| An article in The New York Times says that there is an “increasing belief” among Pakistanis, including members of the armed forces, that what the US really wants is the breakup of Pakistan, the only Muslim country with nuclear arms.
“One of the biggest fears of the Pakistani military planners is the collaboration between India and Afghanistan to destroy Pakistan,” an unnamed senior Pakistani government official involved in strategic planning, was quoted by the newspaper as saying. “Some people feel the United States is colluding in this.”
The Times’ correspondent in Islamabad, Jane Perlez, says the belief about US complicity was fuelled by a redrawn map of South Asia, which shows Pakistan truncated, reduced to an elongated sliver of land with the big bulk of India to the east, and an enlarged Afghanistan to the west. That the map, which is making the rounds among Pakistani elites, was first circulated as a theoretical exercise in some American neo-conservative circles.
“This is a country where years of weak governance have left ample room for conspiracy theories of every kind. But like much such thinking anywhere, what is said frequently reveals the tender spots of a nation’s psyche. Educated Pakistanis sometimes say that they are paranoid, but add that they believe they have good reason, she wrote under the headline: ‘Ringed by Foes, Pakistanis Fear the US, Too’.
The dispatch claims that virtually all of Pakistan’s borders, drawn almost arbitrarily in the last gasps of the British Empire, is disputed with its neighbours, not least Pakistan’s bitter and much larger rival, India. “These facts and the insecurities that flow from them inform many of Pakistan’s disagreements with the United States, including differences over the need to rein in militancy in the form of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, it said.
Correspondent Perlez wrote, “The new democratically elected President Asif Ali Zardari has visited the United States twice since assuming power three months ago. He has been generous in his praise of the Bush administration. But that stance is criticised at home as fawning and wins him little popularity among a steadfastly anti-American public.
“So how will the promise by President-elect Barack Obama for a new start between the United States and Pakistan be received here? How can it be begun?
“One possibility could be some effort to ease Pakistani anxieties, even as the United States demands more from Pakistan. That will probably mean a regional approach to what, it is increasingly apparent, are regional problems. There, Pakistani and American interests may coincide.
“American military commanders, including general David H Petraeus, have started to argue forcefully that the solution to the conflict in Afghanistan, where the American war effort looks increasingly uncertain, must involve a wide array of neighbours.
“Mr Obama has said much the same. Several times in his campaign, he laid out the crux of his thinking. Reducing tensions between Pakistan and India would allow Pakistan to focus on the real threat–the al-Qaeda and Taliban militants who are tearing at the very fabric of the country.”
“If Pakistan can look towards the east with confidence, it will be less likely to believe its interests are best advanced through cooperation with the Taliban,” Obama wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine last year.
“But such an approach faces sizable obstacles, the biggest being the conflict over Kashmir.”
But the dispatch said: “Pakistanis warn that the United States should not appear too eager to mediate. First, they caution, India has always regarded Kashmir as a bilateral question. India, they note, also faces a general election early next year, an inappropriate moment to push such an explosive issue. “Second, some Pakistanis are concerned about the reliability of the United States as a fair mediator.”
Zubair Khan, a former commerce minister who has watched Kashmir closely, was quoted as saying, “Given the United States’ record on the Palestinian issue, where the Palestinians had to move 10 times backwards and the Israelis moved the goal posts, the same could happen here.”
It was discouraging, Zubair Khan said, that the United States ignored the importance of the huge non-violent protests by Muslims in Kashmir against Indian rule this summer. “Anywhere else, and they would have been hailed as an Orange Revolution,” he said, referring to the wave of protests that led to a change in the Ukrainian government in 2004. A Controversial Imagining of Borders such distrust has been exacerbated by what Pakistanis see as the Bush administration’s tilt toward India, The Times said, adding: “Exhibit A for the Pakistanis is India’s nuclear deal with the United States, which allows India to engage in nuclear trade even though it never joined the global Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Pakistan, with its recent history of spreading nuclear technology, received no comparable bargain.
“The nuclear deal was devised in Washington to position India as a strategic counterbalance to China. That is how it is seen in Pakistan, too, but with no enthusiasm.”
“The United States has changed the whole nuclear order by this deal, and in doing so is containing China, the only friend Pakistan has in the region,” Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani Army general, was quoted as saying. Further, Pakistan is upset about the advances India is making in Afghanistan, with no checks from the United States, Masood said.
The Times said India has recently made big investments in Afghanistan, where Pakistan has been competing for influence. These include a road to the Iranian border that will eventually give India access to the Iranian port of Chabahar, circumventing Pakistan. India has offered training for Afghanistan’s military, given assistance for a new Parliament building in Kabul and has re-opened consulates along the border with Pakistan, it said.
The consulates, the Pakistanis charge, are used by India as cover to lend support to a long-running separatist movement in Balochistan. Balochistan was even made an independent state on the theoretical map, which accompanied an article by Ralph Peters titled “Blood Borders: How a Better Middle East Would Look,” originally published in Armed Forces Journal.
“Both India and Pakistan in fact have a long and destructive history of, gently or not, putting in the knife. Exhibit A for the Indians is the bombing in July of its embassy in Afghanistan, which American and Indian officials say can be traced to groups linked to Pakistan’s spy agency,” correspondent Perlez wrote. “If the Obama administration is indeed to convince Pakistanis that militancy, not the Indian Army, presents the gravest threat, it will not be easy.”
The commander of American forces in Afghanistan, general David D McKiernan, got a taste of the challenge this month, when he visited Islamabad and sat down with a group of about 70 members of Pakistan’s Parliament at the residence of the US Ambassador Anne W Patterson.
Their attitude showed an almost total incomprehension of the reasons for American behaviour in the region after Sept 11, 2001.
“A couple of the questions I got were, ‘Why did you Americans come to Afghanistan when it was so peaceful before you got there?’” McKiernan recalled during an appearance at the Atlantic Council in Washington last week. “We have a lot of work to do,” he told his audience in Washington.
Indeed, among ordinary Pakistanis, many still regard al-Qaeda more positively than the United States, polls find. Talk shows here often include arguments that the suicide bombings in Pakistan are payback for the Pakistani Army fighting an American war.
Some commentators suggest that the United States is actually financing the Taliban. The point is to tie down the Pakistani Army, they say, leaving the way open for the Americans to grab Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.