The news out of Pakistan these days includes a 33-year prison sentence for a Pakistani doctor, Dr. Shakil Afridi, for allegedly working with the CIA to find and kill Osama bin Laden in May 2011. They devoted a lot of effort to find the doctor, but none to find bin Laden who was famously living near Pakistan’s equivalent of our West Point.
In November 2011, in retaliation for the U.S. mission to eliminate the man who created al Qaeda and funded the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, and another unknown target, Pakistan closed two routes into Afghanistan that were needed to provision our troops there.
In response to the Dr. Afridi’s sentence for treason, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to cut assistance to Pakistan by $33 million, one million for every year of the doctor’s sentence. The measure passed 30-0.
Like every other problem and threat from the Middle East, Pakistan’s schizophrenic behavior and relations with the United States stems from Islam. When you add in the fact that Pakistan just barely qualifies as a nation beyond the lines that delineate its borders with India and Afghanistan, it is in fact a feudal society so unlike our own that most Americans are at a loss to make sense of anything its government does.
To understand Pakistan these days, I recommend John R. Schmidt’s book, “The Unraveling: Pakistan in the Age of Jihad.” Schmidt spent thirty-three years in the State Department and was a political counselor at the U.S. embassy in Islamabad in the years leading up to 9/11.
While India, from which it was carved out in 1947, has been emerging as a major economic power in the world, Pakistan has always been a begger state, dependent on imported fuel and other vital commodities.
“Pakistani governments have repeatedly found themselves forced to borrow money from the International Monetary Fund and other international lenders,” says Schmidt. As a result, “their international debt now consumers a third of the Pakistani federal budget, more than twice the amount spent on the second largest budgetary item, which in Pakistan, of course, is national defense.” The result is that public education and other social sector services are massively under-funded.
One might think, given its support of the Taliban during and since the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, that Pakistan is a nation of religious fanatics. Most Pakistanis, however, practice a form of Islam derived from Sufism that is unique to South Asia that is tolerant and non-threatening.
Pakistan’s actions should be seen through the prism of extreme nationalism and the feudal code of honor that makes Muslims difficult to deal with at best and unreliable allies at most. Indeed, the refusal of Muslims to live in harmony with India when it declared independence in 1947 led to the partition of its territory that became Pakistan. What was formerly called East Pakistan broke away to establish itself as Bangladesh.
The leaders of Pakistan, based on their irrational fear of India and concerns over Afghanistan, created their own Frankenstein monster in the form of the Taliban, literally “students”, drawn from thousands of madrasses through the nation. “Talibanization was not something the people who ran Pakistan sought, but it was the inevitable consequence of their policies. The number of madrasses continued to grow over time because the authorities did nothing to stop it,” notes Schmidt.
“The Pakistani political establishment, civilian and military alike, had allowed militant Islamic fundamentalism to take root for reasons of state. They saw the use of radical Islamists as a relatively low-cost and seemingly highly effective way to pursue important foreign policy interests, particularly against India.”
As a result, the Taliban have become a threat to the Pakistani way of life. The Pakistani civilian and military leadership, such as it is, is walking a very narrow line and has been as much a fair weather friend as has the United States. It’s a lethal combination of hatred for India, fears of a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, and distrust of America.
One would think they would be pleased that U.S. drones continue to degrade the Taliban and al Qaeda in its northwest provinces and long its borders, but like the killing of bin Laden, the leaders see it as an affront to national sovereignty and an example of how ineffective they have been for a very long time.
“Unprepared to come to grips with the predicament facing their country and unwilling to fundamentally alter their feudal ways of doing business, they have tried to turn the whole sorry mess over to the army,” says Schmidt.
These days and for the foreseeable future, nothing is going well for the Pakistanis. The army, a meritocracy, is their only defense against the Taliban, but it was also the army that gave safe haven to bin Laden. When that was exposed, the world knew that the Pakistanis were again playing a double game so far as global terrorism is concerned.
A nuclear nation in a bad neighborhood cannot, must not, be ignored. It’s the same reason that world is trying to curb Iran’s intention to produce their own nuclear weapons. It will fail for the same reason that all such efforts fail: cowardliness.
America has gone to war twice in that neighborhood with initial success, but it continues to ignore the military wisdom of Sun-tzu (c. 551-496 BC) available in “The Art of War” who warned that “No nation has ever benefited from a protracted war.”