Do They Think Us Fools?
By Dr Shireen M. Mazari

The way we as a country are being pushed and bandied about by our supposed allies, one really has to wonder whether they regard us as too simple to understand what is being done to us. Take the case of Britain. Recently, a British army officer, Colonel Vernon, chief of staff for southern Afghanistan, declared that the Taliban were coordinating their campaigns from Quetta. The comment was published in the British newspaper, The Guardian. This paper also quoted an "unnamed" British diplomat in Islamabad as backing up not only Vernon's accusation but also Karzai's histrionics against Pakistan. Of course, the comments of the Pakistan government were not sought nor were any comments sought from any Pakistani source. Because as the West fails to stabilize Afghanistan, they are looking for fall guys to blame.
However, what has been even more galling has been the drama that followed this story and its rejection by the Pakistan government. The British High Commissioner in Islamabad then said that the colonel's remarks in no way reflected the policy of the United Kingdom...Come now Mr. Grant, are you trying to tell us that a British army officer does not come under civilian control and can make political accusations against a foreign country without clearance from any senior civilian authority? That does not wash especially when we hear so much about British democracy and civilian control over the military. And what of the comments of the "unnamed" British diplomat in Islamabad? Was he also going his own way without reflecting his government's perspective? Equally important, High Commissioner Grant's comments were strictly for the Pakistani media and were nowhere to be seen in The Guardian, where the attempted clarification should have been sent in the first place.
But this pattern of so-called good-cop bad-cop on the part of the US has become endemic in the Pakistan-US relationship and of course whatever the US does, loyal Britain will follow. So we find ourselves being maligned internationally while attempts are made to mollify us at the domestic level. We have now been witnessing this American charade for some time in Pakistan. While one Bush Administration official recounts Pakistan's commitment to the war against terror, another accuses Pakistan of "not doing enough". Forget the fact that Pakistan has given its life and limb, literally, to fighting the war against terror and, has sustained Afghan refugees for decades now. As for the Pakistani leadership, it has actually put its own life in danger in order to take on the al-Qaeda terrorists and their supporters.
The rather open duplicity of the US and Britain towards Pakistan is reaching ridiculous levels, undoubtedly on the assumption that anything can be dished out to the Pakistanis because they are gullible enough not to question the glaring absurdities. That can be the only reason for these contradictory statements coming from the US and Britain. The US has adopted this game of plying us with accusations followed by mollifications on a range of issues, beyond Afghanistan. For instance, on the Indo-US nuclear deal, apparently we have been told to keep silent on the issue, as it was an "internal matter" of the US. How foolish do they think we are? The US-India nuclear deal is hardly an internal US matter and it impinges directly on Pakistan's security milieu so how can we keep silent on it? In fact, we should tell the US quite clearly that it is our right to campaign against this deal across the globe and within the US Congress.
As for the whole issue of "internal matters", the US has a most intrusive approach towards Pakistan and sees it as its right to intervene on a wide range of domestic issues in Pakistan -- not only through official comment but also through a burgeoning number of NGOs that are trying to intervene directly in our domestic matters -- to improve the US image in Pakistan and to reshape Pakistani society. The Lincoln Group's presence here is one such example -- they are also trying to revamp the US image in Iraq.
But it is on Afghanistan that the US is really blowing hot and cold towards Pakistan. Accusations from one segment of the administration, which are printed in the international and US media, are then followed by a seeming contradiction praising Pakistan that only appears in the Pakistani media. Do the Americans really think Pakistanis believe that the accusations against their country emanating from the Afghan leadership are without America's blessings? Is that how gullible we are seen to be? We are suspect one minute and then seen as crucial partners for NATO the next.
Of course, Afghan leaders have also found this an opportune moment to have their catharsis against Pakistan. It used to be Abdullah Abdullah, who of course was also beholden to India for supporting him and his family. So when he departed, many in Pakistan became smug. But the new foreign minister seems equally anti-Pakistan, which is not surprising given his background. In fact, if we adopt a rational assessment, we will realize that Afghanistan has always been hostile towards Pakistan, barring short interludes of rapprochement, beginning with its negative vote on our admission to the UN. Our Consulate in Jalalabad was burnt by Afghan mobs much before there was any sign of the Russians in Kabul, and this burning of our consulate and embassy has been repeated periodically. President Karzai has taken to issuing ever more hostile accusatory statements against Pakistan despite the fact that it was this maligned country that offered him refuge and succor for many years. And if he resents Pakistan's alleged intrusiveness in Afghan affairs, he should also recall that Afghan governments were interfering in our domestic affairs on the Pukhtunistan issue for decades. Also, the Afghans were quite happy to have us become a front line state in the war to eject the Russians from Afghanistan -- which required us to host not only the many acrimonious Afghan Mujahideen factions but also millions of refugees who were given free access to the country as fellow Muslim brethren. And Pakistan continues to be straddled with over two million Afghan refugees even today so it is in our interests to ensure that we have a favorable environment in Afghanistan, which will allow for the complete return of these refugees. But, of course, we also realize that no matter what their personal animus towards Pakistan, the Afghan leadership could not be abusing us without the approval of the US.
Not that such accusations help either the Afghan cause or the US-led war against terrorism. Because of the purely military focus of the war on terror, with little regard for root causes, space denial to the terrorists has not been achieved. Had the US paid more heed to Pakistan's advice regarding root causes of terrorism, it may have been better placed today on the war against terror.
Interestingly, the more sane elements in Europe, who are also fighting in Afghanistan, have by and large chosen to remain out of these accusatory games -– and with good reason. Pakistan's support remains crucial to the war against terror in Afghanistan and the costs that we are bearing are phenomenal. It is time for us Pakistanis to stop taking any more nonsense from our "allies".
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. Courtesy The News)

 


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