America's Pakistan Problem
In the winter of 1998, as a result of my attendance at the annual Polyconomics Inc. client conference, I met, at that time, Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States, Riaz Khokar. I will never forget how hurt and upset he was over the manner in which his country was being handled by the United States.
Specifically, Ambassador Khokar was livid that in 1988 the U.S. had taken $658 million from Pakistan in exchange for 60 F-16 fighter jets. The U.S. got the money but in 1998, Pakistan had still not received the jets. The U. S. government, Ambassador Khokar told me, voided the transaction because of their displeasure with how Pakistan officials had handled U.S. DEA agents (which Ambassador Khokar told me had been operating inside of of Pakistan without the knowledge of the Pakistani government). The only problem with the U.S. idea of a "void" was that it did not require them to refund Pakistan's $658 million dollars even though Pakistan never received the fighter jets. Ambassador Khokar said that it was virtually impossible for him to justify working with the U.S., to his countrymen, in light of that type of behavior, exhibited by the U.S.
Anecdotes like these only add to the irony that it is Pakistan whom the United States has decided to call upon in its evolving war on terrorism. To think that a country that the United States did not respect enough to honor a contract with is now the nation that the U.S. is asking to serve as its emissary to Afghanistan's Taliban regime, at this critical hour, is more than interesting.
Many Americans are incredulous as to why so many in the Muslim world feel animosity toward the United States. They sincerely don't understand why American flags are being burned throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Pakistan is a good place to start - an excellent case study - for those who want to get a picture of how the perception that the United States government is arrogant, self-centered and hypocritical has picked up such strong momentum in other parts of the world.
That there is a plethora of evidence to support such a belief, that the American public is generally unaware of, is beyond question.
The United States, in addition to holding on to Pakistan's badly needed $658 million, also supported economic and military sanctions on Pakistan because the country made "unauthorized" nuclear weapons tests. Many in the Islamic world resent the fact that it appears that only White, Western countries feel they have the right to develop nuclear weapons, especially in light of the fact that the only instance of an atom bomb being used was in World War II when America bombed Japan. In addition, many in Pakistan and throughout the Muslim world believe that the West will stop at no length to prevent the development of a so-called "Islamic Bomb" - nuclear weapon capability available to the entire Muslim community. Therefore, even though Pakistan was a true ally of the U.S. during the Cold War, they are denied the right to develop and test nuclear weapons and sanctioned.
The sanctions have denied Pakistan funds for education, machinery and training for its military and law-enforcement officers. They have so weakened Pakistan that the ability of the government to maintain order, within its own borders, is in serious question. That thought received serious support this week when riot police struggled in their efforts to manage small but frequent anti-U.S. protests. In the vacuum created by the absence of U.S. military advisers and military and economic support, it has been the religious community, consisting of many members of the "fundamentalist" Islamic community that has provided much of the educational needs and training for members of the Pakistani army.
Many Americans are also perplexed by the media accounts that Ussama Bin Laden is extremely popular in some sections of Pakistan. Part of that dismay grows out of the fact that most Americans are still ignorant of the fact that Bin Laden and other militants in Afghanistan were trained and financed directly or indirectly as a result of U.S. foreign aid aimed at weakening the Soviet Union in its war against Afghanistan over 2 decades ago. One of those indirect ways was the support, training and resources that Bin Laden and Taliban members received, when they were fighting for Afghanistan, from the U.S., through their conduit, Pakistan.
The American people should realize that the U.S. Government had no problem with an Islamic "jihad" when it served their purpose in fighting Communism and the Soviet Union. If the early suspicions prove to be correct and the popular view that Ussama Bin Laden and his top aides masterminded and directed the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, there will be no possible way to deny that the U.S. attack was spearheaded by individuals that it supported financially and militarily just 20 years ago.
And that is what irritates so many in Pakistan. Ambassador Khokar told me, in 1998, that for all of the support that Pakistan provided on behalf of the United States, it does not have much to show its people. Since courageously supporting the U.S. In its war on communism Pakistan has a $37 billion debt to the IMF and World Bank, had economic and military sanctions imposed upon it, has been denied hundreds of millions of dollars for over 10 years for fighter jets that it did not receive, and received little support in its dispute with India over Kashmir.
The American public is understandably uninformed as to what its government has done in various parts in the Islamic world and as a result it is easily swallowing the propaganda that Pakistan and other countries around the world are working with the U.S. in order to fight international terror as if these countries are motivated by the noble principles currently offered by the United States in its movement toward war. Yesterday, President Bush, from the White House firmly stated that an international coalition to fight for "freedom" was forming against the terrorist community. That type of explanation may appeal to those of us who grew up enamored by the great combined heroics of the Superfriends but it is not based in fact.
Behind the scenes the U.S. efforts in coalition-building are little more than that which exists on city street corners and rural dives across America, only the "transactions" are not sexual favors but political ones.
Because America has lost so much moral authority, credibility and trust in Pakistan, it is actually bribing Pakistan as it counts it as its "strategic partner". The U.S. has persuaded Japan and other nations to tell Pakistan that it will remove its sanctions on Pakistan if the Muslim country of 150 million helps the U.S. in its efforts to persuade the Taliban to deliver Bin Laden on a platter. And Pakistan's leader has made it abundantly clear that it certainly is not respect, agreement, or moral principles that are motivating its reapprochement with the U.S. Government. They want specific things, that they have been denied since the Cold War ended. Reportedly Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf told Ajmal Khattak, president of the Pakistan National Alliance Party, in a meeting on Monday, the following:
"If I had not committed, Russia, India and Israel would do us great harm. Our nuclear facilities would have been in jeopardy and the economy would be completely down the drain. They would say they had to stop an 'Islamic bomb' from traveling. The entire world is scared of an Islamic bomb. United States, India, Israel and Russia would pre-empt if we do not cooperate fully in the war against transnational terrorism. Even if we take America's side, our nuclear facilities are still at risk. The Kahuta (nuclear weapons facility) is in danger. To safeguard our nuclear program we must back the United States without reservations. If we don't support the United States, we ourselves won't survive. Nor will Islam. It is my responsibility to safeguard our national security. I did not compromise with the United States. It was a matter of Pakistan's survival."
The result is that both the Pakistani and U.S. Governments are lying to their people about the nature of their new arrangement. The U.S. Government does not wish to open the books on the role that it had in backing Bin Laden , the Taliban and others throughout the late 1970s and 80s and they do not care to explain to their citizens why people in Pakistan are burning American flags. This effort runs simultaneously with the scenario in Pakistan where the government spins its new relationship with the U.S. and even hides aspects of the that relationship, fully cognizant that an angry populace, partly sympathetic to Bin Laden; and a political opposition mobilized around the mistreatment that Pakistan has received from the U.S., have the power to topple the Musharraf government if sufficiently offend by Islamabad's unseemly embrace with Washington D.C. especially if the ramifications of the U.S. -Pakistan deal-making are too disruptive for Pakistan's weak government to manage. Already, 1 million Afghan refugees are confined in Pakistan and an estimated 3 million Afghans are expected to attempt to cross the border into Pakistan. It is extremely doubtful that the current Pakistani government would be able to manage the cultural and economic disequilibrium caused by such a massive emigration.
Abbas Salimi Namin of the Tehran Times got it right this week when he wrote:
Pakistan, which once thought that by helping the U.S.-backed forces in Afghanistan it can strengthen its position in that country and enjoy Washington's aid, is facing a crisis under the present circumstances. This is because Islamabad does not have the maneuvering power possessed by the White House. The United States once projected bin Laden as a hero to justify its interference in Afghanistan's internal affairs through him. But today the interests of the U.S. capitalists require that bin Laden be portrayed as a devil through U.S. propaganda. Pakistan is not able to justify such U-turns in the eyes of its people. Consequently, contradictory remarks are made by the government of General Musharraf. On the one hand, General Powell has been promised that Pakistan would provide all its facilities to the United States. And on the other hand, Pakistani officials officially announce at a press conference that any cooperation would be possible at the request of the United Nations.
This is a dangerous deal that Pakistan and the United States have worked out and one that could have disastrous consequences,on the entire world, whether it fails or succeeds in "getting" Ussama Bin Laden.
Wednesday, September 19, 2001