Saturday, August 14, 2010

The policy is crazy

Pakistan literally has a policy of crazy, repelling everyone around it.

After being bamboozled for decades, the US is beginning to face up to the fundamental challenge of Pakistan. From its founding, Pakistan has employed its "tribals" to harrass, first India, and now Afghanistan. The policy is habitual and deeply intwined with its religious and political roots. Mohammad Ali Jinnah first created Pakistan as an extortion demand, saying in essence "Give us a rich slice of India, or you will have a civil war". Well, India still got an ugly civil war at partition as well as several wars with Pakistan since.

Why? Why all this crazy? The Mughal empire at 1700 ruled almost all of what is now India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. Empires in decline tend to have feelings of entitlement that can lead to lashing out. Muslims see themselves as a martial culture, (rightly so), and thus destined to rule over the vegetarian acolytes of the cow. At independence, Muslims couldn't psychologically deal with the prospect of no longer being in charge .. not even being used by the British as their cat's paws and administrators, but rather being swamped to insignificance in a democratic and majority Hindu country. The irony, of course, is that Pakistan has been perpetually politically dysfunctional; not capable of ruling itself, let alone anyone else, while India has become more stable with more durable democratic institutions.

Thus the rump Mughal mini-empire of Pakistan was born, founded as an Islamic state, a tenet of which is to wage Jihad, and not just the internal, meditative kind. Immediately, an irritant presented itself in the form of Jammu and Kashmir, provinces of the newly minted India that were majority Muslim (67%), but whose Sikh Maharaja, already under attack from Pakistan, decided to join India. The blatant insult of a possible province not seeking to join the already militaristic and dysfunctional new state of Pakistan was too much to bear, and Pakistan has continually thereafter trained, funded and made it a matter of official policy to destabilize and terrorize Jammu and Kashmir as best it can.

Why do its own people put up with this craziness? And more to the point, why do individual insurgents put their lives on the line for such a hopeless and frankly evil policy? Here we get to the true evils of religion, which can plant such certainty, such social solidarity, and such aggressive doctrine into the hearts of its adherents that they are usable for suicide bombing.

Fast-forward to the 1980's, and the interests of Pakistan and the US aligned fatally with the Soviet takeover of Afghanistan. Pakistan had the network of crazies, the US had the money and arms. A match made in heaven, at least as far as waging Jihad against the Russians. The US essentially endorsed what had become standard Pakistani policy for giving itself a feeling of security on each of its borders- behave like a nest of killer bees, ready to be stirred up at the least provocation and able to project force via the conveniently "ungovernable" terrain all about.

Friends? Who needs friends when you have terror on your side? Yet there was one thing Pakistan did need, which was money and military toys to keep its political elite in clover. The US was thus diddled along with promises of "cracking down" on terrorists, non-proliferation,  and being a strategic partner against the Soviets. Which was something of a live issue back when India had pro-Soviet sympathies and Afghanistan had been overrun, but no longer in 90's and after.

Once used to the taste of governing another country, (or at least de-governing one), via its Taliban friends and other networks of Jihadis, Pakistan was never going to give up willingly after the Taliban's fall and let the flowers of democracy bloom. All and sundry, including Bin Laden, Zawahiri, and Mullah Omar were taken in and nurtured in Pakistan, with a wink and nod. Selected individuals of US interest from Al Qaida were captured, but the infrastructure of the Taliban was never touched, and was even allowed to take over whole provinces in the northwest. What one might charitably call provincial autonomy in the tribal areas was studiously used as cover for a continuing policy of stabilizing the Taliban and destabilizing Afghanistan.

The sad part is that these countries had all the makings of great friends. Closely tied by culture, religion, geography, even blood and tribe, they could have been like the US and Canada, one the slightly more rural and nice version of the other. But no! Closeness can engender blood feuds and condescension as well. And, not to put too fine a point on it, the militarism of Pakistan means that its political elite sees its political stability built on outside threats and domestic fear, not on friendship and commercial progress. (Is this reminiscent of a recent US administration?)

Now the US and Pakistan have settled into a dysfunctional relationship, with the US never able to tell whether Pakistan's latest promises of virginity are any truer than its last. Would its behavior improve more if we cut the cord, sending Pakistan into a nuclear-armed renewed bitterness, or if we held Pakistan closer with "assistance" by which it is enabled into a quasi-stable and quasi-cooperative relationship?

The answer is obviously that the latter has not worked and will not work. On the street, Pakistanis are virulently anti-US. Pakistan continues to have a policy of destabilizing Afghanistan- indeed much more actively than Iran has dared to do in Iraq or Afghanistan. Pakistan continues its internal dysfunction, with a highly militarized political culture replete with corruption and callous disregard of its own population (especially its various ethnic minorities and "tribals"). Pakistanis routinely claim that they have borne the brunt of Islamist violence, and that is true. But it is only true because they have been playing with fire since their founding. Whether it is the fault of Islam itself, or its embittered historical legacy, Pakistan has brought that problem entirely on itself. Our role should be to contain it as much as possible and support its progressive institutions, but to not financially- let alone militarily- abet their militarism and their tragically short-sighted policies.

An interesting fact in the mix is that there is no formal border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan's military rulers have found it convenient to keep the area porous and putatively uncontrolled, while Afghans have in principle opposed dividing the Pashtun people. It may be time to turn this state of affairs to advantage by breaching the Drurand line, taking some of this territory for Afghanistan and uniting the Pashtuns, while at the same time bringing these tribal areas under better (Afghan) government. As things stand, these border areas of Pakistan (the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA) have been put explicity under Taliban rule via active Pakistani policy. Obviously, this is untenable for both Afghan, US, and global interests, not to mention the locals who have been either cowed or executed. Taking the fight to the FATA in person, rather than solely via drones, would be a logical step in light of the perpetual duplicity, not to say hostility, of Pakistan (and might be quite a morale builder for Afghanistan besides). Then Pakistan could decide whether it really wants a war against a country with which it could have very friendly relations, or will accede to better administration.

My prescription would thus be to double down on Afghanistan, strengthen ties with India and Russia, and treat  Pakistan as it has asked to be treated- with some hostility. We should cut our aid and assistance (certainly military) while offering the prospect of better relations when Pakistan's political elite decides to grow up. Would we lose what help Pakistan now gives us? Probably yes- all our shipping-based supplies to Afghanistan go through Karachi/Quetta, and we have various secret military bases in the country, as well as implicit drone attack rights and some intelligence assistance against Al Qaida. So this would not be a minor loss. But what does it help us to get logistical support from Pakistan if we are fighting Pakistan at the same time?

Might Pakistan be driven into the arms of, say, Iran or China, to form a new axis of the disgruntled and misunderstood, not to mention the Jihadi? That would be a likely outcome, seen in formal terms. Our policy towards Iran and Pakistan should really be similar- friendly to their people and their progressive sectors, but awaiting maturity and reciprocity instead of giving gratuitous aid to their retrograde leaders. Pakistan would need a friend somewhere to fend off encirclement by the many powers who just "don't understand". But at some point, one wonders whether they might find it within their power to take a look within and do the hard work of psychotherapy/demilitarization/de-Islamization ... and realize that the enemy was never outside to start with.
Here is a quote from a recent Pakistani newspaper commentary, showing typical narcissistic victimhood, not to mention a unique brand of English:
"Besides the physical threats to security of Pakistan emanating from multiple directions, Pakistan has to contend with never-ending vicious propaganda campaign launched by Indo-US-western-Israeli-Afghan nexus to demean Pakistan and its premier institutions."

"But the US political scene is even more moribund than ours if that is possible. Even the progressives are claiming there is a fiscal crisis. The facts speak otherwise."...
"So the only “deep hole” I can see in the US is the gaping real GDP gap and the resulting and shocking labour underutilisation data. Which sophisticated nation thinks it is acceptable to have 16.5 per cent of your willing labour force idle in some way or another? Answer: None. Only a nation operating under the destructive spell of neoliberalism would envisage making such a situation worse by cutting back the very thing that is maintaining growth at present."

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