News / Asia

Experts Say Anti-American Sentiment in Pakistan at All-Time High

Pakistani militants
Pakistani militants


The U.S.-Pakistan partnership is critical in addressing global terrorist threats.  But the partnership is threatened, experts say, by anti-American sentiment, at an all-time high in Pakistan.  Even as the U.S. steps up its economic and military aid, average Pakistanis continue to blame their country's woes on Washington.

U.S. drone attacks on militants in Pakistan's tribal areas, the ineffective U.S. aid program and U.S. support for controversial generals, experts say, have generated widespread anti American feeling in Pakistan.

They say U.S. support for generals behind military coups has historically been responsible for anti-American sentiment among Pakistan's people.  

Pakistanis believe the U.S. has been using Pakistan's army to achieve its own objectives like, for example, in Afghanistan.  

Another view is that the U.S. is making a special effort to appease Pakistan's military.  The reason:  Pakistan's army  felt abandoned when the U.S. lost interest in the region following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989.

Former Ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlin says anti-U.S. feeling began with American support for President General Zia ul Haq in 1979.   

"It was during Zia's time that he not only overthrew the government and executed a popular elected populist President [Zulfikar Ali] Bhutto, but he also invited the Wahabis in from the Gulf in order to counter the Shia revivalism that he feared coming in from Iran," she said.

Zahid Ebrahim of the National Emdowment for Democracy says two decades later, U.S. support for General Pervez Musharraf revived anti-U.S. feeling.  

"Especially in his last few years, when he was deeply unpopular," he said. "I think that affected the Pakistani sentiment in terms of how it looked at the U.S.."

Ebrahim says conspiracy theories - about the U.S. - are rife.  

"The U.S. has legitimate concern regarding the safety of Pakistan's nuclear program," he said. "Now that gets mutated into a conspiracy theory where the U.S. wants to roll back Pakistan's nuclear program."

Pakistani governments use these theories to stoke fear and unify the people, says Ayesha Siddiqa at Johns Hopkins University.     

"By creating monsters, imaginary Frankensteins, by creating images which then connect people," she said. "Unfortunately in this state that is not a nation, security is the only product which the state sells outside and inside."

She says Pakistan needs an "alternate narrative".

"Which talks of democracy, which talks about the rights of the people, which talks about emancipation at various levels is highly important," she said.

Another issue: experts say American aid is not reaching the people it's meant for.

Ambassador Chamberlin says U.S. aid should go directly to Pakistani communities, not through the government.  

"And it will build trust because we are saying we don't know the answers, YOU know the answers," she said.

Experts say Pakistan's expanding electronic media is having an impact on people's views.

The same media that in 2005 showed U.S. helicopters distributing aid to earthquake victims in remote areas of Pakistan, are now showing drone attacks on al-Qaida and Taliban militants every day - alongside civilian casualties.

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