Short term bargains vs long term interests

Raza Rumi

While Pakistan continues to bleed, the familiar tunes of anti-Americanism are being played up. The religious parties have always indulged in doublespeak: condemn the US in public and make deals with the ‘enemy’ in private. TV anchors and failed politicians have also linked the rise of extremism with US policies in the region. Such a narrative is disingenuous, as it twists public opinion and distracts attention from the state policy of nurturing extremists as strategic instruments.

Surprisingly, the fabricated tide of anti-Americanism has also involved our sharp ambassador in Washington, whose vilification appears to be a favourite pastime of self-styled patriots. Of late, one famous TV anchor maligned Husain Haqqani for compromising Pakistan’s dignity. Using excerpts from Bob Woodward’s book Obama’s wars, the public was informed with much contempt that Haqqani gave dishonourable advice about Pakistan to the Americans.

Another columnist/blogger has been attacking HH, terming him as an orphan of the late Mr Holbrooke. Now Holbrooke was no angel, but in the past few years he had metamorphosed into a staunch supporter of Pakistan’s democratic process. If HH has influenced the US administration to reckon civilian governance as a major factor for Pakistan’s long-term stability, then it is more than welcome. What then, is the fuss all about?

Our ruling classes claim widespread anti-Americanism in society and this seems to be a useful alibi for their misgovernance. I am not even sure how widespread anti-Americanism is, given that opinion polls are methodologically inadequate and agenda-laden. Perhaps a useful indicator might be the clamouring for a US visa or a green card. The people of Fata and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa are tired of militancy and are in no mood to play along with the grand strategic games in their backyard. That is why violence and mobilistion around the issue of blasphemy is overtly political in nature.

In this context, attacks on sane voices such as HH constitute empty rhetoric. Maximising national interest is what foreign policy is all about. Unfortunately, we have construed foreign policy as a combination of economic dependence and military leverage for which we are paying a high price. Fantasising about our geostrategic ‘importance’ is a national hobby. Realism and rational decision-making are the greatest casualties of this collective mindset.

HH has proved to be an unqualified success in his role as Pakistan’s civilian government’s appointee in Washington. His intellectual credentials have earned him quite a few admirers and, if media reports are to be believed, HH has apparently carved an honourable niche for Pakistan. After all, how many of our ambassadors could get meetings with the US President for our president and COAS at a short notice. Instead of recognising such outreach and diplomacy, his perennial bashing by intellectual nobodies is simply unfair.

This is not to say that HH has not committed mistakes in the past. His intimacy with the establishment during the 1980s is well known and he may appear as overly pro-US to our power brokers. However, he might just be more pro-Pakistan by constructively engaging with the US. HH is adroitly managing a strained bilateral relationship, which will get more problematic in the wake of resolving the Afghanistan quagmire in the coming years.

Being HH is, therefore, a serious dilemma: appeasing the short-term bargain-lobbies at home and not losing sight of long-term national interest is tricky business. Hence, the frontal attacks on our ambassador in a capital we love to blame for almost everything under the sun.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 16th, 2011.

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