I enjoy watching the Republican presidential debates. Though, I’m usually indifferent to the candidate’s views. I’m not American — I’m from Pakistan. Still, I generally enjoy mocking the rhetoric and sound bites used by Republicans, something characteristic of election season campaign speeches. But the Jan. 16 GOP debate in South Carolina evoked a different emotion in me: hurt.
It was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich that got to me. He was enthused as ever. When the topic of Pakistan came up, I became particularly alert to what he was saying. He alluded to the mission that killed Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad last May and accused Pakistan of supporting the al-Qaeda leader. To put it mildly, Gingrich called Pakistan an enemy of the United States. As he spoke, loud cheers erupted from the debate’s audience. His performance in the debate was bombastic. The cheers transferred to votes as Gingrich snatched South Carolina right out of Mitt Romney’s grasp.
But his view on Pakistan was painful to hear. It was ignorant to the massive sacrifices Pakistan has made as a country on the front line of the War on Terror, and was ungrateful for Pakistan’s efforts.
In Pakistan, the War on Terror seems more like Pakistan’s war than America’s. Since 9/11, Pakistan has suffered much heavier losses than the United States as a result of the war. According to a Pakistani security report last year, there were 10,003 deaths from violent incidents in 2010 and another 7,107 in 2011 alone. An advertisement by Pakistan in the Wall Street Journal on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks read that 21,672 Pakistanis have lost their lives as a result of the war. The investment and losses faced by the U.S. pale in comparison to losses Pakistan has suffered.
There is a common protest slogan in Pakistan, “Your 9/11 is our 24/7.” I can attest to that. On Nov. 11, 2010, I was watching television in the living room with my family. Suddenly a shockwave swept through, rattling my house. My father fell off the sofa, ducking for cover. The doors were unhinged and blades of glass shot out from the shattering windows. A 1,000-kilogram bomb had exploded at a police center nearby. There was no surprise as to who the perpetrators were.
What may come as a surprise to most people is the mood that prevailed in my home afterwards. It was apathy. This has become such a common occurrence. This is the ground reality in my home and country. We have become used to such incidents and are suffering daily because of this war that, according to Gingrich, Pakistan isn’t cooperating in.
In an interview with CBS News, Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.N., Abdullah Hussain Haroon, cited World Bank statistics claiming that Pakistan has spent $150 billion on this war. Even if you don’t accept this number and the U.S.-given figure is $20 billion. Haroon also said, “We have invested 50 to 60 years of the best periods of our life in (the U.S.) and today we are getting treated like a pariah.”
This is true. Pakistan and the United States have been allies since Pakistan entered the realm of foreign policy. Pakistan was instrumental in fighting against the Soviet communists in Afghanistan, and today it’s a crucial partner of the United States against the Taliban forces on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The Express Tribune, a Pakistani newspaper, reported that more than 200,000 troops were deployed on the front line, and 90,000 Pakistani troops are fighting across the border on the ground. Pakistan has dedicated many air bases inside its territory to the U.S. for launching drone attacks — attacks that sometimes kill innocent civilians along with militants. In the words of Haroon, “you cannot solve Afghanistan without Pakistan”.
I hope that next time before jumping to conclusions about where Pakistan’s loyalties lie, people reconsider the statistics. Instead of alienating your allies, support us. We stand on the same side in this fight. I would encourage voters to make a wise decision when choosing the best candidate for president. Choose a candidate who is not belligerent. Pick someone who can appreciate the sacrifices of your allies, someone who can show some respect and empathize with those who suffer and fight for not only their own, but your safety too.
Sharik Bashir is an LSA freshman.