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Rob Asghar

Rob Asghar

Posted: August 12, 2009 04:14 PM

No Excuses for Failure in Pakistan


A full 59% of Pakistanis see the United States as the biggest threat to their country, according to Gallup Pakistan.

That's quite sobering, in the wake of a historic address to the Muslim world by an eloquent president with some Muslim roots and a distaste for neoconservative foreign policy adventurism.

Let that statistic sink in. That's more than five times the number of citizens who believe that the Taliban pose the biggest threat to Pakistan (11%). That's more than three times the number of people who believe that India is their biggest threat (18%).

As a Pakistani-American, let me offer my own poll response: The biggest threat posed to Pakistan comes not from the U.S. Not from the Taliban. And not from India.

No, the biggest threat to Pakistan comes from Pakistanis. The threat comes from the actions of some, and the inaction of others.

The Taliban merely represent a crazed band of hillbillies exploiting the nation's chaos in order to expand their martyrdom-and-mayhem theme parks. India merely represents a convenient devil for Pakistani leaders, who have historically rallied citizens against such a convenient external distraction. The United States represents an even bigger external devil, one who often makes Pakistanis feel like an enraged, spurned lover, given the off-and-on courtship by Washington.

Yet it is time for Pakistanis to fully claim and shape their own destiny -- the 175 million in Pakistan, the seven million who represent a Pakistani overseas diaspora, and the cohort of Pakistani-Americans who may number a half-million.

India and Pakistan share proud Indus Valley and Mughal empire roots and a heritage of intellectual and cultural innovation -- and yet Pakistan enjoys almost none of the glory received by India for a recent economic renaissance.

It need not be that way, but success requires getting over a culture of victimization.
Pakistani-Americans, boasting above-average incomes and professional success within the U.S., are in a unique place to build bridges in a manner that nourishes their motherland while diminishing that motherland's dangerous contempt for America. Thankfully, in recent months, it appears that many are readying to do just that.

Yes, Pakistan has been slighted at times by short-sighted American foreign policy, especially in the wake of the Soviet pullout. And the U.S. has at times been insensitive to Pakistanis' fears of an existential threat posed by India.

Yet citizenries are essentially persons writ large, thanks to shared experiences and culture and groupthink. Most nations, none more than Pakistan, could gain from some time on the psychologist's couch, exploring honestly their own drives.

The Center for American Progress one year ago released a report criticizing the previous administration for investing nearly $8 billion in military aid to Pakistan since 9/11, while only investing about $3 billion in economic aid.

But let's concede that $3 billion is a great deal of money, especially in Pakistan. America is also prevented from getting much credit in the minds of most Pakistanis for our tangible relief projects; as several State Department officials noted to me during a visit to Washington last week, advertising U.S. relief efforts only makes American workers targets for extremist violence -- a diplomatic Catch-22.

Part of the reason US aid dollars don't yield the maximum effect is that Pakistan suffers from political dysfunction and a frighteningly expansive network of corruption that captures ordinary citizens and luminaries alike in its web. Blaming the United States for such failures is pointless and unhelpful.

I don't mean to belittle any one group by criticizing a victimization mentality -- such a mentality is more pandemic than the swine flu today. The Economist marveled during last year's presidential campaign at how American conservative groups that long criticized a victim mentality among American minorities now proudly nurse and exaggerate grievances against conspiracies by the media and other dark forces.

Yet all such grievances are paths to impotence, and Pakistan has for too long been on this trail of futility. Given its extraordinary potential, such a mindset shouldn't be tolerated any longer.
Again, there are signs that members of the Pakistani-American community are ready to mobilize in a way that accepts responsibility for rebuilding Pakistan and in dialing back the blame-game against an America that has enabled them to prosper culturally and economically -- as I've noted in accounts of the efforts of persons such as Salman Ahmad.

The next few months will be crucial, however. If Gallup's numbers don't change, Pakistan may not make it back from the abyss.


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