August 18, 2010


Pakistan’s Failed National Strategy (Walter Russell Mead, 8/17/10, American Interest)

Ever since the Partition of British India left a smaller, divided Pakistan facing a larger (and, frankly, a sometimes hostile and aggressive) neighbor, the Pakistani military has defined its mission and the nation’s identity by the need to hold up its end of the military contest. Realizing from the beginning that the smaller Pakistani economy could not support a strong enough military for the task, the Pakistani military turned to outside powers and especially the United States for help. Pakistan took the American side in the Cold War while ostensibly ‘non-aligned’ India tilted toward the USSR. Pakistan hoped that US aid would allow it to maintain the unequal contest; this is often the reason Pakistanis today give for Pakistan’s staunch support of the US during the 1950s and 1960s.

The strategy failed then and it is failing now. US aid has helped build Pakistan’s formidable military and given it top notch equipment, but the costs of Pakistan’s military buildup remained crippling — and over the years India has consistently pulled further ahead. Today the contest is more unequal than ever. India is emerging as a global power; Pakistan looks more and more like a basket case. East Pakistan was ‘lost’ a generation ago and is now the independent state of Bangladesh; what was once the western half of Pakistan is simply not in India’s league and the social and political cohesion of what remains weakens every year. Currently, Pakistan ranks 8th in the world in military expenditure as a percentage of total government spending (23%); India spends a lower percentage of both GDP and government expenditure on the military than Pakistan.

The costs of that failed strategy have been high. While country after country in Asia embarked on export-oriented development strategies that have brought new affluence and influence to places ranging from South Korea to Malaysia and Vietnam, Pakistan remains mired in old fashioned underdevelopment. Power flickered on and off across the country even before the recent floods; illiteracy and poverty levels remain at shocking levels. Even in military terms this has its consequences; Pakistan’s failure to grow and develop fast enough means that the country is less and less able to support the kind of military that the soldiers think it needs.

But there is more. The iron necessity of competition with India as perceived by the Pakistani military led to three additional fateful choices. First, the nuclear program: once India proceeded with its bomb (and perhaps even if it didn’t), Pakistani military authorities had to get their own. To be smaller in population and economy, weaker in conventional power and also to be a non-nuclear state confronting a nuclear power was radically unacceptable. The military felt the bomb was a necessity, no matter what it cost, no matter what deals with what devils were required.

And more: a smaller power in conventional terms looks to forms of asymmetrical warfare to offset its enemy’s advantage. For Pakistan, this meant that cultivating relationships with groups willing to use violence in Kashmir and against India more generally became a perceived necessity of state. Pakistan might be smaller, weaker and poorer than India, but it was not without offsetting advantages. The discontent of so many Kashmiris under India rule and the presence of both religious and political resistance movements gave Pakistan opportunities too good to resist. The partnership of Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment with unconventional, non-state violent movements began to take shape.

Finally, the need to compete with India drove Pakistan into far-reaching policies in Afghanistan. There are many reasons why Pakistan was interested in influencing events across the Durand Line (the British-drawn line that separates Pakistan and Afghanistan on maps, but which neither the local tribes nor the Afghan government has ever recognized), but the need for ‘strategic depth’ against India and the need to combat Indian influence in Afghanistan have shaped Pakistan’s Afghan policy for decades. Pakistan made more deals with more devils, collaborating in the obscenity of Taliban rule for the sake of maintaining Pakistani influence.

The net effect of these strategies has been costly. Pakistan’s combination of illicit nuclear activities, terrorist links and collusion with the Taliban set it directly in opposition to core American interests — even as India’s rising power made Pakistan more dependent than ever on the US. Since 9/11 Pakistan has been impaled on a dilemma of its own construction: torn between supporting and opposing American policy on proliferation, terrorism and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, unresolved questions about Pakistan’s nuclear program, combined with US support for India, have led to the worst possible nuclear outcome for Pakistan: India now enjoys full access to advanced nuclear technology and materials while Pakistan’s access remains blocked. Nuclear weapons were supposed to be Pakistan’s equalizer in the contest with India; increasingly, they look like just another crucial area in which India is gaining the advantage.

Worse, Pakistan’s support of terror groups in India (including Kashmir) has provoked, Pakistanis fear, increased Indian support for the long-festering separatist movement in Balochistan. Ethnic Punjabis now live in fear there; the Pakistani flag and other national symbols can no longer be displayed in much of the province, and public opposition to rule from Islamabad seems to be growing. Significant voices in Sindh and Kyhber-Pakhtunkwa (formerly known as the Northwest Frontier Province) are less than enthusiastic about Pakistan, often seen by non-Punjabis as a front for Punjabi ethnic domination.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at August 18, 2010 6:02 AM
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