Early in the 1950s, Saadat Hasan Manto, arguably Pakistan's greatest prose writer, defined, almost inadvertently, a type of "Ugly American" that the Cold War would fix in popular imaginations across Asia: the representative of the world's greatest superpower who, though superficially friendly and generous, pursues America's national interest at the expense of all other concerns; an often blundering figure who never ceases, while leaving destruction and chaos in his wake, to claim the highest virtue for his deeds.
American cultural cold warriors, then clustered at U.S. Information Services (USIS) offices, had approached Manto with a lucrative commission -- write a short story for publication in an Urdu journal they subsidized -- after he publicly ridiculed Pakistani camp followers of Stalin. Spurned by nonaligned India, the United States was trying to persuade Pakistan's generals, along with artists and writers, into joining its anti-Soviet crusade. The famously mercurial Manto insisted on taking less money than was offered by the Americans and then submitted, in place of the promised short story, a caustic "Letter to Uncle Sam," mocking America's claims to moral superiority over the Soviet Union.
His red-faced editors at Lahore's USIS office killed the letter and banned Manto from their pages. But Manto kept writing more letters to Uncle Sam, publishing nine altogether in local periodicals from 1951 to 1954. Today, they seem to have brilliantly foreshadowed not only the fraught triangular relationship between the United States, Pakistan, and India, but also its consequences: vicious wars, the rise of ruthless ideologies on the subcontinent, the proliferation of Indian and Pakistani versions of the Ugly American. The letters also appear to have anticipated the profound distrust of America to take hold in Pakistan in the decade since the 9/11 attacks, even as India moved in the opposite direction to an easy, even eager, accommodation with Pax Americana.
"Dear Uncle," Manto wrote in one of the letters, "My admiration and respect for you are going up at about the same rate as your progress towards a decision to grant military aid to Pakistan."
"You are," he speculated, "seriously concerned about the stability of the world's largest Islamic state since our mullah is the best antidote to Russian communism."
This was shrewd. The anti-Soviet jihad in neighboring Afghanistan was decades away, but the CIA's adventurers had already realized the anti-communist potential of radical Islamism, secretly supporting, among other outfits, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood exiled in Munich. Soon many other Pakistanis would come to share Manto's suspicion that the United States would ally itself with the most anti-democratic elements in Pakistan -- military generals and Islamists -- in order to advance its geopolitical interests. Even as Pakistan's strategic and military relationship with Washington flourished, popular sentiment turned wary of the United States.
No such ambiguities clouded early Indian visions of the self-interested and unreliable American. India and America, the world's two largest democracies, should have been, it is tirelessly argued now, natural partners from 1947 onward. But, having spent decades in the struggle for independence from British rule, India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was unlikely to help the United States assume the burden of defunct European empires in Asia and Africa. The "concert of democracies" would not take place until after the Cold War, when economic globalization would create harmonious new alliances of elites in both countries. For much of the 1950s and 1960s, discordant noises marked political and cultural exchanges between India and the United States.
U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles denounced nonalignment as "immoral." Nehru, in turn, regarded the American as "constitutionally stupid" and worse: "dull, duller, Dulles." Nehru's aristocratic disdain for American cold warriors like Dulles blended well not only with a populist strain of anti-imperialism in India but also with an older Indian prejudice, derived from the British upper class, about America as a land of upstarts. Visiting India in 1962, V.S. Naipaul was astonished by the snobbish Indian response to American novelist John O'Hara: "You couldn't get," a Madras Brahmin (unnamed, but most likely the writer R.K. Narayan) told Naipaul, "a well-bred Englishman writing this sort of tosh." Narayan's own novel, The Vendor of Sweets, in which the self-contained life of a small-town shopkeeper is ruined by his overly ambitious son, who goes to America to learn creative writing ("It's the only country where they teach such things," marvels one character), underlines a conservative Indian perception of the United States as the source of much modern outlandishness.
The Vendor of Sweets appeared in 1967, just as a spike in Indian immigration to the United States began to make Narayan's snobbery look passé. This immigrant generation would eventually become America's wealthiest minority; it included well-placed Indian-Americans like pundit Fareed Zakaria, economist Jagdish Bhagwati, venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, and Rajat Gupta, former managing director of consulting giant McKinsey, all of whom came to offer an indispensable interface between India and America.