Whatever one’s reaction to the half-page ad taken by the Government of Pakistan in The Wall Street Journal to mark 10 years of 9/11, one has to admit—even admire—the sheer brazen audacity of it. It asks Americans (and presumably the world): “Which country can do more for your peace?” and proceeds to answer: “Only Pakistan”. The decidedly purple prose claims that since 2001. “a nation of 180 million has been fighting for the future of world’s 7 billion”, and lists statistics of bomb blasts, suicide attacks, soldiers killed, and so on, driving the point home with an assertion that all this has caused a loss of $68 billion to the national economy.
The general response to the ad has ranged from amusement to anger. But one can well imagine the reaction when a Pakistani bureaucrat came up with the idea and presented to its bosses in Islamabad. The words “What a brilliant idea!” must have echoed in the corridors of power, all the way up to President Asif Ali Zardari. It must have been hailed as a PR masterstroke, and hundreds of man-hours must have spent in discussing the content of the ad, fine-tuning the text, the design, the visuals. Gallons of midnight oil must have been burnt.
Everyone knows that among all nations in the world which claim to be democracies (which means we are not considering the likes of North Korea), Pakistan must be the most messed-up one. As long as it continues to define itself—whether consciously or unconsciously—in terms of “the other”—India, its energies will continue to be diverted in ways that mean no good for the Pakistani people. And when General Zia-ul-Huq let the genie of Islamist fundamentalism out of the bag to carry out the US’ proxy war against Russians in Afghanistan, the die was cast. The genie remains free and unfettered, and is unlikely to go away anytime soon.
But Pakistan has always had a wide-eyed fascination for the US, however self-serving. The relationship has changed over time—from pliant stooge to errant student, who the teacher can tear his hair over, but only castigate and never expel. When Nawaz Sharif was called to Washington and grilled by President Bill Clinton during the Kargil war, he had one personal request—he wanted a photo taken of himself and his family with the President. In more recent times, Zardari has called Sarah Palin “gorgeous” to her face (at which point, an aide stepped in and asked them to shake hands). Pervez Musharraf, of course, was a different kettle of fish altogether, a master of doublespeak who played every end against the other, and now left his hapless successors holding the can.
Given that, in the last some months, the US has been making rude noises about Pakistan, and even holding back part of its promised military aid, the ad in WSJ is clearly a desperate attempt by the Pakistan government to ingratiate itself once more with Washington. Of course, it lacks sophistication, but I have a sneaking feeling that it won’t entirely be a failed attempt. The officials in the US State Department may initially laugh at it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if in the few months, US policy quietly becomes a bit kinder towards Pakistan. How long can you be totally immune to in-your-face flattery, even if it’s cleverly disguised as self-righteousness?