By Michael Kugelman for The Express Tribune
Wondering about America’s latest reason for being unhappy with Pakistan? Look no further than the case of aid worker Warren Weinstein, the US citizen recently abducted from his residence in Lahore. I am not suggesting that Americans resent the fact that Pakistanis kidnapped Weinstein. Many of us (though by no means all of us) understand that abductions of Americans in Pakistan are very rare and realise that those Pakistanis who relish the thought of kidnapping Americans constitute a small percentage of the population.
What I am suggesting is that Americans are upset with what Pakistanis are saying about Weinstein. It is striking how quickly some Pakistanis have proclaimed that Weinstein is a CIA agent (and to be fair, a number of Americans are making the same assumption). An American in Pakistan doing aid work in the tribal areas? Wearing the native dress? And spending so much time in the country? Clearly the hallmark traits of a spy, they conclude. Never mind his advanced age (how many near-septuagenarian spooks are prowling around Pakistan?), or the fact that he was living quite conspicuously in a large home in an affluent area of Lahore. Also striking is who is making these accusations. One expects such views from the likes of Shireen Mazari, who famously had an altercation with a western-looking man in a restaurant when he inadvertently bumped into her chair, referring to him as a “bloody CIA agent”. Or from those impressionable masses who fall prey to the anti-American narratives propagated by school textbooks, mullahs and the media.
However, it is quite another matter to see readers of this newspaper — who, by virtue of their English-language aptitude and willingness to read The Express Tribune, are not narrow-minded ideologues — posting good-riddance comments about Weinstein and his presumed CIA bonafides.
Yes, Americans in Pakistan have been and are connected to security contractor firms and intelligence agencies. Yes, many of the alleged conspiracy theories about CIA agents crawling around the country have been proven true; Washington has sometimes emerged with egg on its face after prevaricating about the intelligence affiliations of its citizens stationed in Pakistan.
And, yes, ‘development work’ can be code for spy craft. Nonetheless, to reflexively assume that any American in the country is tied to the CIA is not only unfair, but also insulting — because it sweepingly dismisses the highly beneficial work done by many Americans in the country, such as, presumably, Weinstein himself. Just as there are Pakistanis who admire America (albeit not necessarily its foreign policies), there are Americans — with and without government affiliations — who hold Pakistan in high esteem and who dedicate their lives to making positive contributions there. Some may single out school-building superstar Greg Mortenson; I would cite the likes of the somewhat lesser-known (and therefore more typical) case of Todd Shea — a musician by training who, moved by televised images of suffering in Kashmir after the 2005 earthquake, travelled to Pakistan to provide relief aid. Shea has been there ever since; he now runs a hospital in a remote part of Kashmir.
There are other Todd Sheas in Pakistan. They may not want their stories publicised, but they are there, serving as healthcare trainers, conducting research on drone strikes’ impacts on civilians and helping promote women’s rights. Some work for NGOs, others represent non-intelligence agencies of the US government and others still — perhaps the most honourable of them all — act as volunteers and represent only themselves.
Pakistanis often lament, and rightly so, how so many of their most humanitarian and peace-loving citizens — from Abdul Sattar Edhi to Shehzad Roy — are relative unknowns in the US. Americans are equally justified for being indignant about the lack of recognition accorded to the selfless work of their countrymen in Pakistan — work that has little to do with cloaks and daggers and much more to do with benevolence and social upliftment.