A culture of conspiracy theories in Pakistan recognises all the nations and non-state actors that are perceived to be hostile towards the state as different factions of the same entity. This type of discourse highlights all of Pakistan’s internal and external problems, and attributes their causes to an external locus of control such as the United States or India. In my recent travels to Pakistan, I heard genuine concern about America’s interference in Pakistan’s internal political affairs and violations of its sovereignty. However, no matter how suspiciously the Pakistani society views America’s foreign policy in South Asia, Pakistan will only stand on its feet as a respected nation in the international community when it realises the limited nature of outside actors over problems that stem from within its borders.
They ask: if drone strikes are meant to defeat the terrorists through precision strikes, but they compel tribesmen to align themselves with anti-Pakistani militants like the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, are these drone strikes not effectively and intentionally destabilising Pakistan? When a group of Congressmen held a hearing on Balochistan, is not the United States purposefully emboldening Baloch militants who want to split Pakistan into pieces? Flow of the questions is it that over 30,000 Pakistanis have died in an American-declared war on terror, yet the American political and military leadership regularly condemns Pakistan for complicity with terrorism? Those are legitimate questions that can partially be answered if Pakistanis recognises two aspects of America’s discourse in international politics: the United States is not a unitary actor, and its main leaders are rational actors, who do not want an escalation of tensions with Pakistan at a time when they seek a stable conclusion to their mission in Afghanistan.
Realising that the United States is not a monolithic, omnipotent entity is key to understanding its foreign policy and its role in international affairs. In other words, different segments of the American society have different interests with varying degrees of power. Take, for example, the issues of Balochistan and drone strikes, which challenge Pakistan’s territorial integrity more than any other two issues between the United States and Pakistan. While recent events pertaining to Balochistan and border strikes suggest major American violations of Pakistani sovereignty, rational Pakistani policymakers have a duty to distinguish between the positions of individual actors in the American government and the policies of President Barack Obama’s administration.
Furthermore, they should discern the rational causes behind the administration’s policies so that they can take responsibility for the internal dynamics of issues, which are affecting the bilateral relations between two of the nuclear powers.
In the case of Balochistan, it is important to recognise that the United States does not support the Baloch separatist movement as a matter of foreign policy. When they refer to human rights violations in Balochistan, they are referring to genuine concerns that even the Supreme Court of Pakistan and its opposition parties have recognised as a major source of national crisis. These calls to improve human rights conditions demonstrate little aggression when compared to Syria, where the United States is calling on Bashar al-Assad to step down, or Libya where they aided Moammar Gaddafi’s armed opposition.
Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher’s Bill on Balochistan was only meant for shock value, as neither the leadership of the Republican or Democratic Party has spoken out in its favour. At a press gathering in March, Representative Rohrabacher said: “We don’t even represent the United States government. We are a small group of people trying to bring attention to Balochistan and cause a public debate.” It is no surprise that Congressman Rohrabacher supports an ethnic nationalist movement against the centre powers of state. He was banned from visiting Afghanistan in April with a congressional delegation because of his troubling relations with the Northern Alliance, a group that seeks to decentralise Afghanistan’s government along ethnic lines, disturbed relations between the Karzai-led government and the Obama administration in the past. The Congressman alone cannot change the United States’ position in Balochistan to an intervention on behalf of the separatist movement.
In reality, Balochistan is a province within Pakistan and only Pakistan has the ability to address, limit, and remove the grievances that compel young Balochis to raise arms against the state. Rather than being an external conspiracy, the Balochistan problem is an internal problem that Pakistan will have to resolve politically, unless they want the Baloch separatist movement to increase its international credibility by showcasing the abuses that they regularly face.
On a more serious infringement of Pakistani sovereignty via drone strikes, the actors behind the policy have the power that anti-Pakistani politicians like Congressman Rohrabacher lack. They, however, do not share his malicious intent to cut Pakistan in half. A proper understanding of the context in which the United States is withdrawing from Afghanistan shows that the intended purpose behind the drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas is to make sure that al-Qaeda cannot operate from there after the American troops withdraw from Afghanistan. These attacks already reached their peak in 2010, when the United States’ military presence in Afghanistan was at its highest, and have been declining with the passage of time.
The policy of targeting specific individuals from globally blacklisted militant organisations is a clear retreat from the ambitious democracy-building exercise that President Bush indulged in the aftermath of 9/11. The irony in this war is that while the Taliban, who were not America’s prime enemy from the start, have proven to be a resilient foe for the United States in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda’s presence is primarily confined to Pakistan’s tribal area of Waziristan. Drones are not as intrusive as ground invasions and they have undeniably proven successful in identifying and eliminating al-Qaeda’s core leadership.
In addition, they eliminated Pakistan’s former most-wanted militant Baitullah Mehsud and have forced his successor Hakimullah into complete isolation. Sadly, these self-proclaimed lions of Islam have repetitively taken sanctuary in the same homes that shelter the innocent tribal women and children of Waziristan, and they too have been victimised in the crossfire of this ugly war. While civilian casualties and the offensive nature of border violations are issues that the Pakistani government has the right to address from the perspective of their national interests, the world’s most notorious terrorists cannot continue operating out of Pakistan’s remote regions without blemishing the images of the entire Pakistani state, its Diaspora abroad, and Islam itself.
Ultimately, Pakistan’s social, political, and economic problems will only be solved when the nation wakes up and realises that its internal problems can only be resolved internally. I pray that the next time I visit Pakistan, I am not told that the United States of America secretly causes every crisis that can be controlled by Pakistanis themselves if they have the courage and the political will. God willing, the youth of Pakistan will realise that Pakistan is for the Pakistanis, and only they can clean their house and rebuild it for the future generations to prosper.