Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
U.S. President Barack Obama has apologised for the inadvertent burning of copies of the Koran at a military base in Afghanistan and the top general in the country has ordered all coalition troops to undergo training in the proper handling of religious materials by March 3.
Quite apart from the question of how can you “inadvertently” burn books, the bigger issue is can soldiers be so blindly ignorant of the consequences of their action ? Is it because these were soldiers in the rear, insulated in a huge base that sometimes feels like a little America with its gymns, snack joints and the easy conviviality between men and women, a setting far removed from the hard-scrabble country outside ?
On the other hand, troops who have to step out of the wire or those directly in harm’s way in their combat outposts, say for instance in Kunar in the east, would know instinctively the anger such desecration of the holy book would provoke.
This is not to say that the men on the frontlines of Afghanistan’s longest military entanglement have consistently exhibited exemplary behaviour. Only last month the top generals were again rushing to contain the damage after a video surfaced in which U.S. Marines deployed in southern Helmand province appeared to be urinating on Taliban corpses.
U.S. ambassador Anne W. Patterson, in a speech reported by the Pakistan press, said last week that the depth of anti-Americanism in Pakistan, especially among the middle-class, had surprised her. Pakistan’s long-term interests were aligned with those of the United States, and those opposing U.S. engagement in the country had a limited understanding of how the partnership based on economic assistance had changed the lives of Pakistanis, she told a meeting in Karachi. For added measure, she said that the “ïncreasingly prosperous middle class” would be the first to suffer if hardliners gained ground.
She needn’t have looked further than to events last week to see why America sits rather uneasily on the Pakistani mind, a heavy hand of friendship that Pakistanis are increasingly chafing against.