The Big Bad Wolf

Published May 20, 2012

LOOK away now if a certain kind of green and white and crescent and star flows through your veins.

Right, for those with the stomach, let’s try and take on some myths.

For a decade, we’ve been told that the US is the Big Bad Wolf. Don’t take your eyes off her, she’ll tear you to pieces and gobble up your young.

The US wants to break Pakistan. The US wants to invade Pakistan. The US wants to steal Pakistan’s nukes. The US wants to undermine Muslim Pakistan.

And through it all, Pakistan has been the ultimate almost-victim: vulnerable and weak but in the final analysis saved from the very worst machinations of the outside world by the self-appointed custodians of the national interest.

Since 9/11, that’s essentially been the public narrative. The US has looked for ways to corner Pakistan and Pakistan has wriggled away each time before the death grip could be applied.

So thorough has been the permeation of that very deliberate message across Pakistani society that you can only whisper a contrarian thought: what exactly has the US asked of Pakistan since 9/11 that has been or is fundamentally inimical to the interests of this country?

In Afghanistan, inside Pakistan and with India or the US itself, what have the scheming and manipulative enemies of Pakistan in the US asked of this country or wanted to do to this country that truly and unquestionably was meant to hurt Pakistan?

Remove the lens of paranoia and the Big Bad Wolf that we’ve all been told we must be scared of has mostly been chasing its own tail. And when it has snarled and snapped at Pakistan, it’s never really threatened to bite.

But, we are told again and again in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, the US is really out to harm Pakistan, to destroy Pakistan even, and we have to do everything in our power to thwart a wily and powerful enemy.

Yet, what is the actual record of American bullying and intimidation over the past decade? And how far has the US pushed Pakistan on anything?

The Pakistani narrative of fear and victimhood begins with 9/11. The US invaded Afghanistan and it was terrible for Pakistan because it upended our interests in Afghanistan and turbocharged militancy in the region with devastating consequences for this country.

But history doesn’t begin with 9/11. To anyone who cared to look, the wheels had already started to come off the vehicle that was Pakistan’s foreign and national security policies in the 1990s.

The US came and knocked out the Taliban government in Afghanistan and this was bad for Pakistan — but whose Pakistan? Yours or mine? Or the imagined Pakistan of the paranoid and insecure?

No, no, we are told, you can’t wrap your head around this stuff, you don’t understand how states operate and the nasty things they have to do sometimes and the even nastier things that some of them want to do.

What are these nasty things that the US has wanted Pakistan to do?

Help stabilise Afghanistan by preventing the resurgence of the Afghan Taliban. Deny space to militants seeking sanctuary in Balochistan and Fata. Roll back the infrastructure of jihad that has proliferated in Pakistan.

Which part of this is supposed to hurt Pakistan?

No, no, we are told, Pakistan exists in a tough neighbourhood and it has to do whatever’s necessary to protect itself. The Trojans had nothing on the Americans; everything they say and demand is really designed to undermine us.

But if becoming a global hub of jihad and all things regressive and parochial is what’s supposed to keep us safe, then perhaps we are better off not being safe.

The further down the rabbit hole of paranoia and insecurity you go, the more peculiar it all becomes.

What about Raymond Davis and all those contractors running around Pakistan, the self-styled defenders of Pakistan argue. Surely, they are here to defang our nukes, blow up cities and steal babies.

And didn’t the OBL raid prove that the Americans will do anything to embarrass Pakistan and nothing to treat it like an ally?

Yet, here we are, a decade down the road, several months after we closed the supposed lifeline to Afghanistan, and the US is still looking to engage Pakistan.

India, the one we feared would team up with the US in Afghanistan, has not taken over Afghanistan yet.

No one has gone after Pakistan’s nukes and few Americans even talk about them as an issue anymore.

We rail against drone strikes and their frequency drops.

North Waziristan is the hub of terrorism and militancy and nothing meaningful has been done to shut down the Haqqani network or interdict the Quetta Shura on this side of the border — and yet the ‘do more’ mantra of the Americans has subsided.

We fear the Americans will shut us out of negotiations with the Afghan Taliban and hurt our prospects in a post-war Afghanistan — but they keep looking to Pakistan to facilitate discussions.

Some in Congress mutter about cutting off aid to Pakistan but the vast majority of legislators and policymakers continue to reject the idea.

Strip away the prejudice and paranoia and the Big Bad Wolf doesn’t look so menacing after all. But there is a problem: we keep nudging the US into picking up the stick.

Take the supply route closure. When Salala was seized on as an opportunity to settle scores over May 2, we ended up playing our trump card — only to realise it wasn’t worth as much as we thought.

It’s to our enduring luck that we miscalculated. Had the supply route in fact been critical and its reopening an urgent necessity, we may not have been treated so leniently for being viewed as spoilers by the international community.

Perhaps it’s too late in the game for Pakistanis to wrap their heads around the idea that the US isn’t the Big Bad Wolf that they’ve been told it is.

But we could do ourselves a favour and begin to realise that Pakistan, as articulated by the paranoid and the insecure, is a Danger To Itself.

The writer is a member of staff. twitter: @cyalm



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