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The Wilson Quarterly: Planet Pakistan

Author: Robert M. Hathaway
January 30, 2010


Robert M. Hathaway recounts ordinary Pakistani's reactions to the U.S.-Pakistan relationship as being in 'a parallel universe'; Instability and denial are accepted aspects of social and political life that underlie serious economic and educational problems.

An American visitor in Pakistan can't help thinking at times that he has arrived in a parallel universe. Asked about the presence of Al Qaeda on their country's soil, Pakistanis deny that there is any evidence of it. They lionize A. Q. Khan, who created the country's nuclear weapons program and sold essential nuclear technology and knowledge to Iran, North Korea, and Libya, and they are incensed by American worries about the security of their country's nuclear assets. Suicide bombings and political assassinations are near-daily occurrences, yet many Pakistanis are astonishingly complacent about the murderous groups behind them. They rail instead against the government that is powerless to prevent these attacks and an America that would like nothing better than to see an end to ­them.

Last October, when I visited, Pakistanis were fuming over the U.S. aid package recently approved by Congress. The $7.5 billion Kerry-­Lugar bill tripled American support for Pakistan over a ­five-­year period and reversed the overwhelmingly ­pro­military slant of previous U.S. aid. Instead of going almost entirely to the armed forces, American dollars will flow to schools and clinics, economic development, and efforts to promote the rule of law and democratic governance. Pakistan's friends in Washington were jubilant. Yet most Pakistanis I spoke with insisted that because the aid came with ­conditions-­the U.S. secretary of state must certify that Pakistan is working to end government support for extremist and terrorist groups, for ­example-­it was an affront and a threat to their country's sovereignty. One legislator complained that what Pakistan was being asked to accept was less an aid package than a treaty of ­surrender.

Denial is a national habit in Pakistan. With a long history of failed governance and political leaders who put their personal interests first, Pakistanis point their fingers at the United States, their arch-enemy India, or the ­all-­purpose malefactor often described in the local news media as the "hidden hand"-anyone but themselves to explain their nation's past failings and precarious ­present.

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