An unFair comment

Published June 27, 2012

C. Christine Fair, a Washington-based academic, in a recent opinion piece has held Pakistan categorically responsible for the breakdown of US-Pakistan relations. She further accuses Pakistan of working against the US interests and suggests punitive measures to fix Pakistan.

While I continue to respect Dr. Fair’s extensive work on Pakistan, I, however, believe her recent op-ed lacks impartiality and sound judgment. Her choice of expressions, willful omissions, and apathy toward the sufferings of millions of Pakistanis and Afghans makes her writing an exercise in hegemonic discourse.

Writing in the influential journal, Foreign Policy, Dr. Fair echoes the musings of undisclosed Washington insiders who confided that “we are ‘this close' to bombing them [Pakistan].” I wonder what she and others in Washington, DC, think of the drone attacks in Fata (still very much a part of Pakistan) that have killed, among others, hundreds of civilians, including dozens of children. Isn’t that bombing enough?

Given the fact that Professor Fair’s opinions are taken seriously by many, it therefore becomes increasingly necessary to review her latest piece in some detail and highlight the deficiencies in reasoning, which would otherwise remain latent in her rhetoric. I have organised my response under four key themes that I saw dominant in Professor Fair’s article.

The US versus THEM vocabulary

Even in the opening paragraph in her article, Professor Fair’s choice of expressions exposes her lack of objectivity. She mentions Raymond Davis, a CIA operative who was arrested and later released for murdering two young men in Lahore. She calls Mr. Davis a ‘CIA contractor’ and refers to the two dead Pakistanis as ‘ISI ruffians.’ While Mr. Davis was repeatedly described as a diplomat by the US administration, including Secretary Hillary Clinton, it was an open secret that he was a hired gun, an apocalyptic mercenary, who worked for the private militias retained by the CIA. Even the New York Times sheepishly admitted weeks later (after the British newspapers went public with Mr. Davis’ identity) that the Times’ editors knew all along that Mr. Davis was no diplomat.

By presenting Mr. Davis as a contractor, someone with a job and responsibility, and calling the two dead Pakistanis thugs and hooligans, Professor Fair has chosen to take sides following the ‘us versus them’ Bush doctrine. To date no evidence of association between the two dead young men and ISI has come to surface. Calling them thugs is insulting to them and their families. What is, however, known for certain is that Mr. Davis is indeed a thug and hooligan, or a ruffian, as Professor Fair refers to the dead Pakistanis. Only eight months after murdering two men in Lahore, Davis was arrested in Highland Ranch in Colorado where he assaulted another man in a dispute over a parking spot. “I’ve never seen a man so full of rage,” the victim’s terrified wife later told the police.

Conjuring an evil image of Pakistan and its people

Professor Fair holds no bar in painting a poor image of Pakistan by invoking catastrophic future scenarios involving Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. “Meanwhile, Pakistan's vast jihadi landscape further conjures the image of Islamist barbarians banging at the nuclear gate,” writes Professor Fair. And if that is not enough, she further accuses Pakistan of being a nuclear proliferator by “spreading nuclear technology to such states as Iran and North Korea.”

The US criticism of Pakistan’s nuclear weapon program speaks volumes of American double standards. Consider first that the US has done its fair share of nuclear proliferation by supplying nuclear weapons technology to several countries, including Israel. While Abdul Qadeer Khan is routinely referred to as Pakistan’s “chief nuclear black marketer”, individuals such as Robert J. Stevens, CEO and Chairman of Lockheed Martin (a weapons exporting firm), are routinely eulogised for creating jobs and prosperity for Americans.

Furthermore, the US continues to be the world’s largest exporter of arms and ammunitions. In 2011 alone, the US Directorate of Defense Trade Controls issued licenses to private companies for exporting $44.3 billion worth of weapons and other defense equipment. If I were to borrow Professor Fair’s embellished style, I would say that the US is indeed the biggest merchant of death in the world.

Another example of maligning Pakistan is to refer to Abbottabad, where Osama Bin Laden was killed in May 2011, as the “cantonment town of Abbottabad, near Pakistan’s acclaimed military academy.” This is done to imply (because no hard evidence of collusion between Pakistanis and bin Laden was discovered) that somehow the Pakistani establishment was sheltering Mr. bin Laden in Abbottabad near an ‘elite’ military academy.

Abbottabad is no more a garrison town than Rawalpindi, Lahore, or Karachi. In fact, there are over 39 Cantonments in Pakistan situated in almost all large urban centres. India boasts another 60-plus cantonments including New Delhi and Lucknow. The Cantonments in South Asia are part of the British legacy. However, the population explosion in South Asia has all but consumed the cantonments and have amalgamated them into the urban fabric.

In fact, one would encounter fewer uniformed soldiers in Abbottabad than one would find riding the subway trains between Foggy Bottom and Pentagon City stations in Washington, DC.

The reference to military academy is another red herring. The Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad (Kakul) trains high school graduates and offer two-year post Grade-12 diploma to cadets. Hardly an elite military school!

American acts are justified or accidental mistakes

Throughout her article, Professor Fair adopts the notions that the US can do no wrong and if something has gone wrong than it must be an honest mistake. For instance, she refers to the air-strike on a marked and known check-post on the Pak-Afghan border as an “accidental raid on Pakistani troops at the Salala checkpost in November” 2011 that killed 24 soldiers. She conveniently omits the fact that the Afghan forces were moving to close to the border in darkness without advising Pakistanis (as per agreed upon protocols), which resulted in the cross-fire and ultimately the “accidental raid” for which the US refuses to apologise.

It is sad to see Professor Fair downplaying the significant health risks resulting from CIA’s ill devised plan to use polio vaccination as a cover to obtain DNA from Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad. The illiterate masses in Pakistan were already weary of vaccination. Now that CIA’s name has been associated with polio vaccination, there has been even lesser coverage because many in rural and remote areas in Pakistan believe vaccination is a sinister CIA plot. However, Professor Fair is not convinced if the CIA’s plan to use vaccination is the reason why Pakistan reported the highest number of polio cases in 2011. “Thus, it is not clear what the marginal impact of this recent chicanery will be on Pakistan's polio crisis,” she wrote.

While Professor Fair remains doubtful of the devastating harm caused by the CIA, InterAction, a group which represents nearly 200 US-based non-government organisations, wrote to CIA director General David Petraeus earlier in February expressing “deep concerns” about the CIA’s fake polio campaign. They wrote: "Among other factors, international public health officials point to the distrust of vaccines and immunization campaigns as contributing to the lack of progress in eradicating the disease in Pakistan” and added that “this distrust is only increasing in light of reports about the CIA campaign.”

Willful omissions and misrepresentations

Professor Fair is too well-informed about Pakistan to have missed certain key details in her story that have helped her with the thesis that all blames lie with Pakistan. In her opening paragraph she claims, contrary to the eye-witness accounts, that two ‘ISI thugs’ confronted Raymond Davis. She mentions that he killed both young men in broad daylight, but fails to report that Mr. Davis shot both men in the back through the windshield while being seated in a moving vehicle. Mr. Davis chased on foot the second young man and shot him in the back as well. She again fails to mention that in their haste to reach Raymond Davis, a car dispatched by the US Consulate in Lahore ran over another civilian. No one has ever been brought to justice for the hit-and-run by the Consulate’s car that killed the breadwinner of a poor family in Lahore.

She again misrepresents the details about Dr. Shakil Afridi, who ran CIA’s fake vaccination campaign in Abbottabad. “While Pakistan's arrest of the physician Dr. Shakil Afridi, who helped identity and eliminate bin Laden for the time-tested crime of espionage, what is abhorrent is that he is the only one who has been arrested.”  She, however, omits the necessary detail that while the Americans suspected that Dr. Afridi was arrested and later sentenced for 33 years for helping the CIA, Dr. Afridi was in fact found guilty of conspiring with a militant Taliban group, which is led by the Taliban commander Mangal Bagh.

In her article Professor Fair also took several shots at Pakistan’s judiciary, accusing the judges of acting on “whim rather than jurisprudence.” She did not sound pleased with the fact that the Supreme Court ousted former Prime Minister Gilani and issued warrants for Gilani’s son and “Makhdoom Shahabuddin, who was President Asif Ali Zardari's first choice to replace the ousted Gilani.”

Again, Mr. Shahabuddin was not denied premier’s office because of the courts’ activism. Instead, he was blocked most likely by Mr. Gilani himself because while being the Minister of Health, Mr. Shahabuddin instituted an inquiry into why two firms from Multan were given illegal quota for importing thousands of kilograms of ephedrine, an ingredient for cold medicine that is also used in making banned drugs. Former Prime Minister’s son is accused of peddling influence in obtaining licenses for the two firms.

Ignoring the 800-pound guerrilla

In her detailed analysis of what ails Pakistan she ignores the 800-pound gorilla that has been hovering over South Asia since the late 70s. The fact that the US has been busy fighting first the proxy wars and later engaging in direct armed conflict gets no mention in her piece. Somehow over three decades of warfare instigated by the US so that the Americans can settle scores against the Soviet Union, is assumed to have no role in making lives miserable for millions of Pakistanis and Afghans. Suddenly Charlie Wilson’s war is deemed entirely an exogenous, unrelated factor that should be ignored when one tries to understand the causes behind the social and economic collapse of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pakistanis did not invite the Russians to invade Afghanistan. Nor did Pakistanis invite the Americans to fight the Soviet Army. In fact, it has been the over way around. Writing also in Foreign Policy in Spring 1980, Christopher van Hollen, a former deputy assistant secretary of state, observed the following:

“On December 28, 1979, the day after the Soviet Union installed its puppet regime in Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter telephoned Pakistani President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, whose country shares a 1,400-mile border with the new Soviet satellite. Carter told Zia that he was reviewing ways the United States could help counter the Soviet threat to Pakistan and assured him of the American government's support.”

Corrupting Pakistan’s ruling elite with money and weapons and pushing them into fighting America’s wars has brought us to where we are. The US has been an equal partner in crime. In effect, the US is the chief architect of the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Afghanistan and Pakistan. While Professor Fair and others in the Capital Beltway are welcome to hold Pakistan responsible for the failed American designs in Afghanistan, however, the reality remains that American military and foreign policy is meeting one disaster after another in Lebanon, Libya, Bahrain, and Iraq.

Using Pakistan as a scapegoat may be the right political move for the American President whose second term in the White House seems increasingly unlikely with every passing day, the American policymakers and academics perhaps may also consider introspection to see where the real fault lines lie.

Professor Fair indeed made several sound observations in the same article. She wants Pakistan to curb militancy (but fails to appreciate how the US presence in the region fuels it), resolve disputes with India and invest in its people. I agree with her wholeheartedly. Irrespective of what America does in the region, the Pakistani State has to reign in the militants. Even back in 1980, Mr. van Hollen warned Pakistanis that the “[g]uns provided to the Pushtun tribes today to fight the Soviet-dominated regime in Kabul could later be turned toward Islamabad.” I wish someone had heeded Mar. van Hollen’s warnings.

Professor Fair prescribes ‘benign neglect’ as a policy instrument for the US to deal with Pakistan. I would call it good riddance. The sooner South Asia is free of the American and Nato’s misguided and futile military activism, the better it is for the region. Cutting military ties with the US is a must for a democratic and caring state in Pakistan.

Many are mistaken in believing that without the American financial support, Pakistan will not survive. I have argued in an earlier piece that Pakistan, and every other nation, can survive without US aid. I am basing these arguments not on ignorance prejudice, but on the cogent advice of renowned Pakistani economists. What S. Akbar Zaidi and other economists have said in public and the Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission, Dr. Nadeem Ul Haque, has been saying in private is that Pakistan has to sever aid ties with the US and IMF. Their bailouts have only subsidised Pakistan’s ruling elite.

As for the rest of Pakistanis the choice is obvious. If Pakistanis want to earn respect, they have to build their nation with their own taxes. Not much respect comes bundled with IMF bailouts.

Murtaza Haider, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean of research and graduate programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto. He can be reached by email at

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.



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