It's rare for Pakistanis to raise slogans against Saudi Arabia. But on Monday, Nawaz Sharif’s supporters, who travelled with him from London to Islamabad, hollered loudly against the Saudis for their role in agreeing to the return of Mian Sahib to Jeddah.
“We have had enough of outside interference in our internal affairs,” Muhammad Nawaz, a party worker, said. The anger at the Saudis is momentary. However, with other countries, especially the United States, there is a more long-term feeling.
Pakistanis, by and large, feel the US has a considerable say in who is at the helm of affairs in Islamabad. This feeling has been strengthened following 9/11 and the war on terror.
The past week has seen a flurry of visitors to Pakistan. Apart from Sharif, and the Saudi and Lebanese envoys who preceded him, and took the former prime minister to Jeddah, US Assistant Secretary of State for Central and South Asian Affairs Richard Boucher slipped in on September 7, for the second time in less than two months. The US Embassy said Boucher was there for a bilateral strategic dialogue which had been on hold. US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, scheduled to arrive here on Monday, has delayed his trip by a couple of days.
Analysts say US-Pakistan relations have come under considerable strain. This is due to expectations from the government to do more on the war on terror and also linking aid to Pakistan with “success” against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
General Musharraf has argued that the war on terror is “our own very war”. At the same time, the Pakistani foreign office continues to issue statements critical of US policy. And yet, many Pakistanis feel US involvement in the post-9/11 scenario has increased in Pakistan. “This is the only reason why General Musharraf has been able to prolong his stay,” one analyst said.
It is common belief that the US, and to some extent the United Kingdom, are behind the deal being struck between Musharraf and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. However, both parties deny external pressures. At the same time, many people feel the US deciding for Pakistan that it should have a “moderate leadership” is an insult to the country.
Many Pakistanis, however, are quick to invite outsiders when they wish to draw attention to issues. This may possibly be because international attention has led to the government taking quick action, said one worker at a local NGO, Sahil.
The ironies do not end there. Religious parties, quick to pounce on US interference, are happy with Arab involvement in the country. This leads one to question the whole debate over foreign interference in Pakistan and where the government, and other stakeholders, should draw the line. As yet, consensus has proved elusive.