With us or against us? A decade on, Pakistan is wavering

Published: September 10, 2011
With tensions now running high, it is clear Islamabad increasingly sees Washington as more of foe than friend. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

With tensions now running high, it is clear Islamabad increasingly sees Washington as more of foe than friend. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

While the ruins of New York’s World Trade Center were still smouldering in late September 2001, President George W. Bush put nations around the globe on notice: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists”.

It was an ultimatum that Pakistan’s then-president, Gen Pervez Musharraf, felt acutely as Washington readied for war against the Taliban regime next door in Afghanistan. In his memoirs, he recalls being told by the Americans that “if we chose the terrorists, then we should be prepared to be bombed back to the Stone Age”.

Musharraf ditched the Taliban and threw Pakistan’s lot in with the United States, making it a strategic ally in the “global war on terror”, despite quiet misgivings among his top brass in the powerful military establishment.

Over the decade since then, however, Pakistan has been an erratic and reluctant ally. Trust has crumbled on both sides and, with tensions now running high, it is clear that Islamabad increasingly sees Washington as more of a foe than a friend.

“I’m very pessimistic,” said Bruce Reidel, who advised US President Barack Obama on policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan. “We’re on a downward slide towards a more hostile relationship. Obama wants to save it, but our interests don’t coincide.”

The dangers could be enormous if Washington fails to arrest the deterioration in relations with Pakistan, a nuclear-armed but largely dysfunctional state run by a feckless, military-cowed government and teeming with Islamist militants.

At stake are the fight against terrorism, the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and – as Islamabad plays off its friendship with China against the United States – regional stability.

Anti-americanism grows

The United States and Pakistan have cooperated for decades, first against the Soviet Union and then the al Qaeda network. But anti-Americanism runs deep in Pakistan, in part because of Washington’s perceived tilt towards arch-rival, India, but also because of a sense – heightened by the invasion of Iraq in 2003 – that the United States is a threat to the Muslim world.

“The US invasion of Iraq, coming on top of US support for Israel and growing ties with India, greatly strengthened the vague and inchoate but pervasive feeling among Pakistanis that ‘Islam is in danger’ at the hands of the US,” wrote Anatol Lieven of the War Studies Department of King’s College, London, in a new book, “Pakistan, a Hard Country”.

Lieven found that an “absolutely overwhelming majority” of Pakistanis, including the country’s elites, do not believe 9/11 was the work of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda. Many are convinced the attacks were in fact a plot by the Bush administration, Israel, or both, to provide a pretext for the US invasion of Afghanistan as part of a strategy to dominate the Muslim world.

Majid Qurashi, a hospital doctor in the militancy-plagued city of Peshawar on the road to Afghanistan, recently voiced the sentiments many Pakistanis felt on September 11, 2001.

“When I saw the planes crash into the tower, I thought that, finally, someone had decided to teach the United States a lesson and respond to all the bad things it had been doing around the world,” he told Reuters.

India has been Pakistan’s enemy No. 1 since the violent partition of the subcontinent in 1947. However, hostility towards the United States has grown, reaching new heights after US Navy SEALs killed bin Laden at his Pakistan hideout in May.

Another irritant has been the US drone campaign against militants in Pakistan’s tribal badlands on the border with Afghanistan, which Islamabad complains have killed civilians and only encouraged public sympathy for the groups sheltering there.

A Pew Research Center survey of Pakistanis in June found that 69 percent saw the United States as an enemy and 47 percent were “very” worried about a military threat from Washington.

Double game

Distrust of Washington is most marked in the army, where there is a sense that – from the Cold War to the war on terrorism – the United States has used Pakistan as a means to pursue its own security interests.

Hussain Haqqani, Islamabad’s envoy to Washington, recently asked an audience of mainly military officers by a show of hands, “what is the principle national security threat to Pakistan?”: a majority named the United States.

One of the generals who attended a meeting with Musharraf days after 9/11 said that none of the officers openly questioned his decision to side with the United States, but some reminded him “that Americans have a habit of pulling the rug from under our feet once their interests are served”.

“America is after our nuclear assets,” said the now-retired general, who asked not to be named. “It wants to create chaos in Pakistan to force the United Nations to say Pakistan is an unstable state and cannot secure its nuclear weapons and the international community should take control of these weapons.”

There is mounting frustration with the relationship on the US side too, and calls for an end to the security and economic funds that Pakistan receives from Washington, which have added up to some $20 billion since 2001.

This week the White House hailed Pakistan’s capture of a top al Qaeda figure as an example of counter-terrorism cooperation.

But it was a rare moment of entente amid US accusations that Pakistan plays a double game over militants on its soil. For many, the fact that bin Laden had been holed up for years in a house just a couple of hours up the road from Islamabad and near a Pakistani military academy said it all.

Pakistan denies any collusion with al Qaeda and regularly reminds Washington that it has paid the highest price in human life and money supporting the US war on militancy.

However, the root of the trust deficit lies with Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, which has a long history of nurturing militant groups to fight India.

Pakistan also stands accused of shielding on its own soil Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network and others that battle US troops in Afghanistan to guarantee that it has a proxy stake in any political settlement there when American forces withdraw.

“Let me be clear: many Americans died in Afghanistan because of Pakistan’s ISI,” US senator and naval reservist Mark Kirk fumed this week after an assignment in Afghanistan, proposing “an American tilt” towards India to encourage Delhi to bankroll an Afghan government that could fight terrorism and the ISI.

Ayesha Siddiqa, an expert on the Pakistani military, said the United States and Pakistan have reached a point of strategic divergence as the moment for Afghanistan to stand on its own approaches.

“They can no longer agree on the endgame in Afghanistan,” she said. “Both are trying to get the maximum out of each other before that comes.”

Embarrassed and feeling betrayed by the secret raid on bin Laden, Pakistan has cut back on US counter-insurgency trainers in the country and placed limits on CIA activities there. Washington responded by suspending about one-third of its $2.7 billion annual defence aid to Islamabad.

“All-weather friend” china

In a sign that Pakistan is looking to use its amity with China as a lever in its troubled relationship with Washington, when the prime minister made his first address to the nation on the bin Laden incident he seized the opportunity to lavish praise on “our all-weather friend”.

But Beijing’s friendship will only go so far.

There is no sign that China is ready to shoulder the financial cost of propping up Pakistan that the United States has so far been willing to bear, and it will calculate that getting too close would tighten strategic ties between Washington and New Delhi, stoking regional tensions.

Despite the tit-for-tat diplomatic sniping between them, Pakistan and the United States are trying to prevent a breakdown of relations. It is proving hard but, for now, both need each other too much to abandon their strategic alliance.

“The United States and Pakistan are going to need to continue to cooperate on counter-terrorism, whether they like it or not,” said Stephen Tankel of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in an online discussion last week.

“Both sides are not prepared to walk away from the relationship but are beginning to reassess what the nature of that relationship should be going forward.”

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (30)

  • Abdul Rehman Gilani
    Sep 10, 2011 - 11:46AM

    We should have remained neutral in the US’s war. Fact is, that even after 30,000 martyrs, we still hear cries of “do more” from the US and its anglophilic toadies in the intelligentsia. We should effectively and immediately get out of this war, and stop acting as mercenaries. Only then can we win.


  • Feroz
    Sep 10, 2011 - 12:21PM

    Musharraf after 9/11 ultimatum threw in his lot with America and against Al Qaeda. However he had no intention whatsoever to defang or destroy the Taliban. This failure to follow through has cost Pakistan and Afghanistan countless lives and whatever little credibility the nation commanded. The days of having Afghanistan as a puppet state are long gone but policy planners continue living in the past. The obsessive enmity with India is proving very costly and the country is losing both goodwill and friends. Hatred only blinds, please wake up and see the writing on the wall.


  • goggi
    Sep 10, 2011 - 3:06PM

    http://9-11-verschwoerung.blogspot.com/ ………………translate the blogs from German in English and read the opinion of Europeans!

    click at 9/11 verschwoerung – die Fakten
    and watch die video September 11, 1991


  • Sep 10, 2011 - 4:04PM

    The US invasion of Iraq, coming on top of US support for Israel and growing ties with India, greatly strengthened the vague and inchoate but pervasive feeling among Pakistanis that ‘Islam is in danger’ at the hands of the US,” well said.

  • Azharuddin Masood
    Sep 10, 2011 - 4:21PM

    Honestly speaking right from the day one Pakistan is playing double games. On one hand Pakistan is collecting money on the name of war on terror and on the other hand Pakistan is supporting the terrorists and it’s really hard to understand what Pakistan wants to achieve from this hostile behavior. In a short run it may have benefitied financially but in long run it has literally lost its credibility to the world. What Pakistan has given to the world has started hounting them. Unknowlingly Pakistan has done so much harm to itself that it is very near to implode.


  • all+1
    Sep 10, 2011 - 5:52PM

    yeaaH 9-11 was the birth of diabolical new world order. This insider show was an elaborated worked out and an icecold operation within the framework of psychological warfare.


  • Cautious
    Sep 10, 2011 - 6:25PM

    Pakistan blames it’s problems on others — but if you look at the numbers you see that casualties were nominal until Pakistan finally took on the “red mosque” – that has little to do with the Afghan/USA conflict and everything to do with the Pakistan religious fanatics trying to usurp the elected govt in Pakistan.


  • Suresh
    Sep 10, 2011 - 7:53PM

    They should be given more aid. Recommend

  • Sara
    Sep 10, 2011 - 9:07PM

    Everything mentioned in this article goes both ways… If the US blames the ISI for American deaths (though which imaginary deaths I don’t know, all I see are Pakistanis getting killed right, left and center!) then the US/CIA too is responsible for innocent Pakistani deaths (Remember Ray Davis and the 2 men he shot in the back?) And if you have issues with who those 2 were, what about the innocent Pakistani crushed to death by the American SUV? What about the innocent Pakistanis killed by drones? Are only American lives sacred and Pakistani lives garbage?
    The US wants puppet gov, then when they don’t listen to them, they complain and whine. The US supports terrorists when it suits them, e.g. Saddam, then lectures other countries not to. Hypocrites!
    Pakistan wanted to seal the Afghan border, the US refused. Why? Then it whines about “terrorists” crossing over. Then why stop Pakistan from fencing it? Double game being played by the US as usual.
    More Pakistani soldiers and civilians have died than US ones, so the Americans should stop their whining! They created this mess, now they need a scapegoat to save face with the American ppl, who are very ignorant and would would believe any rubbish told by their gov.

    The US lied about Jessica Lynch, lied about Pat Tillman, lied about WMDs… and the lies continue.

    It was extremely selfish of the US to ask Pakistan to help in the first place. You don’t go to a smaller person to ask for help. Why should Pakistan commit suicide to help the US? Would the US do the same? would any country? Of course not! Yet they are so ungrateful, they keep on asking us to do more, not caring at all about the chaos we’re descending into.
    They hire ppl like Blackwater, the owner Eric Prince has said he “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe” and his company “encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life”.
    Imagine if a Muslim country was to hire fanatic ppl who though the same about the other faith? The US would have created hell. But when it comes to them…. again, double standards.
    Enough is enough.
    As for the money they keep harping on about, which they have given us….What we have lost economically and in human lives cannot even begin to be covered by the pennies they so rudely throw at our feet.
    Point is, who is benefiting from all the accusations thrown at Pakistan? Certainly NOT Pakistan! And that is key.


  • grain2315
    Sep 11, 2011 - 1:18AM

    @Abdul Rehman Gilani:
    totally agree and become independant


  • Anjum
    Sep 11, 2011 - 3:20AM

    Well said. Never be economic dependant on anybody. The rulers and leaders of this pak countru have sold it – and they will pay back themselves. Pak zindabad.


  • goggi
    Sep 11, 2011 - 5:09AM

    President George W. Bush put nations around the globe on notice: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists”. In other words he made it clear, ” you are not allowed anymore to be yourself!”
    And as a matter of fact they have done it successfully! Do we really know today who we are?
    They are systematically demolishing us, physically and emotionally.

    Perhaps the following interesting film would widen your horizon!

    Complete Original ’07 Zeitgeist With 2010 Updates by: Peter Joseph


  • Udaya Bose
    Sep 11, 2011 - 11:36AM

    What Pakistan needs to do above all is to stop treating India as enemy no:1. We are all South Asians – Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka and at one remove Afghanistan and Myanmar. We need more trade and investment in each others countries.This will reduce tensions, military expenditures and bring prosperity to all our people. All this can be done without compromising any bit of national sovereignty.
    When we are all stronger, we can put other nations in their place.


  • Abdul Rehman Gilani
    Sep 11, 2011 - 1:49PM

    @Udaya Bose:
    Dear, when india stops acting like a spoilt child, and solves age-old disputes like the Kashmir one as per the UN resolution, only then can we talk of peace in South Asia, otherwise this is nothing more than non-sense.


  • Abdo
    Sep 12, 2011 - 5:11AM

    @Udaya Bose – Your personal intentions are good but India’s are not. The ball is in India’s court to be a genuine friend of Pakistan and that can be proved by India’s actions, by giving Jammu and Kashmir its independence and not interfering in Pakistan’s internal affairs through its network from Afghanistan stirring trouble in different regions of Pakistan. You see, talk is cheap as Pakistan is tired of cheap talks with no substance.


  • Dee Cee
    Sep 12, 2011 - 5:43PM

    @ Gilani and Abdo: Funny how “India should stop meddling in Pakistan’s internal affairs” and “free Kashmir”! Should Pakistan “free” Balochistan while India frees Kashmir? Suppose India “frees” Kashmir, how will that help Pakistan? Will it increase revenue? Stop militancy? Persuade Americans to stop the drone attacks? Kashmir will not help Pakistan in any sphere at all.

    Don’t you think that this stalling of trade hurts Pakistan more than it hurts India? What will you gain by isolating yourself and sitting in a corner, when you can open up, focus on trade and education and less on security, and become perhaps better than India? Border disputes and water disputes are normal, even Indian states fight with each other on border and water, but fearing India and putting all money in defense is senseless paranoia that even Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh are free from. I do not want to come across as a patronizing blockhead who wishes away the many, many problems that India has. I only want to wish all the very best for Pakistan and hope that its citizens understand the priorities clearly. Recommend

  • Abdul Rehman Gilani
    Sep 13, 2011 - 3:41PM

    @Dee Cee:

    Kashmir is an international issue and india itself agreed to hold a plebiscite there in the UN and under the UN’s supervision. Whilst Balochistan itself opted to join Pakistan. Have some sense and dont compare the two.

    The day india becomes a better neighbour we will have peace.


  • Dee Cee
    Sep 13, 2011 - 5:01PM

    @Abdul Rehman Gilani:

    Kashmir was internationalized by Pakistan’s military agression in Kashmir, which, rightfully or wrongly decided to join Indian union. The Khan of Kalat did not willingly join Pakistan either. Balochistan can be similarly internationalized if need be, but I am not recommending that. You have evaded the key question, what will you gain?

    Also, what does a better neighbour have to do? Please let an Indian friend know so that we can ask our government to do that. Mind it, we haven’t waged wars (according to Najam Sethi and all impartial international records) or tried to “bleed Pakistan through a thousand cuts”. We are party to some water and territorial disputes, which, as I said above, is quite normal. If you follow the news, India gave up quite a lot of land to Bangladesh in a recent treaty. Border and water disputes can be managed. What else do you want? Recommend

  • Abdul Rehman Gilani
    Sep 13, 2011 - 8:26PM

    @Dee Cee:

    Get your facts right. The Muslims in indian-occupied Kashmir rose up against the oppression of Hari Singh, who then called upon the indian army to help him, on the condition of acceding to india and then backdated the letter . It wasnt Pakistan’s aggression, it was india’s. Afterwards did the first war of Kashmir begin.

    And as earlier stated, Nehru himself agreed in the UN to have a plebiscite held to determine the will of the Kashmiri people. Whilst the people of Balochistan opted for Pakistan in 1947. As earlier said, get some sense!

    And for the sake of argument, even if we accept your argument, then by the same logic, Hyderabad(Decaan),Junagadh and Munavadh also belong to Pakistan!

    And you want good relations, start by solving the Kashmir issue the exact way you agreed in the UN. If the people of indian-occupied Kashmir are really with you, what are you afraid of?


  • Hamood
    Sep 13, 2011 - 8:56PM

    @Dee Cee, Kashmir is an international dispute as agreed upon by UN. Balochistan is Pakistan’s internal matter. Recommend

  • BruteForce
    Sep 13, 2011 - 9:07PM


    Who cares about the UN? Recommend

  • Abdul Rehman Gilani
    Sep 14, 2011 - 10:33AM

    Then why is india even a member of UN, or even better, why is india trying to get membership of Security Council if it doesnt care!

    On one hand, indians say they are not obsessed with Pakistan, on the other, their crap comes posted on ET stories.


  • Dee Cee
    Sep 14, 2011 - 8:06PM

    @Abdul Rehman Gilani:

    Later UN Resolutions and the Simla Agreement after 1971 all agreed that that the inital plan of plebiscite was outdated and “dialogue” between India and Pakistan was the only way forward.

    Junagarh Dewan, father of one of your Prime Ministers, invited India to take Junagadh when the Nawab fled Junagadh. Hyderabad wanted to remain independent and that shouldn’t concern Pakistan.

    And, more importantly, you will keep on harping “Kashmir” while your rulers are ready to agree to have the line of control as the border. I hope you are not gonna ask Aksai Chin from your all-weather friend China, whom you gave part of Kashmir!

    As you can see, nobody has the ability to make Pakistan or India give up the portions they control. Accept that fact, and live happily. Also, we should have a plebiscite in Balochistan (Khan of Kalat wanted to join India) and Kashmir, after all parties, including India and Pakistan, stop their interference. That is never going to happen, so let us all understand the reality. Kashmir in reality is not an integral part of India, but it cannot go completely to Pakistan either. Either live with that, or continue your self-injurious mindset. Indians who want to control entire Kashmir are living in a fool’s paradise, and so are the Pakistanis who dream of “liberating” Kashmir. Peace!


  • BruteForce
    Sep 14, 2011 - 8:12PM

    @Abdul Rehman Gilani:

    UN is an important organization but its resolution is not greater than the Constitution of India, a truly holy text. You have to understand my remarks in this context.

    Interestingly ET has not published my rest of the comments. I had suggested @Hamood, that if Pakistan is so keen on following the UN then why not arrest Hafiz Saeed, who is designated a Global Terrorist by the very organization and hand him over to the International Court of Justice?


  • Dee Cee
    Sep 14, 2011 - 8:18PM

    @Abdul Rehman Gilani:

    Also, about Indians posting on Pakistani newspapers. I will speak for myself. I love your beautiful country with strong and intelligent people. You are our neighbours, and family. We share the DNA; we have fought and unnecessarily wasted time and money that we could have deveoted to our long suffering people. I post here to make sure that common Pakistani readers get to see Indians as common people like them, not bloodthirsty “Hindu Bania”, “mood mein Ram and bagal mein chhuri”, “paleet”, “opressive brahmans”, or “sex-crazy Bollywood people”. I write not to propagate “Akhand Bharat” or “India Shining”, both of which are a whole load of bullcrap. I do not write to make fun of Pakistan’s current difficulties, which, inshallah, will be temporary. And, yes, I am a little bit obsessed. Some part of my family originated in Bangladesh and I think my father’s side can be traced back to Pakistan. These are not just countries to me, this is part of my heritage, which I want to love and respect, and not fight with and destroy. There are people in India who hate Pakistan and there are Pakistanis who hate India. I hope my comments reduce their numbers!


  • punjabi
    Sep 27, 2011 - 7:32AM

    @Abdul Rehman Gilani

    Precondition of plebicide was that Pakistan will remove the army and Pakistan never fulfilled that condition, Check UN resolution on Kashmir, its available online.

    You are spoon fed on Zaid hamid lies


  • Abdul Rehman Gilani
    Sep 27, 2011 - 3:34PM


    Yaar, what is your indian army doing in Kashmir? Pakistan has been saying that its ready, why are the hawks in Delhi silent?


    So your saying that india is not bound by international agreements!? Bravo!

    @Dee Cee:

    Never has Pakistan said that we wont reduce our forces. Just check the size of the indian army in Kashmir and the human rights they have been violating.

    Dear, what later resolutions are you talking about?

    And please, the people of Balochistan themselves accepted to be part of Pakistan, unlike Kashmir, where india ran to the UN and agreed to have a plebiscite there. The matter of Balochistan was agreed 62 years ago. By the way, if indian-held Kashmir really wants to be part of india, then why the mass graves!Recommend

  • punjabi
    Sep 27, 2011 - 4:05PM

    Indian army is doing exactly what armies do, Gen Zia diverted jihadis to Kashmir and India sent army,

    If you pelt stones at army, army is not going to throw stones back, It will use guns for firing back. Kashmir enjoys special status even if India thinks its their integral part.

    What is Pakistan have to do with Kashmir, Do you know whats Pakistan’s demands on Kashmir ??


  • Abdul Rehman Gilani
    Sep 27, 2011 - 5:58PM


    Wow, it only takes an indian to justify the extra-judicial murders. This is the reality of the “worlds biggest democracy” LOL. No wonder “democracy” ends in Kashmir for india.


  • BruteForce
    Sep 27, 2011 - 8:29PM

    @Abdul Rehman Gilani:

    No! You are intentionally pretending to not understand my words or are genuinely incapable of understanding them.

    India cannot follow any agreement which goes against its Constitution.

    The same way Pakistan cannot undo Blasphemy Law even though Human Rights organizations ask for its removal.

    If Pakistan respects UN so much, it can always hand over a plethora of Terrorists it is hiding, quite openly, to the International Court, one of whom is Hafiz Saeed.


More in Pakistan