Spies, Lies and Pakistan

Forget the indignation, the suspicions, the allegations. Why Washington has no choice but to engage Pakistan.

The responses within Pakistan’s political and military establishments to bin Laden’s elimination have not helped. Rather than focusing on how it is that bin Laden was able to hide in plain sight in a military garrison town for six years, Islamabad has chosen to focus the country’s outrage upon violations of sovereignty that occurred when a team of U.S. SEALs flew into town and did the necessary. Needless to say, bin Laden himself—and a host of other terrorists—mightily infringed upon Pakistan’s sovereignty well before the commando team or U.S. drones appeared in Pakistan.

Adding to the diversion, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, in his speech to Pakistan's parliament on Monday, offered a bizarre rendition of the country’s violent period in the 1990s, when, he claims, the international community was responsible for emergence of al-Qaeda and “making the myth of Osama bin Laden.” Gilani—in hopes of spreading the blame for this intelligence failure—said that “Pakistan alone cannot be held to account for flawed policies and blunders of others.”

This history is disingenuous, despite being popularly believed among Pakistanis. Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani’s own volume, Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military, explains it more accurately: When Afghanistan’s Islamists were ousted by then-President Sardar Mohammed Daoud Khan, fleeing to Pakistan in 1974, Islamabad turned them into its own instruments. Pakistan began its forward policy in Afghanistan under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, president and then prime minister of Pakistan in the 1970s—long before the infamous President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq. Still Zia, the most important user of Islamism in Pakistan and the region, played his part. Facing a Soviet threat, he repeatedly approached Jimmy Carter to launch a jihad against the Soviets before they invaded in 1979. Reluctantly, Carter did so in December 1979. However, the U.S. president had to first waive sanctions against giving Islamabad security assistance that had been levied in April 1979 as a result of Pakistan’s enrichment of fissile material. By the time the Russians crossed the Amu Darya river on Afghanistan’s northern border, Pakistan had already assembled on its own the seven militant groupsthat would be instrumental in waging the anti-Soviet jihad. It is important to note that Pakistan—not the United States—wanted to liberate Afghanistan through jihad, rather than ethno-nationalist insurgency against a foreign occupation. The United States, along with Saudi Arabia and others, funded a strategy that was essentially formulated in Islamabad long before the Soviets invaded.

And long after the Soviets left, Pakistan—not the United States—continued to support its preferred Afghan militia leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and goaded him into destroying Kabul with his rival warlords such as Ahmad Shah Mahsood. When Hekmatyar failed to deliver, Islamabad turned to a new client: the Taliban. Meanwhile, Pakistan also deployed battle-hardened militants to Indian-administered Kashmir and elsewhere in India.

This history was not in his speech. It certainly should have been.

However, amid the political theater, Gilani was right about one thing: We all need to know what happened, how and why—Pakistanis as well as the international community.

U.S.-Pakistan Over the Long Haul

The simple truth is that the United States has few other options; it must engage Pakistan. Washington cannot put together adequate political carrots and deployable sticks to compel Pakistan to abandon its reliance upon militants because the U.S. government lacks the will to do so. Washington needs to step up engagement in order to maximally secure U.S. interests, be it proliferation of nuclear technology or terrorism. Moreover, the only hope for Pakistan’s future is continued investment in its people and civilian institutions, albeit with greater clarity of purpose, efficacy of programming and attention to outcomes. Humiliating Pakistan to the point of no return is not a useful strategy.

Pakistan too has few choices. Pakistanis are fond of pointing to China as their longtime and reliable friend. Gilani even made this allusion in his speech. Nothing is further from the truth. China has never helped Pakistan in any of its wars with India (1947, 1965, 1971, 1999). China has sided with India over the Kargil conflict. In 2009, Beijing voted at the UN Security Council to declare Pakistan’s asset the Jamaat-ud-Dawa a terrorist organization. China sells Pakistan subpar military equipment. (China does not have access to high-quality international arms procurements following the crackdown at Tiananmen Square in 1989.) In fact, the rising power hopes to encourage Islamabad to remain at conflict with New Delhi to ensure India remains focused on Pakistan rather than China. Yet Beijing does not want an actual fight, as that would mean revealing—yet again—that it will not come to Pakistan’s assistance. Pakistanis point to China’s “investment” in Pakistan. Pipe dreams. Beijing’s investments are exploitative, aim to serve China’s interests and do little for Pakistanis. Finally, China has invested virtually nothing in human development in Pakistan because it has no such interests. Its assistance during the 2010 floods was a mere $100 million dollars, compared to more than $500 million by the Americans.