We often hear about the ‘trust deficit’ Pakistanis feel toward the United States because of the cut-off of US aid programs to Pakistan in the early 1990s over its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Pakistanis repeatedly voice their view that the United States is a fickle and untrustworthy partner that pursues its own national security interests at the expense of Pakistan.
But demonstrating that the lack of trust in the US-Pakistan relationship cuts both ways, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her recent visit to the country questioned Pakistani sincerity over its efforts to capture senior al-Qaeda members. While Clinton’s statement stood out for its bluntness, other senior US officials have echoed similar sentiments. US CENTCOM Commander Gen. David Petraeus, for example, acknowledged in congressional testimony last spring that elements of Pakistan’s security services retained unhelpful links to the Afghan Taliban, while US and NATO Forces Commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal repeated the same assertion in his Afghanistan assessment.
It has become something of an open secret — or painful truth — that Pakistan and the US are working at cross-purposes in Afghanistan. The real question is how long the US-Pakistan partnership can be sustained under the current strain of our divergent goals in Afghanistan, especially as US military deaths rise. The United States has pledged this year to triple non-military aid to Pakistan and to provide support for the Pakistan military as it battles militants that threaten the Pakistani state. But until there’s a meeting of the minds on Afghanistan, the US-Pakistan relationship will be plagued by mistrust and suspicion.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Addressing Pakistani Insecurities
Secretary Clinton has strayed several times from the diplomatic handbook with regard to statements on Pakistan — sometimes with a helpful outcome. She was the first US official to declare, last April, that Pakistan was ‘abdicating to the Taliban,’ a week before the Pakistani military finally decided to push the pro-Taliban forces back from the settled areas of Pakistan. She also won high marks in Pakistan a few months ago when she acknowledged during congressional testimony that the United States had treated Pakistan poorly in the past. This statement apparently met a need among Pakistanis for the US to acknowledge that it had made mistakes in its past policies toward the region.
This sense of betrayal explains in part why despite the Pakistani public’s growing recognition that the Pakistani Taliban is a threat to the country and must be fought militarily, anti-American sentiment is soaring in the country. An August survey by Gallup Pakistan found that 59 percent of Pakistanis felt the greatest threat to the country was the United States.
The Washington Post recently documented a similarly troubling phenomenon. It seems the more horrific the terrorist attack in Pakistan, the less willing the Pakistani people are to believe the attack could be carried out by their fellow countrymen. During Secretary Clinton’s visit to Pakistan last month, there was a major suicide bombing at a women’s market in Peshawar in which over 120 people, mainly women and children, were murdered.
Many Pakistanis could not comprehend the inhuman nature of the Peshawar attack and thus tended to believe outsiders were responsible. This peculiar phenomenon was captured recently in a speech by US Senator Joe Lieberman, in which he said: ‘Part of the perversity of evil is that, the greater its depravity, the greater is our temptation to avert our eyes from it, to look away, to convince ourselves that we cannot possibly be seeing what we are in fact seeing. Indeed, that is one of the reasons such evil persists.’ The point is that unless Pakistanis themselves come to grips with the reality that it is the terrorists — not India or the United States — that are threatening their way of life and very existence as a nation, they may indeed be manipulated and eventually overcome by these dark forces.