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Stop beating ourselves up

The writer is a lawyer and political commentator based in London

WikiLeaks offer amazing disclosures but there are a couple of things to bear in mind. First, these are subjective assessments by American diplomats. And second, while reading the media reports, beware of spin. For instance, the Pakistani media is quick to point out that our government colluded with the US government on drones. It also readily notes that our civilian and military leadership cosies up to American diplomats. This is all true, worrisome and must be brought to the attention of our citizens. But so should the cable that does not validate previous media suspicions, such as the fact that Aafia Siddiqui may not have been held in Bagram or the fact that there are cables to suggest that Gilani, Kayani and Musharraf have, at times, spoken their minds and challenged the American worldview. Nawaz Sharif, moreover, firmly held his ground and refused to be coerced in the case of the restoration of the chief justice. To use the cables only to reinforce the oft-prevailing view that Pakistan is a ‘client state’ is not doing justice to the revelations.

If the cables from embassies other than Islamabad are perused, it becomes evident that the degree of American infiltration around the globe is concerning and reaches far beyond Pakistan. To cite a few examples, Russia was persuaded by the Americans to ban the sale of S-300 air defence missile systems to Iran. The Spanish government was pressured by the Americans to close a court case in which a Spanish cameraman was killed in Baghdad by US army fire, thereby ensuring that US soldiers indicted by the Spanish court were not arrested. In Germany, a top aide to the German foreign minister was used as a mole by the US to spy on coalition-building talks to build a new government in Germany. These are all stories from relatively powerful countries, what to speak of other developing countries. Perhaps that is what happens when there is only one superpower left in the world. It exerts undue influence and others try to ingratiate themselves to it, as David Cameron was quoted assuring the Americans in one cable, that “the Tories are pro-American”.

And yet there is also evidence to suggest that in spite of such power, there are times when things simply do not go according to plan for the Americans and then they do resign themselves and work with the new reality. A good example is Turkey. There are enormous amounts of cables emanating from the embassy in Ankara. One dated December 8, 2005 is subtitled, “Despite wishful thinking, the Justice Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi — AKP) not crumbling yet”. In the earlier cables, the ambassador in Turkey underplays Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP’s hold on power and yet by 2005, one notices the change in tone. The dislike does not change but the realisation that America must work with the powers that be, comes through. In Pakistan too, there are instances of US wishes not coming to fruition.

In one cable, for example, Anne Patterson writes, “no amount of money will stop Pakistan from supporting the Afghan Taliban”.  Although the wisdom of this Pakistani policy may be debated, it is clear that it is not dictated by America. A better example is that of the lawyers’ movement, which succeeded in spite of efforts to the contrary, from not just the United States but also Saudi Arabia and China. Thus, in one cable Patterson acknowledges: “This is not a failed state. Pakistan has solid albeit weak institutions, a robust if often irresponsible media, established although under-equipped police forces, an increasingly strong civil society, and a population with a proven resiliency to withstand everything from earthquakes to kleptocracy.”  Yet, to quote Patterson  again, “the myth of US influence” controlling all in Pakistan is pervasive and constantly fed by our media. We need to stop beating ourselves up and get rid of this self-defeatism. As long as we believe we can control our own destiny, we will.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 7th, 2010.

Ayesha Ijaz Khan December 7, 2010

Reader Comments (12)

  • Wonderful, level headed write up and very good advice.

    parvez Dec 7, 2010 - 12:07PM
  • good critical analysis

    Talat Dec 7, 2010 - 12:42PM
  • Good article that talks sense amidst the hysteria.

    IZ Dec 7, 2010 - 3:08PM
  • every nation is targeted by this american…i wud say conspiracy…..but most of them hv responded in a dignified way….not lyk us jst fighting with each other…..and taking it as an oppotunity to let down our rivals…….
    its ok to criticize the wrong…..but we shud also keep in mind our country’s dignity……

    ibrahim Dec 7, 2010 - 3:40PM
  • Great piece. The media in general needs level headedness in it’s reporting of Wikileaks in Pakistan. It is being very selective in it’s discussions and analysis helping to maintain a seige mentality in Pakistanis.

    Tilsim Dec 7, 2010 - 3:55PM
  • Finally some words of a solitary ray of sun light on a gloomy day effect .. much appreciated

    Pakistani Dec 7, 2010 - 4:54PM
  • Let us ignore what others have said about our rulers and politicians for a moment- as the Americans have used the same sort of uncharitable language towards Russians, Italian, French, Libyan and other heads of governments also. However, one thing which is quite embarrasing is that our politicians do suffer from a “confession” problem which no other country rulers suffer from. Instead of “confessing” to the priest- they treat US Ambassador as the person in front of whom they can spill the beans and confess- everyone whether military heads or civilian rulers- have discussed things with Americans which are really below the dignity-we treat Anne Peterson and American officials like viceroys and of course they also take advantage of this demeaning attitude by the elite. There are many back channels that could have been used, even during long march crisis, to send messages from one branch of government to another or even to opposition- there was no need to involve foreign government in such an affair. Of course the influence that Americans wield is a self created problem and it dates back to old days- it is not a problem that only the recent set of characters suffer from.

    qazi Dec 7, 2010 - 7:28PM
  • politician works under pressure and they know HOW to work with these pressures,,states always mind different priorities in their foreign relation ,,regime change is American,s prime interest so they use this tool for toppling democracy in third world countries Pakistan is one among them who sacrifices since its day first,,,they install their own favorite persons in power there is no chance of denying any dictation reveal from America… leaks one among great brave intellectuals,,,,,,,,the defender of freedom………..

    karim Dec 7, 2010 - 7:36PM
  • Dear Ms. Khan, there is a difference between beating yourself up and identifying problems so they can be rectified.

    Thank you, by the way, for pointing out that all that ails us in not of American doing.

    Asad ullah Dec 7, 2010 - 10:52PM
  • @ Asad Ullah – I think writer isn’t asking that we should stop discussing things out or as you put it, identifying problems. She basically is pointing out that beside many weaknesses shown by us to US, there has been instances where US influence was disregarded for our own interests. Though this wasn’t very often as it should have been.

    @ Ayesha – I agree to the point of view that we need to look at both the angles. But most of the incidents, where we acted against US influence, can be attributed to military leadership. Our political leadership too, needs to follow that line. Its every country’s right to influence others for its interests. So where ever we have gone wrong, we should be looking at ourselves rather than blaming US or any other country.

    Sajjad Ahmed Dec 8, 2010 - 2:42PM
  • @Ayesha, I have said this before in email to you and would say it again. Your columns are ‘breath of fresh air’. Good analysis. For last few days I have been overwhelmed by the doom and gloom surrounding my views about Pakistan, your piece has made an effective dent in those views.

    Imran Mohammad Dec 12, 2010 - 9:53PM

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