As things heat up in Pakistan, National Review Online asked our team of experts: Should Pakistan now replace Afghanistan as America’s top priority? What should our policy be? How would you advise the president?
VICTOR DAVIS HANSON
Dealing with Pakistan involves separating the proverbial worst choices from the many bad ones. It is a country whose dozens of poorly supervised nuclear weapons are located a few hours’ drive from al-Qaeda enclaves. Pakistan has no real stable government. It shares a border with Iran. Jihadists are embedded in its intelligence services and army. Corruption has been institutionalized. Large swaths of the country are veritable badlands. Pakistani terrorists are constantly provoking democratic India. This list could easily be doubled.
We put up with all this because we’ve tried just about everything with Pakistan. In the decades past, helping Pashtun fighters repel the Soviets gave us Osama bin Laden operating in the Pakistani border regions. Taking a hands-off approach allowed Pakistan to obtain an arsenal of nuclear missiles. Cutting off of aid stirred up nationalist fervor that empowered demagogues and terrorists. Playing India off against Pakistan led to accusations that we were either too naïve or too cynical. Today, entering Pakistani airspace to blow up suspected terrorists kills more extended family members than actual jihadists — and makes us wonder why Americans are fretting over the waterboarding of three known terrorists in Guantánamo, when we execute suspected terrorists in Waziristan every week without broadcasting to them rights of habeas corpus or dropping leaflets explaining their Miranda rights.
Given all that, I think the conventional wisdom about Afghanistan — that “the problem is really in Pakistan” — means little. Of course
Pakistan is the problem; it always will be. But the best U.S. strategy is not to enter Pakistan, bully it, or try to adjudicate between Warlord A, General B, Corrupt President C, and Mullah D, who in the end will hate us more than they do each other. Until Pakistan’s much-ballyhooed responsible professionals stand up against the extremists (don’t hold your breath), the country can only be contained by fostering strong ties with democratic India and hoping Afghanistan proves to be a similar buffer. Extremists in Pakistan grasp that, which is why they are so keen on killing on both sides of their border.
– Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow in classics and military history at the Hoover Institution.
The most important thing for the Obama administration to bear in mind when dealing with Pakistan is that anyone they are likely deal with in Islamabad or Rawalpindi is likely to be delusional about the state of their own country.
The top brass of the Pakistan army does not really believe in the existence of any threat to the state except that of an Indian invasion. (Never mind that Pakistan started all four of its wars with India, driven partly by the ludicrous belief that “one Pakistani is worth ten Indians.”) Pakistani military officials will not take the Taliban threat seriously unless black-turbaned gunmen are actually assaulting army HQ in Islamabad — or until the U.S. finally turns the money tap off and threatens to intervene. All the chaos the ISI and Pakistani special forces have created in Afghanistan is justified in their eyes by the need for “strategic depth” against India. America’s involvement in the region is assumed to be temporary; everyone knows how Americans tend to get bored and disappear.
Those elements within the military and the ISI who created and sponsored the Taliban, as well as a host of other proxy armies and terrorist groups, have an unshakeable belief, despite all the evidence, that they will always be able to control their creation. This will remain true until the Taliban are on the verge of sacking the Pakistani capital.
Everyone within Pakistan’s social, economic, and political elites blames the U.S. for everything that is wrong in their country, from Shia-Sunni violence, to corruption, to the triumph of the Taliban in the Swat region. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking to a left-wing student from a fancy family or a senior army officer: The current crisis is entirely a function of George Bush’s War on Terror and America’s forcing of Pakistan to take sides against al-Qaeda and its Taliban friends in Afghanistan.