By William Pfaff
There has always been in American foreign policy circles a virus called arrogance, caused by the hereditary assumption that Americans know better than others. Surprisingly, this does not always prove the case, but the condition seems highly resistant to treatment, even by experience.
There seems a high probability that the disease has struck Obama administration policy circles dealing with Pakistan. (We will leave aside the case of American relations with Afghanistan.) This administration came to office with a conviction that the Afghanistan problem is a problem because it actually is a Pakistan problem, Pakistan being a large country possessing nuclear weapons and a great many Pashtuns, who are the people from whom Taliban are recruited.
Afghanistan is a country with one-sixth Pakistan’s population, with a great many Pashtuns too, harboring only a 100 or so members of al-Qaida (if we are to believe the American national security adviser, Gen. James Jones) whereas popular opinion in Washington is that Pakistan is rife with them, and the country on its way to becoming a “breeding ground” for terrorists who wish to invade the West, blow it up with nuclear weapons obtained from Pakistani stocks, and establish a new global terrorist caliphate amid the ruins.
It is unknown whether Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, visiting Pakistan this week, shares so alarmed a view, but she will hear a lot about the damage American pressures are doing to Pakistan, and how fearful the Pakistan populace is, not of the Taliban and al-Qaida, but of the United States.
According to a New York Times article this week, from Jane Perlez in Islamabad, the new fighting there against Islamists “has pleased the Americans, but it left large parts of Pakistan under siege, as militants once sequestered in the country’s tribal areas take their war to Pakistan’s cities. Many Pakistanis blame the United States for the country’s rising instability.”
A recent and serious poll found that 11 percent of the Pakistani respondents say that al-Qaida is the greatest threat to Pakistan today, 18 percent said India, and 59 percent said the United States. This was in August, before the most recent offensives of the Pakistan army against the Islamists in Waziristan and the Swat Valley, and the retaliatory city bombings that subsequently have taken place.
A vocal part of the Pakistan population clearly doesn’t want the United States in the country, and it doesn’t even want the aid the United States is sending. A notorious fact in the past has been that civilian and popular opposition to the U.S. was based on the assumption that American aid was meant to keep military governments in place and buy military cooperation with American policy.
This time, it’s the Pakistani army that doesn’t want the $7.5-billion aid package that the Obama administration has put together; the aid is denounced as meant to interfere in the country’s internal affairs—as indeed it is.
The civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari, generally thought to be put in place by Washington, “is seen as slavishly pro-American (as well) as unable to cope” with the current situation. (I am again quoting Jane Perlez.)
The country’s interior minister was hit with stones by students when he visited the International Islamic University last week, and in retaliation the government closed all the schools and universities in Punjab, the most populous province (supposed to reopen Monday, Oct. 26), “a move that affected Pakistani families like never before.”
To judge from the public statements of Obama counselors, Pakistan is seen as the great danger in the region, with erratic politics and nuclear weapons—and an active Islamist revolt thereby having the potential to create (according to Obama’s adviser Bruce Riedel), “the most serious threat to the United States since the end of the cold war.”
This would seem why the U.S. wants a government under its thumb to compel the army to fight the Islamists on their home territory even if this alienates the army and sows hatred of America. Is it not possible to allow Pakistan, which has a solid civil service and an excellent army, to act in defense of its own security rather than let the U.S. impose its own ideas?
Is it not imaginable that they know better than the Americans? Would Americans appreciate a Pakistan army installed in Washington, instructing the United States in how to conduct its own foreign policy in ways that suit Pakistan’s national interests?
Visit William Pfaff’s Web site at www.williampfaff.com.
© 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.