The fringes of the American political spectrum are becoming, simultaneously, more extreme and mainstream. Reminders of that are delivered daily via the fascistic ravings of Donald Trump, the obnoxious reality TV star who may be president by year’s end, and whose popularity is a salient expression of American decay.
The case of Pakistan provides a useful measure of America’s increasing inability to sift fairy tales from reality. Case in point: in large sections of America’s intelligentsia, media and government it has become acceptable to assert, without proof, that Pakistan is uniquely evil and that it needs to be brought to account for its interference in Afghanistan. In aid of this campaign, accusations that border on the conspiratorial are routinely deployed without challenge.
Recently, for instance, it was darkly suggested by Carlotta Gall that Pakistan should be held responsible for the phenomenon of ISIS, a point that relies on selective amnesia concerning the invasion of Iraq and its subsequent destruction under occupation. This now can now be counted among other sinister claims that are asserted as fact, without scrutiny and which form the bedrock of the charge that Pakistan is an ‘unfaithful ally’ and an ‘enemy’.
It was therefore unsurprising when, over the course of the last few months, a muscular opposition to the U.S government’s sale of eight F-16 fighter jets was mustered by elements in the U.S Senate. The chosen path of attack was predictable: that the F-16s would be used against India; that Pakistan is in league with the Taliban and also al Qaeda, and may have harboured Osama bin Laden; and that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal poses a unique disturbance in the world’s otherwise peaceful nuclear equilibrium.
On the F-16 question the Senate opposition appears to have omitted the awkward detail that the United States itself relies on those very same planes for a variety of counterinsurgency operations. Abu Musab Zarqawi, the petty thief and sex offender who founded of Da’esh, was killed, in 2006, by F-16 fighter jets back. To this day, American and coalition F-16 jets roar over Iraq as they “degrade, and destroy” the terrorist group’s presence.
The point regarding bin Laden is, similarly, bereft on substance. Consider the recent trove of bin Laden letters taken from Abbottabad and declassified by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. A clear theme emerges in the documents: a much diminished al Qaeda incessantly complains of being under intense pressure by Pakistan’s forces; Osama, its kingpin, is reduced to scolding the two Pakistani helpers that were his lifeline to the world; and jihadists vent their frustration by obscenely calling for attacks against Pakistan and its people. While this is unlikely to satisfy Pakistan sceptics, it does neatly illustrate how the heft of facts cannot match the allure of fiction in Washington.
The Indian government, predictably, also chimed in and chided the United States for the proposed F-16 sale, cleaving to their traditional policy of reflexive opposition. The Indian minister of foreign affairs noted her “displeasure”, hinting that it would complicate what is vulgarly called the “power balance” of South Asia.
Should this be true, however, it is difficult to then argue that the signing of the celebrated U.S-India nuclear agreement and the salivating prospect of assembling F-16s in India is anything but a minus for regional stability. For the time being, the lucrative commercial prospects of Indian market have silenced any mention of such awkward realities in U.S commentary, which remains strangely preoccupied with Pakistan.
This dichotomy was acknowledged during the course of the Pakistan-themed Congressional proceedings when a representative of the Carnegie Endowment noted, “The nuclear deal that we made with India puts no limits on India’s strategic nuclear capabilities. There are no limits on the growth of its nuclear arsenal. There are no limits on its missile programme and trajectory.”
Then there is the Haqqani network. The United States is adamant that Pakistan provides succor to this group, which has been linked to countless atrocities across Afghanistan. The critique of Haqqani is on solid footing until one considers that U.S officials insinuate that were the Haqqani network to dissipate into the shadows tomorrow, Afghan stability would be all but guaranteed, and the marines could finally end their occupation by invitation with grace.
This is untrue. Over the course of the Afghan war, much ink has been expended studying this point, and it is clear that Afghan insurgency, while led by the Taliban, also has deep connections to local political struggles. This does not factor in the inability of the U.S-installed Afghan governments to provide even a semblance of governance beyond certain parts of Kabul. The shady kleptomania exhibited by Hamid Karzai’s family is still remembered with disgust by large segments of the Afghan population.
The current political situation in Afghanistan consists of an Afghan revolt that is supported by Pakistan but also an American-sponsored political process that counts in its ranks ‘rehabilitated’ war crimes suspects such as Abdul Rashid Dostum, and a NATO force that itself is no stranger to accusations of atrocities. The troubling alliance the Afghan state has forged with narcotics kingpins is also a cause for international concern (only Taliban linked drug traffickers have, so far, been targeted by the U.S Treasury). Therefore, the elimination of the Haqqani network is only a small part of a much broader balancing equation to stabilise Afghanistan.
These arguments should not be taken to mean that Pakistan’s conduct is beyond reproach. On the contrary, holding the Pakistani establishment to account for its policies, particularly its reliance on militant proxies is an issue of vital concern. Equally important to acknowledge, however, is that Pakistan’s policies are patterned very closely to those of its U.S patrons, and are more alike than dissimilar.
However, the extremism exhibited by American political system is unable to absorb or even acknowledge this widely understood problem. Instead, the popular narrative finds it convenient to lay blame elsewhere whenever convenient: Pakistan in Afghanistan; Maliki in Iraq; the Palestinians instead of Israel and so on; an endless permutation of blame rather than introspection. The steady advance of American radicalism, as epitomised by Trump and his ilk will continue to shrink the space for the rational in exchange for the cheap platitudes of making “America great again.” One can only hope that, in the event of a Trump victory, Pakistan or the ISI will not be held responsible.
The writer is a columnist based in Toronto. He has consulted across the Middle East and currently advises on economic sanctions related issues