Outsiders might shake their heads in consternation as Pakistanis overwhelmingly turn their anger on the US in the aftermath of a drone strike that killed Pakistan’s former Enemy Number One. Hakimullah Mehsud, the chief of the Pakistani Taliban, was one of the country’s most prolific mass murderers. But there was very little relief and almost no satisfaction at his death; instead, politicians and media personalities are angry at the US for killing him. This reaction is emblematic of the growing chasm between America and Pakistan, two estranged allies who suspect and distrust each other more frequently than they cooperate.Mehsud was responsible for repeated and heinous atrocities against Shiites, whom he deemed to be heretics, and he and his comrades in the Pakistani Taliban waged war against the national army in the northern provinces. He is also thought to be responsible for the 2007 assassination of popular former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.His death came swiftly by hellfire missile last week, and afterward Pakistanis united in condemning the strike. Imran Khan, the cricketer-turned-politician whose party controls the northern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, was almost hysterical when interviewed by reporters. Khan and others accused the US of a conspiracy to ruin Pakistan’s progress on peace talks with militants. “There should be no doubts left about who does not want peace in the country,” Khan fumed. Others followed suit; many people called Mehsud a “martyr” and criticized the US. “The US has ruined the road to peace,” complained the Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali. “This is not just the killing of one person. It’s the death of all peace efforts.”Khan has emerged as the leader of the anti-drone movement in Pakistan. Today he addressed the National Assembly and urged other politicians to support a resolution to block NATO supplies as long as the drone strikes continue; he didn’t once mention the atrocities committed by Mehsud or his comrades. On Twitter, author Zahid Hussain reminded Khan that the TTP had killed three members of his own party.This is not the first time Pakistanis have rooted against the US in the Af-Pak region. In Pakistan, the majority in the political and security establishment see negotiations, not drone strikes, as the best way to solve the Taliban problem. Those arrogant Americans, say many, they think Pakistanis just don’t know what’s good for them. Most ordinary Pakistanis increasingly suspect that the US is selfishly, arrogantly, short-sightedly conspiring to condemn Pakistan to perpetual conflict, leading many to conclude that anyone whom the US celebrates is not to be trusted, and anyone the US condemns is a hero. Take, for example, Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman sentenced to 86 years in jail for trying to kill Americans in Afghanistan; in Pakistan she is popularly known as the “daughter of the nation,” a national hero. Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl shot in the head by the Pakistani Taliban who now advocates worldwide for girls’ education, is derided as a CIA spy and American pawn. As Declan Walsh reports for the New York Times:
These adversarial reactions stem in part from Pakistanis’ perception of their country’s history with the United States. In their view, it is a long story of treachery, abandonment and double-crossing: The United States, many Pakistanis believe, used Pakistan during the Cold War, dropped it in the 1990s and has spent much of its time since trying to steal the army’s nuclear arsenal. Then came the C.I.A. drones.
The drones are seen as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty, and just like in any proud and self-respecting nation, that carries a lot of weight. Opposition to them is almost universal. Some politicians want to shoot the drones out of the sky. It should not come as much of a surprise, then, when a politician says that anyone killed by a drone strike, even a dog, should be called a martyr. For the Obama administration, coming to terms with the deep suspicion and hatred many Pakistanis have for the US is a serious and consequential task.[Hakimullah Mehsud photo courtesy of Getty Images.]