News of Cameron’s visit may have been sidelined by Pakistan’s worst-ever air disaster. Yet his speech in Bangalore, India, has fast become infamous here. It isn’t so much the substance of his remarks that have raised our collective ire. We have already heard ad nauseum that Pakistan must end its double game of supporting both the militants and US-led forces in the region. No, what irked was the fact that they were uttered in the heart of elite India. Coming from a first-term British prime minister on his first official tour of the south Asian country, Cameron’s comments inevitably fed the perception that the world, and especially India, is out to get Pakistan.
A similar sentiment has followed the voluminous WikiLeaks allegations of massive ISI support for the Afghan insurgency. Namely, that the leak is part of a deliberate smear campaign against the military, Pakistan’s most robust national institution. Along with this, the British prime minister’s comments “will reignite the hatred Pakistanis have for the west”, according to Khurshid Ahmed, a Pakistani senator and vice-president of Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan’s largest Islamic political party. His sentiments are echoed by commentators in the Urdu press.
Some have rightly noted Cameron’s positively dismissive attitude to India’s oppressive crackdown in Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, the deafening silence over yet another bloody Indian response to Kashmiri protests is but the tip of the iceberg. Cameron’s comments coincide with a proposal to sell civil nuclear technology and British military jets to India. In contrast, Pakistani demands for a similar nuclear deal with the west have been met with consistent refusal. War is peace, and good business, it seems. As Pakistan’s high commissioner to the UK noted here on Wednesday, “a bilateral visit aimed at earning business could have been done without damaging the prospects of regional peace”.
To most people here, Britain does not register much. The US is the main player, whether for better or worse, and most of the anti-western rhetoric vented from the mass media or mosques focuses on Washington and its “AfPak” war. Whereas most would not have thought much of Britain’s role in our region otherwise, the first, loud message emanating from Cameron’s government is distinctly pro-Indian. The fact that his comments were immediately trumpeted by Indian media outlets – readily accessible on satellite televisions across the border – will serve to confirm this in Pakistani eyes.
Pakistan’s foreign office noted that the country is as much a victim of terrorism as neighbouring Afghanistan and India. The overwhelming perception here is that Pakistan’s effort in the war against al-Qaida and the Taliban have been largely ignored. Cameron’s comments will further stoke a dangerous “damned if we do, damned if don’t” mentality that leads many to conclude that this is not our war.
But this issue is bigger than Cameron or even Britain’s relations with the subcontinent. Fed on a steady diet of victimhood and international intrigue, we in Pakistan tend only to see that which we wish to see. The prime minister’s comments querying Pakistan’s involvement in the AfPak war may have played well in India. But they also point to lingering international doubts over our ability or willingness to root out extremism from our soil. The irony is that, rhetoric aside, little else will change in our relationship with the west. The west will continue to seek greater access to Indian markets while its relationship with Pakistan’s will remain steeped in the language and interests of the war in Afghanistan.
Mustafa Qadri, a freelance journalist based in Pakistan.