The steady decline of Pakistan

For 65 years Pakistanis have been conducting one of modern history’s great experiments: Can a nation conceived as Islamic be free and democratic-- the vision of Pakistan’s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah? Or will Pakistan’s identity be defined by “forces that want us to live in fear—fear of external and internal enemies."

The words quoted above were spoken by Husain Haqqani to the Wall Street Journal’s Mira Sethi. Until November, Haqqani was Pakistan's ambassador to Washington where he was a popular figure, a proud Pakistani patriot and a liberal-democratic Muslim intellectual tirelessly making the case that Pakistan should be seen as an important ally deserving of respect, moral support and material assistance.

Haqqani is now back in Pakistan – a guest in the home of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and, as Sethi phrases it, the “de facto prisoner of the Pakistani generals whose ire he has provoked.” Beyond the doors of Gilani’s Islamabad residence, Haqqani fears, assassins await.

This is not just about one man: If Pakistan has become a nation that can’t tolerate a Husain Haqqani, Pakistan has become an intolerant nation, a nation in danger of becoming what Haqqani’s wife, parliamentarian Farahnaz Ispahani, has called a “militarized Islamist state.” Certainly, it would be time to stop regarding Pakistan as a friend of the United States.

When I was last in Pakistan, two years ago, on a visit sponsored by the State Department, the U.S. Congress had just approved – thanks in large measure to Haqqani’s efforts – a $7.5 billion aid package. To my shock, this elicited little gratitude and much grumbling. Why? Because American envoys were to ensure that American taxpayer dollars would be spent to alleviate poverty and fight terrorists -- not for other purposes. People were angry with Haqqani for having accepted such “conditionality.”

I recall the U.S. ambassador getting grilled on a Pakistani television program and sounding apologetic. I told anyone who asked – and some who didn’t --- that aid is not an entitlement; that we Americans have every right to specify how our money should be spent; that Haqqani was correct not to complain about such commonsensical restrictions; and that if other Pakistanis disagree they can tear up our checks. No hard feelings....

During my last visit, however, Pakistan was different. Over the course of a single week, four terrorist attacks were carried out -- one of them targeting the Pakistani equivalent of the Pentagon where Taliban insurgents, armed with automatic weapons, grenades, and rocket launchers, fought for 22 hours. I expected such violence to outrage Pakistanis – to make them implacable foes of terrorism and the ideologies that drive it. But that was not necessarily the case.

A too-common view: The Taliban that attacks Pakistanis should be condemned but the Taliban that attacks Americans may be condoned. America, after all, had wronged Afghanistan by abandoning it after the Soviet defeat, and then had wronged it a second time by returning. The self-contradiction in these indictments generally went unrecognized.


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