“Disloyal, deceptive, and a danger to the United States” was how Texas congressman Ted Poe described Pakistan in a bid to freeze aid to the country. Gone are the days of Charlie Wilson when General Zia’s Pakistan was the funnel through which the U.S. bankrolled the Afghan mujahideen. Then, billions of dollars were provided for jihadis without the knowledge of the U.S. taxpayer. General Zia was no friend of the West, either.
But today’s American lawmakers want to be loved by the world. They forget that superpowers exert authority and influence, and that does not always make for affection between countries. The Greeks, Romans, and British were not always loved by the world. Idaho Republican senator James Risch spoke for many of his colleagues and compatriots when he said “Frankly, I’m getting tired of it, and I think Americans are getting tired of it as far as shoveling money in there at people who just flat don’t like us.”
Having visited Pakistan, I think most Pakistanis have problems with U.S. foreign policy in their region—not Americans per se. A popular joke in the country helps underscore this point: if your mother is on her death bed, Pakistanis ask one another, would you give her Pakistani medicine or American drugs? The answer is always the latter. This trust in American science, alongside the popularity of American clothes, movies, culture, and education, are not the hallmarks of a people that hate the United States.
Granted, there are elements within Pakistan’s intelligence and military establishment that have ties not just to the Haqqani network, but also to the much larger and widespread Laskhar-e-Taiba. And yes, despite Pakistan’s official denial, Osama bin Laden was kilometers away from the nation’s capital. But these reasons do not make for weakening the United States’ only significant leverage with Pakistan: economic and military aid. If anything, that leverage should be strengthened and deepened in order to maximize U.S. influence in a country that poses a serious terrorist threat, and is in possession of nuclear weapons. In Bruce Riedel’s book Deadly Embrace, he rightly asks what would happen if Pakistan’s next military dictator came not from its whiskey-drinking class, but its bushy-bearded bin Laden sympathizers.
Admiral Mullen’s Senate testimony last week repeatedly called for reframing the United States’ relationship with Pakistan, including spheres of economic development, electricity generation, and water security—issues that matter to ordinary Pakistanis. Sadly, his otherwise thoughtful testimony was overshadowed by his unsubstantiated claims of “ample evidence” that Pakistan harbors terrorists from the Haqqani network. It may well do: Pakistan’s calculus in Afghanistan is different from that of the United States. But where is Mullen’s evidence?
If Admiral Mullen and U.S. lawmakers intend to continue to claim in public that Pakistan is a home for terrorists from the Haqqani network, then they should provide evidence of that. If the accusation is being made in public, then the intelligence for doing so must be in the public domain, too. Failing to do so not only strengthen the United States’ enemies, but insults a nation that has lost 30,000 civilians and 6,532 soldiers and seen another 19,190 people injured in the fight against terrorism.