The Corner

The Unending Pakistani Wars

We probably will not know the full extent of the latest border clash between coalition forces and the Pakistani army, and it may not matter even if we do, given that we all seem to accept the strange post-9/11 relationship with ally/neutral/enemy Pakistan. In all these widely publicized military flare-ups there is a disturbing pattern: When Pakistani-trained, -supplied, -subsidized, or -harbored terrorists kill American soldiers, we are to accept that the government in Islamabad has no control over its wild lands and regrets terrorist and insurgent violence as much as we do. When, on the other hand, Americans either accidentally or in frustration strike back, then the usual street protests, government smears, and litany of threats follow from Pakistan — which are supposedly to pacify the Pakistani street, and yet by back-channel assurances not endanger the stream of American dollars flowing into the coffers of the Pakistani government elite and military. No better emblem of this was General Musharraf, who occasionally offered his ritual damnations of the U.S., while a large part of his family did pretty well living in America.


I think our take on this surreal relationship hinges on three facts: We cannot supply easily our landlocked Afghan forces without access from Pakistan; we use Pakistani airspace for targeted Predator assassinations (well over 2,000 suspected terrorists taken out?); and we fear a collapsed government in the fashion we see them in North Africa, one that in theory could disperse nuclear weapons into the hands of terrorists, who from this area of the world planned 9/11.


And Pakistan, for all its latest threats, probably won’t quite cut us off, given the billions in U.S. aid it shakes us down for, its own fear of a full U.S. tilt to existential enemy India, the government’s own ambiguous relations with and fear of Islamic terrorism, and the chance that an anti-Pakistani, pro-American Afghanistan might conceivably still emerge. 


So we should expect all sorts of these continuing tactical incidentals that will not fundamentally affect our weird strategic relationship with Pakistan — until unforeseen events (e.g., a new U.S. administration, public outrage, congressional cut-offs, or a much larger military flare-up) end the charade. For those of us who are sick of Pakistan in general, it would nevertheless be necessary to explain what might be a better strategy than the present one, or why our present requirements are not really that important: It is easy to mock the present diplomacy, but far harder to come up with one better as long as we are in Afghanistan, and Pakistan uses fears about its nuclear arsenal for all sorts of advantage. For the present, then, we will probably try to mend fences, continue the pretense, and rack our brains for a better strategy that does not subsidize those who are helping to kill American soldiers. 


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