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Pakistan shows how to lose friends and alienate people

Washington: No, this is not schadenfreude. Most definitely not. It is only a deep curiosity about why Pakistan’s Army-ISI-jihadi combine is so committed to losing friends and alienating people. Over the years the Deep State has forced – literally forced – Pakistan’s friends abroad to abandon the country by pursuing horrendously dangerous policies, stabbing its benefactors in the back and using terrorists to win goals it can’t through saner means.

The result: Pakistan may have lost one “A” in the triangle that has held sway over its political life – America — the other two being Allah and the Army. There is not a single constituency of any significance left within the US government - or without - that wants to go out on a limb to defend the enemy that Pakistan has become. No, the US is not about to jettison the relationship, but there is no heart in it anymore.

US security agencies are debating how to deal with a problem like Pakistan. Reuters

It takes some effort to go from 100 to zero but Pakistan’s generals have accomplished the feat. Yes, starting with Gen. Pervez Musharraf who launched the current phase. Their games, lies, deceit and terror tactics have made Pakistan a dirty word in Washington. American academics who have studied Pakistan and defended it no longer feel convinced it is a place worth defending because of the growing hatred of America and the growing love of the Taliban among ordinary Pakistanis.

The US Congress is a red zone of anger. Countless senators and congressmen have questioned the need to pour money ($20 billion so far) into a country that is so adamantly anti-American. Even within the State Department, where there was once an entrenched pro-Pakistan group of officers who cut their teeth on Cold War propaganda and savoured Pakistan’s anti-India feed machine, there is hardly a voice left. No more Robin Raphels finding clever, expedient reasons to do Pakistan’s bidding.

It is all about keeping up the façade so the NATO supply routes to Afghanistan can operate. But even this pretend game is now broken with the latest episode.

You may have felt the visceral anger in Pakistan over the NATO air strikes on 26 November against two border posts, which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Flags were burning, mullahs fuming with contradictory information from both sides on what sparked the attack not really clearing the fog of war or anger. There was even a Jamaat-ud-Dawa “condolence” rally in Lahore where school children were brought in by subterfuge to listen to poisonous speeches. The JuD leaders used the occasion to declare an open jihad against America and India and announce that Pakistan would soon be a Taliban state.

Let me just say the anger in Washington is equally palpable although Americans are not burning Pakistani flags. Pakistan’s old friends in the Pentagon who sustained a cozy relationship of weapons sales and al-Qaeda hunting for years are fed up. Mid-level officers talk passionately of the thousands of American soldiers who have died over the years in attacks by Pakistani proxies – various terrorist groups and Taliban factions. Although President Barack Obama finally called President Asif Ali Zardari and offered condolences, his refusal to apologise for the NATO strikes despite his ambassador’s urging is a measure of the current temperature. A heated inter-agency debate goes on about what to do with Pakistan.

The attack on the US Embassy in Kabul in September was a clear turning point and the anger reached all the way up. It has been downhill ever since. There is a clear sense in Washington that even the latest episode was somehow “constructed” by Pakistan army in a way that US forces were “drawn” into firing.

Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the Pakistan army chief, now pushed into his anti-American corner, is fuming even more. But instead of countering his bluster diplomatically, Washington has begun speaking plain English. To Kayani’s statement that any future “act of aggression will be responded with full force, regardless of the cost and consequences,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby replied that every “sovereign nation has the right of self-defence… We certainly respect that right of his. We have it as well.” Read what you will in the last sentence.

Gen. Jim Jones, Obama’s former national security adviser who dealt with Kayani and others for more than a year-and-a-half, gave his assessment of their suicidal tendencies on television last week. He said he had been “scratching” his head because “there is no logic” to why Pakistan is “hell-bent on self-destruction.” For good measure, he added that it was “inconceivable” that Kayani and co. didn’t know about Osama bin Laden residing in their midst.

Dennis Blair, former director of National Intelligence, thinks the “carrots-only” approach has not worked. The large and comprehensive aid programme put together by the Obama Administration in early 2010 “turned out to be too much” because “Pakistan choked on some of it and didn’t believe the rest.” Those arguing for a “strategic relationship” with Pakistan are quieter now.

The larger question, however, remains: Where does Gen. Kayani ultimately want to take his country through this manipulated anti-Americanism? Into China’s embrace? But China really doesn’t want the burden of sponsoring a fast-radicalising country. Beijing has been careful in its criticism of the NATO attack and last heard, hadn’t rushed to sponsor a resolution in the United Nations. It will use Pakistan against India to the extent necessary but will not “adopt” the country wholesale. Besides, if Pakistanis really regret having been “used” by the US in the 1980s and then abandoned, do they want to walk into the arms of a less generous power?

Another country Pakistani leaders rush to in times of trouble is Saudi Arabia, that fount of freedom and democracy! In the great Sunni-Shia leadership contest, Saudis are happy to deploy states like Pakistan on the frontlines and spread the cruel, extreme version of Islam but not much more.

Of course, another option for Gen. Kayani is to put anchor in South Asia and begin slowly walking back from the brink. But it seems he would rather bite the hand that feeds and undermine the civilian government he should be answering to. If statecraft becomes only a sum of negatives – undermine peace with India, sponsor terrorists to gain “strategic depth,” constantly curb the power of civilians – the state becomes hollow. And friendless.

P.S. A deep bow to the many brave, liberal Pakistanis who continue to fight this darkness with words and deed. #Respect.

Seema Sirohi is a journalist/analyst based in Washington.

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