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Suddenly or maybe not very suddenly, Pakistan is no longer that villain state that was accused of doing vicious things

Imran Jan March 14, 2024
The writer is a political analyst. Email: imran.jan@gmail.com. Twitter @Imran_Jan


Once upon a time, Pakistan enjoyed its golden age. I don’t mean the 60s or the 70s but rather Pakistan about a decade or so ago. Yes, during the height of terrorism, drone strikes, threats of sanctions, ISI bashing in the foreign media, the Do More, and so forth is what I am calling Pakistan’s golden age. Pakistan, its army, and its formidable intelligence agency were always in the US media as the villains.

Everytime I opened The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time Magazine, The Economist, or any other publication, I always found Pakistan in there and always in a negative light. Pakistan bashing was the norm and painting a bad image of Pakistan cut many paychecks for many American propagandists. Entire books were written just to drive home further this narrative that Pakistan was a bad country and that it needed to be fixed. Some of those books included Directorate S by Steve Coll, The Unravelling by John Schmidt, No Exit From Pakistan by Daniel Markey, and so forth. President Obama declared FATA as the most dangerous place in the world. If memory serves me right, Pakistan as a state also earned that title several times.

Documentary films depicted Pakistan as this dangerous country. Almost every documentary film I watched, which showed Pakistan, had nothing nice to ever say or show about Pakistan. Dirty streets with broken down houses, bearded men with rifles and AK-47s, poverty and misery all around, journalism under assault, girls raped and acid thrown in their face, and many other negatives in the society were always on full display in those films. Even the music would go grim whenever Pakistan’s mean streets were running as B-roll in those films. The lighting would become dimmer to show a darker display.

There was an endless list of the bads that Pakistan was accused of doing such as harbouring the Taliban and providing them a safe haven, arming and sponsoring the Haqqani Network, destabilising Afghanistan, doing terrorism in India, suppressing journalism and human rights inside Pakistan, encouraging the mullah culture and undermining the feminist thought and digital freedoms, and so forth.

Amid all this current noise and uncertainty inside Pakistan and how the Pakistani Americans are working hard to raise awareness about the elections that happened last month, I came to a realisation: all that critique is gone. Pakistan is no longer criticised in the US media. Suddenly or maybe not very suddenly, Pakistan is no longer that villain state that was accused of doing vicious things. It is no longer accused of being allies with the Taliban. It is no longer accused of anti-Indian activities. The bad Pakistan has simply vanished. What is left in its place is just a western favourite. Pakistan today is exactly as the West and India wanted it to be. Pakistan is no longer a problem. It is a promise.

Pakistan’s bad image being portrayed back in the day used to upset and anger me, but today this silence upsets me even more. Because this silence is very loud in telling us all that Pakistan doesn’t matter anymore. That Pakistan has diminished in its value. That bad Pakistan that was always bashed was the Pakistan that was putting up some resistance in order to push for its interests and narratives. Today, it presents no such resistance. That was a fighter Pakistan. This one is too congenial, too sweet, and too peaceful for the foreign powers. Pakistan is perhaps a foreigners’ paradise. Given how much legal immunity foreigners have in this country. Pakistan should be a tourism king and make Switzerland run for its money.

I was once playing a video game, called Injustice, on PlayStation. I tried almost ten times or more to beat the computer but I couldn’t. Then suddenly the computer started fighting poorly and I ended up winning. Perhaps the algorithm had adjusted it to an easier version. That is what has happened to Pakistan too. It is an easier version.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 14th, 2024.

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