moves in the US Congress to once again make Pakistan America’s most sanctioned ally, as it was after the Afghan war.

And like in 2001, when one event, the 9/11 attack, brought Pakistan back into America’s hug, another is pushing it away, the May 2 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad.

What seems to have agitated most Americans is the thought that their worst-ever enemy was found deep inside the territory of one of their closest allies.

A recent CBS News poll shows that a majority of Americans believe Pakistan is either unfriendly (39 per cent) or an enemy (24 per cent). Twenty-one per cent say the nation is friendly but not an ally. And two per cent call it an ally.

Sixty-five per cent support US military actions, drone strikes, in Pakistan.

The larger impact of this change is felt in Islamabad which now has to deal with a hostile superpower. But it is also having an impact on those Pakistanis who live in the US.

“Depressing,” is how most Pakistani-Americans describe this change. Torn between loyalty to their adopted homeland and ties to the old, many are reluctant to identify themselves as Pakistanis. Some hide behind their South Asian identity, thus allowing ordinary Americans to see them as Indians. India is America’s new friend in South Asia. It also has more influence in the United States than the Pakistanis have ever had.

Most Pakistanis appear paranoid. Some even discuss the possibility of being herded together in camps, like Japanese-Americans during the World War II, and getting deported.

Such fears, some grounded in facts, some unfounded, are forcing many to live a subterranean life.

“I was scared and was hiding my face, I was scared and felt helpless,  I was scared, although I had no share in the calamity that befell the city,” this was a Pakistani poet reciting a poem on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in New York.

“Except that those mass murderers --- Belonged to the same God -- That I worship and so do you,” he recited.

“So if you have not seen --- How people hide their fears -- Deep inside their hearts -- Come and see me -- Living under layers and layers -- Of lies that neither hide -- Nor expose me.”

“I am a worm; worthless worm -- Living in a narrow hole -- Scared to come out -- Lest the sun burns him.”

“I am a plant, buried in the snow -- But I survived the burial -- Although not to sprout again.”

The poem reminded me of a story I heard from a friend who was reading an Urdu newspaper on a New York metro train days after 9/11. “A man with blue eyes and a big scar on his face” confronted him and asked what language it was.

"I am a non-believer, have no religion,” he said to the man.

"Terrorist," the man said to him and moved to another seat.

On the 10th anniversary, I also confronted a man outside Ground Zero in New York. “You smell,” he said to me, although I had showered before coming to the place and smelled of aftershave. I walked away.

“But you did not see me that day -- When soldiers in armored personnel carriers were deployed in Washington -- As if it was a Third World town -- Where people from the other camp -- Are never forgiven,” the poet recited.

“Had you seen me then -- You would understand -- How people hide their fears -- Deep inside their hearts -- Where even the sun does not reach -- Where even the sun does not reach.”