Anyone here been to Pakistan and speaks English?

January 14, 2011

cricket  refugeeU.S. Vice President Joe Biden made a rather odd comment during his visit to Pakistan this week.  “We want what you want: a strong, stable, democratic Pakistan,” he told a news conference, according to the Washington Post.  “We wish your success because it’s in our own interest.” 

It was  not that he was wrong to deny accusations that the United States is out to destabilise Pakistan – a conspiracy theory fuelled by confusion over U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, which to many Pakistanis seems so irrational that they assume there must be a darker plan behind it. Nor that he was wrong to promote democracy — although the United States has had a track record of backing military rulers in Pakistan when it suits them.

It was more in the choice of language — not necessarily Biden’s strong point. It left you wondering which audience he was appealing to when he said, “we want what you want”.

To popular sentiment, which at the moment is running high? But it is not about the need for democracy, but about defending the honour of the prophet Mohammed against perceived western-driven attempts to amend provisions in the Pakistan Penal Code imposing the death penalty for anyone believed to have insulted him.  Religious parties have been able to bring thousands out into the streets to defend Pakistan’s so-called blasphemy laws, after the murder of Punjab governor Salman Taseer by his own security guard over his opposition to these legal provisions.

And while many have rightly pointed out that the religious parties are rarely able to garner more than a few percent of the votes in elections, journalist Mosharraf Zaidi notes that this should not be taken to mean that their views do not enjoy much deeper support in a society which has been becoming increasingly conservative.

“Though the Pakistani right wing is simply instrumentalising Islam, it is tapping into and channelling a political and social force whose appeal and power is unquestionable. Sure, it is unable to translate this appeal into electoral outcomes – but that is because this appeal is not located in the disbursement of patronage, or in administrative prowess. Pakistanis vote for the PPP, the PMLs, the MQM and ANPs because of the certainty that these groups can disburse resources as patronage,”  Zaidi wrote. “In total contrast, it is clear that the religious right wing in Pakistan, while electorally impotent, has tremendous appeal.”

In Pakistan, people are not out demonstrating for democracy — it is too easy for them to blame their democratically elected government for all the ills facing the country from war in Afghanistan to a collapsing economy to devastation wreaked by last summer’s floods. A speech by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairman of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, condemning Taseer’s killing and delivered to a packed memorial ceremony in London, caused barely a ripple in Pakistan.

So when Biden says, “we want what you want”, does he understand the extent to which popular sentiment diverges from the U.S. vision of how it would like to see Pakistan — as a stable, secular, capitalist western-style democracy? Do the Americans, for all that they share with the Pakistani elite a common language in English, actually get Pakistan? Do they understand the forces that meant that Taseer’s death was celebrated rather than mourned?

That’s a terribly important question, since the entire U.S. strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan depends on it. Lean on Pakistan too hard, and you risk winning the battle in Afghanistan and losing the war in Pakistan. Leave it alone on its current trajectory and you lose anyway, both the battle and the war.

Then there was the U.S. State Department saying on January 6 that the Pakistan government was making a mistake to reverse fuel tax rises. Whether that decision was right or wrong, I did wonder whether Washington was up to speed on what was at stake. Without the reversal of the fuel tax rises, the PPP-led government might have collapsed, leading us into uncharted territory. Elections would have been held at a time of deep instability; they would likely have been won by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, a man disliked by the Pakistan Army. They would have been dominated by a debate in which the religious right has the wind in its sails. Had Washington worked through the possible scenarios when it condemned the fuel tax decision?

And when Biden made his comment about democracy, what about the Pakistan Army, who are the real decision-makers when it comes to foreign and security policy? The army has shown no inclination to take over the country, but nor has it historically been a champion of democracy.

And then of course there is Afghanistan. U.S. policy still rests on the assumption that Pakistan might eventually be persuaded to turn on the Afghan Taliban.

As described by Steve Coll late last year, “After the confusion over the original July 2011 drawdown date, Obama’s team is self-consciously signalling to Afghans, Pakistanis, and the Taliban themselves that it is U.S. policy to ensure that the Taliban will never return to power. ”

Yet the Pakistan Army will never do anything that it believes will threaten the country existentially — and turning on the Afghan Taliban in such a way that it leaves Afghanistan open to Indian influence would be seen as existential.  Besides that, as far as I understand from my own conversations, Pakistan genuinely believes the Taliban are stakeholders in the Afghan conflict, and a settlement cannot be achieved without them being involved in some way.  Expecting Pakistan to do something that it sees as not only against its national interests but also irrational is, for want of a better word, odd.

So on what basis do U.S. and Pakistani interests converge so that “we want what you want”?  

The late Afghanistan and Pakistan envoy Richard Holbrooke may have got it right when he said of the United States and Pakistan:  “We can’t align our interests exactly, because they live in a different space, and their history is defined by their relationship with India  . . . The one thing I believe we can do with Pakistan is to try to reach a strategically symmetrical view on the danger posed by Al Qaeda and its allies. That’s the proximate strategic goal.”

Anything else, given the way Pakistan is going at the moment, is probably based on wishful thinking.

17 comments

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What Joe Biden actually meant was “We want Pakistanis to want what we (USA) wants”. Whom is he trying to fool? Himself?? Obama?? Taliban?? Pakistan??

Posted by 777xxx777 | Report as abusive

Well, not going in-depth into his comment but I am afraid he has opened the gate not to kiss his butts but to bite his butts and grievously wound him, what happens then? Will he go to the public NAKED and show his butts and say, “See some scoundrel has bitten my butts and grievously injured me. In addition, make himself a subject of Joke of the century.

No governor it was the most foolish thing you did to invite people to harm you and harass you publicly. Moreover, insulting you would reflect on the general mass of the State because you are the governor of the State and represent the entire population of the State.

So withdraw your invitation before the time is over.

The US Vice President meant what he meant and it would be proper for him to clarify if he wants to. It would be merely futile to guess as to what he actually meant and would certainly turn and twist the entire meaning of his version. Often then not versions of Politician and Diplomats are misinterpreted, misunderstood, and become a mound from a mole that culminates in soaring good friendly relationship to bitter unfriendly relationship.

Therefore, dignitaries speaking to the public and or journalists must speak in simple English and ask if any one has any doubt in understanding what had been spoken and if the correct meaning of the speech is understood. If there is any doubt then clarify the same immediately to avoid misinterpretations later.

Muslim countries in general had been most friendly countries to US, even though US foreign Policy was always tailored to suit the desire of Israel for obvious reason. As is even now but on advent of Bush regime the President’s one single word “crusade against Islam” was enough to explode the Muslim world with anger and disbelieve and subsequently a particular entity controlled Electronic and printing Medias fomenting hateful propaganda against all Muslims as terrorists added fuel to the fire. For example in all religious entity terrorist activities were there and are still existing, but when mentioning terrorist activities committed by Muslim terrorists it is forcefully mentioned that Muslim terrorists did such and such thing, When it comes to Christian or Jew Terrorist’s similar activities it is never mentioned that Christian or Jew terrorists did such and such thing. The seed of doubt and hate was sown by the electronic and printing Medias of the west with ulterior motive by a particular powerful community believed to be controlling the world mass media, economy, commerce, finance and industries.

It is unfortunate that US because of some audacious, obstinate, vengeful group of people having no respect for others foments hatred and massacre throughout the world even did not spare killing the citizens of the country which feeds it and gives citizen’s tax paid money for it to survive.

The most dangerous unbelievable nation on the surface of the world that did the undeniable damage to the good friendly relationship that existed with US before Bush came to power. It was Bush regime that helped as a powerful catalyst to damage the cordial understanding and relationship build over years in on jolt.

The Muslim world even now wants to remain as loyal friend only if West and European countries stop virulent attacks on Islam. People must realize and understand that one cannot ask a person to be friendly and loyal pursuing double standard at all corners. Especially when it comes to Muslim Countries this double standard stands ever erect, but Why?

US Vice President’s speech may have been well said and meant but the seed of disbelieve sown will take time to reverse with action not by words. More so no country developed or under developed would like to be used as one time toilet paper anymore least of all any Muslim country that includes Pakistan.

Posted by KINGFISHER | Report as abusive

The US Vice President meant what he meant and it would be proper for him to clarify if he wants to. It would be merely futile to guess as to what he actually meant and would certainly turn and twist the entire meaning of his version. Often then not versions of Politician and Diplomats are misinterpreted, misunderstood, and become a mound from a mole that culminates in soaring good friendly relationship to bitter unfriendly relationship.

Therefore, dignitaries speaking to the public and or journalists must speak in simple English and ask if any one has any doubt in understanding what had been spoken and if the correct meaning of the speech is understood. If there is any doubt then clarify the same immediately to avoid misinterpretations later.

Muslim countries in general had been most friendly countries to US, even though US foreign Policy was always tailored to suit the desire of Israel for obvious reason. As is even now but on advent of Bush regime the President’s one single word “crusade against Islam” was enough to explode the Muslim world with anger and disbelieve and subsequently a particular entity controlled Electronic and printing Medias fomenting hateful propaganda against all Muslims as terrorists added fuel to the fire. For example in all religious entity terrorist activities were there and are still existing, but when mentioning terrorist activities committed by Muslim terrorists it is forcefully mentioned that Muslim terrorists did such and such thing, When it comes to Christian or Jew Terrorist’s similar activities it is never mentioned that Christian or Jew terrorists did such and such thing. The seed of doubt and hate was sown by the electronic and printing Medias of the west with ulterior motive by a particular powerful community believed to be controlling the world mass media, economy, commerce, finance and industries.

It is unfortunate that US because of some audacious, obstinate, vengeful group of people having no respect for others foments hatred and massacre throughout the world even did not spare killing the citizens of the country which feeds it and gives citizen’s tax paid money for it to survive.

The most dangerous unbelievable nation on the surface of the world that did the undeniable damage to the good friendly relationship that existed with US before Bush came to power. It was Bush regime that helped as a powerful catalyst to damage the cordial understanding and relationship build over years in on jolt.

The Muslim world even now wants to remain as loyal friend only if West and European countries stop virulent attacks on Islam. People must realize and understand that one cannot ask a person to be friendly and loyal pursuing double standard at all corners. Especially when it comes to Muslim Countries this double standard stands ever erect, but Why?

US Vice President’s speech may have been well said and meant but the seed of disbelieve sown will take time to reverse with action not by words. More so no country developed or under developed would like to be used as one time toilet paper anymore least of all any Muslim country that includes Pakistan.

Posted by KINGFISHER | Report as abusive

Since it’s creation in 1947, it has been safely assumed by the western world that Pakistan is a moderate islamic state. After three decades of radicalization & islamization by zia-ul-haq, it would be safe to discard the above assumption because it’s becoming clearer by the day that Pakistan has made the crossover from moderate to a conservative-extremist state. Western countries & their leaders would be well advised to keep that in mind, while dealing with Pakistan or addressing the Pakistani people.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive

Mortal:”it would be safe to discard the above assumption because it’s becoming clearer by the day that Pakistan has made the crossover from moderate to a conservative-extremist state.”

-The fact that overwhelming majority of moderate Pakistanis have historically always elected moderate parties in general elections point out that Pakistan is anything but an extremist state. However, yes Pakistan is an conservative siciety and will remain so, much like Afghanistan which is an agrarian society or like Saudi Arabian society which is also conservative. Also, it was the US that funded the Mujahideen in the past and later dumped them. Let Obama visit Islamabad and explain how the US would make up for past errors.

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive

Mortal:”it would be safe to discard the above assumption because it’s becoming clearer by the day that Pakistan has made the crossover from moderate to a conservative-extremist state.”

-The fact that overwhelming majority of moderate Pakistanis have historically always elected moderate parties in general elections point out that Pakistan is anything but an extremist state. However, yes Pakistan is an conservative siciety and will remain so, much like Afghanistan which is an agrarian society or like Saudi Arabian society which is also conservative. Also, it was the US that funded the Mujahideen in the past and later dumped them. Let Obama visit Islamabad and explain how the US would make up for past errors.

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive

@Umair/Mortal

“The fact that overwhelming majority of moderate Pakistanis have historically always elected moderate parties in general elections point out that Pakistan is anything but an extremist state.”

***If Pakistan is where it is despite right wing parties did not take power, imagine what will happen if they come into power. Trend should worry peace lovers.

Posted by rehmat | Report as abusive

Kingfisher has summarised the article very well. On reflection,is he not the guy who is well know for his gaffe and was brought in by Mr Obama as his running mate to counter any pressures from Hillary Clinton.

Should we take it that the lady secretary of State is no longer effective with men like zardari? What about the mangoes which she promised to import to help Pakistan’s economy?

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

I fail to understand how people expect a rational decision from pakistani leadership in the current situation??

A worrysome past, a troubled present and a bleak future with Pakistan clutching in foreign aid to survive. Tax to GDP is one of the lowest in the world and to add to that most of the revenue goes Defense and debt servicing. Its a slow train wreck

http://pkr101.blogspot.com

Posted by Auroch78 | Report as abusive

@”The fact that overwhelming majority of moderate Pakistanis have historically always elected moderate parties in general elections point out that Pakistan is anything but an extremist state.”

It all depends on your definition of “moderate parties”. Many analysts, both outside & inside Pakistan have started to believe that a political party like PML-N is no longer a moderate party but has moved, dramatically to the right, in recent times. Although the power of the religious right in Pakistan, has not yet manifested itself in an election, their popularity & the support they enjoy is not lost on anyone. I hope such extremists never come to power in Pakistan but unfortunately, trends indicate otherwise.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive

Umairpk: “it was the US that funded the Mujahideen in the past and later dumped them.”

You have said in one of the earlier blogs that nothing moves through Pakistan without Pakistan’s approval and intent. This was in the context of delivery trucks being held at the border after US chopper ran over Pak border and killed a few Pak soldiers. You chest thumped at that time that the US cannot get anything done without Pakistan’s help in the region. As a result you had claimed that the US will not mess with Pakistan.

Now under a different context you are squarely blaming the US for funding the Mujahideen and dumping them. All funding was handled exclusively through the ISI. This means the ISI took the American and Saudi money and channeled it to whichever groups it liked. It was the ISI that set up the Madrasa system across the nation and started breeding Jihadi clones. I am amazed that you are not blaming your own army and the ISI for their significant contribution to the problem that has grown over the years. After the Soviets withdrew, the Americans were not obligated to do anything in the region. They came with an objective of defeating the USSR and it was accomplished. There was no further agenda and everyone involved knew this clearly. Pakistani army at that time had to make the right choice – disband the Madrasa system, send in the Afghans back to their country and help rebuild the nation or continue to expand the Jihad in other directions with the experience gained. Pak army chose the latter and it has direct consequence on what we see today.

I only blame the Americans for being short sighted and ignorant. They still are and have been exploited by Pak army to its benefit. Unfortunately Pakistanis did not.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

KPSingh:”All funding was handled exclusively through the ISI. This means the ISI took the American and Saudi money and channeled it to whichever groups it liked. It was the ISI that set up the Madrasa system across the nation and started breeding Jihadi clones. I am amazed that you are not blaming your own army and the ISI for their significant contribution to the problem that has grown over the years.”

-True, I even know the names of some ISI officers who were involved in those clandestine operations (on public record). Even one of those officers had visited our college as a guest speaker. I know the precise location of the secret base from where in Rawalpindi the entire Afghan operation was ran by ISI (ofcourse not a secret anymore after all these years). The ISI had divided the Afghan political party leaders and field commanders, for each commander on ground had to be assoicated with one of parties to get ammunition and money from ISI. The idea of strategic depth and prevention of encirclement is very old. Pakistan has always sought a friendly government in kabul. In those very days also when CIA director William Casey used to fly directly from Washington to Chaklala Air Force base Rawalpindi, the relationship between CIA and ISI was uneasy. And it continues to be now;
http://www.newsweekpakistan.com/scope/23 0

Once Soviet Union was defeated by Afghan blood, and Pakistan’s termendous sacrifice, the US left the region. Sanctions were imposed on Pakistan.
Today no one in Pakistan trusts the US intentions, although I do not think US intentions are wrong. They might be acting in good faith and nothing wrong in pursuing legitimate interests. But the sense of betrayal in Pakistan remains. The correct approach by the US should have been to rehabilitate and rebuild Afghanistan, and back Pakistan after Soviet withdrawal. Instead US is now paying the price with blood and treasure, and no end in sight of an honourable end to Afghan war.

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive

PS
and i don’t blame Pakistan Army or ISI, Soviet union was a huge threat then. All parties, Pakistan, Afghan Mujahideen, Saudi arabia, Egypt, USA jointly fought against communism. That was the need of the hour, a job well done which help defeat communism, caused Soviet Union to colllapse, Berlin to fall and Eastern Europe was liberated. Many people got the sense of liberty and freedom for the first time after the end of communist repression.

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive

*Berlin wall to fall.

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive

Umairpk,

I agree that the US could have stuck around and help stabilize the region. This has been their major weakness – dealing with everything in a business like manner – cozy up when needed and ignore when not needed. I wonder if this abandonment was deliberate. It is possible that they might have planned to let the region fall apart so that they can be back o fix things. One never knows what runs in the minds of the lunatics at the Pentagon. Pakistan’s status was elevated until American objectives were achieved. President Reagan lied to his Congress about Pakistan’s nuclear bomb development so that money could be pumped into the conflict without interruption. Once the war was won, there was no more need to lie and sanctions were imposed. Pakistan was no longer needed. They assumed that things will fall into an insignificant hole after that. Little did they realize that Bin Laden would arise and haunt them. They came back again to use Pakistan and will abandon Pakistan once again if their objectives are met. May be your generals know this and want to keep the US here for a while by protecting Bin Laden. There is more to milk the US out of. And then there is Iranian nuclear bomb development. To contain Iran, the US might yet again seek Pakistan’s help. I get the feeling that they will attack Iran. Whoever becomes a President in 2012, will need a war to keep the attention away from local issues in the US. Iran will be the ideal choice and Pakistan will again be propped up. Iraqis may not allow the US to come back in. A lot of interesting developments are about to unfold.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

All the politcos and hacks want to shut down Social Security and Medicare, yet no one raises the issue of cutting military spending and getting out of Afghanistan and Iraq (Will, Buchanan and Scarborough notwithstanding).
KPSingh01, we can’t afford nor win the wars we have now. To start one against Iran or North Korea would be economic suicide.
Stop all funds to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Israel and see where that takes us. It couldn’t be any worse than what we have now.
(If Obama doesn’t start troop reductions in 2011, I will vote against him in 2012.)

Posted by Andvari | Report as abusive

Myra

” “We want what you want: a strong, stable, democratic Pakistan,” he told a news conference, according to the Washington Post. “We wish your success because it’s in our own interest.”

“It was more in the choice of language — not necessarily Biden’s strong point. It left you wondering which audience he was appealing to when he said, “we want what you want”.

***I think Biden’s handle on language has come handy. I can imagine his big grin after your his analysis of his single sentence. If the guy was serious, he meant USA wants a strong, stable BUT democratic Pakistan. Even if he was clearer, no one would trust him given US support to dictators/PA historically and currently they Kayani gets more respect than a PM or President.

Posted by rehmat | Report as abusive

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