By Zaair Hussain –
A Chicago Tribune piece insists it is Pakistan who should apologize to the U.S. Here’s the postcard from Pakistan
(Disclaimer: this article concerns the astoundingly flawed powers that rule both Pakistan and the United States. It is not meant to be read as an anti-U.S. rant. Despite their infliction of Bacon McCheeseburgers, Paris Hilton and Rush Hour 3 upon an unsuspecting world, I take no issue with the American people and count many of them among my friends.)
A while back, an article entitled — entirely without irony — 10 Reasons Why Pakistan Should Apologize to U.S. (http://tinyurl.com/ceq4xh5) by Malik Siraj Akbar prompted a fair few Pakistanis to cry foul. Perhaps, it’s easy to see why.
There has been a mounting sense that the U.S. is getting increasingly comfortable treating Pakistan as an unruly colony that does not always jump quite as high as they would wish. It seems like we’re always in their office, waiting for them to come in with stern glances and scoldings while we look at our feet and mutter apologies.
Aside from the insensitive timing — this came right after the U.S. declined to apologize for killing a couple dozen Pakistani soldiers in not-especially-friendly fire — the points made in the article betray a startling bias and lack of sophistication about the Pak-U.S. relationship which is mostly gray and grubby from both sides, as one should expect amongst best frenemies.
I can’t say we’re all angels here in Pakistan. If any of you can say that with a straight face, you should stop wasting your obvious talents and become pool hustlers, consultants or politicians. But we are a real country, one which has suffered terribly in the struggle against terrorism and that, at least, should be acknowledged.
The sentiments of “Listen to your elders and betters” and “Because shut up, that’s why” so prevalent recently amongst U.S. officials have been captured beautifully by Mr. Akbar’s article. For example, his introduction is a pitch-perfect echo of an unnamed U.S. official who, on May 18th of this year confirmed on the Fox News website that the U.S. would not apologize for this latest incident and asked, with heartrending sincerity, when Pakistan were going to apologize to them for various grievances.
As faithfully as it reproduces the U.S. official line, I decided Mr. Akbar’s article was as good a starting point as any for exploring the other side of this incredibly asymmetrical narrative.
“Pakistani civilian’s casualties in this war have ranged in the thousands. In the past decade, deaths from terrorism in the U.S. have ranged from 0 to also 0. If there’s going to be an apology, the US can jolly well wait its turn.”
To conserve space, I am summarizing (and thus paraphrasing) his arguments as they appeared in the Chicago Tribune on May 28, 2012.
1. Pakistan should apologize for hiding Osama bin Laden instead of criticizing the U.S. unilateral action on Pakistani soil.
U.S. officials cake so much gloss over this part it now resembles those Celebrity Stalker magazines. U.S. forces went into sovereign territory without our green light. It’s not just sovereign when its American soil, all the countries calling themselves “sovereign” aren’t like kids pretending they’re astronauts.
These are real countries, and sovereignty is a real thing, with real legal implications. What the U.S. did was an act of gross international illegality, essentially a small scale invasion. Worse, Bin Laden had not been an active threat for about half a decade; they essentially violated sovereignty not to save the world, but because it would look good on their CVs.
It’s like breaking and entering into someone’s house and then complaining about how messy it is and demanding to know why they said it was clean. Yes, it may be messy and yes, they may have been lying or just incompetent, but none of that changes the fact that you broke into their house.
It’s not the best time to be taking a preachy tone, is what I’m saying.
As to how it was possible that Bin Laden could hide so brazenly, nobody really has proof one way or the other but:
(a) it would seem entirely stupid to lie about Bin Laden and then keep him in a backyard mansion rather than in a mile-deep bunker somewhere to be used as leverage and
(b) probably the same way it was possible for planes to crash into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Yes, that Pentagon. The nerve center of the most sophisticated fighting force in human history, built like the Death Star, with more sensory organs than a plague of flies.
Unlikely and tragic things can and do happen. After all, Bin Laden was a monster but amazingly good at hide and seek. The U.S. was hunting him since the Clinton administration and he dodged them for years, even prompting President George Bush to rather petulantly say on March 13, 2002: “I don’t know where Bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don’t care. It’s not that important.”
2. Dr. Shakil Afridi, a surgeon who helped the CIA locate Bin Laden’s whereabouts undercover, was convicted of treason.
In fact, Dr. Afridi was sentenced for links to Lashker-e-Islam, not for helping find Bin Laden. Although I suppose it could be argued it was a show trial held in a kangaroo court.
Fair enough. Perhaps we should learn from our allies and avoid trials altogether, a la Guantanamo Bay.
3. Admiral Mike Mullen said the Haqqani network, which organized an attack against the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul on September 13 2001, is a “veritable arm” of Inter-Services Intelligence.
Since when does an accusation by even a powerful military official constitute a verdict or even proof? Wait, you thought that was a rhetorical question? It isn’t. Here’s the answer:
Since around the time President Bush decided to cut through the red tape of lawyers and courts and evidence, replacing the whole mess with military tribunals. These tend to be favoured by our local dictators as well, since having the same person as prosecutor, accuser and judge saves an amazing amount of time.
4. Since 2002 four Americans — Daniel Pearl, John Solecki, David Rohde and Warren Weinstein-have been kidnapped on Pakistani soil.
Kidnappings are horrible things — and in some of the cases had truly horrible outcomes — and any right-thinking persons sympathies are with the victims and their families.
However, the U.S. government is fairly selective about its indignation when it comes to kidnapping. During the War on Terror, President George W. Bush signed executive orders that essentially gave U.S. forces the right to pick up anyone, anywhere, suspected of terrorism and hold them without trial or normal rights afforded to the accused.
Pakistan knows this, because we were one of their favourite rendition countries. So indeed, the Pakistani state has incontrovertibly been complicit in kidnapping — an accomplice of the United States.
Besides, if the U.S. is so loathe to apologize for the hundreds of Pakistani civilians and soldiers they’ve accidentally drone-struck over the years, it seems unfair to have to apologize for four Americans kidnapped on Pakistani soil, unless U.S. officials (and Malik Siraj Akbar) believe that the lopsided exchange rate applies to human lives.
Let’s not even get into whether there’s any proof that LeT was aided by the ISI. I’d like to focus on something else here:
If LeT killed 166 people in India, five of them Americans, the writer believes an apology is owed to the United States?
I guess India’s human life exchange rate isn’t fantastic either.
6. American officials strongly suspect that the ISI was behind the 2010 leak identifying CIA station chiefs in Pakistan.
I don’t even know how to respond to this. If any country apologized not only for all it did but everything people suspect it of, nothing would ever get done. And no, saying you strongly suspect doesn’t make your case more plausible.
If I were to say that I strongly suspect the writer is essentially a mouthpiece for American interests favoured not for the brilliance of his writing but for his “Pakistan bashing Pakistani” novelty value that wouldn’t constitute proof, would it now?
7. Misuse of U.S. provided weapons to kill democratic political leaders and activists in Balochistan.
I’ll gladly apologize to Balochistan for that. As for the U.S.: let’s take a moment to reflect. When has the winning formula of flooding a country with sophisticated weapons sans proper oversight ever NOT worked out for you?
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research institute, the U.S. is and has since 2003 been the largest arms exporter in the world. A random and recent example of their Guns -Gone-Wild:
The NGO Bahrain Watch reported that the U.S. had penned a large arms deal with Bahrain, including refurbishing and replenishing their Cobra helicopters, M16 rifles and Armored Personnel Carriers, all of which recently saw heroic combat against protestors armed with sharp tongues and vicious placards.
Go back a bit further and there was that little matter of flooding arms into a turbulent nation, most of which is still firing U.S. weapons AT them, and for that matter at us. Pretty much at everyone.
I’ll give you a hint: it starts with “Afghan” and ends in tears.
8. Pakistan’s lack of action against the extremist training camps makes it a perfect destination for aspiring jihadists.
Ever thought of going into tourism promotion? Let’s leave aside the fact that such accusations were leveled against Pakistan in 2006 only for General Richards on October 10th of the same year to categorically say that there was no evidence on any such charge.
Let’s also forget, for a moment, the thousands of Pakistani soldiers killed in action during their supposed lack of action.
If Pakistan really has been harbouring terrorists? They owe an apology to me. To us. To the people living in fear of the clockwork terrorist attacks, to the victims of senseless violence and their surviving families. They owe an apology to all of us.
Pakistani civilian’s casualties in this war have ranged in the thousands. In the past decade, deaths from terrorism in the U.S. have ranged from 0 to also 0.
If there’s going to be an apology, the U.S. can jolly well wait its turn.
“Rarely have two countries so alien and imperfect needed each other so much. And we both need to do better. The Americans have to stop acting like they own the place, but on the other hand, we need to start acting like we do”
9. Inter-Services Intelligence had illegally funded lobbyist Ghulam Nabi Fai to influence U.S. policies on the disputed territory of Kashmir.
Our eternal game with India is stupid enough on both sides without other countries getting involved.
But at least the complaint comes from a moral high ground. It’s not like the CIA ever covertly funds anything without apologizing for it — remember Afghan Mujahiddin 1979-1989, Operation Ajaz to overthrow Iran’s government 1953, Guatemala’s in 1954, ditto for Tibet, Laos, Indonesia, Cuba, DRC, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Brazil and most of the world during the Cold War?
10. Many believe Pakistan carried out nuclear proliferation through AQ Khan and, although Khan has apologized, Pakistan itself has not.
Well as long as “many” believe, let’s all get out our apology hats.
Alright, this one is actually pretty likely so since we’re on the subject of nuclear proliferation: Wikileaks hinted that there were plans being made by the U.S. to apologize to Japan for those rather nasty Godzilla-making bombs dropped on them. Only 77 years later.
So if we follow their lead, the U.S. might want to grab a long book while they’re waiting.
Let’s cut to the chase. Time was when “Thus Spake Americana” was the final word in any argument, but imagine how Pakistanis feel: year after year they’re nominated for the Failed State Awards, Ground Zero has long shifted from New York to our backyard and too many Pakistanis feel that our strongest ‘partner’ is out to get us.
Rarely have two countries so alien and imperfect needed each other so much. And we both need to do better. The Americans have to stop acting like they own the place, but on the other hand, we need to start acting like we do.
If we get cabin fever in these trenches and turn on one another entirely, we’ll hand our real enemy the kind of victory they get giddy dreaming about. We don’t need to like each other but we do need mutual respect to move forward.
If we can’t be friends, let’s at least be allies.
The writer is a Lahore-based freelance columnist