Saeed Afridi |
The tragic, darkly comic and somewhat farcical saga that was the “Raymond Davis Incident” is perhaps the best allegory of what is wrong with both Pakistan itself and the relationship the United States has cultivated with Pakistan.
Pakistan and US are allies, have been allies for the better part of six decades out of seven, yet the saga reads nothing like how an unfortunate incident should be settled among allies. The recent book just makes that disconnect stark. Washington did exactly what a comparatively powerful ally should do for one of its citizens in trouble in order to placate its domestic population. Pakistan, on the other hand, had to placate its ally, despite that action being extremely unpopular with its domestic population leading to calls of elite treachery and branding them as sell-outs. Despite the correctness of the action, in the view of its population, Pakistan came across as a client state, not an ally.
Their state of hypertension seems to ignore that the overbearing Pakistan Army was not conducting this facilitation despite the democratic government this group defends beyond reason but at the behest and complete cooperation of the elected government.
Next to nothing is new in the book so feverishly cited, quoted and misquoted in Pakistan. That said every Pakistani actor within it is now writing or speaking about how their actions were appropriate and now validated by Davis’s account, every institution is reinforcing how they acted within the law and every facilitator is able to show that their rent-seeking position was actually a patriotic service. Add to this comedy of self-glorifications are all the choruses now available in audio and print. The sanctimoniously religious right with its supporting cast of the morally superior clique are appalled at the ease with which the governments involved could spirit away a murderer and yet have next to no comments about the badly designed and incredibly unjust ‘religious’ law that allowed the legal escape to happen. The equally sanctimonious yet servile left with its accompaniment of westernized, not modernized, legions of intellectual slaves are absolutely appalled by the role played by the military, Pakistan’s self-styled guardians of all that is worthy of being defended, yet the same, usually eloquent, left has almost nothing to say about the fact that it was their intellectual mecca, Washington, that used medieval, oppressive and entirely unjust ‘Pakistani’ laws to have Mr. Davis exit the country.
Then there is the holier than thou chest thumping horde of shrieking patriots who seem to inhale the word Pakistan and exhale the helium-infused word Army. They are beside themselves with anger towards the two Dons of Pakistan’s post-colonial Democrats, Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari and hold them responsible for all ills, despite the complicity of their uniformed consiglieres. Not to be outdone by their inverted mirror images are those in who might live, earn and rent-seek in the democratic echelons of Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi, with accompanying little brothers in Peshawar and Quetta, yet mentally reside in Washington, New-York or London. Their self-diagnosed honorary R-M269 marked blood is boiling at the obvious facilitation Pakistan’s Army provided to Mr. Davis in his departure from Pakistan. Their state of hypertension seems to ignore that the overbearing Pakistan Army was not conducting this facilitation despite the democratic government this group defends beyond reason but at the behest and complete cooperation of the elected government.
Apart from the Mr. Qureshi, the entire body of Pakistan’s state, government, and the military seemed to be bending backward to facilitate the ally’s rightful perspective and not perform the duties they ought to have performed to ensure Mr. Davis’s eventual release ‘without’ courting the ire of their own population.
The only person who comes across as the veritable odd one out and, surprisingly, conducted himself with comparative honor in this entire saga is the usually slippery, serfdom derived saint-son, and unusually eloquent for a current Pakistani politician, the then Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. This is surprising considering the ties Mr. Qureshi had with key individuals in the then Democrat Administration in Washington. If anyone among Pakistan’s government could be expected to forward Washington’s point of view, at the detriment of Pakistan’s, it would have been Mr. Qureshi, but he did not and conducted himself as the Foreign Minister of an independent country, all be it an ally, is supposed to conduct him or herself. This, of course, is very difficult for any of the groups mentioned above to acknowledge without accompanying ‘buts’ because Mr. Qureshi, SMQ to all but a few, then went on to commit a sin that is unforgivable by every single one of the group yet mentioned; he joined the political party of Pakistan’s favourite idiotic punching bag, the former sportsman now turned politician Imran Khan who is out on a populist but lonely endeavour to bring ‘change’ and ‘betterment’ to Pakistan’s crippling colonial system. This is a sin none of Pakistan’s entrenched post-colonial Democrats, whether liberal, religious or uniform-fed, will forgive SMQ.
Apart from the Mr. Qureshi, the entire body of Pakistan’s state, government, and the military seemed to be bending backward to facilitate the ally’s rightful perspective and not perform the duties they ought to have performed to ensure Mr. Davis’s eventual release ‘without’ courting the ire of their own population. This was harmful to Pakistan domestically, as well as Washington and yet, the veracity with which all sections of Pakistan’s vocal commentary is arguing about the Raymond Davis incident makes it quite evident that selective amnesia & cherry-picking facts is no longer a sport in Pakistan, it’s a political religion.
The Pakistan and US relationship is not one of the ideological or normative allies but one based on reciprocity entrenched in the usefulness for each other of the disproportionate capacities of both allies. Raymond Davis, irrespective of his justifications, committed a crime on the territory of an allied country and was arrested, tried and released according to the laws of the Allied country. This is precisely what ‘should’ happen among allies. The laws of the allied country must be observed and followed when, and especially when, an unfortunate illegal activity occurs. The United States, the stronger ally, should expect leniency, if not clemency, from Pakistan, the weaker ally. Further, despite holding a grudge against the individual committing the crime, the population of the weaker ally ought to accept that the stronger ally treated their laws and traditions with the respect they deserved despite the need to both save face and secure the liberty of its citizen, spy-agency contractor or otherwise. Any ire the Pakistani population should feel about the loop-hole ridden process ought to be directed at their own ridiculous laws, not at the US.
This is what should happen. This did not happen. Why? This is what people all around the Potomac should ponder. Once a little time has been devoted to that question, most thoughtful people in Washington realize where the break is and that leads them to three further, inevitable, questions.
What makes the Pak-US echo chamber in the United States so distressing is the nature of its cyclic reinforcement of a narrative that has very little to do with both the United State’s ability to act inside Pakistan or Pakistan’s ability to act for the United Sates in its region.
First; Why were US’s Pakistani-friends in Washington and Islamabad not able to make this happen? Second; Why the enormous material and intellectual investments by Washington in Pakistan over sixty years not created an environment where Pakistan’s population’s perception of the Unites States as an ally is largely positive? Third; Why is it that familiar Pakistani friends in Washington not been able to assist the US State Department in steering clear of waste areas and bunkers which are all too obvious to too many Pakistanis, home and abroad, who are not so familiar in Washington?
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The answer to these three linked questions is at the root of most US-Pak relationship glitches, minor and disastrous. Suffice to summarize that Washington, over the past half a century has managed to create a unique Pakistan centric echo chamber of some scholars and academics but mostly opportunist social climbers who have almost the same colonial skew of history as their American counterparts. What makes the Pak-US echo chamber in the United States so distressing is the nature of its cyclic reinforcement of a narrative that has very little to do with both the United State’s ability to act inside Pakistan or Pakistan’s ability to act for the United Sates in its region. It’s an echo chamber that has evolved to successfully perform a single task, provide ‘validation’. Once that is understood, you realise how exactly did Washington get to a point where the idea of what Pakistan can, should and would do for US interests in the region actually originates from US-based scholars who, bar a few, have such a colonial historical grounding that they are in effect India scholars with an appropriate addendum to incorporate Pakistan. Considering a majority of what is Pakistan spent less than fifty restive years under direct British administrative rule devoid of armed conflict, let alone the geographical majority which saw the British as glorified tax collectors, not rulers; this puts these American scholars at a huge disadvantage when it comes to understanding Pakistan or its population. This is where validation of ideas, even prejudices, becomes important and the validators become a valuable ‘commodity’.
US’s Pakistani loyalists
I once had the mischievous experience of having a whispered conversation during a lecture at Chatham House. Nearly half way through the lecture on Human Rights in Pakistan and the then fashionable concept of R2P (Right to Protect) one of the organizers of the event lent over and whispered in my ear. Though the comment was in jest, the frustration that birthed it was palpable. He asked me whether ten (10) or twenty (20) percent of what the lady was saying was actually credible enough to be believed. After I shrugged my shoulder with an accompanying smile he coaxed me for an answer. I replied by saying that she was probably the most recognized face among Pakistan’s rights advocates and a favorite among UK and US conference organizers. He nodded and then went on to complain. I will try to simplify the sentence that followed;
“She is standing there saying what she thinks we want to hear based on her interpretation of what is important to us and is backing it with reports generated by people in Pakistan who told her what she wanted to hear, so that they would get some recognition with us and perhaps one day stand here in her place being lauded for their expertise, like her”.
When asked why he had made the decision to invite her to speak my friend pointed out two gentlemen sitting in the second row from the front. Both were advisors, one to the Foreign Secretary and the other to the Prime Minister and both were known for advocating a strong UK-India relationship, even at the cost of relations with Pakistan. They had certain opinions which required “sure-ing” and were, during this lecture, being validated by the celebrated Pakistan expert before us. Even if it is all but an academic fig-leaf, it is still a validation and by a name that can be thrown around in an Ox-bridge dominated cabinet to some memory jolting squints and head-shakes in recognition. Similar stories are ‘a dime a dozen’ in Washington too.
This is how validation is performed in echo chambers, both in London and in Washington. The valuable validators are prized and celebrated but much of what they say does little to advance Washington’s understanding of why its material and human investments in Pakistan come to little fruition and Washington remains an unpopular ally in the perception of a majority of Pakistan’s population.Until these validators remain Washington’s ‘go to’ experts on all things Pakistan, any Raymond Davis incident will result in the same friction between Washington and Pakistanis instead of being resolved in a manner expected between two allies.
The writer is a former management consultant focusing on the Energy Industry and writes on Energy Security and the Politics of Energy Resources. He is conducting research related to the role of Central Asia’s energy resources in China’s Energy Security at the University of Westminster, UK. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.