The enduring alliance between the United States and Pakistan in the ongoing war against terrorism still needs visible efforts to bring the people of both countries closer. What’s needed are practical measures, instead of repeating the hollow rhetoric of “maintaining cordial relations.”
Anti-U.S. sentiment among many in Pakistan can be traced mainly to flawed U.S. policy in the region, which is widening the gap between the two nations. A small effort could go a long way in bridging the gap and ending misunderstanding. The United States has proved to be its own worst enemy, inciting hatred among some people in Pakistan toward the United States.
The government of Pakistan has blocked access to YouTube for about four years, due to a U.S.-based cartoonist’s sacrilegious content regarding Prophet Muhammad. Pakistan made that decision after YouTube refused to block the derogatory material. Radical Islamist political parties exploited the situation and blamed the United States for willfully offending the sentiments of Muslims.
The United States could have played a useful role by removing the hate material, but it refused. Meanwhile, it spends billions of dollars in the education sector, and thousands of Pakistani students benefit from this investment in goodwill.
The U.S. government must be aware that Muslims — whether from Pakistan or not — cannot tolerate insult to their religion and Prophet Muhammad. Muslims believe in all four holy books and expect others to respect their sentiments.
Another reason for the growing trust deficit is the United States’ pro-India stance, which, if unchanged, might further damage its relations with Pakistan. The powerful Pakistani military establishment, which directly controls the country’s policy toward India, will never welcome any move that could benefit India, its archrival. A relationship based on mutual understanding and a level playing field for both Pakistan and India is key to improving Pakistan-U.S. relations. This is the only way to bring stability and prosperity to the region.
Pakistan is a changed country, and its people are no longer living in the ’90s. Its youth, which make up 50 percent of its population, are politically aware and striving for change.
The United States, one of the best democracies in the world, must extend support to credible and genuine political parties, instead of handpicking stooges such as Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, and Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan.
U.S. support of military dictators who periodically ruled Pakistan for more than 35 years of its 68-year history is no secret. The United States has often supported military dictators and corrupt politicians, forcing the people to believe that superficial stability is sufficient. It never opposed the Pakistani military’s adventurism. Now the time has come for a complete end to this policy.
In the aftermath of the ongoing sit-in against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif by opposition politician Imran Khan of Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf‘s political party, U.S. Ambassador Richard G. Olson made a statement, saying the U.S. will stand by Sharif.
The ambassador’s statement against Imran Khan, who is undoubtedly one of Pakistan’s most popular politicians, further fueled anti-U.S. sentiments.
Anti-U.S. slogans echoed for several days, demanding the ambassador to withdraw his statement. Khan, who has been protesting the incumbent prime minister’s assuming power through rigged elections in 2013, questioned the envoy, saying: “Would you, Mr. Olson, accept the results if 80 percent of U.S. Senate elections were rigged?”
Diplomats are expected to respond sensitively to the political environment of their host countries. But in Pakistan’s case, failed U.S. diplomacy is a major reason for the setback in Pakistan-U.S. relations, as its representatives have never understood the sentiment of Pakistan’s populace.
The United States must realize that only true democracy can bolster the relations between the two countries. The time has come for the United States to stop extending support to Pakistan’s corrupt and status quo politicians and instead support Pakistan’s people.
Zulfiqar Ahmad is reporter with the Business Recorder, an Islamabad-based newspaper.