Is the US Media Biased against Pakistan?

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According to the US media, the crisis between India and Pakistan is entirely Pakistan’s fault. With a few notable exceptions, most writers have argued that India is the victim and Pakistan the villain in the dispute, and argue strongly that the US support India. For example, a writer in the Washington Times called upon the US to take out Pakistan’s nuclear assets, to prevent a nuclear war. Another writer in the same paper wrote that Pakistan “poses a threat to peace and to American security interests.” One of the Wall Street Journal’s editors said, “Pakistan should not be allowed to practice nuclear blackmail on India.” The Cato Institute issued a report that cautioned the US to avoid “longer-term entanglements” with Pakistan. The Center for International Policy wrote that the United States should “make sure that its relations with Pakistan do not undermine friendly U.S. relations with India, a rising power of much greater long-term importance to American interests than Pakistan.” These analyses differ but little in tone or content from those coming out of the Institute of Topical Studies, which is in the van guard of the Hindu-fundamentalist movement in India.

Not too long ago, many of these pundits were arguing that the US should stay out of South Asia, since it had no vital interests in the region. They were hoping that given India’s size advantage over Pakistan, the dispute would be resolved in India’s favor, through bilateral negotiations. While India is eight times larger than Pakistan, both countries are pivotal states in the region. The US campaign against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan would have been impossible without Pakistani assistance. In the future, Pakistan éwith a population of 140 million Muslims–can serve as a role model of a moderate Islamic state.

Independent observers would argue that the US should not support the bellicose stance that India has adopted toward Pakistan following the tragic attacks of December 13, which killed nine Indians. Mobilizing almost half a million soldiers and moving short range ballistic missiles to the border with Pakistan are highly provocative acts that are disproportionate to the casualties inflicted in the attacks, even if Pakistan was behind the attacks. It is distressing how quickly the hawks in New Delhi have suspended all the confidence building measures (CBMs) between the two countries that had taken years to put in place. What is even more disturbing is that all the CBMs remain suspended, even after General Pervez Musharraf made his speech of January 12, essentially agreeing to all Indian demands short of handing over the 20 alleged suspects.

Explaining the Bias

There are several explanations of why the US media is biased against Pakistan. One of them ties the bias to Pakistan’s consistent support of the Palestinian cause. Since the security of Israel is judged to be a cornerstone of US foreign policy, regardless of which political party governs the country, a Pakistan armed with nuclear weapons is regarded with suspicion.

Another explanation says that Pakistan has provided financial and military assistance to extremist Muslim groups that have caused havoc and destruction in Afghanistan and Indian-held Kashmir. Thus, US analysts attribute the tens of thousands of deaths that have occurred in Kashmir in 1989 to Pakistani backed militants, not to Indian security forces. They don’t analyze why a few thousand militants would require India to deploy half a million troops in a region that is the size of Belgium, nor do they critique the crimes these troops have committed against unarmed civilians.

A third explanation ties the support for India to a fascination in American culture with the philosophy and life of Mahatama Gandhi. Groups like the Beatles and musicians like Ravi Shankar introduced Indian culture to the west. The image of India as the world’s largest democracy, with a fascinating history and culture, is indelibly stamped on the American psyche.

But the most significant factor appears to be the significant penetration of US academic and think tank circles by analysts of Indian nativity. India, with a population of one billion, is large enough to have professorial chairs devoted to Indian studies in major US universities. Most occupants of these chairs are of Indian origin. The media often contacts them as sources of information not only on India, but also on South Asia as a whole. It is a comment on the naiveté of US correspondents that they don’t seem to realize that such persons will invariably be biased in favor of the land of their birth.

Finally, the fact that India has had an uninterrupted tradition of democratic rule, beginning with Prime Minister Nehru, and that Pakistan has been ruled for more than half of its history by the military, ensures that US writers will naturally gravitate toward India.

What’s Next?

It is disturbing that so many western analysts adopt a double standard when dealing with South Asia. There is no discussion of the subversive activities of India’s Research and Analysis Wing, but extensive discussion of its Pakistani counterpart’s activities. There is little recognition of India’s failed intervention in the civil war in Sri Lanka that resulted in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, or of its violent intervention in Indian Punjab, which resulted in the assassination of Indira Gandhi. But there is continued discussion of the brutality of the Pakistani army during the civil war of 1971.

As the world’s largest democracy, India should set a better example of how to treat its minority populations. In classic Pavlovian fashion, it cannot continue blaming Pakistan for all its political violence. The pundits in Washington need to shed some light on the dark side of Indian democracy. It is not just Pakistan that needs political reform.

The author is an economist in Palo Alto, California.  He lived in Pakistan during the 1965 and 1971 wars.  He has written on Pakistan’s Strategic Myopia in the RUSI Journal, and reviewed Mazari’s book, Journey to  Disillusionment for International Affairs. He has authored “Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan”, which will be published later this year by Ashgate Publishing in the UK. He is a Fellow of the American Institute of International Studies in California.

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