Anger toward Pakistan is consistently increasing in Washington, particularly in Congress, as more new voices are speaking up against Islamabad’s double standards in its fight against Islamic terrorists and dealings with the United States. At a recent congressional hearing entitled “Pakistan: Friend or foe in the fight against terrorism?”, Congressman Matt Salmon, Chairman of the Asia and Pacific Subcommittee of House Foreign Affairs Committee, complained that the Pakistanis are “making chumps out of us. They see us we are being so stupid.” Veteran diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad candidly added that “we have been patsies”.
Since April when Congress obstructed the Obama administration’s plans to spend $430 million through the U.S. foreign military financing budget to subsidize the sale of F-16 fighter jets, there has been a continuous decline in U.S.-Pakistan relations. The Pakistanis have traditionally blamed the “Indian lobby” in Washington for turning the Americans against them. Now there is acknowledgment within the Pakistani circles that it is not solely the Indian lobby that is causing these problems. They, ironically, blame their own former ambassador to Washington, Hussain Haqqani, a prolific writer and a cogent public speaker, for influencing the narrative and policy in Washington toward Islamabad.
In Pakistan, not only has the military been extremely upset with Haqqani’s widespread influence in Washington think-tanks, universities and the media but even the liberal Pakistan People’s Party, Haqqani’s party, has been furious at the journalist-turned-diplomat. The PPP publicly disowned Haqqani who now serves at the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C. as the South Asia Director. Furthermore, the PPP has surprisingly adopted a harsh anti-U.S. position in the recent times. Raza Rabbani, Chairman of the Pakistani Senate, who belongs to the PPP, insists that the United States has resorted to “an unfortunate pattern of blaming Pakistan for the mistakes made by US policy makers on Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world.”
Rabbani’s statement is completely the opposite of what one would expect from the PPP, whose former leader Benazir Bhutto was often discredited and distrusted by the army and the clergy for being too pro-American. One of the most frequently cited reason for her murder in 2007 is believed to be her close connections with Washington. Many of the things the PPP leaders say these days sound very similar to what the pro-establishment religious and right centrist parties say. The PPP applies an anti-US rhetoric and naively hopes that this will help in keeping them in the good books of the Pakistani military establishment. Doing so, they believe, might help in certifying their patriotism. As luck would have it, this naive policy is not going to work.
Congressman Salmon should not be offended because Pakistanis “see us we are being so stupid”. C’mon! Have you already not been stupid for more than a decade? What is a softer and an alternative word for “stupid”? The Congressman should help us find that right word. Until then, let’s agree that the Pakistanis see the United States as “being so stupid” because the latter keep funding them no matter what they do to their people (including women and religious and ethnic minorities) and the rest of the world. There have been numerous reports about Pakistan’s double standards; misuse of the American aid; widespread violation of human rights and the military’s increasing influence on the democratic government. American officials have testified one after the other consistently saying that most Islamic terrorists, such as the Haqqani Network, are actually assisted by elements in the Pakistani government. In spite of all this, the United States has been robustly funding Pakistan. If that does not make the U.S. look stupid in front to the Pakistanis, what else does?
The mood toward Pakistan is unlikely to change in Washington in near future. It might get worse. The Pakistanis keep insisting that Americans don’t bother to understand their perspectives nor do they understand how many sacrifices they have actually made in the war on terror.
If that is a genuine complaint, Pakistan must communicate its position more efficiently. The first step in that direction is to appoint a new ambassador to Washington. Unlike his predecessors, the current ambassador has abysmally failed in appearing in public or engaging audiences at American think-tanks, universities and seminars to answer some tough foreign policy questions.
It does not matter who ――between the military and the civilian government―-formulates and runs Pakistan’s foreign policy, they need a proactive ambassador who knows how to handle the U.S. diplomatic circles and the media. The more the current ambassador ignores the media and public events, the more he will be contributing to the unanswered questions and prevailing atmosphere of frustration with Pakistan.
In the midst of frequent congressional hearings critical of Pakistan’s relationship with the U.S., newspaper articles and editorials questioning whether Pakistan is a friend or an enemy of the United States, the Pakistani embassy in Washington only uses infrequent letters to the editor to plead not guilty. That’s certainly not enough. Without an effective and proactive ambassador who can help both sides clearly understand each other’s point of view, Pakistan will end up losing more American aid and trust in Washington in the future. Does Islamabad care about this relationship and want to secure it before it worsens? If yes, it must review and overhaul the performance of its mission in Washington.