Time to Get Real About Pakistan
Image Credit: US Department of Defense

Time to Get Real About Pakistan


The latest statement by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates exhorting India, Pakistan and Afghanistan to come together to defeat the menace of Islamist terror in South Asia, has again underscored the fundamental delusion held by the United States about the interests and goals of the Pakistani state and its dominant component, the military apparatus.

During the Cold War, Pakistan’s military leaders paid lip service to the cause of anti-Communism. They had drawn the United States into the strategic ambit of South Asia simply to balance Indian military power. Of course, the United States, which lavished military and economic assistance upon Pakistan, benefited significantly from this relationship as it enabled it to use Pakistani territory to engage in electronic eavesdropping and to overfly Soviet territory on high-altitude spying missions. Yet, despite the Pakistani military’s professions of being a loyal US ally, the relationship was strictly instrumental.

Perhaps the only period when both sides recognized this was during the Afghan war years under General Zia-ul-Haq. When entering into a new relationship of strategic cooperation with the United States, he referred to the renewed set of ties as ‘a handshake, not an embrace.’ Zia used this time to fecklessly pursue a clandestine nuclear weapons program under an indulgent Reagan administration and also bolstered Pakistan’s conventional military capabilities through US military assistance. The United States paid scant attention to the scrofulous features of his regime because it provided the grounds for military support to the Afghan mujahedeen.

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Even here, there was an element of US strategic delusion, with US intelligence agencies seemingly clueless about who were the major clients of their principal counterpart, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI-D). It was only in the closing days of the Afghan war that they came to the belated realization that the ISI-D had actually favoured the most religiously obscurantist elements of the mujahedeen, ones not especially well-disposed toward the United States.

But the US capacity for self-delusion probably reached it apogee during the George W. Bush administration. None other than the president himself dubbed President Pervez Musharraf as America’s most ‘valued ally’ in the war on terror. Musharraf was granted this strange imprimatur despite ample evidence of his continuing dalliance with the Taliban and his staunch unwillingness to abandon various anti-Indian terrorist organizations, most notably the Lashkar-e-Taiba (now the Jammat-ud-Dawa). Again, it was only in the waning days of his second term that Vice President Dick Cheney came to the striking revelation that the Pakistani military establishment was running with the hares and hunting with the hounds. Fortunately for Musharraf, thanks to a series of his own missteps, he was already on his way out of office.

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