So we’ve reached an impasse in the uneasy US-Pakistani alliance. Too many red lines have allegedly been crossed and thus the Raymond Davis affair has brought mistrust to an all-time high. There is gloating in certain quarters. Pakistan will not sit this one down, and, if it does, then it is the end of this government. The street will decide this one. Banners that say “Blood for blood” and “Hang Davis till death” are to be taken seriously as ‘public opinion’. To what extent that opinion is manufactured we are unconcerned with for now.
Let’s say we take America head on. Both countries call each other’s bluff. The US moves the International Court of Justice on the dubious matter of Davis’s immunity. Pakistan is obliged to present its case, hire expensive lawyers and fight for an uncertain outcome. America scraps Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid. Pakistan stops cooperating in Afghanistan. Then what?
How long will Pakistan ride on the high of protecting ‘national honour’? Will it fix our schools? Will it provide gas and electricity? Will it reduce inflation? Will it provide employment? Some degree of anti-Americanism exists in every society — resentment against US heavy-handedness, a disdain for American hubris — but the degree of anti-Americanism in Pakistan is reaching dangerous proportions. The public in urban centres is being rallied, orchestrated by design, to use America as a scapegoat for all our ills. America looks out for its own interests and these may, or may not, align with Pakistan’s interests but to think that suddenly, upon ‘standing up to America’, our problems will be solved, or even begin to be solved, is utterly misleading.
To the contrary, our problems will only compound. Multinationals will begin to pull out and downscale, resulting in even more unemployment. With oil prices rising, given the events in the Middle East, financial aid will become even more important for us. Expatriates, who are often touted as the key to spurring economic activity within Pakistan, will run further away from any such prospect. In fact, money will begin to flow out of Pakistan and into places like London. To give one example, just in the two-week period since the uprisings in the Middle East, property prices in London’s Mayfair have escalated by 15 per cent. On the other hand, Egypt has lost $1 billion in tourism revenue alone.
The loss may still be worth it for Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and others because for years they had been stuck with one-man rule, with no semblance of democracy or freedom of expression. The price they pay now to build their institutions, like Pakistanis did to restore a deposed judiciary, may reap benefits in the future. But what are we trying to achieve? Will confronting America build our institutions or harm them? Will it sustain democracy or end it?
Let’s face it. We are a weak state and weak states have no international clout. In spite of our military might, we are an economic mess. And thus, not only will we not be taken seriously at places like the International Court of Justice, but the banners calling for Davis’s blood will be used against us, Pakistan as an unstable terrorist haven where global investment is unsafe. In today’s world, ‘standing up to the US’ also means losing popularity with other countries and growing international isolation. What then? Who suffers?
Certainly not Nawaz Sharif’s son, who is spotted shopping regularly at John Lewis and Selfridges; not Shah Mahmood’s son, who was not pushed about national honour when he got himself an internship with John Kerry; not Gilani’s son, who is said to spend summers gallivanting around London town in a sports car; and not Imran Khan’s son, who has been photographed genuflecting as a ring bearer at royalty weddings. It is, in fact, the average Arif who will suffer the consequences and pay the price for our zealous anti-Americanism.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 27th, 2011.