Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari has criticized US policies in Afghanistan, Pakistan and in the whole of the region. His remarks came in an interview published by the Guardian.
The remarks by the Pakistani leader were harsh, to say the least. It’s been a long time since anyone can remember similarly severe criticism of the US from Islamabad. Zardari openly said that “the war in Afghanistan was seriously undermining efforts to restore Pakistan’s democratic institutions and economic prosperity”. He also pointed out that some members of Congress and the US media did not know what they were talking about when it came to Pakistan. Citing a Congressman as saying that Pakistan is about to go broke or collapse, President Zardari said that “if that assertion were true, the interventionist policies of the US and other foreign governments in south Asia would be a significant contributory factor”.
Amazingly, these statements come from the leader of a country that has been America’s ally in the region for more than 50 years. There can be several reasons for that. First of all, the remarks came in response to Washington’s recent statements criticizing as ineffectual Pakistani army operations in some areas of the country. Despite years of US funding, the US report says, the Pakistani army is still incapable of defeating the insurgency inside Pakistan, particularly in the western tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, which is believed to be used as a chain of safe havens by Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda elements. Also, Islamabad must have realized that the war in Afghanistan has been a terrible strain on the Pakistani economy. Pakistan is rich in gas but its export capacities are limited on account of military operations. According to some reports, the “war on terror” has cost the Pakistani economy approximately $68bn since 2001.
Finally, anti-American sentiment in Pakistan proper has been rising in recent years. Pakistani officials say that relations with the US reached a “low ebb” following the recent row over Raymond Davis, a CIA agent who shot dead two Pakistanis. This incident triggered mass protests in cities across Pakistan, with participants demanding severe punishment for the culprit and an end to aggressive US policies in the region. More than 33,000 Pakistani civilians and military personnel have been killed in military operations carried out by American forces on the territory of Pakistan since 2001.
The critical remarks by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, made less than one month before he is expected to visit Washington, are glaring proof that the relationship between Islamabad and Washington is far from perfect. Whether Zardari will change the tone of his statements during the Washington talks remains to be seen. Though critical of the US, the Pakistani leader abstained from making any harsh statements against President Obama personally.