Why Are They Angry?

by Claude Garrod January 2, 2010

There's general agreement that success in Afghanistan depends critically on support and cooperation from neighboring Pakistan. However, opinion polls, taken recently*, show that Americans are widely disliked and distrusted by Pakistanis. For example, a recent poll showed that 80% of Pakistanis feel that their country should not cooperate with the US in the war on terror. Only 2% feel that the US has "good relations with Pakistan.'" In another poll, only 9% support US drone attacks in Pakistan and most Pakistanis believe that "the US is the greatest threat to their country." How can this be? Haven't we spent large amounts of money helping the Pakistanis fight terrorism? I'll try to explain why this is so by giving the answers of three fictitious Pakistanis to the question: Why are you angry at us? They are: Colonel X., an army officer, Ahmad Y., a student at Lahore University, and Mohammad Z., a poor tenant farmer. Some of the opinions expressed, though widely held, are not well-supported by historical facts and, let me emphasize, they are not necessarily the views of the writer.

Colonel X: You ask why we're angry - well, for one thing, you Americans refuse to understand that, since the creation of Pakistan in 1947, we've had only one bitter and aggressive enemy, namely India. In 1947, when British India was partitioned into the nations of India and Pakistan, the rule was that primarily Hindu areas would join India and Muslim areas become part of Pakistan. In spite of this, the Indians used their army to occupy most of Kashmir, an almost purely Muslim region whose residents wanted to join Pakistan. Since then, they've brutally suppressed the Kashmiris who continue to oppose Indian occupation.

Originally, Pakistan was composed of two separated parts - West Pakistan, with most of the territory, and East Pakistan, with most of the population. However, the Indians encouraged rebels in East Pakistan and finally the Indian military supported the secessionists in order to break our country in two, the eastern half becoming the country of Bangladesh that is now dominated by India. They've constantly tried to conspire with the Afghan governments to foment rebellion in our western Pashtun provinces. What has been the American reaction to this? You've just signed a nuclear technology deal with India that will clearly help them in developing more nuclear weapons aimed at Pakistan but wouldn't make a similar agreement with us.

Also,, for many years we had stable governance of the large ethnically Pashtun areas bordering Afghanistan. But in 1980, in order to give the Soviets a black eye, you started to pour arms into that region and invited the Saudis to establish dozens of fundamentalist madrases to radicalize the youth of the area. After the Soviets left Afghanistan you just walked away from the chaotic mess that you had created in our country and left us to deal with three million destitute Afghan refugees in our poor country.

And now, using your cowardly drones, that put no Americans in danger, you kill increasing numbers of Pakistanis in our western provinces, creating a rising level of anger against our government and military. I have no doubt at all that, if you're successful (which I doubt you will be) you'll again walk away and leave us to deal with the mess.

Ahmad Y: Don't you have any idea of the history of American involvement in Pakistan? We started with a democratic government, but in our short history we've had four military coups, each of which was encouraged and supported by the US. Is this how you "support democracy"? Our fundamental problem is that we have a medieval social structure, with a small aristocracy, who own huge tracts of land, and a huge population of poor powerless tenant farmers, mostly illiterate, with little opportunity for education. One of the largest landholders is the Bhutto clan, one of whose members you've helped to impose upon us as President.

We have a make-believe democracy, where the two largest political parties are the PPP (Pakistan People's Party) and the PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz). Benezir Bhutto was the "Chair-for-Life" of the PPP and, at her death, that title was passed on in her will to her son. In the PML-N, the Nawaz refers to Nawaz Sharif, their nominee for President - thus the PML-N will never nominate anyone but Nawaz. These aren't political parties; they're personal fiefdoms.

More than half our population is below twenty, but we're not spending money on education - we're spending it on the military. The US has spent many billions of dollars in Pakistan, but more than 3/4 of it has gone to the army. That may suit American interests but it's not what we need. Right now, one third of the young (15 - 25) have never been in school.

Mohammad Z: Why do I dislike Americans? You have done nothing for ordinary poor Pakistanis like me. All your money goes to the army and what's left over goes to corrupt politicians. The landlord takes so much of my crop in payment that I can barely feed my family. There are no schools around here so my children can't read and they'll end up being poor farmers like me. The country needs schools, but you only support the army. For years you've been killing Muslims all over the world, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Palestine, in Somalia, and now here in Pakistan with your damn drone planes. When I was in Karachi I saw some of your shameless women with no head-covering, mixing with men like tramps. Get out of our country!

Clearly the US has a major public relations problem in Pakistan, caused mainly by very erratic foreign policies dominated by US electoral politics.

*For polls, Google: "aljezeera Pakistan poll" and "IRI index August 2009"

Books: Pakistan's Drift Into Extremism by Hassan Abbas and The Duel by Tariq Ali