Note: Irfan Hussain, a columnist for Dawn, recently wrote this column.
So Narendra Modi wants to isolate Pakistan internationally? Perhaps somebody should tell him that he’s pushing against an open door.
But the recent attack on the Indian army camp at Uri had nothing to do with our isolation: for decades now, we have done everything possible to make the Pakistan brand toxic across the world. India, on the other hand, has unleashed heavy-handed repression against the people of Kashmir without attracting the international community’s censure.
This is an unpalatable reality, but it needs to be faced. Over the years, a combination of bellicosity, paranoia, extreme religious zeal and terrorism have combined to make us a pariah state.
Repeated military interventions, and our treatment of women and our minorities haven’t helped.
Although the government insists there was no Pakistani hand in the Uri attack, others disagree: a recent New York Times editorial dismissed our claim of innocence. The reason, of course, is that in past terrorist attacks – such as the one in Mumbai in 2009 – we were in denial until irrefutable proof emerged that a Pakistani group had indeed carried out that horrifying raid. Equally, Indians are quick to blame the ISI for all its woes.
As somebody who spends a lot of time following the international media, let me give readers just a few recent examples of the kind of coverage Pakistan routinely gets. One recent issue of the Guardian reported on how hundreds of criminal or terrorist suspects were shot dead by the police in Pakistan every year in ‘police encounters’ that were actually extra-judicial killings.
The same issue of the daily carried a story about Marc Anwar, an actor of Pakistani origin, who had tweeted highly abusive insults aimed at Indians for the killing and maiming of innocent civilians in Kashmir. He has been sacked from the popular Coronation Street soap opera, and will find it hard to get another acting job. How this act of professional suicide helps the Kashmir cause is beyond me.
Although Ahmad Khan Rahami, the terrorist arrested recently for planting bombs in New York and New Jersey, was of Afghan origin, it has emerged that he spent three weeks in a Naqshbandi madrassa in Balochistan known as Kaan Kuwa. This is a familiar path taken by scores of radicalised young Muslims from the West. Jihadi training camps and extremist madrassas have given Pakistan a terrible reputation abroad.
The government and the media have made much of Pakistan’s close links with China, and it is true that over the years, the Chinese have been good friends. But they have been prudent in distancing themselves from our position on Kashmir. When two of Nawaz Sharif’s special envoys on Kashmir visited Beijing recently, the deputy foreign minister, while urging Pakistan to seek a peaceful settlement with India through diplomacy, added that China “valued” our position on Kashmir, carefully avoiding the word “supported”.
In the United States, Pakistan’s few friends are fighting a rearguard action to block legislation that would severely curtail American assistance. As American links with India become closer, our standing wanes. Although Washington insists this is not a zero sum game, the reality is that just as the US has pivoted to Asia to contain China, India has put its pro-Russia past behind as it seeks closer ties with America.
The American media has painted Pakistan as the villain in South Asia. After years of watching Pakistan sheltering the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani group while they attack American troops and their allies, there is the realisation that we have played them for suckers. Although the odd story mentions Indian atrocities in Kashmir, there is no sustained criticism of New Delhi’s inhumane policies.
Then there is India’s huge presence, both as a market for foreign exports, and as a major player in the burgeoning software industry. It is also the destination for over eight million tourists annually. Most of them go back with glowing reports of what they saw and did, forgetting the occasional bout of the deadly Delhi Belly.
Apart from the economic and diplomatic dimensions of our relationship with the world, there is the aspect of soft power we ignore. The vast Indian diaspora has put their food, music, art and movies on the world map. And even though Pakistan has a vibrant creative scene despite the pressure of religious extremism, we have been unable to overcome the negative image of Pakistan abroad.
At the end of the day, it is our ever-growing preoccupation with Saudi-exported Wahabism that has painted us into a corner. As a result of security concerns faced by foreigners, we are unable to show the world the real face of Pakistan: hospitable and welcoming to strangers, with stunning scenery and a rich cultural mosaic.
Until we stop using jihadis to further our agenda in our neighbourhood, I fear we won’t be able to support the Kashmir cause as effectively as it deserves.