Thursday, September 29, 2011

American PR in Pakistan needs serious work

A media frenzy has erupted in Pakistan as politicians, retired military personnel and popular talk show hosts declare that the United States is on the warpath with Pakistan. Such is the level of ill-feeling towards the U.S. government in Pakistan that popular talk shows have begun discussing the possibility of an American invasion of Pakistan, whilst one television news channel has even aired a war anthem. As a result of this frenzy within Pakistani civil society, Islamabad has seen a flurry of diplomatic activity with visits from Chinese and Saudi officials. Having met with Vice Premier Meng Jianzhu of China, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani declared that “China categorically supports Pakistan’s efforts to uphold its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity,” referring to alleged interference from the US. In an earlier interview with Reuters, Prime Minister Gilani heavily criticised cross-border raids by American forces into Pakistan, labelling such activities as infringements of Pakistani sovereignty. Talks of confrontation does not seem to be limited to just the media and public statements by politicians, as there has also been some nervous activity from Pakistan’s military institutions. General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the army chief, cancelled his Monday visit to Britain. In addition, on Sunday General Kayani chaired a meeting of his senior military commanders; though no press statement was issued, an anonymous military official commented that “certain decisions were taken, primarily of some defensive nature, in the event of a possible U.S. attack.”

This display of anti-American sentiment reflects the deep mutual mistrust and suspicion that characterises Pakistani-American relations. U.S. officials have suspected involvement by the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (Pakistan’s intelligence agency) in the attack by Haqqani militants on the American Embassy in Kabul earlier this month. Javed Ashraf Qazi, a retired Pakistani general, said that the U.S. is “pressurizing Pakistan to hide its own failures in Afghanistan” and criticized the American media of supporting what he called government propaganda against Pakistan. Qazi’s opinion is reflective of widely held views in Pakistan. Enver Baig, a former senator, said “U.S. elections are approaching and Americans want a safe and respectable exit from Afghanistan and are scapegoating Pakistan.” The media is rife with discussions about a possible rupture in diplomatic relations between the two countries. Some commentators have called for Pakistan to block NATO supply lines to Afghanistan, whilst others have warned that the U.S. is plotting to give India, Pakistan’s archrival, a “proxy role” in the region.

Whether or not diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Pakistan are deteriorating in reality, the Pakistani media must be warned that their reporting of the matter is adding more fuel to the fire and runs the risk of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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