Sadiq Saleem – Blame it On America

This article by Sadiq Saleem appeared in The News on November 3, 2009

Watching American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton interact with university students in Lahore was a sad spectacle. Sadder still was to see our most influential TV anchors and columnists betray their limited knowledge of facts while trying to impress their audience with their solid nationalist credentials.

 

In the aftermath of Hillary’s straight talk, Pakistanis must seriously examine how we discuss international relations on the basis of sentiment and without knowing or examining basic facts. The most glaring error of fact by a Pakistani came during Ms Clinton’s interview with Pakistani TV anchors. One gentleman tried to make the point that the US does not provide enough assistance to Pakistan and that Pakistan’s leaders sell the country cheap. He said that the US paid Kyrgyzstan $700 million in rent for just one airbase. Hillary tried to correct him and said the actual amount of rent was around $50 million. Our anchor-columnist was unfazed and insisted that must be the figure per month. But anyone with access to the internet can find out that as of June this year the US pays Kyrgyzstan $60 million per year as rent for the Manas air force base. Until June the rent was only $17 million.

 

Hillary was closer to the facts while the anchor-columnist was off by at least $640 million. His hostility towards the US, not facts, defined his question and none of his anchor colleagues were better acquainted with facts to help correct him.

 

At Government College Lahore, there appeared to be no diversity of views among the many students gathered to talk to the US Secretary of State. It was as if everyone was speaking from one single narrative -Pakistan’s victimhood (mazlumiat) and America’s mistakes. Nobody seemed to have read anything else. There was no mention of divergent or convergent national interests, of the internal threat Pakistan faces from terrorism, of Pakistan’s hostile neighborhood and what options we might have in staving off Indian hegemony.

 

Nobody seemed to know about basic facts that can be found in the thousands of books that are produced everyday around the world. It was a reflection of the sorry state of knowledge in Pakistan.

 

Student after student at GC stood up to ask questions that were rooted in the narrative of victimhood and conspiracy theories widely circulated around the country. To her credit, Hillary Clinton responded thoughtfully and without the screaming that characterizes discussion and debate in Pakistan. But nobody in her several audiences seemed to understand any of Pakistan’s problems that are not related to the United States. After all, we are the nation that failed to debate our failure in erstwhile East Pakistan for over two decades after the fall of Dhaka. We blame others. We do not analyse or take responsibility.

 

Yes, the US walked away from Afghanistan and Pakistan in 1989 and almost everyone including Americans agrees that was a mistake. But should Pakistan have continued to nurture Jihadis who are now launching terrorist attacks around Pakistan in the subsequent 20 years and can the US be blamed for that?

 

The US had nothing to do with the sectarian Jihadis of Southern Punjab and surely Pakistan’s people and our establishment have some responsibility for what has been happening in the country since the Americans terminated their Afghanistan operations in 1989?

 

It appears that none of Pakistan’s young people brain-washed into an anti-American fury by a one sided media and the Jihadi mind-set, have ever thought about that. Only 58% of children between the age of 5 and 15 in Pakistan go to school compared with 92% for India and 96% for Bangladesh. Can Pakistanis blame this on the US as well? None of Pakistan’s colleges or universities is included among the world’s top 500 universities listed recently by the University of Shanghai in China.

 

Is America at fault? Pakistan ranks 141 among 182 countries in human development indicators. Can we blame the US for our national choices, especially after we have been so abusive about the Kerry-Lugar aid package that would enable the revenue-deficient government to increase expenditure on health and education several fold?

 

Pakistan’s range of exports is very limited. Pakistan has remained primarily a textile exporter and an exporter of agricultural products. Pakistan’s business community and Pakistan’s agriculturists do not pay much tax. Is the US responsible for all of that too?

 

Pakistan has fought three full-scale wars with India and at least one mini war after having tested nuclear weapons in 1998 (the Kargil episode). How can we Pakistanis blame these military blunders on the United States?

 

Perhaps it is time for Pakistanis to start learning about a worldview other than the one in which America is demonized and none of Pakistan’s internal weaknesses and flaws are ever discussed. America is not perfect but neither is Pakistan. It is time for some of the TV anchors and columnists to start wondering why is it that Pakistan’s establishment is entitled to give opinions on political matters when that is not the constitutional position.

 

Only recently, some people have been writing about how the establishment is fed up of President Zardari. Even if it is, why should that be the basis for President Zardari’s ouster or diminishing of his powers? Shouldn’t “the establishment” deal with whatever is its constitutional responsibility and stay away from other matters?

 

Pakistan’s political discussion or reporting is not based on facts. It is dominated by opinions and allegations. So overwhelming is the culture of intimidation that anyone who tries to draw attention to inconvenient facts or introduce another set of opinions is immediately called a foreign agent. The Aslam Beg-Hamid Gul mindset that has dominated Pakistan since the death of General Ziaul Haq has not contributed to real openness.

 

Hillary Clinton has raised some pertinent questions and I hope that we will keep asking some questions ourselves. Why should we not listen to those Pakistanis who have an opinion different than this overwhelming majority brainwashed into a certain worldview? Why should I get hateful emails each time I express an opinion different to that of the pro-Taliban and the pro-Jihad mob in Pakistan?

 

Why any of Pakistan’s officials should be denigrated as unpatriotic or described as foreign agents just for saying that in their opinion there is another point of view than what our anchors and the students at Government College Lahore reeled off during the Hillary Clinton visit?

 

It is time for a genuine debate in Pakistan on all issues. Get out the facts, discuss them and then reach any conclusion or opinion you like. But if we are to resent the United States on the wrong assumption that it is paying Kyrgyzstan $700 million for one air base while we are being given less then that resentment is just plain wrong. Can we have a discussion based on facts and not on labels, abuse and outright propaganda?

 (Sadiq Saleem is a businessman and part-time analyst based in Toronto, Canada E-mail: sadiqsaleemca@gmail.com)

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