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In Pakistan, U.S. Policies Foster Suspicion and Hatred

Second of two parts

October 30, 2004|Evelyn Iritani | Times Staff Writer

"We have failed to listen and we have failed to persuade. We have not taken the time to understand our audience and we have not bothered to help them understand us. We cannot afford such shortcomings."

-- White House Advisory Group

on Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim World

*

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- As he watched the collapse of the World Trade Center on his television screen, Imran Hamid's mind raced. What was happening to the Indian friend who had lent him a New York apartment a few months earlier? Classmates from the United Nations high school he attended in the 1960s? The Jewish butcher he befriended while studying at Columbia University?

In the weeks that followed, Hamid traded e-mails and phone calls with friends in America, confirming their safety and sharing their anguish.

"I'm as much a New Yorker as anything else," said the 53-year-old development consultant, sipping a cappuccino in his Islamabad living room, where he surrounds himself with American jazz and classical records and English-language books.

But with each passing day, Hamid's empathy is eroding. He believes that the Bush administration, by pursuing a foreign policy fixated on security, is turning a legitimate battle against terrorism into a campaign of hatred against Muslims.

Take a look around, he says, and you will see the evidence: In the mountains of Afghanistan, where U.S. troops pursue the remnants of the Taliban; the limestone hills of the West Bank, where Palestinians battle America's ally, Israel; at U.S. consular offices and airports where Muslims are subject to extra scrutiny before being allowed into the country. And at prisons in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Abu Ghraib, Iraq.

Many Americans might find it hard to recognize their country in the portrait that emerges across the Muslim world. Bush administration officials argue that their military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and the security crackdown at home -- though certain to anger many Muslims -- are a necessary part of fighting terrorism and protecting the United States. In an effort to improve its image among Islamic nations, the U.S. government has offered increased aid and trade privileges. Officials say that they are working out kinks in the visa-processing system and that they have launched new broadcast services to reach out to the Muslim world.

But even U.S. officials acknowledge that Washington has done a poor job explaining its policies, particularly to Muslims. The struggle for hearts and minds is more than a public relations war, and the stakes in Pakistan are among the highest.

Pakistani politicians and business leaders who once looked to America for ideas and support are strengthening ties with the Muslim world and China. Anti-Americanism has become a powerful tool for religious militants. Even well-meaning U.S. efforts, such as aiding schools, are viewed with suspicion.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, one of the Bush administration's strongest allies in its war on terrorism, has been rewarded with a $3-billion aid package. Though deeply divided by religion and ethnicity, Pakistan -- one of the world's most populous Islamic countries -- has maintained democratic aspirations that set it apart from many other parts of the Muslim world.

But Pakistan also is home to a strong, militant Islamic movement that has tried to assassinate Musharraf and other high-ranking officials. Osama bin Laden is thought to be hiding along its border with Afghanistan, and several leading Al Qaeda figures have been captured here.

The South Asian nation, which has engaged in three wars with neighboring India since 1947, also possesses nuclear weapons. A leading scientist has acknowledged selling nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

Hamid said that in a country squeezed between Musharraf, a general who seized power in 1999, and Islamic extremists, there is little room for Western-educated moderates. He acknowledged with colorful hyperbole that his attitude toward the bearded militants had changed.

"A few years ago, if I answered the door and saw a man with a beard, I would have grabbed a shotgun and chased him away," he said. "Now I would have to hide him under my bed so he wouldn't be dragged away to Guantanamo Bay and be tortured."

In this environment, building bridges to the United States is unpopular and politically risky.

"I personally feel Americans are losing friends in Pakistan very, very rapidly," said Shah Mahmood Qureshi, deputy parliamentary leader of the Pakistan People's Party, whose exiled leader, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was a close U.S. ally. "When the realization finally comes, it'll be too late."

*

Sami Ullah, a graduate student in international relations at Islamabad's prestigious Quaid-i-Azam University, jumped at the opportunity to lecture an American on the U.S. presidency. Woodrow Wilson, who pledged to make the world "safe for democracy," got a thumbs up. But in his mind, President Bush has tipped American values on their head.

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