VOLTAIRE REMARKED of Frederick the Great's Prussia that "where .some states have an army, the Prussian Army has a state!" The same can easily be said of Pakistan. The destruction of the army would mean the destruction of the country. Yet this is something that the Pakistani Taliban and their allies can never achieve. Only the United States is capable of such a feat; if Washington ever takes actions that persuade ordinary Pakistani soldiers that their only honorable course is to fight America, even against the orders of their generals and against dreadful odds, the armed forces would crumble.
There is an understanding in Washington that while short-term calculations demand some kind of success in Afghanistan, in the longer run, Pakistan, with its vastly greater size, huge army, nuclear weapons and large diaspora, is a much more important country, and a much greater threat should it in fact succumb to its inner demons. The collapse of Pakistan would so vastly increase the power of Islamist extremism as to constitute a strategic defeat in the "war on terror."
The Pakistani military is crucial to preventing such a disaster because it is the only state institution that works as it is officially meant to. This means, however, that it also repeatedly does something that it is not meant to-namely, overthrow what in Pakistan is called "democracy" and seize control of the government. The military has therefore been seen as extremely bad for Pakistan's progress, at least if that progress is to be defined in standard Western terms.