Its time for some hard truths about America’s #1 frenemy, Pakistan. Prima facie, it was in the interests of the Pakistani military to harbor OBL. So long as he was sitting in his terror mansion a short stroll from Pakistan’s West Point, America would continue to rain money down on the Pakistani military - a never-ending monsoon of military largess. The only way sunshine might pierce the clouds would be if HVI 1 was killed or captured. Bin laden was the ultimate goose that laid the golden egg. Without their prize, they astutely judged that the US would soon lose interest and downsize in Afghanistan. After all, it’s exactly what America did last time. We might have forgotten, but they did not.
When Rich Armitage went to Islamabad right after 9/11 the Pakistani’s were genuinely fearful of what the awakened giant might do. They agreed to help and quickly found and handed over a few token mid and senior level jihadists, like KSM, to make it appear that they were doing their part. Washington backed off just a little and the game of cat and mouse began. A drone base here, a supply line there, so long as the billions kept rolling in from DC, life was good. The Pakistani public might object, but that was a trifle to its military rulers. The term is just as applicable today as it was under Musharraf. When US delegations go to Islamabad they go to first to General Kayani and pay an office call on Mr 10% on their way out the door.
The Pakistani military carries a huge grudge against the US. Any US military person reading this has already whispered “F-16s” under their breath. Its all one ever heard from the Pakistani’s. No matter the location, the subject, the people involved, if you got personnel from the two forces together the Pakistani’s would not shut up about the F-16s. It was like a Monty Python skit that would never end. Except that it wasn’t funny, for them or for us. They were unable to realize that as a superpower the US had more than a bilateral relationship to consider in its calculations. The fact that the US was trying to help Pakistan by maintaining a balance of power in the region was taken as a slap in the face by Islamabad.
Pakistan’s military has always been obsessed with India. F-16s were viewed as essential to counter the Indian Air Forces considerable capabilities but they were also capable of delivering nukes. This is why the US dropped the sale – a decision taken after the Soviet threat evaporated. Yet another painful reminder of how things change when the US loses interest. The fact of the matter is that the Indian air force would wipe the floor with the Pakistani’s if it ever came to air combat, F-16s or not.
The greatest threat to both Pakistan and India is radical Islamism. Jihadists directly threaten the state of Pakistan. They are in many ways a creation of the very state they threaten. Of course this was not the case for years when the fight with the Soviets was raging. The Pakistani military was not the only fighting force to take a hit when the Soviets fell and the US withdrew. The Mujahedeen also had to seek new ways to stay alive. When the US invaded Afghanistan and the pressure really grew on AQ and the Taliban they ran like little girls to Pakistan (with apologies to little girls). After a time it came to dawn on them that they didn’t need Afghanistan – Pakistan was the much richer prize. More land, more people (many who had grievances ripe for manipulation), and best of all, nukes. If the crazy could be awoken in Pakistan, AQ would have a greater base than their wildest dreams. And lets face it; these guys have lavishly insane dreams (remember what TE Lawrence said about dreamers).
None of this dawned on the Pakistani elite. They were too busy looking to the eastern border for fighter jets that would never come (unless provoked). As the general’s gazed east, the crazy crept up on them in the northwest valley’s of picturesque Swat, just 70 mi from the capital. It took the repeated bombing of military and intelligence HQ’s in Rawalpindi as well as the Swat general offensive to get the Pakistani out of the barracks. The losses they have sustained in an at best mediocre performance against insurgents are the statistics they keep pointing to when they bleat that we are not giving them credit for taking action. In fact we do give them credit – that’s it not the point. The point is what it took for them to wake up out of the anti-India stupor. They have since largely prevailed against the semi-conventional threat the insurgents presented a few years ago. Their likely success against the truly irregular campaign now being mounted from Karachi to Islamabad remains to be seen. In fact, it’s an interesting indictment on their preparedness that the insurgents at first thought they could dispense with Mao’s first stages of irregular war and go right to conventional take down.
However it is measured, Pakistan is a failure. It is not particularly democratic; its economy is a basket case, and its elites rule on a razor’s edge, fearful of the masses. They use the threat of the instability the masses could create as a stick to beat the US into forking out yet more cash. The implied message is ‘help us or we all [Pakistan, India and eventually the US] go up in a mushroom cloud’. Great strategy fellas!
So it is to LtGen Talat Masood (Rtd) that the NYT turned today to get the boilerplate: "The most dangerous and counterproductive step would be for the United States Congress to drastically cut financing for Pakistan’s military. First, it would reinforce the already strong perception in Pakistan that the United States is an unreliable ally that acts unilaterally.” After the bin Laden episode this was nothing short of priceless. But he continues “Second, it would confirm the view that the United States favors India and reinforce the Pakistani security establishment’s obsession with India as the enemy." Like the US could talk the Pakistani’s into any other obsession! You know, like survival.
The good general has over played his hand. He has in fact given us the key to doing something different for a change. Instead of American’s being fearful of the Pakistani people, lets let the Pakistani military ensure their own survival by placating the people’s grievances - free from US money (aka domination). Let’s realign ourselves with India, the world’s largest democracy, with a vibrant economy and a melting pot of cultures and religions that has endured bumps along the way but has continued to prosper largely at peace with itself. Maybe then, Pakistan might realize that angrily objecting to billions of dollars of aid being spent on non-military projects was just a little ungrateful and in fact in the long run, despite supply lines to Afghanistan and nukes, it is they who need us much more than we need them.