On May 29, 2012, The Chicago Tribune published a provocative article by exiled Pakistani journalist Malik Siraj Akbar challenging Pakistan to stop complaining and focus on its own house. A day later Canadian journalist Tarek Fatah wrote a scathing critique of Pakistan -- calling the country a "concubine" that was "sleeping with anyone willing to pay for her expensive tastes."
While Pakistan may deserve censure for many indiscretions, such vitriol is creating a foul environment for diplomacy and a country with 180 million people is being dehumanized as a result. In this blog post, I list the "10 reasons" given by Malik Siraj Akbar in his Chicago Tribune article and address each of those misgivings to see whether an apology is indeed in order. Perhaps the best approach should be mutual contrition and pragmatism rather than emotional demands from either side. Siraj's reasons are given in italics followed by my response
1. Osama bin Laden: On May 2, 2011, Osama bin Laden was killed near the Pakistan Military Academy, the equivalent of West Point. Pakistan was receiving about $18 billion from the U.S. to dismantle al-Qaida, while bin Laden was living comfortably with his wives and children in Abbottabad. Instead of apologizing for its complicity or incompetence, Pakistan vigorously protested violation of its sovereignty by theU.S. military operation that killed bin Laden. In fact, Pakistan's National Assembly offered religious prayers for bin Laden, and civilian protests across the country condemned the killing.
RESPONSE: As Peter Bergen from The New America Foundation has argued after a rare visit inside the Abbottabad compound where Osama bin Laden was found, there is no evidence to suggest that Pakistani intelligence was involved in his refuge. Indeed, several interviews conducted by Bergen for his latest book reveal the same. Thus it is irresponsible for a journalist or the Chicago Tribune to assume guilt by conjecture and then suggest that as rationale for an apology. Questions should be asked for sure about how OBL was able to live in Pakistan for so long but the findings from the commission set up by the Pakistani government as well as independent US investigations should be allowed to run their course. It is also important to note how numerous fugitives from the law are able to evade capture despite efforts by governments. War criminals from the Bosnian wars are the most recent example of this phenomenon. One such Croatian war criminal was apprehended living in Las Vegas only last week and extradited to Bosnia.
2. Doctor on trial: Last week, Dr. Shakil Afridi, a surgeon who helped the CIA locate bin Laden's whereabouts under the cover of a vaccination campaign, was convicted of treason and sentenced to 33 years in prison and fined about $3,500. So, let's get this straight. Pakistan publicly pledges to eliminate terrorism, yet punishes its citizens for helping to do so?
RESPONSE: Afridi's case is being appealed but let's be clear -- cooperating with an international intelligence agency is a crime in the US as well. Consider the case of Jonathan Pollard -- a US citizen who is in prison for being a spy for Israel despite numerous pleas from Israel and Pollard even renouncing his US citizenship. The fact the OBL has been captured is not the reason for Dr. Afridi's indictment and sentencing but rather the methods he used. For more analysis of this case and its relevance to the larger trust deficit question between Pakistan and the United States, please refer to my article on this topic for Huffington Post from a few months back.
3. Embassy attack: On Sept. 13, 2011, well-equipped insurgents linked to the Pakistan-based Haqqani network, allied with al-Qaida and the Taliban, attacked the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan. Adm. Mike Mullen, the then-Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, said the network is a "veritable arm" of Inter-Services Intelligence, the Pakistani spy agency. Instead of working to dismantle the terror network, Pakistan's army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani complained that his country was being "singled out," and that it was "neither fair nor productive." Hence, the network continues to undermine coalition efforts in Afghanistan.
RESPONSE: This is an area where Pakistan clearly needs to show more honest engagement. The Faustian bargain the ISI may have made with the Haqqani network is based on concerns about domestic suicide attacks in Pakistan if they engaged in an all-out war on the Haqqanis.The Haqqani alliances with the Punjabi Taliban are a cause for concern since even if the Pakistani army sealed off Waziristan, there would be ongoing threats of domestic terrorism in Pakistan from the Punjabi terror networks or the Al Qaeda affiliates in Karachi. A comprehensive peace process that negotiates from a position of strength on issues such as women's rights or some other mechanisms for devolved regional governance through a referendum process as argued in an article for Foreign Policy may be another pathway to prevent the influx of radicalism into the main polity of either Afghanistan or Pakistan.
4. Hostile land: While Pakistan claims to be an ally of the U.S., it has been indifferent to the kidnappings and violence carried out against Americans inside its territory. In 2002, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and beheaded in Karachi. In 2009 John Solecki, a U.S. national and U.N. official, was abducted in Baluchistan, while New York Times reporter David Rohde was held in Pakistan's tribal region for several months after being kidnapped in Afghanistan. And 70-year-old American aid worker Warren Weinstein is still missing after being kidnapped by al-Qaida in Lahore. Pakistan has not undertaken any demonstrable action to address this trend.
RESPONSE To blame the Pakistani government for such a hostile environment makes little sense. Kidnappings and Amerophobia is rife in Mexico and much of Latin America as well. Such negative perceptions must be combated through citizen diplomacy on both sides. However, this is clearly not a matter for a national apology. There was indeed a time which veteran diplomats such as Teresita Schaffer have recalled that Pakistan was the most friendly place for US diplomats and businessmen in all of South Asia. Such times can indeed return if we stop demonizing each other and focus on pragmatic solutions that correct our past follies.
5. Mumbai attacks: At least 166 people, including five Americans, were killed in the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, India's largest city. The four-day killing spree was carried out by the Pakistan-based militant organization Lashkar-e-Taiba. On April 3, the U.S. announced a $10 million bounty for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, head of Lashkar-e-Taiba. Not only have Pakistani authorities rejected the charges against Saeed, but they continue to grant him absolute liberty to appear on television and propagate hate speech at public rallies.
RESPONSE: The evidence on this matter is fairly clear and I agree with M. Siraj Akbar that Pakistan should apologize to the Indian people for the attacks having originated from their soil. This would be a gesture of goodwill and would help to heal the wounds of that terrible tragedy. Pakistan's paranoia and linkage of all issues to the Kashmir conflict is counterproductive and is actually against Pakistan's own strategic and economic interests.
6. Leaked identities: American officials strongly suspect that Inter-Services Intelligence was behind the 2010 leaking of information identifying CIA station chiefs in Pakistan.
RESPONSE: Leaks of this kind happen on both sides. Hardly a singular issue to merit an apology for sure.
7. Misuse of American weapons: In a February congressional hearing, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch testified that Pakistan regularly misuses U.S. military assistance. U.S. weapons have allegedly been used to kill democratic political leaders and activists in Pakistan's southwestern province of Baluchistan.
RESPONSE: I agree with M. Siraj Akbar on this matter as well. The Pakistani military has to stop using weapons against its own people in Baluchistan. They should learn from the mistakes made by the Serbs in the Bosnian war where forced supra-nationalism and draconian measures actually hastened the demise of the Yugoslav state. Refer to my article on this topic comparing Pakistan and the Balkans.
8. Jihad factory: Pakistan's lack of action against the training camps of extremist groups makes it a perfect destination for aspiring jihadists.
RESPONSE: This problem is a vestige of the Cold War coupled by a proxy war being fought between Saudi Arabia and Iran for theological indoctrination in the Muslim world. The Americans should just as much blame the Saudis for allowing their jihadi trash to be dumped on Pakistan to protect the kingdom than to blame Pakistan itself. There needs to be a concerted effort to moderate Islam worldwide. I would hope that there is diplomatic pressure applied on the Gulf States to move forward more deliberately on this rather than running with the hares and hunting with the hounds. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) could play a role in this regard and the US has an envoy deputed to the OIC who should work towards purpose.
9. Undercover agent: In 2011, the FBI revealed that Inter-Services Intelligence had illegally funded a lobbyist, Ghulam Nabi Fai, to influence U.S. policies in support of the Pakistani government's stance on the disputed territory of Kashmir. Though Fai has been sentenced to prison by a U.S. court, Pakistan never apologized for covertly funding Fai's activities.
RESPONSE: Though Fai's activities predate his funding from Pakistan as a Kashmiri activist, the lobbying focus on Kashmir is problematic just as much as there may be any Indian lobbying focus on Balochistan within Congress. Both these wedge issues need to be discussed on their merits. All minority communities deserve their fair hearing on matters of human rights whether in Balochistan or Kashmir and the United States should champion both causes on their merit rather than based on lobbying pressure from covertly funded entities.
10. Nuclear proliferation: Pakistan has never officially apologized for its nuclear proliferation. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the infamous Pakistani scientist, illegally supplied designs and centrifuge technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea. Though he publicly apologized, many believe Khan could not have acted without the tacit approval of segments of the Pakistani military.
RESPONSE: Indeed, nuclear proliferation activities carried out by Dr. A.Q Khan were greatly pernicious and destabilizing to world peace. His help to North Korea is particularly appalling and has left North Asia in a precarious situation. Dr. Khan did apologize to the Pakistani people but Pakistan should in turn note this as a failing on its part as well for not having monitored the activities of a nuclear scientist.
Finally, apologies for such matters and lists are not my favorite means of diplomacy! However, there is a place for apologies in international relations. For example the apology offered by Canada to the Native people of the country for the way they were treated. There are numerous ways in which the United States could also apologize for past injustices towards minorities. In that vein, the most consequential apology that could be offered by Pakistan could be to the victims off the 1971 war in Bengal which led to the creation of Bangladesh. While atrocities in such terrible periods are committed by both sides, the more powerful antagonist can often be more damaging and it is appropriate to offer a gesture of remorse.
Let's hope that Pakistan and the United States can mutually consider their failings and move forward towards better relations rather than languishing in the past.