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Anti-Americanism in Pakistan:  an inescapable reality

By Imtiaz Gul

Friday Times, February 18 ,2011

Anti-Americanism in the Pakistani context is nothing new. It is rooted in the history of the American role in this country. The US refrain from support during Pakistan’s stand-off with India in 1971, the opposition to the Pakistani nuclear programme, their alleged involvement in the political elimination of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, sanctions on Pakistan for its nuclear pursuits, President Bill Clinton’s controversial under-five hour stay in Islamabad in March 2000, the famous threat of “bombing Pakistan to the stone age”, and now the US outrage over detention of Raymond Davis on murder charges.

It is in fact a long litany of complaints that shape the public perception of the United States. The brazenly high-handed American approach – under the ruse of diplomatic immunity –to extricate Davis from murder charges has only reinforced the existing perceptions of the United States as a super power that cares less for principles, rule of law and democratic values when it comes to protecting its own interests or citizens. So must every state i.e. protect its interests and citizens in the best possible way.

But this obviously throws up the question as to at what cost does a country stand up for its citizens? Ostensibly, at the cost of very values that it claims to care for in the developing world i.e. rule of law, access to justice, strengthening and promotion of democracy!! 

Two recent instances from personal experiences – one in Riyadh and the other in London merit mention here to illustrate how deep the anti-Americanism runs in most Muslim countries. These instances also expose the dislike, if not contempt, for the American way of thinking, even in allied European countries.

A number of American and European officials and experts gathered at an international conference titled “Use of Internet to Counter the Appeal of Extremist Violence, “held at the Naif Arab University for Security Sciences, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in partnership with the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force and the German foreign ministry, took up the same issue this week (24-26 January 2011, held under the Chatham House Rules).

A senior American official dealing with counter-terrorism also made a presentation on the American perspective on counter-extremism. But, to the utter surprise of more than 150 delegates present, not a single person clapped after the American official wrapped up his presentation. Not even the British, German, or Dutch participants.

And again not a single applaud followed when the chairman thanked the American official shortly before concluding the session.

One could see a number of delegates exchanging curious looks as the American official left the hall in pin-drop silence. “Did u notice no body clapped for him?” said a Lebanese official seated next to me.

During the same conference, several Muslim and Arab scholars took exception to another participant from the United States, Mark Sageman, who likened to the Al Qaeda mission to “neo-jihad.” Most of the Muslims present on the occasion denounced al Qaeda and its affiliates as non-Muslims, “who are murdering innocent men and women and children in the name of Islam. Its not jihad at all,” they insisted.

Then on February 10th, the Kings’ College, London drew officials and experts from Afghanistan, Pakistan, the US and the U.K to discuss the Afghanistan endgame and possible regional approaches for peace and reconciliation in that country.

The only American official in attendance reiterated the US position on Afghanistan before responding to the phenomenon of “sense of humiliation” that the American military approaches have created in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.

“America is a super-power and this status essentially determines its response to events such as the 9/11 attacks. When it feels humiliated, it would react the way it reacted in Afghanistan,” said the official, followed by some whispers among participants. The official (am not naming him because the discussion took place under the Chatham House Rules), then quickly moved to clarify “and by the way I made this statement in private capacity and not as a State Department Official.” This official in fact even ran down a former US ambassador to Afghanistan, and derided him as “a nut who should not be taken seriously.”

During such events one can easily discern the European discomfort with the strident American approaches as far as countering extremism or dealing with a smaller country is concerned. The “super power arrogance” simply doesn’t go down well with most of the European countries, where officials and MPs are indeed concerned about the spiraling extremism and appear to be sincerely thinking of non-militant ways to deal with the al-Qaeda inspired phenomenon. They seem to believe in and are pushing for dealing with religious extremism through soft approaches i.e engagement rather than projection of force.

Now, juxtapose these two instances, for instance, with the oscillating US position on President Hamid Karzai since early last year; as the Afghans were getting ready for the presidential election, the US media, apparently on leaks planted by various organs of the US administration, subjected Karzai and his brother to an unusual critical campaign.

The “electoral fraud” committed during the election added further spice to Karzai’s condemnation but then the US president went to felicitate Karzai once Abdullah Abdullah withdrew from the run-off.

The hidden point that this congratulatory message out of Washington entailed was telling and simple; the US turns and twists issues and even persons the way it pleases, regardless of what it means to the fundamental principles of democracy and the rule of law.

Accompanying these messages are the news on the penetration of Afghanistan and Iraq the private defense and development contractors – nearly 225,000 contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan alone. According to reports, these are involved in tasks ranging from providing security, intelligence to base support. 

No consolidated figures are available on how many of them are operational in Pakistan but ex Blackwater (now Xe Services), Dyne corps and several others are present in the country.

As a whole the presence of these private development contractors, detectives, security outfits, raises the issue of sovereignty of these countries and provides ammunition for to most political parties to stoke anti-Americanism.

The controversy surrounding Davis offers the perfect case for multiplying the anti-US sentiment. The US administration will likely secure him under the ruse of diplomatic immunity, but that will only add fuel to the anti-US sentiment across Pakistan. Such an approach will also puncture the lofty talk on rule of law and respect for the sovereignty of Pakistan. By refusing to allow the judicial process takes its course, the US has neither served its image nor helped the movement for establishing the rule of law in Pakistan. 

The writer heads the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk