The US-Pakistan enigma

Mowahid Hussain Shah
As the conflict in Afghanistan is heating up, the role and impact of Pakistan public opinion on the events that have roiled the region are emerging on centre-stage. Particularly noteworthy is a just released Pew public opinion survey (Pew Research Centre Global Attitudes Project survey released July 29, 2010) on attitudes in Pakistan.
The crux of the opinion survey may be germane to US policymakers and pundits. First, it shows the major divergence in viewpoints between the ruling circles and the public, in that the government is allied with the United States while the public is openly distrustful of it. Second, disquiet with American policies runs parallel with the desire for amity with America. Then, there is overwhelming rejection by the public of terror as a tactic, negativity about India, solidarity with the Kashmiri cause, glum mood over the state of the nation, a lukewarm attitude toward the effectiveness of democracy in Pakistan, and disrespect for the Zardari-led set up.
Considerable US diplomatic energies have been invested on the notion that better diplomacy and better marketing can improve America’s image abroad. But that has proven to be an over-simplification. The travails of Karen Hughes during the Bush administration demonstrated exactly that. The answer is better policies, not better communication.
A cursory glance over the past decade shows that three issues have poisoned the pond - all with policy implications:
The Palestinian plight: A diagnosis of the existing Western-Muslim rift reveals that perhaps no other issue sends the mass message that the US is inimical to legitimate Muslim aspirations. It is not enough to treat the symptoms; the genesis has to be grasped. As the Economist in its July 31 issue put it: “With so much injustice in the world, why does the injustice done to the Palestinians still rank so high? Partly, of course, because it contributes to Islamic anger and, consequently, terrorism.”
Utilitarian attitudes of the US policymakers: During the US-engineered effort against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions were overlooked. But when the Soviets were ousted 20 years ago, Pakistan-specific sanctions were slapped on its nuclear programme through the unwisely conceived and executed Pressler Amendment which, in effect, severed the Pakistan officer corps from training in US military establishments, drying up professional interactions and roiling relationships.
A taste of vengeance drove both the US interventions in Afghanistan. The late Congressman Charlie Wilson from Texas, who spearheaded support for the anti-Soviet resistance, did so out of his publicly stated desire to avenge the Vietnam debacle, while the stated aim of George Bush’s assault on Afghanistan nine years ago was to avenge the 9/11 attacks. Neither of the two actions had anything to do with nation-building. The overlapping consequences of both are now self-evident.
Allying with “like-minded” venal elites: Relying on easily suborned elements - with their attitude of entitlement and enrichment, instead of protecting public interest - shows that the lessons of the Shah of Iran and Marcos have not been adequately absorbed and applied.
The continuation on the same beaten track is a prescription for more failure.Then there is the question of mirror image. Both the US and Pakistan see each other as double-dealing. It is a consequence of a rocky marriage of convenience dominated by finger-pointing and mismanaged expectations. Stuck together, both are entrapped and bound together by mutual need mingled with mutual rancour. It is an enigma. Hypocrisy has not worked; perhaps, a dose of honesty would.
The writer is a barrister and a senior political analyst.