Strong Anti-American Sentiment Persists In Pakistan

All this week, All Things Considered is examining the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan. Today, NPR's Mary Louise Kelly speaks with columnist and analyst Mosharraf Zaidi about strong anti-American sentiment in Pakistan. Zaidi says the U.S. cannot use aid to overcome negative perceptions of the U.S. generated by U.S. military actions such as drone strikes.

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: From the American People.

Problem is anti-American sentiment runs very high in Pakistan. So high that many international groups who distribute the aid fear the American logo puts them at risk of attack.

All this week, we're talking about U.S.-Pakistan relations. And today, we're focusing on why there is so much anger against the U.S. in Pakistan.

On the line from Islamabad, we're joined by Mosharraf Zaidi. He writes a column for the Pakistani paper The News.

And, Mosharraf Zaidi, this row over the flag logo seems to capture the American conundrum in Pakistan. Here you have the U.S. giving hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to help the flood victims and, still, the U.S. brand is so toxic that aid agencies there don't want to touch it.

MOSHARRAF ZAIDI: Yeah, it's a terrible sort of conundrum. I think that it's difficult to want to be popular in a classroom where, occasionally, you have machines dropping things from the sky that are killing people. And I know that there are some pretty compelling reasons for why the U.S. uses drones. But the point is that the image that that leaves in the eyes and the minds of Pakistanis is one which is difficult to overcome.

You can't use aid to sort of brush over or hide under the carpet the fact that there are aggressive military sort of actions that are being taken by the United States on Pakistani territory and against Pakistani citizens.

: Here in Washington, what you hear from officials is this insistence that Pakistan needs to do more to crack down on terrorism and needs to recognize that terrorists inside Pakistan pose an existential threat to Pakistan, not just to the U.S.

Do most Pakistanis buy that?

ZAIDI: I think most Pakistanis are deathly opposed to terrorism. And the reason for that is quite simple. It isn't an ideological sort of a case that anybody made to them. It's that the Pakistani people have suffered in blood. Pakistanis feel tired and exhausted and bloodied by this fight. And so this idea that we need to own the fight, well, the fight is ours. You know, we're the ones that are getting crushed here. We're the ones that are getting blown up at mosques, at the tombs of saints, at universities, you know, in the marketplace.

This is happening. This is already happening in Pakistan. And so that's part A. And part B, of course, is that there's a generic national pride issue. And that is that, you know, when NATO helicopters breach Pakistani airspace and kill Pakistani soldiers - soldiers who've already put their lives on the line to fight the Taliban, as it is - when they get taken out by NATO helicopters, I think that's when everybody here begins to get really worked up about the U.S.

: And, well, so what should the U.S. be doing in terms of public diplomacy? Is there anything the U.S. can do to win hearts and minds?

ZAIDI: I think the one thing that hasn't been tried in this relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan is something that, you know, seems naive and ridiculous to say at this point, and that's simple honesty. There hasn't been a moment in the public space where the two parties have stood up and said, look, we're not natural allies. We both have helped create the problem in Afghanistan. Now, one of us wants to solve it like it's an act of surgery. And the other one wants to solve it like it's, you know, chemotherapy. And there's, obviously, a clash there.

The U.S. keeps talking about the endgame in Afghanistan, whereas for Pakistanis, of course...

: There is no endgame.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: It's always going to be there.

ZAIDI: Exactly. And so, really, the Pakistanis need to sort of, you know, buck up and say, hey, you know, we're going to have to support the Afghan Taliban because we got no other player in the game. On the other side, the U.S. is going to have to say, well, look, public diplomacy, you know, is fine, and we want to be loved in Pakistan, but we're going to do what we have to do.

And I think those things need to be said publicly, and I think both societies are mature enough and adult enough to be able to handle the truth.

: Mosharraf Zaidi, thanks very much.

ZAIDI: My pleasure.

: That's Mosharraf Zaidi. He writes a weekly column for Pakistan's The News, and we reached him in Islamabad.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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