A history of anti-Americanism in Pakistan

A history of anti-Americanism in Pakistan.

A history of anti-Americanism in Pakistan

A history of anti-Americanism in Pakistan

In 2009 the monthly Herald published the results of an elaborate survey that it undertook to determine the extent of anti-Americanism in Pakistan. The findings suggest nothing that we do not already know.

Though anti-Americanism during the Cold War (1949-89) was mostly the ideological vocation of pro-Soviet leftists, today (some twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union), one can safely suggest that America is experiencing its most detested hour.

It hasn’t been hated across the board with so much fervour as it is today, mainly thanks to the bungling of the arrogant Bush administration and its utter deficiency in the art and skill of empathetic and prudent diplomacy.

However, the anti-Americanism virus — at least in most Muslim countries — today is such that the critique that comes with it is largely rhetorical and at times, rather obsessive-compulsive.

Take for example the ‘debate’ that took place on Pakistan’s electronic media over the Kerry-Lugar Bill in which it was quite clear that certain politicians, TV talk show hosts and their audiences among the country’s ever growing chattering classes, who were quick to attack the Bill, had not even read the document!

Their single cue in this respect was the Pakistan Army’s concerns about certain conditions mentioned in the aid bill, and off they went on a rampage.

This may also suggest that the nature of anti-Americanism one often comes across TV news channels in this country, is primarily the animated vocation of two interlinked entities: i.e., electorally weak religious and conservative parties and certain former military men who felt alienated after the American dollars for the anti-Soviet Afghan insurgency dried up.

Couple these with a string of highly-paid TV anchors and televangelists who are ever willing to sacrifice objectivity to grab the ratings-boost that rabid anti-American rhetoric promises and you get burning, blinding hot air all around.

From a perceived friend to an imagined foe

Let’s try to trace the history and evolution of anti-Americanism in Pakistan. According to a research paper written by Dr Talukder Muniruzaman in 1971 on the politics of young Pakistanis, a majority of Pakistanis viewed America positively and admiringly in the 1950s.

The paper also suggests that right up until Pakistan’s 1965 war with India, most Pakistanis saw America as a friend, especially in the context of the Soviet Union’s close ties with India.

According to another lengthy paper (published by Chicago University in 1983) on the ideological orientation of Pakistan’s university students (by Kiren Aziz and Peter McDonough), anti-Americanism among most Pakistanis remained somewhat low even during the celebrated movement (in 1967-68) against the Ayub Khan dictatorshiop – in spite of the fact that the movement was largely led by leftist students, activists and politicians.

Some leading leftist activists of the movement also suggest that there were precious little incidents in which an American flag was torched.  The following is what Badar Hanif, a radical member of the left-wing National Students Federation (NSF)  in the late 1960s,  wrote in a recent email to me: ‘We were focused. We not only wanted to topple the US-backed Ayub dictatorship, but the whole capitalist system.’

When I wrote back asking him whether the US was a target as well, Badar replied: “Some of us were pro-Soviet and some pro-China Marxists. Yes we were against the US, but more due to the fact that soon after Ayub’s fall, the US and the Pakistan military began aiding and backing Islamic parties like Jamat-i-Islami (JI). The JI offered themselves to them to work as a bulwark against the rising leftist tide in educational institutions and the streets.”

The Kiren Aziz and Peter McDonough paper suggests that anti-Americanism in the 1970s was ripe among many Arab countries due to the United States’ single-minded support for Israel, which finally made its way into Pakistani society during the Z.A. Bhutto regime (1972-77). Especially so when Bhutto started to expand his ‘Islamic Socialism’ doctrine at the international level by striking firm relations with various radical Muslim states and Arab countries.

However, the build-up to this was the otherwise sympathetic Richard Nixon’s administration’s failure to militarily help its sub-continental ally during the 1971 war with India.

Seyyed Vali Nasr in his excellent book, ‘Vanguards of the Islamic Revolution’ writes that the religious parties (especially JI)  began attributing the Pakistan Army’s defeat in 1971 to the ‘decadence and debauchery of men like General Yahya Khan’ and due to ‘Pakistanis’ failure to become good Muslims.’ However before that, a large number of Pakistanis began blaming the US because it had ‘failed to help Pakistan in the war.’

In his book ‘Political Dynamics of Sindh 1947-1977’ Tanvir Ahmed Tahir suggests that the post-1971 anti-Americanism in Pakistan was more an occupation of progressive and leftist groups. This is confirmed in Hassan Abbas’ book, ‘Pakistan’s drift into extremism: Allah, the Army and America’s War on Terror’.

This brings us back to the suggestion that I would rather treat as a question: Were the religious parties really being escorted by the US against the perceived threat of a take-over of pro-Soviet forces in Pakistani politics?

Progressive student leaders, activists and politicians of the era would answer in the affirmative. Many of them explain this happening as a consequence of Pakistan religious parties’ strong links with oil-rich Arab monarchies, especially the Saudi Arabia, a country that was a close ally of the US.

Anjum Athar who was associated with the Liberal Students Federation (LSF) at the University of Karachi in 1974-75 once shared with me an interesting observation. He said: “In those days (the ’70s) being socially and politically conservative did not necessarily mean being anti-West. Even the most militant Islamic student groups in the 1970s who wanted the imposition of Shariah were never seen badmouthing the US.”

Athar then added, “The reason behind this was that parties like the JI and IJT and other religious groups were more threatened by the rise of communism, a threat they shared with the US and Saudi Arabia – the two countries that became their main financiers and backers. That is why anti-Americanism was more rampant among Pakistani leftists as compared to the religious parties.”

This trend continued much into the 1980s as well.

In spite of this, America remained Pakistan’s leading aid donor. According to Lubna Rafique’s 1994 paper, ‘Benazir & British Press,’ it was only in the last year of Z.A. Bhutto’s regime (1977), that he started to allude to moving out of the ‘American camp,’ calling the US a ‘white elephant.’ He also went on to accuse the Jimmy Carter administration for financing the religious parties’ agitation against him in 1977.

Throughout the Ziaul Haq dictatorship in the 1980s, anti-Americanism remained a much polarised affair in Pakistan. Most political-religious parties and their supporters, and the industrial/business classes that supported Zia, were either openly pro-America or ambiguous on the subject.

This was due to the fact that Zia was an ‘Islamist’ military dictator who was backed by the Ronald Regan administration with military hardware and dollars during the US proxy war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and against ‘communism in the region’. Consequently, anti-Americanism became even more rampant among those opposing Zia.

For example, though anti-Americanism among most PPP workers and the student wing grew two-fold after Z.A. Bhutto’s ‘judicial murder’ at the hands of the Zia dictatorship, the party’s new chairman, Benazir Bhutto, advised her party to concentrate on the removal of Zia alone.

In 1986 when she returned to Pakistan from exile and was greeted by a mammoth crowd in Lahore, groups of PPP’s student wing, the PSF, began torching a US flag at the crowded rally. Benazir is said to have stopped them from doing this, pointing out that they would not be able to fight a superpower if they weren’t even able to remove a local dictator.

Though by the late 1980s the intensity of anti-Americanism had grown in Pakistan (compared to the preceding decades), it never became violent. The only violent case in this respect had taken place in 1979 in Islamabad when the US consulate was attacked by a crowd enraged and provoked by a broadcast from Iranian state radio that had blamed the US for engineering that take-over of the Ka’aba that year by a group of militants.

Though the notorious take-over of the Muslims’ sacred place was masterminded by a band of armed Saudi fanatics, Iran’s new revolutionary regime under Ayatollah Khomeini, used its media to claim that the attack was backed by ‘American and Zionist forces.’

According to Yaroslav Trofimov’s telling tale of the attack on Ka’aba vividly captured in his book,‘The siege of Mecca’, confusion about who planned and executed the attack arose when the Saudi regime blacked out the news.

Anti-US agitation in Pakistan only rolled back when it became clear that the siege was the work of a group of armed Saudi fanatics to whom even the kingdom’s puritanical Wahabi regime wasn’t puritanical enough!

The switch

In the 1990s as America largely divorced itself from the region after the end of the Afghan civil war, anti-Americanism in the country actually receded and Pakistanis got busy tackling the bitter pitfalls of the Afghan war in the shape of bloody ethnic and sectarian strife.

However, this also meant the drying up of American patronage and funds for religious groups and parties in the country.

Anti-Americanism returned to the fore (but with far more intensity) after the tragic 9/11 episode in 2001 and not surprisingly, the religious groups now became its main purveyors.

According to veteran defense analyst, Hassan Askari, this post-Cold-War version of anti-Americanism in the country is an emotional response of most Pakistanis to the confusion that set in after 9/11.

Naushad Amrohvi, a member of the Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party (MKP) in 1972, before leaving for Sweden after the Zia coup said: “Anti-Americanism was more popular with leftist youth before the 1980s. It was more of an intellectual pursuit. We were more into negating the US policies by intellectually attacking capitalism and modern imperialism and for this we read and discussed a lot. We read a lot of Karl Marx, Jean-Paul Sartre, Mao Zedong, Frantz Fanon, Faiz Ahmed Faiz… we even read a lot of Abul Ala Maududi so we could puncture his theories about an Islamic state and tackle the then pro-US Jamat-i-Islami!”

Amrohvi laments the fact that anti-Americanism in Pakistan today has become an excuse to hide one’s own failures: “We wanted to fight America with ideology and politics, and not suicide bombers and naked hatred,” he added.

Columnist Fasi Zaka in one of his columns suggested that the kind of anti-Americanism found these days (among the middle-classes of the country) is extremely ill-informed. He wrote that a lot of young Pakistanis are basing their understanding of international politics by watching low-budget straight-to-video ‘documentaries’ on Youtube!

These so-called documentaries that Zaka is talking about are squarely based on rehashed conspiracy theories that mix age-old anti-Jewish tirades and paranoid fantasies about Zionists, Free Masons and the Illuminati. Locally, all these are then further mixed with flighty myths about certain Muslim leaders, sages and events recorded only in jihadi literature and flimsy ‘history books.’

Thus, the post-9/11 confusion and emotionalism in Pakistan was largely given vent and an ‘intellectual tilt’ by Islamist apologists of all shapes and sizes – among them being those had once been recipients of US funds and patronage during the Cold War.

Whereas there was a prominent streak of individualism and romantic rebellion associated with the anti-Americanism of Pakistani leftists during the Cold War, nothing of the sort can be said about the widespread anti-Americanism found in Pakistan today.

In fact, the present-day phenomenon in this context has become an obligatory part of populist rhetoric in which American involvement is blamed for everything — from terrorist attacks, to the energy crises, to perhaps even the break of dengue fever!

Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and Dawn.com.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.



  1. Grim says:

    Sometime I think NFP is the only one that gets it in Pakistan. For those Pakistanis that are crying about US involvement in their country, it probably has something to do with UBL still chilling out in the tribal areas. Wake up Pakistan!!! Your problems are caused internally. How many Indians have strapped bombs to their chest and taken out innocent people over the past few years? Hmmm… all the suicide bombers killing Pakistanis are Pakistani. As far as US aide is concerned, we certainly have not gotten our monies worth to say the least.


  2. talha says:

    as usual paracha sahab has shown how deeply lost he truly is in his own little ‘intellectual’ hole. i hadnt read who the author of the article was but as i was skimming through, i guessed it must be our old friend mr. paracha. Who else can be so blind to the ultimate realities?

  3. H.A says:

    Pakistanis can blame their leaders all they want but pakistanis themselves will have to change first. There seems to be no sense of brotherhood left in the common Pakistani man who wants to work together with his fellow man to make Pakistan a better place to live for himself and his future generations. Only the Mullah’s seem united at this point and do Pakistani’s really want to live under uneducated, hypocritical people?

  4. Nawaz Ansari – USA says:


    You seem to remember the money that was given to Pakistan yet you completely seem to negate the fact that Pakistan has been doing all the dirty work for the US for at least past four decades.

    The turf is ours SIR; we are the victims here that certainly deem you the tormentor and the oppressor. We are the defenders here, yet you are the repeat offender. There is NO “anti-Americanism” in Pakistan, your unwanted interference; intrusion, your ultimate hypocrisy and your double standard are the true reasons for your utmost humiliation in Pakistan.

    The best you can do right now is to pack your bags and get out of the region.

    • Yavr says:

      Sir, you have summed it all in one paragraph. where as Mr. Paracha clearly bypassed it, I think he is himsef a victim of low-budget straight-to-video ‘documentaries’ on Youtube!

    • Hashmat says:

      Nawaz you have summarized the actual situation indeed very well & majority of educated Pakistani’s will tend to agree with your assessment. If USA leaves the region & stops interferring in Pakistan’s internal affairs, then this should definately bring an end to most of the ongoing issues in Pakistan.

  5. ravi – usa says:

    Pakistanis are busy being anti-India, anti-USA, anti -Afghanistan, anti-Iran… They should focus being pro-Pakistan first and building Pakistan for a better tomorrow, and everything will fall in place for a brighter and better Pakistan

    • Suhas Kharbanda says:

      The Pakistanis I have met are very pro-Pakistani and very proud of being Pakistani. But I cant understand what exactly they are they proud of ?

  6. Shigri says:

    Nadeem’s this article seems (unusually) to have lack of understanding of the phenomenon despite having a time-lined literature from the past!

    I am a fan of Nadeem though but this looks somewhat ordinary than what we expect of him.


  7. sal says:

    Yes, you rightly point out some examples why America has been wrongly blamed – but how about some balance?

    What about all the American acts which do deserve contempt. Illegal war in Iraq (not to mention many other aggressive military actions like Vietnam, Cambodia, Korea, Nicaragua, attempted coup against Hugo Chavez), sponsoring dictators around the world (Musharraf, Mubarak, Saudi, Saddam etc.). Just saw this headline on dawn.com today: “US seeks to avoid UN vote on Israeli settlements”.

    And if you say what does this have to do with Pakistan – maybe nothing, but it has everything to do with the Human race…..we need to stand up to the bullies of the world – no matter who they are….

  8. Zahid Khan says:

    Pakistan lives on US dollars ONLY. The day US decides to unplug this ‘charity’ Pakistan will starve to death in less than 12 months. No other country or IMF or World bank, etc. will help either. ( Not even the BEST friend called China, it had never done it any away). It is that simple. You can keep on debating, but the reality doesent change. Why waste time and energy on this issue when Pakistan just cant stand on its own feet even after 61 years!! Period.

  9. sf says:

    There is a saying. yakee go home, yankee go home and take me with you.
    Pakistan is almost a failed state, I say almost and not a failed state only because of American support and help. Come on Pakistanis, stop living in a dream world, get real, you dont want uneducated mullahs to rule you and get Pkistan backward to the 7th century. I said uneducated but what about those Pakistanis who are educated like Lawyers who glorified a killer. These lawyers will be our future judges and leaders. its a shame, what has become of ebucation in Pakistan. These lawyers probably were educated in maddrassas. Stop complaining and hating.
    Regarding Davis he was being followed by 2 thieves who wanted to either rob or kill him and in self defence he shot them. Not too long ago my cousin shot and killed 2 robbers who were breaking into neighbor’s house. He was rewarded, what an unjust and double standard,

    • ASA says:

      “Regarding Davis he was being followed by 2 thieves who wanted to either rob or kill him and in self defence he shot them”

      Yes shotm them in the back from 5o- feet away.
      Exactly what drug was he taking when he felt thretened by two men running away from him or is murderous paranoia a normal condiion of an American?

  10. KD says:

    If USA declares lottery of Visa to migrate to USA when such demonstration against USA is in process, 90% of all demonstrators would quit their march and line up in front of US embassy!!!

  11. Umer Farooq Baloch says:

    Brother from this article, you have actually made me rethink on the principle stand I had on this particular issue. Thanks

  12. ramfromIndia says:

    Lacks the usual punch and clarity of Nadeem…

  13. bahram says:

    give me one god reason why we should be pro american policy (i dont have anything against american people) and id give u a hundred reasons to hate american foriegn policy. btw , ur proving to more of an pro american then pro paki… *sigh*

    • sahil says:

      if you hate america stop using american google , facebook , planes , coco cola , hollywood movies , mobile , computer.

      i wonder you pakistanis cant live in a single without america , i see if pakistanis will be given choice between america green card and heaven they will cose green card .

      not sure have a survey about that .

      americans have save thousands during pakistan floods with out americans choppers atleast 1000s of pakistanis will be washed away is this not enough

      then ask 100000s of pakistan if they want to leave satan america against islamic pakistan i bet if your sister , or daughther is in america even she would not want to come back to pakistan.

      are these reason not enough you want more , i would be sort of space to give reason why pakistan should be pro pakistan

      • khurram says:

        You make no sense my friend.you are mixing up two entirely different things..I work for an american based company while i live here in pakistan.even american people agree that they are not happy with the way usa govt is doing in other country affairs.

      • AHK says:

        @Sahil: What does using google, facebook, planes have to do with being pro or anti American?

        Talk some sense.

  14. Goga Nalaik says:

    Dear Nadeem

    Thanks for this nice article.
    But this time, it did’nt really quinch my thirst …

    Your Fan

  15. K.RIAZ says:

    What does Yasir mean when he says”We are need a true leader who control all recently circumstance”?

    One can dislike Zardari and so do I,but have yet to see such a brilliant politician.Let the system continue and it will eventually cleanse itself.

  16. Yasir says:

    we are need a true leader who control all recently circumstance

  17. brighton rodeo says:

    Most Pakistanis hate America but love americans and dollars. Abama knows it pretty well.

  18. ahmed says:

    i found nothing new in NFPs narrative ….can;t the so admired columnist be a bit more original.
    Anti americanism is a fad and transient. it goes high when US applies stick and goes low when US supplies carrots…and this is natural for any living nation..so what happens in Pakistan is not unique to Pakistan or Pakistanis,…this phenomenon is prevalent all over the world…and there is no sin in being anti-american. Americanism has become a capitalist doctrine all over the world, i.e control of vast amount of resources/wealth…whether it is Pakistani agriculture landlords, middle-eastern industrialist or Russian oligarchs…that is why when people in Pakistan are fed up with status quo, they start rejecting one zamindar over the industrialist, and vice versa.

  19. anIndian says:

    A very well written article. But is an average Pakistani educated enough to understand it…

  20. Most Pakistanis hate America because they can’t get there.

    • Tariq K Sami says:

      Really do you think that’s what “most Pakistanis” think.
      Sir, people have a life to live and a thousand mundane things to keep them busy.

  21. jfernandez says:

    Do not blame others for your ineffectiveness. You are enjoying more than 60 years of being an independent country and what have you done? Look at other Asian countries which had similar circumstances and where are they now as compared to your country? If there is a will, there is a way!

    • Salman Hasan says:

      I completely agree with jfernandez. As a Pakistani I still believe that no outside powers can change any nation’s destiny. The problem with Pakistan is that we have not yet become a nation. We are four different entities or tribes who only care for their own self-interests. Until these tribes become one nation, indivisible, united and honest, nothing will happen in Pakistan. Powerful bureacrats, landlords, generals, politicians will continue to rob this country by using democracy, Islam and ethnicity. We need moderate, educated, liberal people to rise up and come out on the street like Egyptians did few weeks ago and remind these ruling elite that 170 million plus people cannot take this crap from them anymore and force them to install reforms or they will be thrown out of offices.

    • Tariq K Sami says:

      I think Pakistan has done very well. See you in the World Cup Cricket.

  22. mystic says:

    Americans today admit that they propped up Mubarak’s regime in Egypt for 30 years. Anyone saying that a few weeks ago would be an anecdote in this NFP rant.

  23. Sajid says:

    As always NFP has come up with some interesting views. I would like to have NFP’s views on the following observation:

    While its true that Dollar aid dried up for many religious organization in Pakistan after the US left Afghanistan, we should not forget extensive financial support from SA to madassah-cum-militant-cum-political organizations mainly to confront the challenges posed by Islamic revolution in Iran (also a revolution against US hegemony) and to promote a specific Islamic ideology. It is this financial support from SA that we are experiencing a very sharp divide in this country on the basis of sect.

  24. Pakistanis love US aid, US Green card, US citizenship, US education, US internet, US computer technology, US science and in return they bite the generous US hand that helps them.

    • HS says:

      Pakistan is given the US aid cz US wants to fight against Afghanistan using OUR borders!!! n btw the paki govt needs aid fo their personal use instead of for the whole nation!!..US can stop giving us aid n take their army back fm our borders n after this should stop interfering in other countrys personal n internal issues!

    • Tariq K Sami says:

      Really ! Like Amy Powell would say on Saturday Live.
      I did not understand this US infatuation with Pakistan. Do you?
      Alternately are they stupid or what Mr Robinson. Think about it.

  25. Pokerface says:

    How hypocritical is it that although most Pakistanis supposedly “hate” America with a passion, those very same Pakistanis would do anything to get and American Green card or even a Visa. I believe, that the primary reason for the rise anti-Americanism in Pakistan in recent years is due to closeness between the US & India during the same time frame.

  26. qazi says:

    once mao said America has made all the poor nations its enemy by helping the dictators. in pakistan its inteference is now an open book, how does it is looting it is no secret. take the example of hosni, first it was siding with hosni but later took turn and asked him to accept the people demand and leave the powers. the european media also played biased role at the time of uprising against hosni.

    • Rajiv says:

      Example of Hosni proves that if people have the intelligence to make right choice… even superpower has to support it…

  27. ali says:

    next is pakistan people have to come on streets to show unity and more hate against Us

  28. Nawaz Ansari – USA says:

    A note to Moderator(s)

    As a second generation young Pakistani-American I profoundly disagree with the author and wish to refute him by authoring my thoughts in a civil manner, thus I truly desire to get a fair chance by DAWN.COM to exercise my right to the “freedom of speech”.

  29. Vince says:

    If you hate Americans so much, I would think you’d stop trying to move here.
    Pakistan is a basket case, corruption so pervasive nothing can be accomplished without bribing someone. How does any foreign government deal with the Pakistani Government then? The U.S. donates more to Pakistan than any other country including your great “friends” Saudi Arabia and China. I for one have been writing my congressman and senators demanding that we stop supporting your country and let you solve your own problems. Good luck with the next flood, earthquake or whatever.

    • Mohammed Hassanali says:

      I hope that happens soon. I’ll be the first one to thank the Almighty.

    • Usso says:

      Are You trying tp say tha America is giving fund pakistan without any reaso? can you Answer This Question..How Many American Killed After 9/11? I think its you war We are in….America knows Its pakistan Who can Only Destroy the Tailban/ And Alqaida’s Leadership… And for your infomation…Pakistan Lost more…Pakistani.people. then America in their War Against Afghanistan..and its becuz of america we are getting in worse situation.You won’t understand this becuz its not ur country who is suffering but pakistan. Ask the Men & women who Lost their families…through Suicide Attack…ask a mother who lost his Only son……..i hope you got my point….we are not against America we want america to mind their own business.:)


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