Will Pakistani Liberals And Islamists Wake Up?
In the 1980s and 1990s, immediately after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, when Pakistani political environment was highly tense on account of the ideological conflict in the region, Pakistan’s right wing political forces used to express their preference for Republican candidates in US Presidential elections more openly. This was the time when some of the right wing newspapers openly supported the candidature of former President George Bush, the elder one.
That is primarily because Republicans most wholeheartedly supported Afghan Mujahideen’s war efforts in Afghanistan with generous material and financial support. The time has changed as now one hardly finds anyone in Islamabad openly or publicly expressing their preferences in US Presidential candidates. But Pakistanis keenly observed the presidential race and did have favorites.
Former US President Ronald Regan enjoyed the support of the religious right in American society, which compelled him to use religious idiom in his day to day assertions and especially when he used to talk about the “ Ungodly Evil Empire”—the Soviet Union. Pakistani ruling elite was especially inspired by these religious idioms. They used to claim that they were supporting a God fearing empire, i.e United States of American, against an Atheist evil empire, i.e Soviet Union. In this way Pakistan’s military rulers of 1980s used to justify their alliance with Washington to support the “Allah’s Warrior”, the Afghan Mujahideens in Afghanistan, who were waging an armed struggle against Soviet Union.
Never for a moment did they fail to realize that American religious right had a deep sense of antagonism towards Muslims and Islam—For example, American religious right feels a deep sense of friendship towards Israel and Zionist movement, something that is enough to antagonize Pakistani religious right deeply. This confusion was the result of Pakistani rulers and ideological groups, most of the time, misconstruing the essence of ideological debate in American society and siding with those they ostensibly perceived or misperceived as their ideological kin. Firstly, American ideological debate is very confusing, at least for a Pakistani to understand. Secondly, the meaning of ideological terms and ideological idioms used in American society are sometimes diametrically opposed to the meaning of the same terms in Pakistani society. Ideological spectrum of Pakistani society as far as the country’s foreign policy is concerned never neatly matched the ideological spectrum of American society. And yet we have seen political groups in our society in alliance with ideological and political groups in American society on foreign policy issues at different points of times in history. In the history of our relations with American society, Pakistani groups bandwagoned with American groups without taking into account the fact that what they are supporting doesn’t at all match what they perceived and wanted to befriend generally.
Now this is very confusing: I have found Pakistani liberal friends particularly keen to support Joe Biden in the American Presidential race. Now the thing is that Joe Biden is a “liberal Internationalist” and a liberal internationalist in American society is someone who feels it is his moral and political responsibility to spread the message of freedom, liberty, human rights and democracy across the world. Little doubt that they are good guys of American society. But it is also true that this liberalism internationalism was the inspiring force behind two of America’s failed and devastating wars in Afghanistan and Iraq after it got into an alliance with the realists in military-intelligence-foreign policy establishments of Washington. Now what will become of Pakistani liberals anti-war inclinations? They oppose wars and military establishment in Pakistan tooth and nail. Now will there be a reversal of ideological inclinations in Pakistan society? One Pakistani liberal argument intervened in my thought process and said that President Obama was a liberal as well; he started the process of withdrawal from Afghanistan and signed a nuclear deal with Iran.
Now let me confess that I am not advocating against or in favor of anyone. What I am trying to say is that American ideological debate is highly complex, and it is so complex that Pakistani liberals and Islamists alike often are fooled into supporting or opposing those actors in American society who are politically not their kin. Both Pakistani liberals and Islamists were deadly opposed to President Donald Trump without pausing for a moment to realize that it was President Trump who completed the process of extracting American forces from the quagmire of Afghanistan and Iraq. So President Trump represented the anti-war lobby in American society, but he was also on a collision course with China and Iran. Ironically, ideological groups apparently don’t devout much thought and energy in understanding or comprehending the nuances of American ideological debate on foreign policy. In my opinion if Pakistan’s ruling elite had a better idea of nuances in American ideological debate they would not have made a mess of their relations with Washington.
This ideological confusion among Pakistani political groups is not a new development. It is as old as the ideological contestation in the society. Henry Kissinger has mentioned in his book, “On China” that in his meeting with Mao Ze Tang, he was reminded by the latter of the geo-strategic importance of Pakistan in American containment policy as he advised him to strengthen Pakistan militarily and never leave Pakistan alone. This was the time when both pro-Soviet and pro-China communists were engaged in political agitation to destabilize the military government of Pakistan. Here I am not saying that Pakistani communists were wrong. I am only saying that trans-national ideological alliances are highly confusing and often a source of exploitation of the weaker party by the stronger party. Maybe Pakistani Islamists and liberals will wake up.
Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.