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August 25, 2010

Why the West should help its strategic ally, Pakistan

The flood inundating Pakistan has been epoch-making in its destructive and tragic power. Millions of people have lost everything-home, land, cattle, even in some situations their dear ones. According to the UN, 20 million people were rendered homeless and hungry.

The water is increasingly deadly: 3.5 million children are at risk from waterborne diseases such as cholera. The actual number of dead is unknown, as the numbers reported by the government are sure to grow as bodies are eventually discovered.

But despite the gravity of this situation, the Pakistan floods have increasingly become less “newsworthy” and the donor response has been pathetically low, even apathetic.

It is an undeniable fact that Pakistan is looked upon in most Western media as a country hostile to the West.

In the last few years the underlying message has been something to this effect: that Pakistan, being a country populated mainly by Muslims, is against everything coming from the West. But this is not true.

Millions of Pakistanis love Western pluralism, law and order, and British-type democratic institutions. They resent only the wrong-headed US administration’s policies that have resulted in death, destruction and occupation of Muslim lands.

Ever since its creation in 1947, Pakistan has acted as a staunch Western ally, at times even putting its own national interests at risk.

Right after the 1947 partition, the first Prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan was invited by both the Soviet Union and by the US, but he accepted the US invitation. It was the beginning of a relationship that continues to this day.

For example; in the 1950s, Pakistan was a member of the US scripted military pacts, SEATO and CENTO.

Yet in the Indo-Pakistani war of 1965, the US remained neutral, ignoring its own pact and betraying its own ally.

The history of such disappointments is long. Yet through thick and thin Pakistan remained a Western ally and bore the brunt of many actions in defense of Western military hegemony.

But the bitterness of Pakistan’s own internal divisions, and the harshness of some actions resulting from those divisions, meanwhile contributed to an extremely negative image in the major media networks, which feed on conflict. 

Thus the power of propaganda has worked against Pakistan.

Stories related to the floods are often framed within a context of suspicion, even of contempt, often losing that essential humanitarian tone in the process.

If you were to ask Canadians in general the question, “What has Pakistan done for the West?” most of them would suspect that you had asked the question backwards. 

Many aspects of history are conveniently ignored.

Pakistan was a frontline nation throughout the so-called Cold War, fighting along with the US and its allies against the mighty USSR until that empire ultimately collapsed.

One example: the West could not have dislodged the Soviet Union from Afghanistan without the all-out help it received from Pakistan. But Pakistan itself is still reeling from the wounds of that struggle.

And let’s not forget how the CIA patronized, supported and armed the Taliban. In 1985, at the height of the war to drive the Soviets from Afghanistan, US president Ronald Reagan embraced Taliban leaders at the White House, declaring: “These gentlemen are the moral equivalents of America’s founding fathers.”  Well, now the chickens have come home to roost.

Meanwhile, the scale of the catastrophe wrought by the current floods is paralyzing.

Even the richest nation would find it very hard to cope financially and logistically with such disaster. And it is still increasing: the rains have not stopped, the Indus River is far from retreating back within its former banks, public health risks are increasing, this year’s crops are ruined, and the loss of livelihoods is incalculable.

The flood victims need all the help they can from the world community. This is true everywhere, strictly on ethical, humanitarian grounds. 

But for the West there is a particular obligation.  Pakistan has always been an ally in the hour of Western strategic need. The great lament rising from the fertile valleys in the heart of Pakistan is not only a summons issued to every compassionate human heart. It is also a cry from a strategic ally besieged by the floods.

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M. Elmasry

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