Put Pakistan “on the table”

Issue 22 - Jan 2009
Vanni Cappelli

That the Bush administration in the wake of 9-11 turned to the very entity responsible for turning South-Central Asia into a stronghold of Islamic militancy as a “key ally” against these same forces must stand as an instance of conceptual lag unequalled in the history of American foreign policy. Given Rawalpindi’s irreducible geostrategic paradigm of employing Islamic fundamentalism to crush progressive forces at home and extend its power abroad, it is as oxymoronic to look to it as an ally against radical Islamism as it would have been to seek to extend the wartime alliance with the Soviet Union into one against communism.

Pakistan’s army has shown persistence in its endeavours over many decades. Its ties to militants are not the vagaries of “rogue elements” but represent the integrated policies of the military-security services complex itself. Such an entity does not make a sea-change in its ethos merely because it has been threatened with dire consequences unless it switches sides—it only pretends to, especially if receiving billions of dollars in renewed military aid will be the result. 

And if some of Rawalpindi’s jihadi assets have slipped beyond its control while the army conducts desultory campaigns against militants to appease America, all the better for portraying Pakistan as a victim of terrorism, rather than the state sponsor of terror it has long been. Allowing a powerless civilian administration in Islamabad to be the public face of the country completes the illusion.

American military assistance to Pakistan over the last half century has enabled Islamic fundamentalism, perpetuated the India-Pakistan conflict, and led over and over again to death and destruction. It has prevented the development of democracy, civil society, and equitable economic relations in Pakistan. With mounting evidence that Rawalpindi continues to support the Taliban in pursuit of its historic goals, it is now being used to kill American and other coalition soldiers. 

The incoming Obama administration must confront this fact, and bring American national security policies in line with reality. Winning in Afghanistan means keeping Pakistan out of Afghanistan, and that means not only sending more troops and rebuilding the country, but forging regional alliances with nations whose ideals and interests dictate that they are actually with the United States in this fight. Democratic India, a rising world economic and military power which together with Afghanistan continues to bear the brunt of Pakistan’s recidivist behaviour, should have been the logical choice for “key ally” against terrorism once it became tragically evident that this behaviour had consequences for the United States as well. Yet the early strategic soundings coming from the Obama team are not promising. While correctly placing Pakistan at the heart of the region’s troubles, it seems to think that brokering an accord on Kashmir—with the major concessions coming from India—would somehow remove the incentive for the Pakistani army to support Islamists in Afghanistan, enhance the power of the civilian government in Islamabad, and pave the way for a lasting peace among the three countries.

This approach ignores the deep ideological basis of the ties between Rawalpindi and its jihadi assets, the enormous financial benefits that flow to the army as a result of its holding real power in the country, and the degree to which it sees continued conflict as essential to that power, providing as it does legitimacy to its leitmotif of “Islam in danger.”

Aggression can never be terminated by appeasement, especially when there is not a clear picture of the nature of the entity being appeased.

An American-Indian-Afghan alliance aimed at containing Pakistan is the only way to counter the fundamentalist geopolitical dynamic which produced 9-11 and the Mumbai attack. Such an alliance would raise an overarching security structure that would have the same effect NATO had on the Soviet Union. 

By cutting off military aid to Pakistan, naming it a state sponsor of terror, and working with its neighbours to contain it, the United States and its allies would effect the same internal collapse of a malevolent order as occurred when the Soviet Union’s weak economy proved unable to sustain its military superstructure. That would give Pakistan’s democratic forces their first real chance to take control of their country, end the army’s sponsorship of terror, and prevent future 9-11’s and Mumbais. For in the final analysis, historical pathologies can only be dealt with by a transformation of the existential situation in which they thrive, not by the policies of appeasement which have brought on our present crisis. 

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