Terra Incognita: Pakistan’s state of denial

None of the current problems has anything to do with the US; all of them were "made in Pakistan."

By
October 5, 2010 22:15
Terra Incognita: Pakistan’s state of denial

seth frantzman 88. (photo credit: )

In an op-ed in The New York Times last year, the newly elected president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardani, explained how the US could now “mend fences with Pakistan.”

He claimed that “twice in recent history America abandoned its democratic values to support dictators and manipulate and exploit us.”

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Furthermore, the US “used Pakistan as a surrogate in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. That decade turned our peaceful nation into a ‘Kalashnikov-and-heroin’ society – a nation defined by guns and drugs.”


The US even created the Taliban, and was thus responsible for supporting the “most radical” Islamists in Afghanistan.

But that’s not all. America is also at fault for having relations with India. “The perceived rhetorical one-sidedness of American policy often fuels the conspiracy theories that abound here – theories that blame the West for all of our ills.”

And then Zardani capped off his complaints with a list of what America must do for Pakistan. America must “work with us to turn public opinion around,” and the US must give money without strings attached, no “dependency” and the US must “mediate the Kashmir dispute.”

Is there more? What else can Zardani order from the American menu?



THIS PAKISTANI view is alive and well. The country’s pseudo-liberal newspaper Dawn published an editorial in June that asked: “Would Pakistan in the 21st century be wracked by militancy and terrorism if the US hadn’t supported Gen. Zia and pumped millions into the Afghan jihad?” A responsible person reading the Pakistani description of Pakistan’s history, even if she took it at face value, would wonder, “If America has been responsible for supporting Pakistan in the wrong way, will not our new support for this government one day be used by another one to again blame us for all the ills of the country again?” The Economist’s writers were not taken in. In a September article they claimed that Pakistan’s elite, “with heroic exceptions,” show “little appetite for trying to improve the place.” Many prefer to blame their problems on others, ideally America.

They also blithely dodge tax – at around 10% of GDP, Pakistan’s tax-collection rate is one of the world’s lowest.”

That is the situation today. Maybe it’s worse; 20% of Pakistan was recently underwater from flooding, affecting about 21 million people. But even in the midst of the flooding, three bombings were carried out targeting minority Shi’ite and Ahmadiyya Muslims. One of the bombings, carried out by the Sunni Taliban, actually killed Shi’ites marching on “Al-Kuds [Jerusalem] day” in solidarity with Palestinians. More than 100 people were murdered in the bombings, and in response Shi’ites rioted across Pakistan. One must ask the writers at Dawn and Zardani: How can America be blamed for these bombings? Surely a way will be found.

Pakistan, of all countries, is probably the one where the people’s heads are most buried in the sand. They are in denial about almost everything befalling their nation. In the province of Balochistan, which accounts for 48% of the land area of the country but only about 5% of the population, there is widespread resentment of the central government and an ongoing insurgency by the Balochistan Liberation Army.

In Karachi there has been a simmering ethnic conflict between Sindhis (Pakistanis from the province of Sindh) and Muhajirs (Pakistanis who immigrated to the country from India in 1948 due to partition and independence). There are around 13 million Muhajirs in Pakistan, and since their mass flight from India they have felt discriminated against.

They settled primarily in Karachi, where they now make up 6 million of a population of 13 million. In the 1970s they were the main driver behind the “language riots” that racked the city, and which were directed at Sindhis. They have been steadfast opponents of the Pakistan People’s Party (Zardani’s party, founded by his wife’s father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto), which they view as a Sindhi-dominated organization. To gain political rights, the Muhajirs founded the Muttahida Qaumi Movement in 1984.

On September 17, Imran Farooq, a leader of MQM, was found dead in the UK. In response his followers in Karachi rioted because they believed his death was part of a conspiracy.

Zihad Hussein of The Wall Street Journal reported that “party supporters torched several vehicles and attacked markets.”

He noted that in August MQM supporters had also rioted against Pashtuns (another ethnic group) after the murder of a lawmaker.

The Pashtuns make up 28 million of Pakistan’s people and are the main members of the Taliban who have been active in the tribal regions of northwestern Pakistan and who succeeded in taking over parts of that region between 2001 and 2010.

None of these current problems, the massacre of minority Shi’ites and Ahmadis, ethnic violence or secessionist movements, has anything to do with the US; all of them were “made in Pakistan.”

THE COUNTRY has a terrible habit of forgetting its own history.

Founded in 1948 by Ali Jinnah, a leader of British India’s All Muslim League, it was birthed in blood by the expulsion of some 7 million Hindus and Sikhs. Mass ethnic-cleansing paved the way for a Muslim-nationalist nation. The cleansing of Hindus presaged the intolerance that has marked the country ever since, with rioting against Shi’ites and other groups, and interethnic clashes.

Coups, far from being America’s creation, are part of Pakistan’s culture. They began in 1958 and occurred again in 1977 and 1999. Rather than being on the side of India, the US has long cultivated relations with Pakistan, and rather than “using” Pakistan, it was Pakistan which used the US in Afghanistan, funneling weapons and money to the Islamists after making sure to remove any mention that they came from the “great Satan.”

Pakistan’s troubles are made at home, and it will be a wonder if the country can ever emerge from its internal problems.

The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University and a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.


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