Pakistan: A New Policy
[For a brief update on the comparison with Iran, click here.]
Recent events make clear that Pakistan, not Iran, is now the most dangerous place in the world, with the possible exception of North Korea.
Pakistan has nuclear weapons. Iran only appears to want them, and how much is anyone’s guess. With its general level of industry and technological sophistication, Iran could have had nuclear weapons years ago, at least if its people had viewed them as crucial for their own survival as we did for ours in World War II.
But Iran doesn’t have nuclear weapons yet. It may never. A large part of the reason appears to be its own political and cultural ambivalence toward them. Iran has not been expansionist for most of a millennium and is not now.
Like the former Soviet Union in its day, Iran does have lots of bluster. It insults and threatens us, Israel and some of its Sunni Arab neighbors. But the only visible, concrete steps it has taken to carry out its threats have been its slow development of medium-range missiles, its supplying terrorists, and its meddling in Iraq, with which it fought an eight-year debilitating war, after being attacked, that ended a little over two decades ago.
In contrast, the level, depth, longevity, persistence and sheer irrationality of Pakistan’s hatred for India is terrifying. Not long after it first got nuclear weapons, Pakistan attempted an invasion of the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir that nearly precipitated the first real, bilateral nuclear war. Ever since then, the consistent obsessions of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services have been Kashmir and India.
The only comparable phenomenon in the world today is Kim Jong Il’s obsessive hatred for the far more successful Korean South. In contrast, Ahmadinejad’s bluster against Israel seems like cheap demagoguery, with neither societal consensus nor consistent planning behind it.
Despite an unstable patina of democracy, Pakistan’s army and security apparatus (ISI) seem firmly in control of the country, or at least its military and nuclear weapons. In contrast, Iran is divided three ways, among: (1) its aging clerics, (2) its politicians, including Ahmadinejad and the ever-present but low-key Rafsanjani; and (3) a “Green” popular revolution that has been suppressed for now but still simmers just below the surface.
Military control of Pakistan might not be a bad thing if its military were rational, professional, and stability-seeking like Egypt’s. But that does not appear to be the case. A recent report suggests that all of Pakistan’s eleven corps commanders, and much of the army’s rank and file, resent us and are furious at our killing Osama bin Laden on their territory. There is even some question whether they sympathize with Islamist extremists (apart from their putative value as a “weapon” against India) and, if so, how deep that sympathy goes. (What all this reveals about Pakistan’s official complicity with Al Qaeda, ambivalence, or sheer incompetence, is still unclear.)
About two years ago, I wrote a post lauding Pakistan’s democracy. I wrote that post just after its protesting lawyers and supreme court had gotten rid of Musharraf as its strong man. I expressed hope that the British-imposed culture of democracy would ultimately prevail, and that Pakistan might become a cultural and commercial leader of Central and South Asia.
But subsequent events make me I fear I was too optimistic. Pakistan in fact has three cultures: (1) a military/intelligence culture obsessed with India, (2) a tribal culture that reigns supreme in Baluchistan and the Northwest Tribal Provinces, and (3) the rational but bureaucratized British culture left over from the old colonial days. I fear that my own cultural bias may have led me to overemphasize the importance of the last.
In any case, it is now clear that our policy in Pakistan has been a failure. Decades of expensive support and “engagement” have not stopped Pakistan from developing nuclear weapons and giving them to North Korea and possibly Iran. Nor have our money and effort created the type of professional, stability-seeking armed forces that we now see in Egypt. We have managed to use our superior technology and organization to kill our worst enemy while he was hiding in Pakistan. But our doing so only elicited the kind of sullen resentment and truculence from Pakistan’s armed forces that they previously reserved for India.
So at present, only one conclusion is possible. In guiding Pakistan to evolve as a democracy and a peaceful member of the community of nations, our policy has been a complete failure.
Let me hasten to say the blame does not lie with the President. He has only followed our nation’s consistent policy for decades. He and his predecessor broke with it to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan and to liquidate our worst enemy; and in doing so, they hardly had a choice. The alternative was to let bin Laden thumb his nose at us for as long as the Pakistanis sheltered or ignored him.
But a failure is a failure, whoever’s fault it may be. We have tried to bribe Pakistan with money and military hardware. That didn’t work. It just enhanced Pakistan’s dark and fevered dreams of revenge against India. We have tried to train Pakistan’s military to be professional and stability-seeking like Egypt’s. That didn’t work either. We tried (perhaps too little and too late) to assist Pakistan’s nascent democracy, but that effort mostly died with Benazir Bhutto.
So finally we just gave up. We advanced our own interests inside Pakistan, killing our own enemies there with Predators and ninjas. Our military success did nothing but enrage the Pakistanis in charge, despite the fact that our enemies are also their own. It looks as if it will take some hard experience, without our prompting, for the Pakistanis to get that point.
When everything you do fails, it’s time to let others try.
Look at a map. Some strong nations surround Pakistan. Besides India, there’s Iran and China. Beyond Afghanistan are three “Stans” of the former Soviet Union, with Russia not far away. China, India and Russia are strong, capable nations, with stability-seeking, rational foreign policies. Iran and Pakistan are potential, if not present, adversaries and potential checks on each other’s irrational dreams. (Did it ever occur to anyone that part of the reason Iran may want nuclear weapons is that Pakistan already has them and is right next door?)
Like Iran, Pakistan has a simple problem. Expressed in anthropomorphic terms, it needs to learn to get along better with its neighbors. It messes with Afghanistan simply because the two nations have such a long common border and its other neighbors are too strong, or, in the case of the “Stans’” across the way, have too strong a backer to mess with.
Pakistan needs to settle down and focus on its own economic development, modernization and democratization. So do we. We have failed utterly in teaching Pakistan that lesson, perhaps because we are having trouble learning it ourselves. We may not be the best teacher.
Maybe it’s time now to let Pakistan’s neighbors (including Russia, a neighbor by proxy) have a try. We might also involve rational Islamic nations, such as Turkey and Egypt. After all, the neighbors have much more at stake than we if things go wrong.
We should not cut off aid to Pakistan cold turkey (pardon the expression). Doing so would only further inflame resentment and might destabilize the regime. But we should cut aid down gradually and substantially and impose conditions on it.
Chief among those conditions should be that every Pakistani officer, or at least every one who benefits from our aid, attend a war college here for at least two years. There he will learn how to soldier professionally. We will teach him that his first duty is to the Pakistani people and their welfare, not to a religion or to Muslims in Kashmir, and that obsessive hatred of India and the West is counterproductive. We will also teach him that Pakistan’s people include all tribes and all religious sects. This instruction just might help turn Pakistan’s jihad-susceptible army into something resembling Egypt’s.
As we cut down aid, we should ask Pakistan’s neighbors to take up the slack, but on the civilian side. And we should ask them, too, to do everything they can to help divert Pakistan’s obsessive hatred of India into something more constructive. Russia, which has good relations with Germany after suffering the most disastrous invasion in modern history, could be helpful in this regard.
Of course we should continue liquidating our own enemies, even inside Pakistan, including leaders of Al Qaeda Central and irreconcilable Taliban. We should try to do so with as much cooperation and trust between us and the Pakistanis as may be possible. And we should try to limit civilian casualties and infringements of Pakistani “sovereignty“ as much as we can manage.
But we should make clear that we consider these enemies to be criminals, not state actors, and that we have a vital national interest in capturing or killing them if Pakistan can’t or won’t do so. We should also make clear that Ayman al Zawahiri—albeit nothing like the gifted propagandist that bin Laden was—is next on our list, and we will not rest until he has been captured or executed, preferably with Pakistan’s help.
Finally, to help sweeten this bitter pill, we should repudiate and forswear the so-called “Bush Doctrine”—that anyone who harbors terrorists is our enemy. We are not going to go to war with Pakistan, a nation of 170 million people with nuclear weapons on the opposite side of the globe, which has never done us any direct harm and which gave us Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. That much should be obvious to anyone with the slightest trace of pragmatism and realism. It is childish to make threats whose idleness is self-evident.
But we are going to use our superior technology and military might to defend ourselves against terrorists wherever they may hide, not just by huddling behind legal and physical barriers in our homeland, but by offensive police action, including assassination. That, too, should be obvious to anyone who can face facts without flinching.
To further sweeten the bitter pill, we can and should make it our policy to stay as far away from the Kashmir dispute as possible. We have no dog in that fight, except to see it settled as quickly and peacefully as possible. So we should not go out of our way to liquidate extremists or jihadis whose sole focus is Kashmir, whether Taliban or independents. India can and should take care of itself. But whenever jihadis or terrorists collude with Al Qaeda or others with us as a target, or in an attempt at global jihad, they will be fair game.
We could hardly do less to defend ourselves and our interests. That, too, ought to be obvious to anyone who can reason. Pakistani forces can help us and earn our genuine gratitude or sit on the sidelines and be embarrassed. Or they can oppose us, get hurt, and alienate the best and most reliable friend the Pakistani people (as distinguished from their government) have in the world today.
There will never be a full-scale war between us and Pakistan. There is too much at stake for both sides for that to happen, even by mistake. It is remotely possible that we might have to undertake significant military action inside Pakistan to keep its nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of indigenous extremists or stateless terrorists. But that would not be a “war.” Nor would it precede or follow any sort of general invasion or occupation. We simply don’t have the troops, the money, the interest, the reason or (after Afghanistan and Iraq) the staying power.
And, lest we forget, Pakistan and we are on opposite sides of the globe. That simple geographical fact gives us no more reason for mutual paranoia than we and the old Soviet Union once had.
Nevertheless, we have vital strategic and tactical interests in defending ourselves against criminal terrorists who might use Pakistan as a staging ground or its grudge against India as an excuse to plot against us or our allies. And we have the means to do so, without remotely bankrupting ourselves. Therefore our relationship with Pakistan may be prickly (to say the least) for the foreseeable future.
That is an unavoidable fact of life. Our relationship will get less prickly as we convince Pakistanis that the fate of Kashmir is for them, the indigenous people and India to decide peacefully, and that we have common, strong and self-evident interests in fighting terrorists and Islamic extremists.
One last point: insofar as concerns the Taliban, we are getting more discriminating. After ten years in Afghanistan, we are learning to distinguish the “irreconcilable” Taliban, who are friends of Al Qaeda and bent on global jihad, from those whose aims are purely local and whose means are sufficiently civilized to make them candidates for local coalition governments. Most of our “success” in Afghanistan so far inheres in our identifying and assassinating many of the irreconcilable ones. As long as we have substantial force in neighboring Afghanistan, we should continue our policy of working with Taliban whose goals are local and whose means are relatively civilized and neutralizing the rest. With our drones and stealthy ninjas, we don’t need armies on the ground to do that.
So our policy would have only three new elements. First, it would rely on neighbors to reinforce the message that extremism and anti-India grudges are bad for Pakistan and that democratic reform (including women’s rights) and economic development are Pakistan’s future. Second, it would reduce our monetary aid and condition it on Pakistan’s army and intelligence services becoming more professional and more focused on Pakistan’s welfare, rather than enmity towards India. Third, it would rely on complete honesty and forthrightness about our policy and intentions—and their limitations—insofar as concerns Pakistan’s territory and sovereignty.
This is a long-term policy, with no guarantee of success. But what else have we got? We could continue our existing policy of massive, unsupervised military aid, most of which gets diverted into private bank accounts or feverish plans to attack India. And we could continue pretending to cooperate and make nice, with increasing suspicion and distrust on both sides. But those courses of action would put us squarely within Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity.
In an article headlined “A Divine Wind Blows Against Iran’s President,” the New York Times today confirmed recent reports of a serious and growing split between Iran’s President Ahmadinejad and its Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The report suggested, however, that the Ayatollah holds most of the strings of political power, and that it will take someone both cleverer and more popular than the loopy Ahmadinejad to break them.
The brief history of this 1999 conflict is complicated. But you can read the essential details in the following online sources: The India-Pakistan Conflict: Part 3 1965-1999 [scroll down to “The Calm Before the Storm”] and The India-Pakistan Conflict: Part 5 Aftermath.