A new Pew survey paints a grim picture of U.S.-Pakistani relations. According to Pew’s numbers:
A 74%-majority of Pakistanis see the U.S. as an enemy, and most think U.S.-Pakistani relations have failed to improve over the last few years. Moreover, for a growing number of Pakistanis, enhancing the relationship between the two countries is not an important priority.Over the last decade, the U.S. has provided billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan in an effort to increase bilateral cooperation and improve its image. But these policies are not seen in a positive light by Pakistanis – many say that both American military and economic assistance are having a negative effect on the country.
Most coverage of Pakistan completely glosses over the real reason for the country’s rancor toward America: it dates back earlier than the botched air strikes or the drone campaign or the Abbottabad raid, and has less to do with sympathy for anti-American groups like al-Qaeda or the Taliban (which a majority of Pakistanis have flatly rejected since 2009) than many think.The most important source of this hatred is America’s support for Pakistan’s old nemesis: India. The rest is all salt in the wound.Though the Indo-Pakistani conflict is far from sight for most Americans, Pakistan sees the entire world through the prism of this ongoing struggle against its neighbor. For India’s part, the feeling is mutual if not quite the total preoccupation. On good days, this relationship looks like a cold war era standoff; on its bad days, they kill. For Islamabad, our decade-long war in Afghanistan has been a sideshow; that entire country is mere strategic depth for the longer, definitive struggle with India.So when the Bush administration began to tighten our relationship with India—which led to bipartisan support for the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal—our chances for a real Pakistani partnership had already soured. From Pakistan’s view, both American parties helped Public Enemy No. 1 clinch the bomb. And so we became Public Enemy No. 2.The Obama administration has only strengthened ties with India, and recent talks with India about asking Delhi to play a larger role in Afghanistan as NATO withdraws only make matters worse. Whoever wins the presidency in November will likely continue this policy as the U.S. wades deeper into Asia. The results of this course of action are already in: while views of America sink lower and lower, nine in ten Pakistanis have come to see China as a partner. (China is less enthusiastic about Pakistan.)Pakistan’s antagonism doesn’t mean we should be discouraged from cultivating our bond with India; in our Asia policy, it’s our ace in the hole. Nor does it mean we should cut all ties with Pakistan. Islamabad may not be a friend, but we can still do business together where our interests match. Diplomacy requires skill in dealing with those who may dislike your country. At the moment, Pakistan is very important to the war in Afghanistan, and as NATO forces withdraw, the US and Pakistan may both benefit by working together on various projects.The hope for better relations, such as it is, lies in two facts. First, the US really isn’t interested in promoting some kind of Indian conquest of Pakistan. We want Pakistan to stay united and to prosper; no US purpose is served by a weak, anarchic Pakistan or by rounds of endless war there. Second, the Pakistani concept of life as a zero sum contest with India will, if persisted in, leave Pakistan with zero. Pakistan cannot win against India, but the two countries can coexist.When and if leaders take full control in Pakistan (which means of the military as well as of the weak and often powerless civilian government) with a clear and sustainable understanding of Pakistan’s strategic interests, US and Pakistani relations can begin to improve. Until then, the best we can do is to try to get through the business of each passing day.