In an April 2010 interview on “60 Minutes,” Leslie Stahl asked a group of students in Lahore, Pakistan, why they hated America.
“Give us one single reason to love America,” a boy said, “and we’ll forget about the millions of reasons to hate America.”
While the student’s response was a legitimate one for a person who grew up in a country where anti-Americanism is taught before children learn how to ball rice with their fingers, it went unanswered. The next shot, filmed atop Cuckoo’s Café with stunning views of Badshahi Mosque, shows Stahl wrapping up her interview with former jihadist Maajid Nawaz. And the segment is over.
To answer the student’s query, there are over 7.5 billion reasons for Pakistanis to love America; that’s the number of U.S. dollars pledged to Pakistan in civilian aid just one year prior to the airing of the “60 Minutes” piece, much of which has already been received. While the amount of aid to Pakistan from top donors like Saudi Arabia and Canada has fluctuated in the past sixty-five years, historically, the United States is still heads above the rest.
Islamabad’s childish insistence on public American apologias for both real and imagined foibles has increased to near-comedic levels; yet the recent parliamentary demands to end CIA drone strikes and deny visas for American intelligence officers is nothing short of insulting.
Pakistanis have, for decades, walked across American-built bridges, sent their children to American-built schools, flicked on their electricity provided by American-built dams, and filled their bellies with American-donated food, and no other country has donated more disaster relief than the United States. And what of the 2011 Lederer-Burdick-esque suggestion of adding the image of the American flag to USAID packaging? That idea was shot down quickly by aid workers who feared it would incite further violence.
Last September, while most of the Muslim world calmly protested Nakoula Basseley Nakoula’s thirteen-minute YouTube video Innocence of Muslims, Pakistan’s leaders promoted nationwide government-sanctioned protests that left nineteen people dead and over 130 wounded. Throughout the Islamic Republic, effigies were burned, ad-hoc American flags torched, American fast food franchises stoned, cinemas set ablaze, and it seemed everyone with vocal cords stepped outside to scream, “Death to America!”
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, rather than explain to the Pakistani people that the United States government condemned the video, instead opted to stoke the flames in the early morning before protests began saying, “An attack on the holy prophet is an attack on the core belief of 1.5 billion Muslims; therefore, this is something that is unacceptable.” He also went on to demand that the United Nations and the international community outlaw blasphemy.
The prime minister wasn’t the only one to stir the pot. Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour held a news conference offering $100,000 for the murder of the “blasphemer” and called upon his “Taliban brothers” and “al-Qaeda brothers” to join him in his “blessed mission.”
And at the same time that the Pakistani minister was offering government funds for the head of a pseudo-moviemaker, other Pakistani officials were turning a blind eye as Hafiz Saeed, on whom the United States has a $10 million bounty, was openly leading a protest through the streets of Lahore to the American Consulate.
And that is precisely what unites Pakistan. Simply put, it’s their communal — both literal and metaphorical — bonfire of American loathing that has become as much of a Pakistani pastime as baseball is in America. But what would happen if they stopped hating the United States?
Without a collective abhorrence of America, Pakistan would surely collapse. Again.
Pakistanis are an ethnically and linguistically diverse people bound in an artificially bordered country. The ties that bind their communities — their country — are radical strains of Islam that the junta continuously encourages with douses of alarmist geo-political kerosene. The leaders of Pakistan have, for decades, created scapegoat sideshows to divert attention from their ineptitude and alarming corruption. Without a common foreign enemy, the chatter in the bazaars, coffee shops and mosques turns inward, and with that comes further splintering of tribal factions, more low-level civil wars, and all followed by endless coups, and counter-coups.
Both the G.W. Bush and Obama administrations courted Pakistan and rewarded its false cooperation in attempts to capture al-Qaeda leaders — only to be hoodwinked in the end. Pakistani intelligence services’ acquiescence in sheltering, for nine years, the greatest threat to America’s security is obvious. And when U.S. Navy Seals entered Abbottabad and assassinated Bin Laden, Islamabad’s ambassador to Washington complained that Americans had entered “guns blazing” and created “fear amongst the populous.” Pakistani officials immediately went to the airwaves like pouting toddlers and cried to the world that the U.S. had disrespected Pakistan’s sovereignty. This is not unlike taking your family to Disneyland then getting arrested for riding the teacups.
For two decades now, I have been traveling to Muslim nations, and with the exception of Pakistan, I have always been warmly received. While in Lahore, I was mocked repeatedly simply for being American, and in one case scoffed at with such derision that I feared for my life. In my experiences from Marrakech to Cairo, from Amman to Dhaka, the citizens of those countries are able to separate the country from the countrymen in reference to political affairs — as are, it should be noted, Pakistanis who reside in the United States. Conversely, within insular Pakistan, the brewing government-sponsored hatred for America bubbles to the surface with practically every interaction.
The adage that “politics makes strange bedfellows” has never been truer than when discussing the United States’ tenuous alliance with Pakistan. But when you wake up to find your so-called ally torching your pillowcase, it’s not just time to tamp it out — it’s time to get out. For good.