A month after Pakistan’s foundation in 1947, the American journalist Margaret Bourke-White interviewed the founder of the world’s first Islamic republic. She wanted to understand how the country would survive. But if she expected to be told about an impressive array of policies, she was disappointed. The answer was less complicated: Pakistan would survive, Mohammed Ali Jinnah replied, because it was too important to fail. America would not allow Pakistan to fall to the Russians. “This brave new nation,” Bourke-White concluded, “had no other claim on American friendship than this—that across a wild tumble of roadless mountain ranges lay the land of the Bolsheviks.”
Six decades on, that template continues to ensure the survival of Pakistan. Its ruling elite believes that America, terrified by the potential cost of dealing with nuclear Pakistan’s failure, will always pay the price for its survival. So instead of contrition and conciliation in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s discovery in Abbottabad, Washington received a contemptuous lecture on the sanctity of Pakistan’s sovereignty – accompanied by the deliberate release of the CIA station chief’s name in Islamabad.
Pakistan’s brazenness catches the breath. But there is method to what looks like madness. This is a high-stakes gamble by Pakistan’s military-intelligence chiefs. Having been exposed as the principal guardian of al Qaeda’s chief for the last six years, Pakistan is attempting preemptively to diminish the leverage Washington has acquired over Islamabad. By being shrill, by refusing to cooperate, by threatening to retaliate, Pakistan is shifting the focus away from the question of its complicity – and hoping that, rather than assume the role of prosecutor, Washington will scramble to play the pacifier.
A decade ago, at the height of its fury, Washington threatened to bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age if it so much as refused to cooperate in the war against al Qaeda. Today, trapped in the labyrinth of Af-Pak, it stares with impotent rage as Islamabad refuses even to grant access to bin Laden’s associates – congratulating itself on bin Laden’s killing, but still stuck in an alliance with his custodians.
Washington now has two options. The first is to return to business-as-usual. Washington can carry on pretending that Pakistan’s behavior can be altered with more incentives. This will make it easier for President Barack Obama to initiate a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. But far from repairing Afghanistan, the purpose of America’s mission will have been to secure the country for Pakistan. The Taliban leaders presently hibernating in Pakistan’s mountainous north will, with the ISI’s support, eventually return Afghanistan to its pre-2001 condition.
There are influential voices in the West which continue to exhort us to recognize and respect Pakistan’s “interests” in Afghanistan. But having fought the forces of medieval barbarity for a decade, can we hand Afghanistan back to those who foisted – and wish to re-impose – the worst elements of the Taliban upon the Afghans? To accommodate Pakistan’s “interests” in Afghanistan is to consign Afghans to a future of servitude – and to turn their country into an untrammeled training ground and launching pad for Pakistan’s relentless jihad against India. It should surprise no one that 91% of Afghans view Pakistan unfavorably.
The second option is for America to repudiate the myth of Pakistan’s indispensability and embrace the country which most Afghans view favorably: India. Washington has all along been aware of India’s overwhelmingly positive contribution to Afghanistan’s development. New Delhi is the fifth-largest donor of civilian aid to Kabul. It has constructed the new parliament building, the Palace of Democracy; trained the country’s parliamentarians; and donated aircraft to resuscitate Afghanistan’s national airline, Ariana. Its workers are engaged in major infrastructure projects ranging from highways and electricity grids to dam projects, telecommunications, and the expansion of a TV network.
As Gen. Stanley McChrystal wrote in his assessment of the mission in 2009, “Indian activities largely benefit the Afghan people.” Yet India was denied a larger role for fear, in Gen. McChrystal’s words, of “Pakistani countermeasures in Afghanistan and India.” This, to borrow David Frum’s words, was the geopolitical equivalent of locking up Martin Luther King, Jr., for fear of the Ku Klux Klan’s “countermeasures”.
Washington must now seek an all-out alliance with India. It makes no sense for the US and India to function as practical strangers in Afghanistan in order to mollify forces that threaten the existence of both these secular democracies. For Pakistan, the indulgent era of bottomless bribes and easy exonerations must come to an end. Pakistan must be held to account. This does not mean going to war. It means taking concrete measures to blunt the power of the military-intelligence camorra that rules Pakistan:
- Washington must identify and pursue Pakistan’s military and intelligence officials who collude with extremists of any stripe.
- It must impose severe travel restrictions on senior officers of the Pakistan army and the ISI – and their personal assets in the west must be identified and frozen.
- Washington should make it clear to Islamabad that it will no longer plead its cause with India.
- The ISI must be declared a terrorist organization. At least five Americans were killed in the attack on Mumbai in 2008 – an attack sponsored by the ISI. And according to the CIA, the 2008 bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul – the deadliest since the Taliban’s fall in 2001 – was planned and executed in concert with the ISI. Afghanistan’s former foreign minister, Rangin Spanta, has confirmed that the “same sources’’ were behind the repeated attack on the Indian embassy in 2009.
- Finally, Pakistan must be told in no uncertain terms that if it does not act against the terrorists in its midst, then those likely to be affected by their actions have the right to intervene in self-defense.
Pakistan can no longer presume a place in the comity of nations. It must earn it.
Follow Kapil on twitter: @kapskom