Pakistanis, living at home or abroad, have become masters at monologues, despising or ignoring the value of dialogue among ourselves and with others. We have convinced ourselves that we are the prime target of persecution and discrimination, ignoring our own infinite propensity to do the same within our own society and to others. We have started living by cliches. This xenophobic collective state of mind is, inadvertently, serving the interests of the state and the ruling elite and undermining the rights of the common citizen.
These days, the prized cliche is that the American abandonment of Pakistan after the Soviet forced withdrawal from Afghanistan. Pakistani expatriates interacting with American politicians never miss a chance to remind them of their infidelity. While it is true that the Americans did leave the region without fulfilling their responsibility, the fact is that this reference to American infidelity cloaks many a debacle of our own making.
Most Pakistanis believe that Pakistan has always stood by the United States in difficult times. A common perception is that, despite joining the US-led South East Asian Treaty Organisation (SEATO) and Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) agreements, the Americans did not help Pakistan when it was needed the most, in its war against India. In reality, the US gave Pakistan arms worth billions of dollars to fight Communism. Wisely, Pakistan did not actively participate in any anti- Communist war other than jailing a few of its own leftleaning activist intellectuals and retired military officials.
The SEATO and CENTO agreements were specifically designed to fight Communism and did not call for members’ intervention in wars against non- Communist aggressors. Therefore, it could be said, from the American angle, that Pakistan misused its resources to fight India. Besides, once it had been shown that the US is an unreliable ally, Pakistan should have terminated its American links and devised an alternative foreign policy. But, our governing elite, having a vested interest in the US and its auxiliary international institutions, carried on with their servile attitude with the richest superpower.
An overwhelming majority of Pakistanis also believes that their country fought a proxy war against the Soviet Union for the Americans. This makes for some interesting contradictions. For, if one argues that the Russians were defeated in Afghanistan only with the mammoth infusion of American (and Saudi) resources, there are those Pakistanis who start fuming. They will quote unpublished intelligence reports to fervently assert that it was Gen Zia-ul Haq who started the anti- Soviet crusade long before the Americans showed any interest in Afghanistan. If this is true, then the US helped Pakistan in its war against the Soviets and not the other way around.
Enlightened Pakistanis had warned the Zia regime of the pitfalls a religious crusade in Afghanistan, with many scholars predicting that Pakistan’s indulgence would result in social anarchy, religious bigotry, and the rise of a drug and Kalashanikov culture. But the ruling junta would not listen to dissenting voices. Ziaul Haq and his Islamic comrades-in-arm were determined to drive the pagans out of Afghanistan and cleanse Pakistani society of ‘impure’ Muslims. A record number of enlightened Pakistani activists were forced out of the country during this period, and Gen. Zia and his cronies had a free hand to try out their immature ideas.
Long before the US abandoned Islamabad, Zia-ul Haq had successfully subverted Pakistani society. His Islamisation drive had emboldened the fundamentalists, while ethnic divisions hardened in Karachi and Sindh. Corruption had become rampant. Many army men and inventive businessmen became millionaires and billionaires during this period. The inflow of huge foreign funds in the name of the Afghan war and billions of dollars transmitted by overseas Pakistanis created an economic boom in Pakistan. The situation was further exacerbated when hungry politicians accelerated the process of loot and plunder, with the banks emptied and state-run institutions robbed mercilessly. The irony is that the rich continued getting richer even while the US was allegedly betraying Pakistan.
Certainly, the Americans abandoned Pakistan and Afghanistan just as they left other poor allies to fend for themselves at the end of the Cold War. Of them all, Afghanistan has a genuine grudge against the US for not giving a helping hand to emerge from the devastation. The US was a party in the war against the Russians and had a responsibility to help rebuild the shattered land. Pakistan’s economy certainly suffered, but most of Pakistan’s problems were of its own making and had started much before the US decided to take its hands off.
Pakistan’s evergreen ruling elite is trying to shift the entire responsibility for its failures on the Americans. This is a mischievous technique used by the powerful in poor countries to cover their tracks. Certainly, the US is the big boy on the block who does not hesitate to use highhanded tactics, but let Pakistanis not forget that the primary responsibility for the country’s sorry state lies with those who are at the helm.