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The Problem With Pakistani Attitude Towards USA

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I was in Karachi when 9/11 happened. As I watched TV coverage with my cousin, he was ecstatic and visibly showed his excitement. I objected strongly to his excitement by pointing that targeting civilians like this was not the right approach and reeked of inhumanity and barbarism but was countered by the ever famous answer: "these people have killed Palestinians in the same way," and also that in the 2nd World War, USA had used even nuclear bomb against Japan. "USA is getting what it has been dishing out to others," he remarked.

A few days later as the situation changed and gradually it became clear that the US was pointing fingers at Osama Bin Laden and hence this region would be the focus of some kind of military action, the excitement gave away to accusation. The act which had made my cousin happy a few days ago was suddenly transformed into a "grand plan" by the US to have justification to come to this region.

The important angle in this entire "belief" system was the ability to simply spin interpretations in such a way that the blame constantly had to fall on the US. When attacks happened, he was jubilant and quick to associate it with tyranny of the US, and when subsequently it became clear that retaliation was coming, it became a conspiracy.

Unfortunately this mindset prevails to this date. In fact, increasingly the US hatred has become the major rallying point for all the right-wing parties in Pakistan. Even the so called "left-wing" in Pakistan has been forced to "defend" itself against the allegation of US appeasement. The best way to put anyone on the defensive is to accuse him of parroting the US narrative. Senior journalists like Najam Sethi are always accused of that.

The high point of this hatred against the US was a survey which revealed that Pakistanis hated the US the most in the world. A whopping 79 percent disapproved of the US, surpassing even countries like Iraq which had actually witnessed US occupation.

On social media platforms, this survey was shared widely, and various Pakistanis gave their comments. Many of the comments centered on the theme that it was natural for Pakistanis to hate the US, as the latter was "at war" with Pakistan. The drones were often cited as the proof of aggression along with the US conspiracies to use impressionable young kids as suicide bombers to destabilize Pakistan. In an argument with my friends, I was told that the US had completely ruined Pakistan and hence I should not be surprised if surveys were showing such numbers.

Now has the US really ruined Pakistan? The thing to be kept in mind is that Pakistan actually TOPS in the entire world as far as anti-US fervor is concerned. This magnitude of opposition has to have some empirical backing to be branded as "expected."

So how exactly has the US behaved with Pakistan to warrant such opposition? But more importantly, how has Pakistan been treated compared to the rest of the world?

I personally believe there is a huge difference between being critical of the US and outright irrational hatred. It is perfectly OK to be critical of the US. I consider myself to be a critic of US's global policies and also some aspects of its engagement with Pakistan.

Being a global power, it is true that the US has been controversial. The US has been one of the greatest contributors towards humanitarian causes, but at the same time has also been hegemonic. It has been involved in just wars but also in wars for merely protecting its interests.

And of course the US can be blamed fairly for bolstering military rule in Pakistan at least three times. Likewise, it is a fact that US involvement in Afghanistan during 1980s used religiously inspired fighters which ended up bolstering religious extremism in the region. There all criticism is justified though Pakistanis certainly do not hate the US for that reason.

However, has Pakistan been the recipient of its wrath the way Vietnam, Japan or Iraq have been?

Obviously, I am not going to argue that the US has never pressurized Pakistan or never indulged in any act of aggression.

But consider this: Iraq never had nuclear weapons and yet it was invaded on the flimsiest of excuses. Pakistan on the other hand actually has nuclear weapons. Not only that, there have been allegations that it sold the technology to rogue states like North Korea. And yet the US due to its realpolitik concerns has looked away.

Add to that the fact that Afghanistan was actually invaded by the US to capture Osama and yet it was Pakistan where he was ultimately found. And despite this, Pakistan has not witnessed the kind of repercussion which Afghanistan faced. And even today, Pakistan continues to support some factions of Taliban which have ironically prolonged US presence in Afghanistan. This support actually undermines the apparent public demand that US should leave.

During these last 65 years Pakistan has been one of the largest recipients of US aid and ironically its highest annual growth rates have coincided with high annual US aid. Of course, causality cannot be proved through this simple correlation and rigorous regression analysis has to be done in order to ascertain whether US aid has been a statistically significant factor, but this does prove that Pakistan has at least benefited.

But most importantly, Pakistanis do not hate the US for its support to Zia regime or support of Islamic fighters during war. During that war, Pakistani opposition to the US was only coming from left-wing parties. And, in fact, at that time, the religious parties had absolutely no qualm in using US money and fighting a US war. Not only religious parties, but most of the Pakistani right was fully supportive of the Afghan Jihad.

And after the first Afghan war, the US had actually withdrawn, leaving this part of the land abruptly. There is justification in the claims that abrupt withdrawal from the region caused instability in Afghanistan, but every situation and challenge leads towards a host of possible solutions. The solution, which Pakistan opted for, was creation of Taliban, and this step had widespread backing of the population also. In fact, during the '90s, I vividly remember that our print media was painting a Robin Hood picture of the Taliban.

Taliban were after all our own creation and their regime was recognized by only three countries including Pakistan (the other two being UAE and Saudi Arabia). Today what we are seeing is the backlash of what we had planted during the '90s.

Yes, it is correct to say that if US had not invaded Afghanistan, perhaps Pakistan would not have faced this extent of backlash, but the fact remains that this was our Frankenstein monster. The arrival of the US was a direct result of Taliban's harboring of Al-Qaeda top brass. It would not have invaded it, had OBL not been hiding there.

Is there any sense of this mindless hatred? Our hatred is after all emanating not even from the reasons I have discussed above but from strange reasons such as "violation of sovereignty" and US "atrocities" on Muslims across the world.

A lot of hatred for the US is emanating from the Arab-Israeli conflict. I admit that the US is somewhat biased in that aspect, though the pathetic human right records of various Arab states are also worth pondering upon. But most importantly, the Arab-Israeli conflict, as the name suggests is an Arab-Israeli conflict. Essentially it is an area specific conflict. I really find it amusing that even Arabs don't hate the US that much compared to the way Pakistanis get charged up over Israeli excesses.

I would have casually dismissed this hatred as comic absurdity had it been a harmless thing. However, it is now bordering on insanity and has made us completely oblivious to our own shortcomings. It is true that the current superpower is not an angel, but the way we are viewing things has seriously affected our own welfare and virtually made us unable to self introspect.

In near past, just because the US was forcing us to take timely action toward the militants, we were all against it because in our heads it was against us and our "own" people. Those delays eventually enabled the militants to have a complete foothold in places like Swat and Pakistan-Afghan border. When news regarding the Taliban atrocities started to emerge, we refused to believe them because some of the western channels were also airing them.

Instead of feeling revulsion for Taliban, many Pakistani people hold the US responsible, as they think that the Taliban insurgency is nothing but a reaction against US drone attacks. As blood litters our streets, rather than collectively denouncing the ideology of hate and barbarism, our sole reaction is pointing to the same premise in one way or the other. This sole reaction shows the depleted soul of the nation. We are ready to hold rallies when a few are killed due to a drone attack but speechless when literally hundreds are killed by the Taliban monsters.

The hatred is misplaced, the enemy is within, but we are totally oblivious to it and in the process strengthening the forces of extremism through appeasement, apologetic defense or outright denial.

Right now it has to be understood that despite differences, at least in one critical aspect, the US's and our interests are common: we face a common enemy. And yet just because they are saying it, we are opposing it and in the process treading on a self-destructive path. Our every new interpretation is contradictory to the previous one, but it does not matter; because irrational instincts are driving our introspection. It stretches beyond that. Anyone does not buy these wild theories is labeled as an unpatriotic, naïve liberal elitist or someone who is a sellout.

The effects of this mindset, if unchecked, will go beyond the current battle against Taliban. As the anti-US rhetoric is whipped into frenzy and becomes a popular rallying point, the politics will no longer be an art of identifying core issues and striving to address them but merely expanding the borders of this parallel universe.