Monday, May 30, 2011

Pakistan Will Never Be A “Good” Ally.

In the end game of the OBL hit job some very interesting details wormed their way out from the festering garbage heap that is our South Asian strategy. First there was that whole business of not telling our “good ally” against Al Qaeda, Pakistan, about our intentions to turn OBL into shark kibble. We choppered in, we choppered out, we fed the fish. The operation went fairly smoothly with only a super secret special ops Helicopter biting the dust with OBL. It did not go too well with Pakistan.

First there was the niggling problem of why OBL was living in Pakistan in the first place. Wasn’t the man supposed to be living in a rat infested cave in the border badlands? What was he doing in a rural compound only a stone’s throw away from Pakistan’s version of West Point? Granted the man was living the life of an elderly shut-in, but still he was right under the noses of the Pakistani military. How does a six foot four Arab man manage to hide in a sea of five-six Punjabis?

The next issue is how the US managed to slide past all that military infrastructure with out even having a guard dog bark. The word “incompetence” does not even begin to explain the workings of the Pakistani military. Seeing as the military is want to take over the running of the Pakistani nation from time to time, being shown as lack luster was more than humiliating. There won’t be any military juntas in Pakistan for the foreseeable future, Abbottabad just proved the military to be every bit as incompetent as the civilian leaders of Pakistan; and that took some doing.

But the military will return. It will return because the very essence of Pakistan demands it. This will happen because of one thing, it will happen because of Kashmir. The only reason the Army exists, the only reason it holds such a high status, is because it is seen as the instrument of Pakistan’s reunion. The Army will make Pakistan whole. And Pakistan will become whole, at least in Pakistani eyes, only when it holds the entirety of Kashmir.

In the epic disaster that was the partition of British India, in the creation of two states that should have never had been divided, no cock-up was worse than Kashmir. By the insane logic of partition Kashmir should have been ceded to the infant state of Pakistan. It had a Muslim majority, and the whole idea of Pakistan was a nation-state founded on a confessional organization. But the outgoing ruler of Kashmir was a Hindu, and as parting gift he turned over his former realm to India. Needless to say, this caused some consternation. A partisan of Pakistan might even say the nation was robbed, like an infant of his candy. No person would dispute that the Partition of the content was badly done, and remains an open and bleeding sore, with Kashmir as exhibit A.

Pakistan did not exactly lay down and accept the Kashmir settlement, it did try to reclaim what it saw as its by right. Unfortunately for the Pakistanis, the Indian military put a painful end to the Pakistani goal of reconquest. India’s numeric advantages were just too much for Pakistan. Despite sharing the same sub-continent, Pakistan is just not in the same military league as India. To reclaim Kashmir Pakistan had to go to asymmetric warfare.

And there gentle reader is the rub. At best Pakistan has to be schizophrenic when it comes to terror. Terror is the only way it can reclaim Kashmir. Pakistan attempts to pull a veil over these kind of things, but no one is fooled, least of all India. When Mumbai was viciously attacked by Muslim fanatics, New Deli went to Islamabad to protest. No matter what the various names and rubrics these Muslim terrorist groups may claim, no one is fooled. Peel back the name, and follow the money, and soon enough the ISI’s grubby little mitts are seen. Pakistan’s military security black ops’ finger prints were all over the Mumbai attack. This was not a one off, this was the national security policy of Pakistan as written.

Pakistan can not just pull the plug on the ISI’s actions in Kashmir and further afield. Kashmiri irredentism is part of the warp and woof of the Pakistani national myth. To accept the present line of control as a permanent border would be to deny the very raison d'etre of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. It would certainly obviate the need for the type of Army Pakistan now has. It would also put paid any reason for Pakistan to posses Nuclear Weapons. Pakistan has the military it has because it has adversary in India. India, as constructed, is more than just a territorial, or even a political adversary, it is an ideological one as well.

Remember the whole reason Pakistan exists is because of confessional politics. Pakistan came into existence because the Hindu and Muslim leaders of British India could not play well together. There was a toxic mix of gargantuan egos fighting it out for supremacy. The three biggest were Nehru, Jinnah, and Gandhi. British meddling also had a part. By the time Mountbatten was handed the bag of live cobras that was the Independence negotiations, there was not much love nor trust going around. Thanks to Mountbatten’s incompetence and his wife’s dalliance with Nehru, Kashmir became the Gordian Knot it is today.

Pulling back from the specific issue of Kashmir, there is the whole issue of Pakistan being defined confessionally. As long as Pakistan is defined this way it is, it continues to be an existential threat to India. India has always had issues with communal fractiousness. It also had issues with sectarianism. The nation of India has always been perilously close to flying apart from the centrifugal forces of ethnicity, parochialism, and confessional divisions to name just a few issues.  Pakistan’s very existence threatens India’s cohesion. Pakistan’s very existence will always be a threat to India’s territorial integrity.

The other issue with a confessional nation is how one interprets what that confession means. It all well and good to use Islam as a unifying principle, to define the essence of the nation as Muslim, but what type of Islam is the underlying principle? Islam is fractured, it is divided, it is at loggerheads with itself. No one speaks for Islam, no unifying voice, no unifying structure, no leader. To attempt to build a nation on this notion, to build it on “Muslim” principles, is to build on sand. It is far too easy for radical ideologies to gain a foothold.

In the last regard the ISI is really playing with fire when it plays paymaster to these radical Islamist groups. Blow back seems to be occurring from this policy as radical groups now turn against the very security apparatus that feeds them. Instead of destabilizing India, the ISI appears to be destabilizing Pakistan.

Still this is a game that the ISI and the larger nation of Pakistan will insist on playing. It is still all about Kashmir and national pride. It is all about justifying the very existence of the Nation State of Pakistan. Pakistan’s national interests align much better with China than the US in this regard. The kicker is that if were not for Afghanistan US policy in the region would align much more with India than Pakistan. Our war without end in Afghanistan chains us to Pakistan. The US - Pakistan alliance is a rotting, Cold War corpse, shuffling along on in a shambolic zombie manner.

The reality of the situation, the geopolitics on the ground, only reinforce the notion that US-Pakistan cooperation is a non-starter. Pakistan wants to contain, or better yet, encircle India; the US has no such goals. The US needs India as a counter to China. The US business community positively drools at the prospect of getting a piece of the action in India. India’s secular, multi-ethic and democratic institutions dove-tail much better with the US than with Pakistan’s confessional (and epically corrupt) organization. If it were not for Afghanistan, the US-Pakistan bond would have been long dissolved.

Eventually even that iron chain will rust away. Sooner or later the US’s ill-stared attempt to bring order to a land that has never had it will fail. The Taliban will succeed for the simple reason that they are at least a portion of the Afghan people. The US troops will have to leave because they are not Afghans, the Taliban will stay because they are.

The only things that are keeping the US in Afghanistan is ego and inertia. We are spinning our wheels in Afghanistan. Just to stand up a security force that can insure stability costs more money than the nation can scrounge up in a year.  The nation can not afford the cost of basic security, never mind any other responsibilities. That means the Afghan government, or at least what passes for government, will continue to be a mendicant institution, tugging at the sleeve of Uncle Sugar for funds. Sooner or later the US taxpayer is going to get tired of this arrangement.

The US will leave. Pakistan, on the other hand, cannot leave, Afghanistan is on its northern border. We leave, Pakistan stays, that is the reality. Pakistan has to have some sort of modus vivendi with the Taliban, just to survive. Otherwise the North becomes a giant vacuum sucking up men and material that Pakistan needs to check India.  Pakistan has to negotiate with terrorists, to do otherwise would ensure chaos in the North. Pakistan will give lip service to the GWOT because that is part of the deal it has with the US. Pakistan needs the money and military know-how the US offers. To get this, it is willing to play a double game with Washington; saying one thing and doing another.

But in doing so, the whole process gets more and more warped, more corrupt, more unbalanced, more unstable. In the end, there is no real “problem” with Pakistan. The problem is the U.S and its insistence that Pakistan act in ways that are not in line with what Pakistan sees as its priorities, or its national interests. US interference distorts the national policies of Pakistan . These policies do not reflect the wishes of the great majority of the Pakistani people. They don’t even reflect the wishes of the majority of the elites. Only a very small, very corrupt, very tiny subsection of the elites is willing to play the Washington game. And even then, they only play it enough to get paid.

The US does have interests in the Subcontinent, but the way it is going about securing those interests is wrong headed and counterproductive at best. At worst the US is building a huge reservoir of toxic hatred with the South Asians. Sooner or later blow back from our policy is going to incur and the US will incur an epic accounting. That is going to be a very painful experience for the United States, to be on the receiving end of a Karmic payback delivered by all the peoples of South Asia that we have done wrong. Yet for some reason our leaders continue in their hubris to think that we can continue set the rules by witch other nations run their affairs. For some reason only our obsessions matter, our world view, our geopolitical concerns. The failure of our policies in South Asia have much more to do with our leadership’s myopia than anything else. Pakistan may not be the best of allies, they might not even be useful, but the United States is much worse as an ally. And that is the most bitter truth about the whole affair.
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