No Comment — May 8, 2012, 12:56 pm

The Costs of Secrecy in Pakistan

If America’s national-security mavens had to identify their biggest worry on a world map, odds are that the pin would land within a hundred miles of Islamabad. Once hailed as America’s most vital non-NATO ally, and the recipient of more than $10 billion in aid since 2001, Pakistan is now emerging as a nightmare. It may be home to the world’s fastest-growing nuclear stockpile, and it is certainly the most worrisome source of nuclear proliferation over the past decade. Its security forces have a mysteriously cozy relationship with scheduled terrorist forces, such as Lashkar-e Taiba, which launched a series of attacks on Mumbai in November 2008, killing or injuring at least 472 people. And it is a state in abject collapse—unable to convince its citizens to pay taxes, to provide basic utilities to its people, to keep order, or to provide for essential defense. Significantly, Pakistan is also a nation filled with rage against the United States—a dangerous enemy in the making. How could this happen in a country that could barely stand up without massive U.S. assistance?

Ali Chishti grapples with the demonization of the United States in Pakistan in a piece in Lahore’s Friday Times:

In a recent Gallup survey conducted in Pakistan, 35 percent of the people hold the US responsible for terrorism in Pakistan, 39 percent say it is America’s war that Pakistanis are fighting and 52 percent think that WikiLeaks has been published by the Americans themselves. At one of the country’s biggest universities, the Karachi University, the flag of the US, Israel and India are embossed on a road by an Islamist party for students to walk over as a sign of hate. Recently, Altaf Hussain, the leader of one of the most secular political parties—the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM)—lashed out at the US over the Aafia Siddiqui issue. So why is it that the US, which has given Pakistan billions in aid and whom the Pakistani security establishment holds regular “strategic talks” with, has become a punching bag for all segments of society in Pakistan?

There is no doubt at this point that the United States has made a series of spectacular errors in judgment in dealing with Pakistan—bipartisan errors, largely forged by a national-security apparatus that serves both parties, covets secrecy, and detests being challenged over its mistakes. Some of its mistakes in Pakistan were avoidable, such as bombing a Pakistani border outpost and sending CIA contractor Raymond Davis to operate in an environment he didn’t understand. But it is becoming increasingly clear that secrecy itself is the largest and most consequential of its errors.

When the United States first broached with Pervez Musharraf the idea of using drones to strike at terrorists operating on Pakistani soil, his consent was apparently contingent on an understanding specifying that the strikes be a covert operation run by the CIA. This might have made some sense in 2004, but what has emerged since then is a sustained military campaign involving some 290 strikes and 2,700 casualties. America’s silence emboldened America’s critics in Pakistan, cloaking the Pakistani politicians who authorized the strikes (and even furnished their own targets) while allowing the United States to be attacked as a bloodthirsty enemy that was violating Pakistan’s sovereignty and killing hundreds of innocents.

When American special-ops units raided Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, American spokesmen at first described it as a joint Pakistan–U.S. operation. This was false, of course, but it was said in the hope that senior Pakistani military figures would claim credit for the raid and celebrate it, rather than condemn it. (It probably also reflected a previously agreed-upon protocol for raids similar to the one in place in Yemen.) After a key meeting of senior Pakistani military leaders, however, the country’s top brass began condemning the United States. This was a key turning point in the U.S.–Pakistan relationship, and America’s foolish secrecy had paved the way.

The United States is a democratic state whose people have a right to be informed about facts allowing them to make essential national-security decisions. For all its weaknesses, Pakistan is also essentially a democratic state, whose people have a right to be informed about their vital national-security interests, particularly with respect to decisions affecting the use of lethal force on their own soil. What transpired in the drone war was essentially an agreement between the national-security elites of both nations to keep their respective publics in the dark about their operations. That agreement was fundamentally anti-democratic and corrupt. But it also revealed a profound American naïveté about the Pakistani security establishment and its dangerous exercises in rabble-rousing. America’s enemies in Pakistan have profited tremendously from this secrecy. America was victimized by it. As Ali Chishti notes, today one common viewpoint unites every significant party on the Pakistani political spectrum: hatred for the United States.

America does not need to be loved to operate effectively in the world. But it helps us to be understood and to avoid the costs attached to being reviled, particularly when the vitriol is based on misunderstanding. Putting an end to secretive operations in Pakistan and forcing Pakistani leaders to bear the consequences of their unpopular decisions would be a step in the right direction.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

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

No Comment March 28, 2014, 12:32 pm

Scott Horton Debates John Rizzo on Democracy Now!

On CIA secrecy, torture, and war-making powers

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

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

October 2014

Cassandra Among the
Creeps

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Today Is Better Than Tomorrow”

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

PBS Self-Destructs

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Monkey Did It

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
“This is not a fable about a young woman whose dreams were dashed by a sexual predator. Maya’s narrative is one of institutional failure at a school desperately trying to adapt.”
Photograph © AP/Josh Reynolds
Article
Kandahar’s Mystery Executions·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“He told me he was made to stand on an ice block for thirty minutes at a time, and would then be forced to run barefoot across the gravel while an officer cable-whipped him.”
Photograph (detail) © Victor J. Blue
Article
The Tale of the Tape·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Heroin isn’t the weakness Art Pepper submits to; it’s the passion he revels in.”
Photograph (detail) © Laurie Pepper
Post
Art Beyond Politics·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Arab artists take up — and look past — regional politics
“When everyday life regularly throws up images of terror and drama and the technological sublime, how can a photographer compete?”
“Qalandia 2087, 2009,” by Wafa Hourani
Criticism
The Soft-Kill Solution·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Policymakers, recognizing the growing influence of civil disobedience and riots on the direction of the nation, had already begun turning to science for a response."
Illustration by Richard Mia

Chance that a civilian who died in a 20th-century war was American:

1 in 62,000

A physicist calculated that mass worldwide conversion to a vegetarian diet would do more to slow global warming than cutting back on oil and gas use.

“All I saw,” said a 12-year-old neighbor of visits to the man’s house, “was just cats in little diapers.”

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

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today