From Abbottabad to Worse
Hating the United States—which funds Islamabad’s army and nuclear program to the humiliating tune of $3 billion a year—Pakistan takes its twisted, cowardly revenge by harboring the likes of the late Osama bin Laden. But the hypocrisy is mutual, and the shame should be shared.
In such an obscenely distorted context, the counterpart term to shame—which is the noble word “honor”—becomes most commonly associated with the word “killing.” Moral courage consists of the willingness to butcher your own daughter.
Swelling his puny chest even more, he promises to resist the mighty United States, and to defend Pakistan’s holy “sovereignty.” This puffery and posing might perhaps possess a rag of credibility if he and his fellow middlemen were not avidly ingesting $3 billion worth of American subsidies every year.
There’s absolutely no mystery to the “Why do they hate us?” question, at least as it arises in Pakistan. They hate us because they owe us, and are dependent upon us. The two main symbols of Pakistan’s pride—its army and its nuclear program—are wholly parasitic on American indulgence and patronage. But, as I wrote for Vanity Fair in late 2001, in a long report from this degraded country, that army and those nukes are intended to be reserved for war against the neighboring democracy of India. Our bought-and-paid-for pretense that they have any other true purpose has led to a rancid, resentful official hypocrisy, and to a state policy of revenge, large and petty, on the big, rich, dumb Americans who foot the bill. If Pakistan were a character, it would resemble the one described by Alexander Pope in his Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot:
FROM the VanityFAIR Archives:
Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike.There’s an old cliché in client-state relations, about the tail wagging the dog, but have we really considered what it means when we actually are the tail, and the dog is our goddam lapdog? The lapdog’s surreptitious revenge has consisted in the provision of kennels for attack dogs. Everybody knew that the Taliban was originally an instrument for Pakistani colonization of Afghanistan.
Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike:
Alike reserved to blame, or to commend,
A timorous foe, and a suspicious friend …
So well-bred Spaniels civilly delight
In mumbling of the game they dare not bite.
Everybody knew that al-Qaeda forces were being sheltered in the Pakistani frontier town of Quetta, and that Khalid Sheikh Muhammed was found hiding in Rawalpindi, the headquarters of the Pakistani Army.
Bernard-Henri Lévy once even produced a damning time line showing that every Pakistani “capture” of a wanted jihadist had occurred the week immediately preceding a vote in Congress on subventions to the government in Islamabad. But not even I was cynical enough to believe that Osama bin Laden himself would be given a villa in a Pakistani garrison town on Islamabad’s periphery. I quote below from a letter written by my Pakistani friend Irfan Khawaja, a teacher of philosophy at Felician College, in New Jersey. He sent it to me in anguish just after bin Laden, who claimed to love death more than life, had met his presumably desired rendezvous:
I find, however, that I can’t quite share in the sense of jubilation. I never believed that bin Laden was living in some hideaway “in the tribal areas.” But to learn that he was living in Abbottabad, after Khalid Sheikh Muhammed was discovered in Rawalpindi, is really too much for me. I don’t feel jubilation. I feel a personal, ineradicable sense of betrayal. For ten years, I’ve watched members of my own family taking to the streets, protesting the US military presence in northern Pakistan and the drone strikes etc. They stood there and prattled on and on about “Pakistan’s sovereignty,” and the supposed invasion of it by US forces.
Well, what fucking sovereignty? What fucking sovereignty were these people “protecting”? It’s bad enough that the Pakistani army lacks sovereignty over the tribal area and can’t control it when the country’s own life depends upon it. But that bin Laden was living in the Pakistani equivalent of Annapolis, MD …
You will notice that Irfan is here registering genuine shame, in the sense of proper outrage and personal embarrassment, and not some vicarious parody of emotion where it is always others—usually powerless women—who are supposedly bringing the shame on you.
If the Pakistani authorities had admitted what they were doing, and claimed the right to offer safe haven to al-Qaeda and the Taliban on their own soil, then the boast of “sovereignty” might at least have had some grotesque validity to it. But they were too cowardly and duplicitous for that. And they also wanted to be paid, lavishly and regularly, for pretending to fight against those very forces. Has any state ever been, in the strict sense of the term, more shameless?
Over the years, I have written many pages about the sick relationship between the United States and various Third World client regimes, many of which turned out to be false friends as well as highly discreditable ones. General Pinochet, of Chile, had the unbelievable nerve to explode a car bomb in rush-hour traffic in Washington, D.C., in 1976, murdering a political rival and his American colleague. The South Vietnamese military junta made a private deal to sabotage the Paris peace talks in 1968, in order to benefit the electoral chances of Richard Nixon. Dirty money from the Shah of Iran and the Greek dictatorship made its way at different times into our electoral process.
In our case, Pakistan ingratiatingly and silkily invites young Americans to one of the vilest and most dangerous regions on earth, there to fight and die as its allies, all the while sharpening a blade for their backs. “The smiler with the knife under the cloak,” as Chaucer phrased it so frigidly. (At our feet, and at our throat: Perfectly symbolic of the underhanded duality between the mercenary and the sycophant was the decision of the Pakistani intelligence services, in revenge for the Abbottabad raid, to disclose the name of the C.I.A. station chief in Islamabad.)
This is well beyond humiliation. It makes us a prisoner of the shame, and co-responsible for it. The United States was shamed when it became the Cold War armorer of the Ayub Khan dictatorship in the 1950s and 1960s. It was shamed even more when it supported General Yahya Khan’s mass murder in Bangladesh in 1971: a Muslim-on-Muslim genocide that crashingly demonstrated the utter failure of a state based on a single religion. We were then played for suckers by yet another military boss in the form of General Zia-ul-Haq, who leveraged anti-Communism in Afghanistan into a free pass for the acquisition of nuclear weapons and the open mockery of the nonproliferation treaty.
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....Why was the raid on Abbottabad so rightly called “daring”? Because it had to be conducted under the radar of the Pakistani Air Force, which “scrambled” its jets and would have brought the Black Hawks down if it could. That this is true is bad enough in all conscience. That we should still be submitting ourselves to lectures and admonitions from General Kayani is beyond shameful.
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