In Pakistan, blaming the US for all of the country’s woes is a national pastime adopted by every political party and religious group, regardless of whether they are believed to be right-wing or secular.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is no exception. Even though Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab, has been railing against accepting US assistance, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan assured the US in 2008 that he and his party were pro-American.
According to a US embassy cable released by WikiLeaks, “Saying that his wife and children in fact are American, Nisar did admit that he went to the US Embassy in London to renew his daughter’s passport because he wanted to avoid being seen at the US Embassy in Islamabad.”
More telling, however, is Khan’s stance on US military action within Pakistan, and how the PML-N would act to remain “publicly credible”.
Khan reportedly avoided saying that the PML-N opposed either air attacks or US ground action, contrary to its reaction over the May 2011 raid in Abbottabad by a US Navy SEALs team which killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
“What he did say was that the PML-N would have to criticise the Government of Pakistan for allowing US action. Otherwise, said Nisar, the party would have no credibility with the people.”
Khan said that US policy needed to be more transparent as “confusion bred unhelpful conspiracy theories”. He also told US diplomats that former president Pervez Musharraf was seen as too pro-US and so was “tainted in Pakistani eyes”.
The release of the US embassy and consulate cables in Pakistan has also highlighted how various politicians have lobbied American diplomats for support. From Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the leader of his own faction of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) to former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to the late former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, every major politician in Pakistan has looked to the diplomats for help.
Qureshi, who was believed to be one of the contenders for the prime minister post in 2008, is described as “ambitious, and has been self-promoting his candidacy for prime minister with foreign diplomats.” He also told US officials, “If I am prime minister, I am not going to be Zardari’s ‘yes-man.’ I am loyal to the party and to Zardari, but I am my own man.”
In January 2008, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leaders also asked the US to change their perceptions about the party. Mustafa Kamal noted that the US had not condemned human rights violations in Karachi during the 1990s, and the ambassador said that while there was a perception that the MQM was more of a criminal group than a political party, the US had noted MQM’s efforts to improve its image and activities. The cable states: “Saying that the MQM was now popular and had an expanding power base, Kamal urged that the US ‘stop ignoring us’.”
Farooq Sattar and Haider Abbas Rizvi also urged the same, and Sattar asked for US government assistance “in convincing the Canadian immigration service to stop listing the MQM as a terrorist organisation”.
The Pakistani military, for its part, made its feelings about US pressure very clear. In 2006, then Director of Military Operations Brigadier General Nasser, upset at suggestions that Pakistan was not doing enough in the war on terror, told visiting US officials: “When you say ‘we are not doing enough,’ we say ‘go to hell’.”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 11th, 2011.