Ahmad Faruqui – Demonizing America

This article appeared in Dawn on December 21, 2009

It was in Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran that America was labelled The Great Satan. Judging from current trends, the day is not too far off when America will be given the same moniker in Pakistan. Ever since the US resorted to carrying out drone attacks against terrorist suspects inside Pakistan, vocal condemnations of America have been widespread. The furore over the Kerry-Lugar foreign aid bill brought matters to a head.

 At issue, the corps commanders explained, was the affront to national sovereignty. The nation’s honour had been attacked became the rallying cry. So what if the challenger was the globe’s only superpower? And so what if it was simply trying to strengthen Pakistan’s civil institutions? Their crumbling at the hands of the military had been of great concern to civil society.


Lost on the anti-Americanistas was the fact that the US was not obliged to provide $7.5bn over the next five years to Pakistan. If the Pakistanis did not like the conditions that came with the funds, they could simply decline the aid. As Senator Kerry put it, the US had plenty of other places on which to spend the money.

When it comes to anti-Americanism, there is little doubt that Al Qaeda and the Taliban lead the pack. But the rightwing parties are not too far behind. At a recent demonstration in Pakistan, bearded men held up placards that flaunted the Yankees in no uncertain terms: ‘Crush, Crush, America.’

Anti-Americanism has also picked up converts in the mainstream print and electronic media. Conspiracy theories involving America are aired with increasing frequency. Even some leading figures from the diplomatic establishment have joined the fray.

The latest is Shamshad Ahmad, a former foreign secretary and former UN ambassador.

Speaking at a seminar in Karachi on state sovereignty, he went beyond the usual recital of grievances. That well-known list includes three major items. First, the US did not come to Pakistan’s aid during the 1965 war with India. This overlooks the fact that the war was initiated by Pakistan and that US arms were never meant to be used against India.

Second, it did not come to Pakistan’s aid in the 1971 war with India. This overlooks the fact that the war was triggered by the military’s ambitions to negate the results of the general elections and to rule in perpetuity.

Third, it abandoned Pakistan once the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989. This overlooks the fact that the US had not guaranteed Pakistan’s security for all times to come against enemies of all stripes.

The former foreign secretary, a strong proponent of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons but by no means a firebrand Islamist, stated: ‘The US had used us as a spy in the past to fulfil its motives, while now it is using us as a mercenary.’ And then came the clincher: ‘It is the US intervention, not the Russian intervention which has kept everything on the boil in the region.’

Some political analysts continue to indulge in conspiracy theories about the attack on Pearl Harbour on Dec 7, 1941 and the attacks of Sept 11, 2001. But Ahmad put himself in a class of one by saying that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on Christmas Eve in 1979 was engineered by the US.

He said, ‘The Americans think and plan about things they want to achieve in 50 or 60 years. They created a vacuum in Afghanistan. So after the political manoeuvring in Afghanistan, the US created a way for the Soviet Union [to be] sucked in[to] that vacuum.’

The former senior diplomat, who knows the country’s history better than most, went on to say that the Americans got the Pakistanis on their side by saying that the Soviets were out to fulfil the czarist dream of building a warm water port. This is revisionist history. Right after the Soviet invasion, Gen Ziaul Haq put in a plea for the West’s help, saying that the Evil Empire was about to make a run for Gwadar. He famously rejected President Jimmy Carter’s $400m aid package by calling it peanuts. But when President Ronald Reagan offered him a $3.2bn package, he was all smiles.

Ahmad goes on to say that the US forced the Pakistanis to fight the jihad in Afghanistan to fulfil their Cold War agenda. And what did Pakistan get in return? All that came, he says, was ‘drugs, arms and ammunition which still plague our society’.President Zardari, much reviled in Pakistan for his pro-Americanism, has been forced into a retreat. In a carefully crafted op-ed in the New York Times, he says that twice the US has manipulated and exploited Pakistan, once when it supported radical elements against the Soviets who morphed into the Taliban and Al Qaeda and second when it supported the Musharraf dictatorship despite its curtailment of civil liberties.

An ultranationalist theory that is rapidly gaining currency in Pakistan is that there was peace in the region until the US arrived in October 2001. Several of the ultranationalists also subscribe to four ‘booster’ theories.

First, that the US engineered the 9/11 attacks on itself. It needed an excuse to invade Afghanistan and control access to Central Asian natural gas. Second, that Osama bin Laden did not carry out the 9/11 attacks, that he is an American agent trained and armed by the CIA and that he was killed in December 2001. Third, that Al Qaeda does not exist. And fourth, that the Taliban are simply freedom-loving people trying to free their country from foreign occupation. The obvious theory about 9/11 has no vocal adherents in Pakistan. This argues that the attacks were carried out to draw the US into the region, inflame interfaith relations and provoke a holy war that would result in the revival of the caliphate.

With every passing week, Pakistan continues to inch towards the brink. Given the frequency of the Muslim-on-Muslim attacks that are now being mounted, it is moot whether Pakistan is a failing state or a failed state. Neither prognosis is good.

The US is not perfect. It has made its share of mistakes, domestically and internationally. A common charge levied by the anti-Americanistas is that the US acts in its own interests. That should be cause for celebration and not denigration. If only Pakistan would do the same. Instead of demonising America, it should turn on its own demons.

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