How worried should we be about Pakistan going belly up? Well, there are pluses and minuses.
Pluses: Pakistan is a nuclear power that is host to the heart and soul of the jihadist movement. The government of Pakistan is not strong enough in its own territory to do anything about this for us; and we can’t do it on our own account because the government is cooperative and friendly to us. If, however, Pakistan goes jihadist, we need no longer have any compunctions about doing anything we – we, the people, through our representatives in Congress (I’m trying to be a good Paulian nowadays) – decide needs doing on Pakistani territory.
Minuses: Pakistan has a huge – tens of millions – westernized middle class. If the place goes jihadist, some big proportion of them will want to get out. This will be the biggest refugee problem since WW2. It will make post-1979 Iran look like rush hour in Poughkeepsie.
On balance, I think we should be sanguine about Pakistan – or Saudi Arabia, or Egypt, or Iraq – going jihadist. Jihadism is a sure route to national poverty and inconsequentiality. If you have oil, you can keep something going for a while, as Iran has demonstrated, but the next Soviet-sized threat to the U.S.A. will not be a jihadist power.
For a place like Pakistan, the choice is really:
- Poverty, stagnation, and mischief under jihadist rulers, or
- Some kind of halting progress towards modernization and secularization, with some occasional mischief, under a gangster-dictator like Saddam, or
- A moderately open and modernizing government, probably run by the military, that is not hostile to us but can’t actually help us much against jihadist mischief because too many of their people are sympathetic to it.
It’s not a happy selection of choices, but it seems to me that is the complete menu. We of course have to deal with the mischief as it arises, to the degree that it impinges on us and our interests. I don’t know any reason to think we are incapable of doing so. The third option actually makes it harder, though – as we have learned in Pakistan.
I don’t see much to choose between options 1 and 2, and I doubt there’s much we can do to affect the issue anyway. Probably option 1 is best for us in the long run. Places that have oil will sell it to us, as Iran has always done. Places that don’t will become donkey-powered basket cases, thus discrediting jihadism.
The refugee problem will be a headache, though. Our main interest is to ensure that it is the world’s problem, not just ours. We already take two thirds of all the refugees resettled to the First World, and that is far too many. These Pakistani refugees will be educated, westernized people, though, not illiterate goatherds, so the world ought to be able to figure something out.