By Mustafa Malik
(Published in The San Francisco Chronicle, May 20; Islam and the West, May 22, 2011)
The rebuff couldn’t have been starker. Sen. John Kerry was probably still unwinding on his return from Pakistan when the Pakistani prime minister decided to test U.S. foreign policy. He declared in Shanghai, “China is a true friend and a time-tested and all-weather friend.” Translation: America isn’t a “true friend,” and Pakistan’s friendship with it didn’t stand the test of time.
In case anyone missed the point, Yousaf Raza Gilani added that China was “the first country to show its support and solidarity” with Pakistan after the U.S. Navy SEALS raid that killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani town. Beijing had denounced the Navy SEALs’ incursion as a violation of Pakistani sovereignty.
In Islamabad, Kerry, D-Mass., had ruffled the feathers of Pakistani officials by declaring gratuitously May 15 that the purpose of his visit was “not to apologize” for the May 2 assault on the bin Laden house, which had infuriated Pakistanis. Further, he warned them about the congressional threat to cut off the $1.5 billion-a-year aid to Pakistan unless they cracked down harder on Taliban and al Qaeda guerrillas in their country. They needed to prove their commitment to the anti-terror campaign “with actions, not words,” demanded the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. President Obama often uses him as a trouble shooter when U.S. foreign policy is in a quandary.
The Pakistani prime minister’s China trip had been scheduled before the raid. But the anti-American tenor of Gilani’s remarks in Shanghai signaled that Pakistan had had enough of American “bullying” (as many Pakistanis describe it); that if need be, it could turn to other sources of economic and military support. Indeed, the hallmark of Gilani’s four-day trip was the signing of a series of agreements for China’s military, economic and financial aid to Pakistan and expansion of trade between the two countries.
Since long before the bin Laden raid, most of the Pakistan army generals, politicians and everyday citizens had become fed up with what they saw as Americans’ insensitivity to the huge sacrifices they were making in the anti-terror campaign. That campaign had cost Pakistan 35,000 civilian and 5,000 military lives and alienated much of the nation to its army and government. Yet Pakistanis in general view U.S. foreign policy as the cause of the terrorism that’s stalking their country.
During two trips, I was told over and over by Pakistanis from different walks of life that Pakistan hadn’t known suicide attacks until after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, that the Taliban began to organize in Pakistan only after that invasion and that their army and security forces were being used as “mercenaries” to fight “America’s war.” Most humiliating to many were Americans’ continual threats to cut off aid to ensure Islamabad’s compliance with U.S. demands.
China, of course, will be cautious not to let its expanding Pakistani ties jeopardize its economic and trade relations with the United States. Neither is Pakistan really spoiling for a fight with the United States or willing to endanger its substantial U.S. aid package. And the Obama administration knows that Pakistan’s cooperation and economic stability are crucial to its efforts to prevent it and Afghanistan from remaining terrorist havens. All the same, Gilani was using his China trip to warn Americans that they can’t take Pakistan for granted and that they need to treat it with greater respect.
Mustafa Malik, host of the blog Islam and the West, is a columnist in Washington. He worked as speechwriter and press aide for the late Pakistani Prime Minister Nurul Amin and carried out diplomatic assignments from the Pakistani government. Contact The Chronicle at sfgate.com/chronicle/submissions/#1.