Get Tough With Pakistan

May 11th, 2011 at 12:59 pm | 23 Comments |

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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:

  1. Washington must identify and pursue Pakistan’s military and intelligence officials who collude with extremists of any stripe.
  2. 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.
  3. Washington should make it clear to Islamabad that it will no longer plead its cause with India.
  4. 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.
  5. 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


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23 Comments so far ↓

  • Smargalicious

    Like it or not, Pakistan is a typical Muslim country: complicit, corrupt, and incompetent.

    No wonder Muslims are fleeing the countries they destroyed. If only the West would treat them as criminals!

  • rbottoms

    That’s right.

    Tell that nuclear weapon holding, barely stable country you’re not going to take their sh*t. They better shape up or one word: Iraq. Wait…

    Never mind.

    • Churl

      So, we let that nuclear weapon holding, barely stable country continue as in the past, right?

      The country that sheltered Osama bin Laden for half a decade or so has a store of nuclear weapons and controls the land route that supplies our troops in Afghanistan. And we are propping up their military with $billions per year, hoping that the route stays open and A.Q. Khan’s nuclear weapons technology doesn’t proliferate beyond, say, North Korea.

      Certainly nothing could go wrong if this situation continues indefinitely.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    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.

    Oh bullshit, the US never did any such thing.
    Look, I love India and hope for its continued progress and success, it is a rapidly developing Democratic country so, of course, I think the US should have good relations with it.
    However this article was absolute crap. Does the writer even own a map? Afghanistan and India share no common border anywhere so linking the two countries together is meaningless. As long as we have tens of thousands of US troops and being that Afghanistan is a landlocked country surrounded by Pakistan, China (very small part), Iran, and the various Stans of the former Soviet Union how the hell does the author imagine we will get men and material into Afghanistan without the active compliance of one of these countries.
    Now outside of safeguarding the lives and security of US personnel lets look at the fairy tale suggestions:

    1. Washington must identify and pursue Pakistan’s military and intelligence officials who collude with extremists of any stripe.
    Yes, lets spend hundreds of billions of dollars trying to get to know all of these people in a country with a population of 170 million people is frankly nuts. And how would we pursue them, bomb Karachi? Bomb Pakistani military bases?

    2. 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.
    Another nutso suggestion, talk about how to win friends and influence people. A Pakistani patriot who joins the army will have his success punished by the US just be virtue of his being in the military. We don’t even do this with the Red Army in China, a number of high ranking Generals have children studying in the US and Europe. This is a good thing.
    3. Washington should make it clear to Islamabad that it will no longer plead its cause with India.
    Yes, drive them into the arms of the Chinese, that is a great thing. And what about being fair and balanced. When Pakistan has a legitimate grievance why the hell should we not advocate for it?
    4. 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.
    More childishness. Again, the way not to win people over it not to INSULT every member of a country’s intelligence organization. The US has not declared the PSB a terrorist organization in China because pissing off the Chinese pride is not going to do any damn good, how much less so with an ostensible friend and ally.
    5. 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.
    But we already do this, we have drone bases in Pakistan right now as I write this.

    This was pretty damn sad as far as analysis.

  • sensemaker

    Frumplestiltskin, what a childish rant. i don’t know if the author owns a map of afghanistan but i am sure you need a lesson in history. the US DID threaten to “bomb pakistan back to the stone age”. i thought it was a very smart piece of analysis and its about bloody time we did something about pakistan. Frumpelstilskin’s idea of action is to keep his head buried inside the sand.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    Oh for Christ sake, Musharraf claimed he was told this by Richard Armitage but Armitage denied this, so it comes down to he said, he said. You are pretty pathetic if you take the word of a Dictator over a US intelligence agent.
    And how is my head buried in the sand? Listen child, how would you supply men and material into Afghanistan? Can’t go through Iran nor China and through the Stans (uzbekistan, tajikistan, turkmenistan) would be extremely expensive.

    And boy, let me tell you that was some rebuttal on your part. Throw a hissy fit is the best way to deal with Pakistan.

    The US has a number of bases in Pakistan with which it bombs Taliban strongholds, in addition during the 40 minutes the US was conducting the raid not so much as a single policeman stopped by to see what was going on so it is pretty obvious they were ordered to stand down. The military academy is only a mile away and there are armed guards there on duty 24/7 yet they did nothing.

    Pakistan has to make a choice, if it wants to be left in the dust as India and its economy takes off or if it embraces western economic and pluraistic attitudes. There is no easy answer to get them to do this especially when we are dependent on using Pakistan to ferry men and material to Afghanistan. As long as we have troops there we have to play this game.

    Now tell me sensemaker, how exactly would you do this? It is you who have this bizarre notion of “doing something” as though waving your hand and suggesting pie in the sky actions will change a country with a population of 170 million. Now don’t be a child

    • sanman

      Frumplestilskin, give me a break – you’re advocating appeasement of a nuclear rogue practicing nuclear extortion?? That’s a surefire way to encourage everybody to get into that game:

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-13318673

      Make no mistake – the Pakistanis are an irredentist state hell-bent on causing continental upheaval, while extorting the money necessary to finance it.

      What happens when they go the North Korean route, and acquire IRBMs and ICBMs? They’ll be able to hold the knife to everyone’s throat. Given that they’re a safe-haven for top AlQaeda leadership and that they’re already moving to build up the world’s 5th-largest nuclear arsenal, they are creating a situation where the worst types of radical extremists will be able to seize the world by the throat.

      Since you don’t want to end the Pakistani threat sooner, and instead want them to grow into an ever worse menace, your ostrich-like mentality is only going to buy us all a one-way ticket to hell.

  • armstp

    It is all geopolitical. The problems in Afghanistan are directly related to the conflict between Pakistan and India. The ISI in Afghanistan created the Taliban in combination with the U.S. during the 1980s. The ISI is now using the Taliban to hold sway over Pakistan in order to block any influence that India might have in Afghanistan. The Pakistanis fear more than anything an Afghanistan that is allied with India, which could happen and there are already ties.

    It is not as simple to say “lets get tough” with Pakistan.

    The U.S. is involved on all sides of this and the history is long.

    • Churl

      “It is not as simple to say “lets get tough” with Pakistan. ”

      True enough. We got in this situation by a long string of decisions each of which looked like a good idea at the time. It would be nice if somebody came up with a workable strategy for extricating ourselves, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.

      We seem to be fiddling with more Big Ideas for Egypt and Libya and it looks like we’ll get yet more deeply mired in the Middle East and South Asia.

  • Mo fo sho

    I think I speak for most Indians when I say that we burnt our fingers in Sri Lanka and we definitely would not want to send troops to Afghanistan. Also, we share no border with Afghanistan and can’t help the US even if we wanted to. The best we can do is humanitarian and infrastructural aid.

    The real issue between India and Pakistan is this: the military classes in Pakistan derive their influence from the Kashmir issue. If it was resolved amicably, their influence would dissipate. Therefore, they do all in their power to prevent it from being resolved. Every time civil society initiatives for peace look likely to succeed, a terror strike (Mumbai) or bombing or invasion (Kargil 1998) in India follows. Americans are finding out that claiming to fight terrorism is another such ploy by the ISI and Pakistan Army to bolster their influence at the cost of civil society.

    America and India need to find a way to reach average Pakistanis directly without the ISI and army distorting the message.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    it is good to see some sensible posts that followed my own.
    as to getting the attention of Pakistan, instead of declaring a quasi war with them as the author suggests (which would be a disaster for everyone as US no longer is allowed transit through Pakistan, nor drone attacks, China steps in an offers equal aid, Taliban has a new propaganda victory and more of a safe haven, the Pakistani people themselves suffer because modernization becomes impossible in such an atmosphere) we can simply sell India newer military technology than we do Pakistan, along with anti-missile technology, all of which will remind Pakistan precisely why they want to be friends with us.

    Mo fo sho, good post, I have no idea how to resolve the Kashmir issue, do you have any ideas?

  • tohojo

    The Taliban is not the Mujahideen. The Muj kicked out the Communists in 1992, then proceeded to shell each other until the Taliban rose up and took Kabul in 1996 (some brutal fighting against the Muj militias, but mostly cash handouts, as alliances in Afghanistan are often formed). The core of the Taliban in the 90′s were the Pashtun refugees and orphans, brought up in the Madrassas and Mosques in the afpak tribal areas (often founded by the Saudis fighting Jihad against the Soviets in the 80s and supported by the ISI). I am badly paraphrasing and compressing here, but check out Ahmed Rashid’s book ‘Taliban’ for the full story. HTH :)

  • ottovbvs

    we can simply sell India newer military technology than we do Pakistan, along with anti-missile technology, all of which will remind Pakistan precisely why they want to be friends with us.

    So we arm their mortal enemy India and of course they take absolutely no notice. On the other hand they could become a mortal enemy because of this action and become a satellite of say China who is also a rival of India. So we’ve created a mortal enemy of a nuclear armed power of 175 million people through which roughly 70% of our supplies for Afghanistan have to pass and driven them into the arms of our major global rival. What an incredibly brilliant piece of policy formulation. Have you ever considered a career in the foreign service?

    • Traveler

      Otto,

      See Banyan at the Economist. The only way the paks will ever get into China’s graces is to repress jihadis. The Chinese will demand those heads on the plate to sit at that table. Otherwise, they know they would merely replace us in supporting a failed rogue state. But seeing as how they have a lot more Uighurs than we do, I don’t see that happening.

      So think about it for a second. Would it so bad for us to have a better relationship with India than P-stan? Far more convergent perspectives these days. And for China to have a better relationship with P-stan? Similarly deluded when it comes to the populace, so let birds of a feather flock together. Methinks the PRC would keep those bozos in line far better than we have, hewing to the bottom line. Frankly, this could be a no lose in the long run.

      Problem is getting there. This is where I think the killing of UBL offers an opening for a grand bargain. P-stan is now so weakened that its playing of ends against the middle has finally run its course. So for the moment, we see all this bloviating for local consumption, while ringleaders scurry for the exit strategies. Fact is, they are entirely complicit, and the world now knows, and without any doubt. This gives us leverage we never had before to make something happen.

      So how do you handle this? I say, bang heads and make a deal. To India: you don’t need relations with the Pashtuns, so leave that to the Paks. And forsake any aggression against P-stan. To the Paks: quit the whole terrorist crap, especially Kashmir, and let that populace make the choice in a plebiscite. And forget about India, they don’t want to invade you, just be safe. Since same for you, quit the bullshit. Sign it up, call it a win and let’s get on to the next real issue. Fact is P-stan is festering sore because the rest of us put up with it for all those years. Its time to lance the pus.

      I know, hopelessly hopeful, but just a thought. This is a remarkable moment.

      • ottovbvs

        The only way the paks will ever get into China’s graces is to repress jihadis.

        I take the Economist. And these days it’s more often wrong than right. Whatever Banyan says China would be happy to make Pakistan a client state. I’m afraid if you think dealing with a terrorist nuisance ranks remotely in the same league with the Chinese as acquiring a major ally against India then I’d say you don’t have a lot of sense of geostrategic reality. Also if you think this statement reflects Pakistani reality then it’s more confirmation you don’t get it I’m afraid:

        To the Paks: quit the whole terrorist crap, especially Kashmir, and let that populace make the choice in a plebiscite.

        The notion that Pakistan is just going to forget Kashmir is quite honestly bizarre.

        • Traveler

          I stand by Banyan. The Chinese will have no truck with terrorists, and P-stan is infested with them, with their enablers at all levels. As for “strategic reality”, it’s the other way around. China has nothing to fear from India except demographics, while India has plenty to fear from China. So why would China support a failed rogue client state that bites every hand that feeds it? Maybe they would do it to sow trouble, but seeing as how P-stan has nothing to export, I don’t even see that. What would be the advantage? Unless the Chinese want to become sponsors of state terrorism. That would be a pretty dark interpretation of Chinese strategy.

          As to Kashmir, see Mo fo Sho’s comments. I agree that it may seem bizarre that P-stan would ever realize that it would be in its own interest to try wipe its own asshole before trying to annex a population that is not very interested. Given the choice, it seems as if most Muslims in Kashmir don’t want to be part of P-Stan. Who can blame them? India is not nearly such a nasty master (so long as BJP remains out of power). So maybe they can finally see how futile their whole terroristic approach is. Why continue terror if it doesn’t work? Yeah, lots of luck…

  • Mo fo sho

    From an Indian point of view, buying military technology from the US has some big downsides. One is that Pakistanis are more familiar with it due to their military interactions with the US. India has historically relied on Russian arms and is now tilting towards European suppliers. Also, India does not want to get locked into a situation where both India and Pakistan have the US as a primary arms supplier as it increases American leverage in its region. In such a scenario, America can profit from both ends and play one off against the other to encourage arms sales. For example, sell Pakistan older F-16s, and then sell India new F/A-18s, and then sell Pakistan used F-35s and so on ad infinitum. Of course there are some American products that other nations cannot supply and these India will have to buy from America. India’s long term aim is to be able to manufacture all its arms internally, and India would be happier facing Pakistani forces armed with Chinese weapons which may be comparable to those of Indian manufacture rather than American weapons which may be a generation ahead.

    @ frump: So far the proposed solutions to the Kashmir issue have taken the form of a porous line of control between Indian and Pakistani Kashmir, allowing Kashmiris to pass easily through the border and goods and trade to move freely, with each nation retaining control of its portion of Kashmir. This idea has support from Kashmiris too. It isn’t a complete or perfect solution of course, no such solution exists.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    otto, please get a grip, did you read anything I wrote above. Hell the US supplies both Turkey and Greece (enemies and allies at the same time) with advanced weapons and we have made neither a mortal enemy. Mo fo sho came up with a far, far, far better rebuttal as to why India doesn’t want to go down that road. We want to change Pakistani behavior without turning off the spigot, as I said way above this ain’t something easy to do and I noticed you said ABSOLUTELY nothing about how to do that. So easy to snipe when you have no ideas of your own, isn’t it?

  • sanman

    armstp – you’re completely ignorant. The 1948 Kashmir dispute isn’t the cause of the Taliban problem – it’s exactly the other way around. The Taliban problem is the cause of the 1948 Kashmir dispute. There’s a long history here – one you obviously have no clue about.

    • Traveler

      True. Muslims have been killing infidels for violating the Koran in Kashmir long before the Taliban. It has nothing to do with arms bases in Saudi Arabia, or the Mideast conflict. It is an unfortunate combination of tribal culture and religion converging in places like Kashmir and Yemen. The Taliban then offloaded it onto the Pashtuns, who had considerably more valid grievances against foreign governments.

      But the root causes go deep, and way back. We need to understand this.

  • Mo fo sho

    As far as I can think of them, here’s an incomplete and probably naive list of measures most likely to help both India and the US:
    1. Train and equip a capable Afghan military force to counter both the Taliban and Pakistani interference in Afghanistan
    2. Rather than insist on creating a full-blown Western democracy in Afghanistan, promote a softer sharia system in Afghanistan, for example in India, such a system is known as Muslim Personal Law and applies to Muslims alone
    3. Give aid to Pakistan through micro-finance schemes directly targeting the Pakistani poor rather than large sums for massive development projects

    There seems to be a lot of worrying on the forum about Pakistan becoming a Chinese client state. How will this affect the US? I don’t really understand US concerns about this. Does it diminish US influence in any way? It affects India, but we are operating under the assumption that Pakistan already is a client state of China. Chinese statements recently have been on the lines of “Pakistan is our Israel”. India and Pakistan are seem to be headed towards being the new Koreas.

  • Arms Merchant

    U.S. interest in Pakistan really is similar to that to the rest of the Muslim world: how to strengthen the secular forces in government to keep it “falling” to the Islamists. In this case, it’s crucial because they are nuclear-armed. Do we need another Iran, a radical expansionist Islamic (pending) nuclear power, supporting terrorism all over the the world?

    The fact that elements of Pakistan’s government support the Taliban and al Qaeda is a symptom of the larger problem of increasing Islamist influence. Some would argue that Pakistan is already under the spell of the Islamists. Hell, hundreds of lawyers demonstrated in support of a bodyguard who killed his politician client for promoting an “anti-blasphemy” law.

    In one sense, Pakistan’s strategic focus on India is a good thing for the U.S.: one could argue that so long as they perceive India as their main security problem, they’re not out making deals with terrorists to go after the U.S., like Iran and Hezbollah. But since the U.S. is in bordering Afghanistan, that’s not really true, is it?

    And if Pakistan is already totally penetrated by the Islamists, the biggest worry is that they will try to supply nukes to their terrorists buddies in the the West. Fortunately, this is unlikely because the Pak government keeps extremely tight control on the nukes. They can’t afford a mistake with nuclear-armed India right next door. This is probably the reason that Iran likely has NOT supplied Hezbollah. These governments want tight control because they can’t afford a miscalculation or exposure that would bring massive retaliation upon themselves.

    What to do? Islamic supremacism cannot be eliminated until Islam is reformed. It’s hubris to think that the U.S. has significant influence on them. We’re not invading and we’re not going to nuke them any time soon, and we are thousands of miles away. They see the writing on the wall – - we’re drawing down in Afghanistan.

    We must recognize that Islamic supremacism is the main security menace not just in Pakistan, but all over the world. Until we create a viable grand strategy to deal with this (and no, “regime change” is not it — we’ve all but bankrupted ourselves with these stupid foreign wars), we will continue to stumble blindly from crisis to crisis.

    • Traveler

      Not often do I agree with you, but in this post you are pretty much dead on the money. The only point I might disagree with is about the control of the nukes. I see the military, not the government, as being in control. And we know they are riddled with terrorist enablers. Frumples seemed to think that the enablers also have the keys, so that is really the big issue. Are they stupid enough to play with fire? I don’t think so, but who knows?