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Our Pakistan Problem
Now that we found Osama bin Laden relatively out in the open, what should we do?


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And if that were not bad enough, Pakistanis in and out of the military choose to blame the country’s Islamist violence on America, too — rather than on the failures of the Pakistani state to provide decent governance and law and order. According to that narrative, America has blackmailed and bullied Pakistan’s armed forces into joining its unjust and anti-Muslim War on Terror, and Pakistan should have no part in suppressing the resistance to America’s “occupation” of Afghanistan. (Very few Pakistanis, even among the English-speaking elite, see our Afghan war in a benign light.)

The last few years have made clear that no amount of aid could be enough to overwhelm the Pakistani military’s resentment of America’s alleged betrayals and unreliability, to persuade the Pakistani military to move significant and effective forces from the Indian border into the frontier areas, or even to dissuade it from actively supporting the Taliban.

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The Pakistani military has used proxy warfare — sponsoring terrorism and internal revolt — to attack and bleed its numerically superior Indian enemy for more than 60 years. This large-scale covert warfare requires great skill and application, a talent for deception, and a willingness to keep company with fanatics and mass murderers. The ISI is very good at all these things, as we first discovered when it was employed for our benefit against the Soviets; and its use has become an addiction, a default setting.

Now we discover that Pakistan’s friendliness with and sponsorship of terrorists and Islamist fanatics is not just a permanent policy, but may have extended as far as Osama bin Laden himself.

Given that Pakistan — in particular, its domestic-intelligence agency (the Intelligence Bureau or IB) — has actually been very helpful to us in finding and arresting al-Qaeda operatives, it is far from clear which part of the Pakistani security establishment was protecting him and why. (It is a security establishment in which one hand, indeed one finger, may not know what the other is doing.)

It could be that the ISI was playing a two-faced game with al-Qaeda, just as they have long been doing with us: If Pakistan has brilliantly manipulated America for many years, it may be just as skilful in its manipulation of Islamists and terrorists. But in any case it seems clear that a line has been crossed. And it is time that the ISI and the Pakistani military’s top brass learn that there is a price to pay for treating us with such contempt. This should mean three things.

First: We should turn off the spigot that provides the generals with big houses and cars as well as fancy weapons systems, and has helped them to dominate the Pakistani state.

Second: zero tolerance for more deception. Though the Pakistani government has endlessly and hypocritically complained about violations of sovereignty when Americans in Afghanistan respond to attacks by Taliban forces or Pakistani troops, and though many in Pakistan believe mad rumors about Blackwater mercenaries’ setting bombs in Peshawar marketplaces, America should make it clear that the bin Laden assassination will not be the last outright violation of Pakistani sovereignty if we discover more of our enemies being hidden and protected there.

Third: The U.S. should fundamentally alter the strategic calculations of the Pakistani top brass. Until now the latter have been willing to deceive us, to undermine the War on Terror, and even to attack us in Afghanistan, all in support of their cold war against India. Washington should now tell Islamabad that if Pakistan does not change its ways, America will change the strategic balance in South Asia, by providing India with all the precision technology necessary to undermine Pakistan’s deterrent and give India a first-strike capability.

We could in theory continue to be “allied” with Pakistan, and we should be careful in our public rhetoric, but the generals must be made to understand that the old game is over and America will no longer be played.

— Jonathan Foreman is a writer based in London and New Delhi.





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