Sadiq Saleem – Singh in Washington — and Pakistan’s options

An Excellent piece by Canada-based Pakistani analyst, Sadiq Saleem. This piece appeared in The News on November 24, 2009 

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s official visit to the United States should have been the major story in Pakistan’s media. But our right-wing anchors and columnists and “get-Zardari” editors are far more focused on the domestic power struggles to realize that the nightmare of Pakistan’s strategic encirclement may already be on the brink of becoming reality.


The less attention Pakistanis pay to fighting terrorism and figuring out a way of dealing with the world, the more likely it is that India — the country with which Pakistan has fought four wars in 62 years — will continue to gain ground. India already has better relations with the governments of Afghanistan and Iran, our western neighbours. The more we demonstrate hatred towards the United States, the more we contribute to making the India-US relationship into an anti-Pakistan alliance, which need not be. We could complain and get angry with the US, as the Jamaatis and the Ghairat lobby advocate, or we could analyse the rising Indian influence and figure out ways of combating it.


It is interesting to note that in the ongoing Pakistani debate about US-Pakistan ties, India is seldom mentioned. Our jihad sympathizers relate their anti-Americanism to US actions against Muslims around the world, without realistically examining whether shouting slogans for our Arab brothers gains us any advantage in defending Pakistan against India. Pakistan has traditionally sought American help in order to stand up to India. If Pakistani anti-Americanism is not managed in a way that the Americans do not see Pakistanis as enemies, India’s strategic advantage will continue to increase.


The US would become a force-multiplier for India in our region instead of being a potential balancer that keeps India’s anti-Pakistan moves in check. We would be left holding anti-American demonstrations and publishing anti-American diatribes while India will be the beneficiary of US investment, defence deals and civil nuclear deal. Do we really want that to happen? Or is it already too late to stop the very strong ties, which have been built between India and the US? Let us take a look.


In the Bush administration 18 Indian-Americans served in various positions over the course of eight years compared with one Pakistani-American. In the Obama administration 22 Indian-Americans are already serving in senior positions (Assistant Secretary and above) and there is one Governor (out of fifty US states) of Indian descent. Almost 200 Indian-Americans serve as Congressional staffers compared with 12 Pakistani-American, three of whom work for the same Congresswoman. There are numerous State Department and Pentagon officials and at least one the US Ambassador of Indian origin.


More than 100,000 Indian students are enrolled in US universities compared with less than seven thousand Pakistanis. The number of professors of Indian origin in the US is at least one hundred times more than professors from Pakistan-totally disproportionate to the 1 to 7 population ratio.


The Indian Congressional caucus is three times as large as Pakistan’s and even the Chairwoman of the Pakistan caucus in the House of Representatives is simultaneously a member of the India caucus. There is hardly a US media organisation where Indian names are not prominent whereas Pakistani journalists only make their noisy presence felt in our own introverted media and that too only on domestic issues. Any Pakistani who manages to earn respect of the Americans is immediately denigrated as an American agent in Pakistan. The Indians, on the other hand, see their countrymen as spreading Indian influence in America.


Ironically, India was historically never an American ally and did not have the same level of aid (especially military assistance) from the United States, as did Pakistan. So how did India transform itself into a close partner after the cold war and Pakistan manage to become the unhappy semi-ally? The question is relevant today because of what we Pakistanis have become and what we have achieved over the years. Pakistan is America’s oldest ally in the region but Pakistan and the US are more estranged today than they were at any time in history. India was a Soviet ally till 1989 and yet India and the US have strong economic and strategic ties.


The Indians appear to have realised early on that even if they did not have security ties with the US building close ties at other levels was important for the long-term. Pakistan did the reverse. While we were recipients of large amounts of military aid, we did little to build a presence in US academia or media. Our community remains focused on getting attention in Pakistan and few Pakistani-Americans have earned the stature in mainstream American intellectual or political life that could translate into serious influence. Over time, US-based Indian organizations have helped build close cultural and educational ties between the two countries. Bollywood is now penetrating Hollywood while there is little comparable Pakistani ingress.


The India-US nuclear deal is considered a defining moment for the India-US relationship. Let us look at the reactions in India over the Indo-US nuclear deal. The Congress-led government was in favour of the nuclear deal but the Communist parties who were allied to the Congress government at that time did not ideologically support the deal. There was debate and discussion in the Parliament and in the Indian electronic and print media for nine months. In the end when the left parties and BJP decided to vote against the bill, the Congress obtained the support of other smaller parties.


The government secured 275 votes in the 541 member Lok Sabha for the India-US civil nuclear deal and their opponents secured 256 votes. The left parties targeted the government for changing the traditional policy of non-alignment and becoming too close to the United States but it was through discussion and debate, not street demonstrations, rubbishing America in the media or calling influential Indian-Americans as CIA agents.


Also, the political leaders faced fire, not the Indian ambassador in Washington and other officials who were following orders and doing their job. Also during the entire controversy the Indian military did not openly involve itself or say anything about the deal. And throughout the entire period the Indian-American community was very strongly behind the bill, they lobbied hard in the US for the passage of the bill and they lobbied hard back home for the passage of the bill in Parliament.


On the other side let us look at the Kerry-Lugar Bill controversy and the way it played out both in Pakistan and amongst the Pakistani-American community abroad. The strong anti-Americanism in Pakistan led the initially pro-Kerry-Lugar Pakistani American community to become silent. The debate in the Pakistani media was less a debate on Pakistani policy options and more a hate campaign against the US. Politicians attacked their own government; the army spoke out publicly against the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Bill’s contents; and once it became clear that the US Congress would not change its views, the whole thing subsided like foam at home even though offense had unnecessarily been caused to American Congressmen.


Why is it that despite 54 years of close ties with the US Pakistan has not been able to help build a relationship of influence in the US? Our problem is that unfortunately we don’t know how to influence others – we only know how to abuse them. The Quaid dreamt of Pakistan being a global power with influence all over the world. How does one build Pakistan’s global influence?


Pakistan’s ability to change minds of global powers will be a source of Pakistani influence; Not jihadis who will keep getting arrested and keep Pakistan under watchful eye of major powers. And yet over the decades every Pakistani who has tried to build close ties with the US, like Sahibzada Yaqub Khan, Najmuddin Sheikh, Jehangir Karamat, Mahmud Ali Durrani and Husain Haqqani, has been labeled as an American agent rather than being seen as Pakistanis who can better communicate with Americans in Pakistan’s interest.


If India is about to win huge contracts and get heaped with praise during the Manmohan Singh visit to Washington, Pakistanis need to review how we have played our cards wrong for decades. And then, let us work on a plan to change the relationship if for no other reason than to deny our adversary the advantage of being the world’s sole superpower’s sole South Asian partner.


Sadiq Saleem is a businessman and analyst based in Toronto, Canada. E-mail:


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One Response to “Sadiq Saleem – Singh in Washington — and Pakistan’s options”

  1. Anoop Says:

    Hey really good.. makes me think how lucky we are when we see things through Pakistani lens..

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