Washington: Just Say No To Pakistan

It is time for America to turn the page on Pakistan.

Another day, another calamity: thirty killed by a suicide bomber at a funeral in Quetta; the commanding General in Swat blown up by Pakistani Taliban; renewed Indo-Pakistani fighting along the Kashmir border threatens to torpedo fragile reconciliation efforts. These events—all in the past six weeks—reinforce recent disclosures in the Washington Post confirming deep-seated official US doubts and fears about Pakistan. Taken together, they constitute an inflection point: it is time to re-examine the entirety of our ties with that duplicitous, nuclear-armed and unstable country

Another cycle of Foggy Bottom delusion will soon begin, as Pakistan moves to capitalize on an Afghanistan from which America is mostly absent. In policy terms, dealing with Pakistan resembles “Groundhog Day”—a dismal recurring cycle of action/reaction, with hopes recurrently dashed.

Whether it is the unhappy fate of a Pakistani doctor helping track down Osama Bin Laden, retried after winning an appeal; or predictably resumed skirmishing in Kashmir—all lead inevitably to grave doubt. Every week, U.S. and other policymakers voice a silent question: "Why Pakistan?"

 Why Pakistan?

As a thought experiment, it’s a question worth asking, because there’s nothing inevitable or firmly grounded about ‘Pakistan’ at all. Imagine for a moment that Pakistan and Afghanistan did not exist as separate states. Consider instead what might have happened had a decolonizing British India devolved into countries with the same culture/ethnic basis as in Europe.

British imperialism was skilled at manipulating ethnic divisions in south Asia, but in 1947, it choose instead to act as midwife to an artificiality based on religion rather than ethnicity, thereby spawning via a bloody Partition a new state named ‘Pakistan’ (‘Land of the Pure’) in which an inherently implausible gaggle of Bengalis, Sindhis, Punjabis, Baluchis, and Pashtuns found themselves lumped together.

It was a fateful choice. If the British had instead used the same culture/language/ethnicity criteria for states as done in Europe, would Pakistan exist? Instead of Pakistan and Afghanistan. we might have ‘Pushtunistan’, ‘Baluchistan’, and even a 'Sindhi Nation' around Karachi. Afghanistan's Tajiks and other minorities might also have melded with a future Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, while the residual India would have rested on a core inclusionary civilization. Ironies abound: More Muslims live in India than in Pakistan.

Yet we must live with the baleful consequences of the Great Error in 1947. But with only the slender reed of religion, we shouldn’t be surprised, especially given Salafi and jihadi money from the Gulf States flowing into Pakistan. Nor should we be surprised by a spreading Sunni-Shia proxy war spreading across the Greater Middle East, from North Africa to Pakistan.

If prevailing Southwest Asian realities had rested instead on a cultural/ethnolinguistic foundation, it would still fall well short of being a region of peace and harmony. But feuds and clashes would have remained local. We would not have to worry about a neighborhood dispute like Kashmir being a potential trigger for nuclear conflict.

Barely a week passes without some ghastly massacre in Waziristan, Karachi, Quetta, or even in the Sindh. Despite more than $20 billion in U.S. aid since 2001, Pakistan ranks #13 on Foreign Policy magazine’s Failed State Index, 'edged out' only by such wonders as Somalia, Haiti and Zimbabwe from descending into still more humiliating status.

More than sixty years after Partition, large swathes of Pakistan’s territory remain outside central control. It ranks 113th of 120 countries in literacy, with a combined men’s and women’s rate of 55 percent. In over seventeen thousand madrasahs, mushrooming in part because of the collapse of public education, over three million young men study little beyond the Koran. Despite its boomerang effect, Pakistan’s intelligence and security establishments can’t wean themselves off using terrorist groups for political goals, as in Afghanistan and Kashmir, even though the dog bites its master, time after time.

Most of this lies well beyond our ability to influence or control. Yet, the most delusional of these failures plays out far from South Asia, as one U.S. administration after another has continued to pump in money, hoping against hope that things may improve. It has led to long-term cash commitments for short-term needs like keeping the Afghan supply “pipeline” open.

Pakistan long ago lost interest in America’s longest war. Whatever sweet noises its latest leadership makes, Pakistan makes sure that our enemies in Afghanistan remain its friends. In our respective careers in government, we’ve found few who know, or can even explain, why American, Australian, British and other country personnel continue to die in Afghanistan from actions traceable back to Pakistan.