When I first learned that the suspect in an incident to set off a bomb in Times Square was Pakistani, my reaction was somewhat jaded. Most of us Pakistanis living here in the United States have become accustomed to the unflattering amount of attention given to our country of birth. Perhaps as a sign of the times, I have found that I no longer need to pronounce “Pakistan” in an American accent. Everyone here knows Pakistan well – and not for reasons that elicit pride.
Nonetheless, many of us were surprised to read about the background profile of Faisal Shahzad. He was young, educated and socially assimilated. For someone who had taken advantage of a standard of living and educational opportunities afforded to very few people in the world, he seemed like an unlikely candidate to bite the same hand that fed him.
Unfortunately, if Faisal Shahzad wanted to find legitimacy in his actions, he did not need to go to the far flung tribal regions of Pakistan to find it. In each visit back home to Pakistan, I have found that anti-American sentiment has become increasingly embedded, part and parcel, in the mainstream culture of Pakistan. We propagate anti-Americanism at dinner tables and casually sprout conspiracy theories, couched in a mixture of facts and urban myth, that blame even the load shedding on the CIA. Blaming our ills on the Americans has become fashionable.
This culture of anti-Americanism, inflamed by the media and mainstream society, is doing something far worse than encouraging new terrorists: it is alienating one of the few real opportunities the country has had to rebuild its future. For perhaps the first time in the country’s history, the people of the world are genuinely focused on developing the economic and social sectors of the Pakistan. Perhaps as a result of the new administration here in the United States, the perception of what causes terrorism has also shifted. Americans, along with the rest of the world, now “get it” – the root cause of terrorism is poverty and lack of education. Build schools, create jobs and offer opportunities, and people will be less inclined to advocate destruction.
To that end, a developing Pakistan is in the best interests of the United States, and both the government and average Americans have launched several initiatives to ensure that capital is properly deployed to fuel development in the country. Even for the private sector, Pakistan offers large untapped markets for investments and a large middle class of consumers, much like China and India have already offered to large multi-national corporations. People realize that a country as large and diverse as Pakistan can not just be left to linger in the abyss.
In that light, the Americans have showed up on our doorstep to help – and we seem to want to turn them away. Why?
First, we may be once bitten, twice shy. History has taught us that the Americans will only help us if it is in their own interest. This is true of every country, including our own, and it is no different this time. But why can’t we share in a quid pro quo of mutually beneficial interests? Whatever the United States’ policy has been or may be with respect to other countries in the world, it has made several ostensible gestures to show that, this time around, it must be committed to the long term development of Pakistan.
More importantly, Pakistanis living here in the United States are working tirelessly at the grassroots levels to raise funds and investments for Pakistan’s social sectors, through dozens of new non-profit organizations. Without the support of Pakistanis back home, the positive branding of these fund raising efforts becomes less compelling. Recently, at the behest of the Obama administration, several Pakistanis launched the new American Pakistan Foundation, aimed at strategically deploying capital for Pakistan’s long term development. The keynote speakers at the inaugural event of the new foundation included the organization’s key benefactors: Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and former Secretary of State Colin Powell. With that level of commitment, the least we can do is meet them half way.
Secondly, many of us, especially those who land at American borders with a green passport, have a perception that Americans think of all Pakistanis as terrorists. Even if this is true, can we blame them? Most of the international incidents involving terrorist acts in the last few years have been linked back to Pakistan. If an American were to attempt to bomb a crowded street in Karachi, I can assure you that being treated differently would be the least of the worries of any American who attempted to visit Pakistan again.
Third, we tend to view American society as dissimilar to our own. In fact, the central tenets of American society – justice, civility and equality – are similar to the tenets that the founder of a country once preached to a young nation that was destined for greatness. It is that very culture of meritocracy which has allowed many Pakistanis to become one of the most successful minority communities in the United States. If we could only emulate that culture of meritocracy in Pakistan, it would just be a matter of time before the natural talents and diversity of Pakistan would manifest itself.
In that vein, much of the anti-American sentiment imbedded in our culture seems farcical. I offer this opinion not as an American patriot, but as a concerned Pakistani who sees the palpable effort being expended here in the name of our future as a nation. Every time a Faisal Shahzad finds legitimacy to his actions in, of all places, our mainstream culture, we are closer to driving away that knock of opportunity sitting at our doorstep. Once it is gone, I am not so sure we will find it again.
Let us unite in our common sense of reason and drop the pretense of anti-Americanism. Let us ensure that next time one of our own thinks about killing innocent civilians in a crowded city, he will have to consider facing the collective wrath of 170 million Pakistanis.
Faraz Rana is a corporate lawyer based in New York City and provides pro bono legal services to several organizations aimed at raising funds for Pakistani causes. He can be reached [email protected]