As the rains waned and the sodden ground re-emerged from under the waters, the rising din of war drums echoed throughout the country. Admiral Mike Mullen, America’s top military official, hurled towards Pakistan a tremendous accusation. In a statement issued towards the end of last month, the now-retired Admiral Mullen accused the Pakistani intelligence agencies of supporting the Haqqani network and concertedly attacking and undermining American troops in Afghanistan. The words fell from Admiral Mullen’s lips into the waiting embrace of the Pakistani media, saddled with the tiring and timeless task of finding novel ways to hate America.
The snippet was a juicy one, a morsel with the capacity to invoke much nationalism and afford many diversions from nearby failings: the mediocre rants about power failures and natural disasters. And so it was put to good use to create an impenetrable bubble with anchors whetting expert opinion and politicians goading the newspapers into a frenzy of fulfillment — a moment of unification for a shredded country.
The new week came and there was no war, no ground invasion, nothing other than the retirement of Mullen himself; but prophecies are never accurate and no one had said that war would happen this week … it could happen next week, or the week after that. Pakistan is a nation of the waiting, and after decades of disappointment from holding out for something better, it has managed finally to alter expectations to suit reality. In their moment of misery Pakistanis have discovered magic: if you wait for war, disappointment itself is a victory.
It’s a heady feeling, the exercise of hating America. Waiting for the infliction of American injustice renders Pakistan earnest. Imbued with a sincerity they could never muster in less morally monolithic encounters, Pakistanis can take to the airwaves, to Facebook groups and Twitter forums and recite the narrative of the righteous.
They can recount episodes of meddling and secret CIA intrigues that have left their country messed up, rattle off the costs of imported war and enumerate civilian casualties. Pakistan’s list of wrongs is robust, written in blood and poignant in its tragedy. And in their obsession with it Pakistanis are sincere.
This reality of American wrongs, their recent profusion and the proliferation of secret killings and drone attacks, border evasions and public castigations explain only one part of Pakistan’s addiction to anti-Americanism. The other part is distinctly Pakistani: for against American excesses, their glaring injustice, their obvious hypocrisy, Pakistan is rendered instantly, and by virtue of its silent suffering, finally and ultimately pure. In this last sense there is something more to the equation of the Pakistani hatred for America than the realities of historic wrongdoings and the divulgences of strategic opportunism. While those make anti-Americanism factual, it is something deeper and more psychological than purely ideological. This is what makes it so deeply fulfilling, so morally consequential.
In a country eking out a rudderless moral existence, where assaults on young girls and killings of labourers must be overlooked and erased from public consciousness, where no amount of faith has assuaged the pain of falling short of integrity, suffering is purifying like nothing else.
Like a drug that within moments renders an addict suddenly unshackled from the logic of reality and the fidgeting calculations of life and normalcy, Pakistan, roused, descends into the comforting miasma of being right by having been wronged. The enormity of America’s might, its relative greatness and unfairness, pose few demands.
Unlike the aversion to India which requires escalations and calculations, there is no vexing question of prevailing here; just postulations rendered with pride and fomented by fear. You could point to the inability of the Obama administration to sell another war to a weary, jobless and frustrated America, you could remind one or another analyst that a retiring American joint chief of staff cannot initiate a new war, but the exercise of penetrating the high of hating America would still be futile.
Like all addictions, the rigours anti-Americanism imposes on Pakistan’s organs and its inner processes are as yet invisible. In the swoon of an altered moral state, most cannot see the ravages that the consumption of so much hatred with such defiance can pose.
All Pakistanis know that the United States will turn away, move to another problem, discover a danger other than them to frame as an existential threat. Other countries will be crowned with the title of being the most dangerous, the most lethal. Indeed, the end of Pakistan’s tiny moment of strategic greatness will, like its beginning, be ordained by those who name threats rather than those who are named.
The Pakistan of then will be left only with the empty hollowness that lies in wait for all those descending from the leniency of euphoria; the banal problems that await every addict, just as onerous and annoying as they were when escape was first considered.
It is in that faraway future, so unimaginable, when Al Qaeda’s number threes are no longer in the headlines, and US officials do not fly in and out of Islamabad at every sunrise and sunset, that the costs of now will be revealed.
In those days, as yet unlived in and unconsidered, a weary Pakistan by then used to the passive demands of hating will face the questions now stored away in the comforting shadows of blame.
Rafia Zakaria is an associate editor of altmuslim.com and an attorney who teaches constitutional history and political philosophy. This piece originally appeared in Dawn.