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Pakistan and the US left

Published Jun 13, 2012 12:56am


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LAST week saw another episode in the petulant saga of sulks and ‘sorry’ that is the Pakistan-US relationship.

A drone hovering over the tribal areas shot a Hellfire missile and took out an Al Qaeda operative, the number two on the list of important targets whose collective elimination is to mean an eradication of terrorism. Yahya Al-Libi had been living in the Dattakhel area, and was identified last year by US officials as one of the five people who could have succeeded Osama bin Laden.

The names of the 10 other people who died in the attack remain unknown.

The drone attack on Pakistani territory was followed by a verbal spanking. Perched across the border, CIA chief Leon Panetta — whose agency secretly and solely handles almost all the US operations in Pakistan — chided this country for not helping enough in the project of eliminating terrorist hideouts; he announced that drone attacks would continue.

Despite the drone hits and the scolding, Pakistani and American officials continued to sit in some secret room in Islamabad and haggled over the specific words of apologies and the exact prices of tankers.

A lot happened this past week, but everything stayed the same.

In the time since the raid on the Bin Laden compound and the attack on the Salala check post last November, Pakistani officials, policymakers and diplomats have worked particularly hard to emphasise to the US the cost being extracted from Pakistanis for the ‘war on terror’.

The issue of impinged sovereignty in terms of drone attacks, the security costs of convoys of supplies meant for the military passing through towns and cities, the public health costs of spies being planted in vaccination programmes, have been enumerated as reasons that impede Pakistan’s ability to cooperate with the US or the capacity of the civilian government to maintain some bare semblance of stability within the country.

Despite all of these efforts, few in America know that 10 times more Pakistanis have died in terror attacks since 9/11 than the total number of Americans that perished in the twin towers. Fewer still know that Pakistan saw over 400 terrorist attacks just last year, and that the hundreds of thousands have been displaced owing to the ‘war on terror’, unleashing warfare all over the nation.

These facts, discussed in great detail and with great regularity in the Pakistani media as well as by current and former officials, have been summarily and completely been ignored in the US. For American government and military officials and diplomats, Pakistan is a nuisance, a sinister and wily nation whose hypocrisy justifies every intrusion.

Some of the cost for this accrues to Pakistan’s own strategic failings. It has been unable to harness the war narrative in a way that humanises the Pakistani victim before the ordinary American. One part of this failing can be pinned to Pakistani foreign-policy officials and their assumptions regarding the bearers of power and influence in the US.

Nearly all of Pakistan’s formal foreign policy resources, and some informal ones such as commentators, strategists and researchers, direct themselves towards a single class as a target: bureaucrats at the US State Department or within the Obama administration, or military personnel at the Pentagon.

If these power brokers can be influenced by alternative policy arguments, into seeing Pakistan’s good intentions or valid demands for reimbursement, it is believed, all problems can be solved: drones attacks stopped, supply routes reinstated for more money, the plight of dead soldiers and many more accidentally killed victims revealed, and Pakistan saved from being hit yet again by an endless war.

This recipe has not yielded the sympathy or reaffirmation of sovereignty it was meant to. The crucial missing meat is the inability to adequately note the historical and political make-up of anti-war movements in the US that have previously recreated the image of other nations attacked by their country.

When Pakistan seeks to attract the attention of only hawks in the American bureaucratic machinery, it ignores that the core of American anti-war efforts in Vietnam or Afghanistan were led by radicals, intellectuals and activists in the American left.

At the Nato summit held a few weeks ago in Chicago, it was a coalition of leftist groups — including the Occupy Movement, Veterans for Peace and Code Pink — that stood up against drone attacks in Pakistan, and illegal military interventions that impinge on the sovereignty of other countries.

This part of American politics that opposes war from an ideological position is largely ignored by Pakistani foreign officials and its advocates never invited to the regular round-up of talks, parties and events for selling Pakistan that occur weekly in Washington D.C.

Those ideologically most likely to see Pakistan as a suffering nation instead of a hated one, most amenable to creating the sort of people-to-people connections that end war, are summarily left out of the equation.Some of the reasons for this omission are the assumptions that operate in Pakistan itself, where bureaucrats and military officials hold not just a bit but all of the power.

Calculations learned at home, a disdain for grassroots politics, the haphazard inefficiency of protest politics, the sensational passion of acts of civil disobedience, are all generally treated with contempt in Pakistan. This suggests to Pakistanis that they must be similarly ineffective elsewhere.

Add to this a maimed Pakistani left having all but abandoned its own anti-war position and you have one right-dominated country imagining that another is also similarly constituted of only those who think war, secret and illegal.

For Pakistan, at least, the misunderstanding is an expensive one, marking a failure to create the one linkage that could recreate Pakistan in the American political discourse as more than a road for Nato supplies and render Pakistanis something more than cheap, forgettable collateral damage of remote-controlled violence.

The writer is an attorney teaching political philosophy and constitutional law.


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Author Image

Rafia Zakaria is an attorney and human rights activist. She is a columnist for DAWN Pakistan and a regular contributor for Al Jazeera America, Dissent, Guernica and many other publications.

She is the author of The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan (Beacon Press 2015). She tweets @rafiazakaria

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (18) Closed

Guest Jun 13, 2012 06:25am
As Pakistan has suffered ten times as much from terrorism the question is why isn't Pakistan tem times as determined to eliminate the terrorists in it's midst?
Sabira Qureshi Jun 13, 2012 04:39am
Superb article Rafia - truly an insightful analysis!
Akbar Jun 13, 2012 04:03pm
very very very well nailed. Truth hurts a lot!!!
Sunny Jun 13, 2012 03:20am
Nice one. I live in America and is of Indian origin. I truely understand what the author is saying.
Chris Jun 13, 2012 11:42am
When was the last time a high ranking member of Al Qeada killed or captured by Pakistan? The Haqqani Network? The Taliban? But Pakistan's military is proud to show of their new ballistic missile meant to defend them from India? The US negotiators have been pulled from Pakistan. They are not in a back room wheeling and dealing. The route to the north of Afghanistan cost the US $1200 per truck. The routes through Pakistan where costing $500 a truck. Pakistan was demanding $5000 a truck. I think the negotiations now will be settling on how much Pakistan will try to get for releasing US property confiscated by Pakistan. As for apologies. Pakistan has never apologized for any thing at any time. Not one attack perpetrated by groups based in Pakistan on Afghanistanis or Nato troops. Not once. I think the US pakistan relationship is much worse than this writer is willing to admit to himself or hi readers.
mikefoxtrot Jun 14, 2012 01:11am
another excellent essay in a long string of them.
mike Jun 14, 2012 12:46am
Good Analysis... Need to keep our house clean. One we keep our house clean .. No one can point finger at us.
zaidisportraiture Jun 13, 2012 07:26pm
Great article, I am glad some others have the same opinion. The US has its own interest foremost. It does not care if a few thousand are killed in the process, they are technically collateral damage. A few billion, however given as aid however put you in jeopardy, as now you have to comply with the demands of the giver.That has been the story always, wether it is the left or right in US politics. Thgey try and brow beat Pakistan whenever they can. It is time Pakistan disengage itself from the US orbit, get a back bone and things will turn around.
Jawwad Jun 13, 2012 07:18pm
Because the people running the affairs of the country are really not interested in the interest of the very country they are representing but rather in their own petty issues.
MarkH Jun 13, 2012 04:35pm
People are well aware of how many Pakistanis have died in comparison to the towers. The sympathy is lacking because you don't even do anything that shows you care that it happens. Just because you sit back and let your citizens die, it doesn't mean it's a heroic war effort. It's being lazy and two faced.
Prafull Jun 13, 2012 04:19pm
Well written and right reply to a lawyer.
NASAH (USA) Jun 15, 2012 02:17am
The left is unanimous on Afghanistan exit but divided on drone use in Pakistan.
BNS Jun 13, 2012 10:10pm
Very good and valid points brought up. Good analysis.
fiic Jun 13, 2012 10:14pm
When you hold a gun to your own head with finger on the trigger and threaten to pull the trigger on a daily basis, sometimes you stumble and pull the trigger by mistake. In Pakistan's case, it has happened and it still expects sympathy from rest of the world. Pakistan can still clean up the mess by not encouraging 'non-state actors' on its territory.
reality check Jun 13, 2012 08:01am
Public sentiment and confidence in Pakistan by outsiders - including US, has to earned. Cannot be ordered or delivered. Of the many that have given their lives....a majority have been killed by militancy within Pakistan and not thru drones. Has Pakistan done anything to stop terrorists from killing its own people ? Has it brought the perpetrators to justice ? How come every terrorist found in any country in the world has some how been trained in Pakistan or has some connections with Pakistan ? When a country fails its own citizens, you can't expect US which has paid more than $20 billion over the past decade to some how gloss over the numbers as if nothing happened. Does Pakistan want to rid itself of terrorism ? Then it better get serious and prove to the world that X, Y, Z don't use it's territory for such purposes. The country can't keep finding excuses NOT to tackle the issue of the state being a terrorist haven or soft on some terrorists Where is the proof that it does not have another Osama or X, Y, Z hidden in some tribal land? Get rid of terrorism and be sincere about it. Get your act together instead of looking for a shoulder to cry on. Respect has to be earned and can't be just given.
Swami Jun 13, 2012 08:21am
If Pakistani government is serious about protecting its citizens, it would go after the safe havens and eliminate the terrorists hiding there. To protect the safe havens and then cry about the citizens getting killed in the crossfire .. well, the world has long recognised the double game Pakistan is playing and is refusing to fall for it.
ashwani dogra Jun 13, 2012 09:09am
Our sincerity is not exactly proven when (a) the commission in to why Osama was hidden in our midst still has to report after more than one year, and (b) when someone who may actually have helped find him is jailed for 33 years in camera, and differing reasons given therefor by the Establishment. Is the government really saying that the chances of terrorists having free rein in our borders is complete fabrication? Living in England, we feel ashamed at our blatant two-facedness. Parliament is apparently exercised by our sacrosanct sovereign nation integrity, but not by protecting its own citizens
ghairatmand Jun 13, 2012 08:55am
"CIA chief Leon Panetta" - Mr Panetta is defence secretary now