It’s all a myth - Hussain H Zaidi - Monday, December 13, 2010

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Does the US interfere in the domestic affairs of Pakistan? Well, the Wikileaks revelations seem to lend credence to the belief that it does. The old, widespread belief is that Washington’s influence on Islamabad is so pervasive that no major policy decision in the country – domestic or foreign – is made without a nod from the White House or subordinate offices.

Whether it’s induction or dismissal of a government, macro-management of the economy, Pakistan’s joining or opting out of an alliance, or its deployment or withdrawal of troops – all important matters are submitted to Americans for their guidance and concurrence. Hence, in Pakistan anyone who matters, or has the ambition to be someone who matters, makes a beeline for the US ambassador, or to his or her superiors.

However, Americans and their alleged Pakistani clients deny this.

In the wake of the latest Wikileaks disclosures, a State Department spokesperson has maintained that his country only encourages, and in no way influences, healthy developments in Pakistan, such as strengthening of democracy, good governance and economic stabilisation. Similar rebuttals have been made by the spin doctors of the Pakistani ruling elite. And there is hardly any reason one should not see eye to eye with them.

Pakistan is a sovereign state, and as such is free to make its own decisions. Any hint at US influence on movers and shakers in the country or interference in its domestic affairs is groundless. And at bottom it is a conspiracy to denigrate Pakistan’s leadership, which can never compromise on national sovereignty, as well as to sour relations between the two strategic allies.

Thus, to begin with, one can safely say that Pakistan’s foreign policy has never been dictated by the US and that the country has chosen its friends and foes of its own accord. For instance, the decision to join the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) and the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) in the 1950s was Pakistan’s own. The fact that both were pro-American military alliances constitutes no ground for the assumption that the country’s admission to them was under US influence.

There was no American hand in the dismissal of Z A Bhutto and clamping of martial law on July 5, 1977, and the decision was solely that of Ziaul Haq and his fellow generals. Likewise, Americans had no role to play in the execution of Mr Bhutto.

Pakistan joined the Afghan war in the late 1970s on its own in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, only to safeguard Islam, and never fought America’s proxy war in the region. Washington’s enormous military and economic assistance to Islamabad in the course of the Afghan conflict was dictated wholly by US love for Islam; otherwise it had little interest in Moscow’s defeat.

The US only encouraged the revival of democracy in 1988, and it was in no way involved in the appointment of Ms Benazir Bhutto as prime minister. Nor was the US even consulted before the-then presidents booted out Ms Bhutto in 1990 and 1996. Similarly, Washington was never involved in the installation or sacking of the Nawaz Sharif governments, and certainly not on Oct 12, 1999.

Washington never pressurised Islamabad into joining the alliance against the Taliban regime in the wake of the 9/11 incident. Again, the decision was entirely Islamabad’s own. The subsequent inflow of the hefty US assistance to Pakistan was never used by the Americans to shape their counter-terrorism strategy. And, of course, the US didn’t for a moment support the military regime of Pervez Musharraf, which never used American crutches to survive for nearly a decade.

The Americans only encouraged Pakistan’s return to democracy and were not at all involved in the negotiations between Ms Bhutto and Mr Musharraf leading to the promulgation of that wonderful piece of legislation called the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). The US has been only interested in, and did not interfere in, the subsequent political developments in Pakistan. US approval was not obtained for President Musharraf’s being forced to step down, or for Mr Zardari’s step into the Presidency. And there was little, if any, reason that US should oppose or support the reinstatement of the deposed members of the superior judiciary.

At the moment, the Americans are only encouraging Pakistan to go all out against terrorists and the United States is in no way dictating Pakistan where and when to strike the militants. The Kerry-Lugar law should not be seen as an attempt by Washington to macro-manage Islamabad’s politics and economics.

But what about drone strikes? Don’t they constitute a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty? Well, they may, but the point to be noted is that the aerial strikes actually aim at helping Pakistan curb militancy and thus need to be looked upon as more of support than intervention.

One may also ask if the US doesn’t interfere in Pakistan politics, why do people in power or aspiring to be in power vie with one another to have access to American diplomats? Well, the answer is to be found partly in our culture of courtesy and hospitality. US diplomats on our land are our honourable guests and our norms and values dictate that they are properly taken care of, especially when the guest happens to be a lady. Besides, the Americans, being the most advanced nation on the globe, have a lot to teach us about politics and international relations, the economy and finance, and we, being a backward people, have much to learn from them. The dissemination of knowledge and information should not be look upon as intervention.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Islamabad. Email:

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