No Comment — August 26, 2010, 3:54 pm

The Anarchic Republic of Pakistan

The current issue of The National Interest contains Ahmed Rashid’s exhaustive and provocative essay on the current state of affairs in Pakistan. It’s a must-read for anyone trying to come to grips with American foreign policy in the “Af-Pak theater.” Rashid starts with Pakistan’s basket-case military, long viewed by Washington’s foreign policy elite as the glue that holds the country together:

There is perhaps no other political-military elite in the world whose aspirations for great-power regional status, whose desire to overextend and outmatch itself with meager resources, so outstrips reality as that of Pakistan. If it did not have such dire consequences for 170 million Pakistanis and nearly 2 billion people living in South Asia, this magical thinking would be amusing. This is a country that sadly appears on every failing-state list and still wants to increase its arsenal from around 60 atomic weapons to well over 100 by buying two new nuclear reactors from China. This is a country isolated and friendless in its own region, facing unprecedented homegrown terrorism from extremists its army once trained, yet it pursues a “forward policy” in Afghanistan to ensure a pro-Pakistan government in Kabul as soon as the Americans leave.

For a state whose economy is on the skids and dependent on the IMF for massive bailouts, whose elite refuse to pay taxes, whose army drains an estimated 20 percent of the country’s annual budget, Pakistan continues to insist that peace with India is impossible for decades to come. For a country that was founded as a modern democracy for Muslims and non-Muslims alike and claims to be the bastion of moderate Islam, it has the worst discriminatory laws against minorities in the Muslim world and is being ripped apart through sectarian and extremist violence by radical groups who want to establish a new Islamic emirate in South Asia. Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment, or “deep state” as it is called, has lost over 2,300 soldiers battling these terrorists—the majority in the last 15 months after much U.S. cajoling to go after at least the Pakistani (if not the Afghan) Taliban. Despite these losses and considerable low morale in the armed forces, it still follows a pick-and-choose policy toward extremists, refusing to fight those who will confront India on its behalf as well as those Taliban who kill Western and Afghan soldiers in the war next-door. An army that has received nearly $12 billion in direct military aid from the United States since 2001, and has favored-nation status from NATO, still keeps the leaders of the Afghan Taliban in safe refuge. Pakistan’s civilians, politicians and intellectuals are helpless; they cannot make the deep state see sense as long as the West continues its duplicitous policies of propping up the military-intelligence establishment in opposition to popular society while demanding that the Pakistani civilian government wrest back control of the country.

While Rashid’s cataloging of the country’s problems is enough to depress any observer, he tells us that hope is not lost for Pakistan’s democracy:

Despite the incompetence of the government, the groundwork is now being laid for a genuine democratic dispensation through provincial autonomy, decentralization and the rebuilding of democratic institutions—theoretically making it more difficult for the army to seize power again. If these steps are matched with equivalent advances in restoring economic stability, reviving local and foreign investment, combating terrorism and Islamic extremism on a nationwide basis, and modernizing the judicial and police systems, Pakistan has a far brighter future than is currently portrayed.

He goes on to note that Pakistan’s substantial, well-educated middle class provides a stable foundation upon which democratic institutions can be developed. Moreover, tactical errors made by the Taliban and other radical Islamist groups have caused a shift in the center of Pakistani society—the threat that these groups present to the nation’s safety and prosperity is now much more clearly understood.

Rashid’s manipulation of the pieces of this vast puzzle is consummately skillful, and his identification of potential threats is quickly followed by ideas about alleviating them. His writings remain a unique resource for those trying to understand Pakistan.

This article was penned before the recent floods which have ravaged roughly a third of the country, perhaps constituting Pakistan’s most serious natural disaster since its founding. The Pakistani military’s floundering response could have been readily predicted by any reader of Rashid’s essay—it marks a confluence of corruption, incompetence and stubborn concentration on an imaginary threat from India just when Pakistan is consumed by far more acute dangers. But it leaves me wondering about the American response and how Pakistanis will react to it. At first they will surely be thankful for whatever help is shown. But over time, some Pakistanis will wonder why, while their country struggles with a massive catastrophe, Americans seem more concerned about the construction of a mosque on the site of a former discount clothing store in downtown Manhattan, generating enormous anti-Muslim rhetoric in the process. Whereas Americans opened their hearts and pockets for Haiti, no similar generosity has been directed towards the Pakistanis. The American government can muster tens of billions to support a war effort that rains death down on villagers in Pakistan’s northwest, but when the relief of their flood-ravaged compatriots is a question, the American effort amounts to a piddling fraction of that sum. These facts demonstrate America’s dark view of Pakistan–as a theater of war, and not a sister democracy or ally.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

March 2015

A Sage in Harlem

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Man Stopped

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Spy Who Fired Me

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Giving Up the Ghost

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Invisible and Insidious

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
No Slant to the Sun·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“She didn’t speak the language, beyond “¿cuánto?” and “demasiado,” but that didn’t stop her. She wanted things. She wanted life, new experiences, a change in the routine.”
Photograph © Stuart Franklin/Magnum Photos
[Browsings]
Burn After Reading·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

William Powell published The Anarchist Cookbook in 1971. He spent the next four decades fighting to take it out of print.
“The book has hovered like an awkward question on the rim of my consciousness for years.”
© JP Laffont/Sygma/Corbis
Article
The Fourth Branch·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Both the United States and the Soviet Union saw student politics as a proxy battleground for their rivalry.”
Photograph © Gerald R. Brimacombe/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
Article
The Spy Who Fired Me·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In industry after industry, this data collection is part of an expensive, high-tech effort to squeeze every last drop of productivity from corporate workforces.”
Illustration by John Ritter
Article
Invisible and Insidious·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Wherever we are, radiation finds and damages us, at best imperceptibly.”
Photograph © 2011 Massimo Mastrorillo and Donald Weber/VII

Hours per day that a death-row inmate in China wears hand and ankle restraints:

24

A multidisciplinary team detected cardiac arrhythmia in the works of Beethoven.

There was a run on cases of 5.56mm M855 green-tip rifle bullets, after the White House moved to ban their manufacture and sale because they can pierce police armor.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Driving Mr. Albert

By

He could be one of a million beach-bound, black-socked Florida retirees, not the man who, by some odd happenstance of life, possesses the brain of Albert Einstein — literally cut it out of the dead scientist's head.

Subscribe Today