Pakistan versus the Last Superpower - Underestimated Pakistanis May Be a Degree Too Self-Confident

By Duran, Khalid | The World and I, March 2001 | Go to article overview

Pakistan versus the Last Superpower - Underestimated Pakistanis May Be a Degree Too Self-Confident


Duran, Khalid, The World and I


Khalid Duran, the publisher of Trans Islam Magazine in Washington, D.C., has written frequently for The World & I on Islam and the Arab world.

When the British granted independence to their colonial empire in India in 1947, the Muslim-majority areas united as a new state separate from India, calling it Pakistan, which means "Country of the Pure." At that time it consisted of East and West Pakistan, separated by six thousand miles of Indian territory.

Since its creation Pakistan has rarely been given the importance due to a nation of its size, and Pakistanis are eminently conscious of being underrated. Although the illiteracy rate is still more than 70 percent, the country has an admirable elite, especially in the natural sciences. At one time Pakistan topped the list of the manpower-exporting countries, and in the United States the number of immigrant medical doctors born in Pakistan is second only to those from rival India. A European diplomat posted in Ankara after four years in Islamabad was wonderstruck to note that Turkey, which is counted as European, was in some respects still less developed than Pakistan. And yet, Egypt, Iran, and Turkey, each having less than half of Pakistan's 150 million population, are paid double the attention that it is normally given.

Pakistan's military believes in a "next round," or fourth war, with India. The fight is over the Himalayan state of Kashmir, the major portion of which is held by India but claimed by Pakistan, because Kashmir's population is at least 80 percent Muslim. There is some resemblance here to North Korea's policy over half a century, which was geared toward "liberating" South Korea. Pakistan's irredentism with regard to Kashmir is even a little older.

For Pakistanis, it is hard to accept their role as India's smaller neighbor. In 1971 they lost East Pakistan, which became the independent state of Bangladesh, with the help of India. Ever since, many in the military establishment are all the more determined to get hold of Kashmir. "What was taken from us in the east [Bangladesh] we must take from India in the west [Kashmir]," they argue.

The conflict with India has added to the profound nationalism of many Pakistanis. They envision a state consisting of Pakistan plus Kashmir and Afghanistan. This large Muslim power would seek close affiliation with its neighbors to the north, the former Soviet republics Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan-- considered to be a vast market for Pakistani products.

In the 1950s Pakistanis took pride in being considered America's closest friend in the region. This policy was conceived at a time when India was allied with the Soviet Union. For some time Washington was closer to the Beijing-Islamabad axis than it was to the counter Delhi- Moscow axis. In 1965 India and Pakistan fought a war that ended in a draw. The Pakistanis were deeply disappointed by U.S. neutrality in the conflict. Since the Korean War their country had been a close ally of the United States, to the extent that American spy planes monitoring the Soviet Union used to take off from a base in Pakistan. At one time Moscow threatened Islamabad with nuclear retaliation if it did not stop lending itself to Washington's anti-Soviet designs. Because Washington did not support Islamabad's claim on Kashmir and remained a neutral spectator in the 1965 war, Islamabad moved closer to Beijing.

In the nineties India and the United States improved their relations, leaving Pakistan in the uncomfortable position of having to rely even more on China. Attempts by former Pakistani governments to develop closer ties to Arabia did not yield much. Traditionally, Pakistan has been keen on brotherly ties with Iran and Turkey. Relations with Iran, however, have turned sour, because Tehran feels that Afghanistan should be a vassal of Iran rather than of Pakistan. Pakistan, always somewhat isolated, has rarely been as alone as it is at present. …

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