The Blame Game Between Pakistan and the US


Two articles caught my eye today, both touching on a similar issue from different angles. 

The first, was an article published in the NY Times:

Americans may think that the failed Times Square bomb was planted by a man named Faisal Shahzad. But the view in the Supreme Court Bar Association here in Pakistan’s capital is that the culprit was an American “think tank.”

“They have planted this character Faisal Shahzad to implement their script,” said Hashmat Ali Habib, a lawyer and a member of the bar association.

Conspiracy theory is a national sport in Pakistan, where the main players — the United States, India and Israel — change positions depending on the ebb and flow of history. Since 2001, the United States has taken center stage, looming so large in Pakistan’s collective imagination that it sometimes seems to be responsible for everything that goes wrong here.

“When the water stops running from the tap, people blame America,” said Shaista Sirajuddin, an English professor in Lahore.

Juxtapose that with another article, in the Daily Beast:

It’s been hard, even after all this time, for many people here to accept that radicals have grown up among them. Americans who once asked of extremists, “Why do they hate us?” may be surprised to learn that some people here turn the question around, asking why America hates Pakistan.

This month I met members of a Pakistani sugar mill workers’ union. They work in a vast rural factory that resembles an old steel mill and smells like molasses. I asked about their daily lives—their wages have gone up, but not nearly as much as the price of sugar—and never mentioned Shahzad. But as I stood to go, several men stopped me to ask a question. Why did Americans say Shahzad was a Pakistani? He was an American citizen.

“I’m not a spokesman for my government,” I began, a phrase that produced howls of derision, “but I think Americans were concerned because Shahzad came to Pakistan for training.”

“There’s no proof he had training!” they insisted.

Another young man, Mohammad Saied, jumped in. Americans “basically hate Asian people, right?”

He explained that he worked for two years in a call center, answering complaints about satellite TV service. “I just spoke with a simple accent, right?” he said. “So if your accent is Asian, right, people don’t want to talk, they hang up the call… They don’t want to talk with Asian people, right? That’s why I have changed my accent,” he said, in a flat tone that would have made him hard to place.

In fairness, many Pakistanis do accept that their country has become a major source of militants, even if they blame America, too. America supported militant groups before the 9/11 attacks and then “made a U-turn,” said Shahi Syed, a Karachi businessman and politician. “Our government also made a U-turn. Our military? They made a 50 percent U-turn.”

Still, it leaves people in Pakistan wondering what the world must think of them.

These articles underscore the intense disconnect that results from Pakistan not entirely trusting the US and the US also not fully trusting Pakistan — even when the two states are ostensibly the closest of allies in the fight against violent extremist groups.  People in both countries are in many ways rightfully confused. Pakistanis see the (nine year and counting) war across the Durand Line, a barrage of drone strikes in their own country that the US does not publicly acknowledge, and largely true rumors that Blackwater and other clandestine entities are operating freely.  It comes as no surprise that Pakistanis would second-guess a true alliance with the US.  On the other hand, many Americans are wondering how Pakistan can actually be an ally of the US when it still tacitly supports many of the militant groups that are threatening US interests abroad and increasingly on its home soil.  Or when essentially every major terrorist operation in the West since 9/11 has had some element that traces back to Pakistan. 

And despite all the confusion and distrust on the part of the people of both countries, the US and Pakistan continue attempting to foster closer ties. 

This odd and confusing alliance cannot legitimize some of the absurd conspiracy theories running rampant in the country, which absolve Pakistan of all blame and deflect everything from the Taliban to problems with running water onto US shoulders.  Pakistan must accept and take responsibility for its own woes before it can ever hope to progress out of this particularly chaotic phase in its history. 

But we have all heard the phrase “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”  Unfortunately, it seems like many Pakistanis percieve that the US is indeed adhering to this popular idiom.  Even more problematic, the more the US tries to allay Pakistan’s concerns, by giving billions in non-military aid, for example, the more this infuriates large segments of Pakistani society.  On the flip side, no matter how much blood and treasure the Pakistanis invest into combatting militants within their borders, the US is not satisfied — from our perspective, rightfully so, but from their point of view, not so much. 

And so the blame game continues.

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One Response to The Blame Game Between Pakistan and the US

  1. anonymous says:

    Excellent and thoughtful analysis.

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