What Should We Do about Pakistan?

by Alex Alexiev

After days of vehement denials and indignant claims that NATO’s recent attack on Pakistani outposts was unprovoked and deliberate, a “senior Pakistani defense official” has admitted that it was the Pakistanis who started the firefight with “mortar and machine gun fire.” His words come a bit too late to stop the firestorm of anti-Americanism and the damage to the Afghan war effort, but may prove useful if they prompt Washington to take a sober look at our “alliance” with Pakistan.

The stark reality is that ten years after we forced Islamabad into a shotgun wedding in the aftermath of 9/11, Pakistan is no more of an ally (let alone a “strategic” ally) than before, but an adversary with interests often diametrically opposed to our own. While claiming to be a friend and providing a modicum of logistical support for the war in Afghanistan, Pakistan has continued to give sanctuary to the Taliban, aided and abetted al-Qaeda and jihadist terrorist groups on its territory, sponsored terrorism in India and elsewhere, and remained the prime breeding ground of fanatic Islamism in the world — all while helping itself to at least $20 billion of American aid.

A survey of the Pakistani press in the days since the border incident reveals a society that is in serious trouble. Hysterical anti-Americanism aside, stories included:

— Deadly violence against Shias celebrating a religious holiday carried out by Sipah-e-Sahaba. That group and its offspring Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are radical Deobandi Sunni jihadist groups set up by Pakistani military intelligence in the 1990s to serve as military proxies. Closely allied with the Taliban both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, they have carried out a veritable war of terror against Muslims they consider apostates (Shia, Sufis, Ahmadis, etc.).

— The yearly revival meeting of the radical Islamist proselytizers of Tablighi Jamaat, attended by millions. Tablighi Jamaat, a radical Deobandi organization active in over 120 countries and implicated in numerous terrorist activities, played a critical role in the top-down Islamization of the Pakistani military beginning in the late 1970s under dictator Zia ul-Haq.

— A spate of “honor killings,” including one of an American national.

If we want to know why Pakistan seems headed for failed-state status, we should look at its military. Close examination of the evidence will prove that most of the social malignancies ravaging Pakistan are caused by the military’s inordinate role — to put it simply, Pakistan is not a state with an army, it is a military that owns a state and does with it as it pleases. From the very beginning, it has raised the Islamic banner as its primary source of legitimacy. No surprise, then, that it has always considered radical Islam and outfits like the Taliban and the Deobandi extremists its allies and secular Pakistanis and democracy its enemies.

Consider the scandal currently shaking Pakistani politics known as “memogate.” The memo in question, which is almost certainly a forgery, was reportedly authored by Pakistani ambassador to Washington Hussein Haqqani, and asked for American assistance in strengthening Pakistani democracy and civilian rule against unnamed adversaries. Whether the military is behind memogate or not is unknown, but it is a fact that Haqqani was promptly fired and powerful forces allied to the military in Pakistan are now asking for him to be tried for treason.

They have a good reason to dislike him. In 2005, Haqqani wrote a book entitled “Pakistan Between Mosque and Military,” which traced the synergistic relationship between the top brass and radical Islam, and the damage this relationship has done to democratic rule and American interests in the region. Haqqani also touched on perhaps the most salient aspect of America’s involvement in Pakistan:

Support for the Pakistani military by the United States makes it difficult for Pakistan’s weak, secular, civil society to assert itself and wean Pakistan from the rhetoric of Islamist ideology toward issues of real concern of Pakistan’s citizens.

Washington should consider these words as it ponders what to do with Pakistan next.

— Alex Alexiev is a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute.