Could South Korea "Save" America's Relations with Pakistan?  (Page 2 of 3)

Americans were largely unaware of the context of Psy’s past statements (for which he has since apologized). In the 2002 incident, he sang the anti-American lyrics in the midst of an anti-American phase in South Korea, sparked by the killing of two young Korean girls whom they overran with their armored vehicle. They were later acquitted by a U.S. military tribunal. This anti-American fever was also the byproduct of generational change in South Korea.

The so-called 3-8-6 generation in the 1990s resented U.S. support for military dictators and saw it as the agent behind the separation of the two Koreas, keeping two brothers at war. They were angered by the great latitude given to U.S. forces during military rule. These sentiments grew as the third wave hit South Korea in the 1980s and mushroomed during George W. Bush’s first term, when over 30% of Koreans supported an autonomous national security policy.  Opposition to an alliance with the United States was much higher among youth in their 20s and 30s. Psy, who attended Boston University and the Berkley College of Music, was representative of this population segment.

South Korea’s anti-American spell bears an uncanny resemblance to the current wave of opposition to the U.S. in Pakistan, with which America has one of its most problematic partnerships. Pakistani suspicions of the U.S. go back decades, but opposition to America took on a new, more strident form in the years after 9/11. As in South Korea, urban middle and upper-middle class Pakistanis have felt that Washington has been forcing Pakistanis to fight one another through the war on terror.

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Pakistan too witnessed a democratic opening in 2007 while Washington was supporting a military ruler. It was precipitated by a civil society movement led by lawyers and the middle class, and enabled the return of its two major civilian politicians. Among the movement’s strongest backers were the urban youth, who today largely support Imran Khan, the nationalist politician who has railed against the war on terror. Khan, much like the Korean unificationists, calls for talks, not continued war, with the Taliban.

Like young South Koreans over the past decade, Pakistanis today deeply resent the presence of U.S. security personnel in their country. The case of Raymond Davis, a CIA security officer who killed two Pakistanis and was never punished for his actions, compounded the Pakistani belief that U.S. security forces operate with impunity inside Pakistan. And it was soon followed by the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, not to mention the perpetual drone strikes.

The comparison of Pakistan with South Korea is imperfect. Pakistan is riddled with religious extremism, poverty, and corruption, its military remains wedded to using jihadists as an instrument of policy, and it is decades away from achieving the educational, economic, and social progress of South Korea. Nonetheless, there are lessons from America’s South Korean experience that can be applied to improving ties with Pakistan.

Washington must internalize the reality of the generational change that is happening in Pakistan and keep in mind the long view. Much like South Korea’s 3-8-6 generation, Pakistan has its own 2-8-9 generation: young men and women in their twenties, born in the 1980s, whose worldview has been shaped by the post-9/11 era as well as the preceding decade, marked by U.S. abandonment of Pakistan and failed governance.

Nearly 70% of Pakistanis are below the age of thirty. With a population size of over 176 million people, Pakistani youth number well over 100 million. Given Pakistan’s youth bulge, its 2-8-9 generation will play a pivotal rule in its future. Fulbright scholarships, fellowships for journalists, and networking with social media activists are valuable investments Washington has made in Pakistan in recent years. But these efforts are just drops in the bucket and are overshadowed by the direct and indirect U.S. impact on Pakistan’s security.

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