America through the eyes of Pakistanis

Pakistan and its leaders are more responsible for its present state of affairs, more than any other external power

Inam Ul Haque September 29, 2022
The writer is a retired major general and has an interest in International Relations and Political Sociology. He can be reached at [email protected] and tweets @20_Inam

Last week, the ‘constants’ of Pakistan-US relations were discussed. This piece deliberates on the ‘variables’ of the Pakistan-US ties, and how these constants and variables combine to shape perceptions in both countries especially anti-Americanism in Pakistan.

For all his apparent anti-Pakistan (that he essentially considers anti-Establishment) tirades, Hussian Haqqani in his book Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding (2013) writes: “The relationship between America and Pakistan is based on mutual incomprehension and always has been. Pakistan — to American eyes — has gone from being a quirky irrelevance, to a stabilizing friend, to an essential military ally, to a seedbed of terror. America — to Pakistani eyes — has been a guarantee of security, a coldly distant scold, an enthusiastic military enabler, and is now a threat to national security and a source of humiliation.”

Coming back to the variables of Pakistan-American bilateralism, some ‘major variables’ can be identified as regional stability, with China, India and Afghanistan in focus; terrorism; Pakistan’s nuclear potential; and political/domestic stability in Pakistan; etc.

First, the regional environment. Superpowers are loath to changing status quo, as status quo (or existing order) ensures their politico-economic and military dominance. Obama’s ‘pivot to Asia’ and President Biden’s continuing efforts to contain China through regional alliance with India/other nations of greater Asia-Pacific; and America embroiling an emerging Russia in Ukraine, serve the US interests in the most cost-effective manner. In this and other developments, Pakistan should possibly be irrelevant or transactionally engaged/rewarded, be preferably on a lifeline, and entangled domestically, if it persists with its pro-China geo-strategic construct.

A managed conflict with India, a love-hate relationship with Afghanistan, not too warm ties with Russia and sowing doubts and aspersion over the traditional Sino-Pakistan relationship, keep Pakistan ‘drudging’ along and off-balance, hence pliant to the US diktat. And local facilitators are aplenty, willing to gladly jump at any opportunity to do the US bidding. Removal of Imran Khan from office is one such case in point. Ascribing to the US policy pronouncements coming from any Tom, Dick and Harry, more meanings than the US has actually intended, is the hallmarks of this sycophant mental dependency of Pakistani elite — ashhrafiyya. Resultantly, the US feels happy that it attains its policy objectives effortlessly and cost effectively.

However, the largest pitfall of this approach is rising anti-US sentiment among Pakistan’s general public that — given the power of social media potentially affects the US interests. Making 220 million people hostile is not a smart policy, and one does not have to be a Newton to understand this. Another attendant pitfall of this narrow and short-sighted approach is dumping every frustration, failure and fiasco by Pakistan at the US doorstep, through endless conspiracy theories. American approach also strengthens Pakistan’s domestic anti-US opposition. And from a principled standpoint, since both countries resort to ‘possible defiance’, this hostility is not in either’s long-term interests.

Second, terrorism. The US policy establishment has been, for nearly two decades, looking at Pakistan through the narrow prism of its relevance for Muslim-generated terrorism and possible help in thwarting it. Whether it was the erstwhile Afghan Taliban, the present-day ISIS or any future fall-guy/group, Pakistan was, and would be used, abused and discarded once the US short-term objectives were/are met. Post-Soviet abandonment amply demonstrates the transactional nature of this bilateralism. The Superpower in its typical hubris buys influence, partnership and facilitation, and abandons once cost-prohibitive and/or not needed. The weaker Pakistani state, on the other hand, vies to remain relevant, positively but also negatively if positivity does not work. This US approach also feeds strongly into anti-Americanism, as Asiatic Pakistani mind values enduring friendship and not episodic cordiality.

Third, Pakistan’s nuclear capability. Acquired and built with a knowing US looking sideways, mostly during the heydays of anti-Soviet jihad, this most vital Pakistani capability now unnerves the US and by extension the Israeli establishment. Pakistan’s apparent slide towards Islamic extremism (not supported by any data) and the ‘Islamic Bomb’ landing in wrong hands are causative to many anxieties and ludicrous US war games. From rogue elements to rogue state, there are endless scenarios played, as leaks confirm.

It is also strangely dichotomous that the sole Superpower lends itself to mostly Indian-inspired propaganda (notwithstanding errant Indian missiles) against Pakistan’s military, the custodian, protector and safe-keeper of these weapons. Pakistan’s military and public apprehension in unison, for any purported US interception/snatch operation, is also a potent source of hostility towards the US.

The last variable is Pakistan’s instability. Objectively, Pakistan and its leaders are more responsible for its present state of affairs, more than any other external power. However, America’s ‘conspiracy and interference’ cannot be totally ruled out. From East Pakistan to Bangladesh to regime change to pressurising international organisations/forums to throwing money for buying influence/interlocutors to naked threats and haughtiness, the list is long and exhaustive. America’s persistent, bipartisan economic, military and political support would have burnished its credentials and image as a ‘friend in need’. Non-perseverance hits at the US credibility, feeding into anti-Americanism.

Encapsulating the above, the US is ‘perceived’ as an “Arrogant Empire” to borrow from Fareed Zakaria. It invests more on personalities and less on the people. It considers Military more useful than the masses. It uses you, when in need and thereafter abandons you. Compared to a reliable China, an emerging and steady Euro-Asiatic Russia, the US is not a good long-term partner. And that its war on terror is masking its true anti-Islamic intentions. That the US response to various crises gives away its cultural, religious, ethnic and historic naivety and insensitivity. No wonder, President Nixon in his In the Arena (1990), reminisced upon President Ayub’s ‘haunting’ advice way back in 1964; that it was dangerous to be a friend of the US, “that is pays to be neutral; and sometimes it helps to be an enemy”.

According to last Pew Research, as of 2014, some 59% Pakistanis consider America as an enemy; a least favourable view among 39 countries surveyed. A Gallup poll takes this as high as over 72%. This unsustainable distrust needs to be righted, as neither side “can play the other without absurd and sometimes tragic results”.

Being larger and more resourced, the US has to take the lead with a sincere leap of faith. Flood relief is a chance at redemption. Or Asiatic simplicity would wander in cold realism.


Published in The Express Tribune, September 29th, 2022.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.


Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ


Most Read