There is a tendency amongst some Indians to view the increasing amount of chaos in Pakistan with directly proportional cheer. After all, this is the kind of internal mayhem that hardliners in Pakistan, especially its armed forces/secret service, have often promised India, particularly during the 1980s and 90s. To see their instruments of guerrilla warfare turn their unsavory attention to the hand that bred and sheltered them for so long smacks of poetic justice.
Be that as it may, I don’t view the current situation in Pakistan with anything other than sadness and horror.
Part of it, of course, is because I’m a full-blooded peacenik and by culture, religion, temperament, upbringing and education I’d like people to generally get along and play nice. Somebody called me Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (seriously!) the other day – a book I like just fine, thanks. I’m just glad they didn’t call me Pollyanna. That might have pushed me over the edge.
Another reason I’d like Pakistan to do well is because I have a number of Pakistani friends and I think enough of them to wish them and theirs well.
But the big reason why I’d like Pakistan to do well is because they’re our neighbors. Neighbors with nukes.
Newsweek’s big story last week was that they were weighing the option that Pakistan might be the most dangerous country in the world.
Today no other country on earth is arguably more dangerous than Pakistan. It has everything Osama bin Laden could ask for: political instability, a trusted network of radical Islamists, an abundance of angry young anti-Western recruits, secluded training areas, access to state-of-the-art electronic technology, regular air service to the West and security services that don’t always do what they’re supposed to do. (Unlike in Iraq or, there also aren’t thousands of American troops hunting down would-be terrorists.) Then there’s the country’s large and growing nuclear program. “If you were to look around the world for where Al Qaeda is going to find its bomb, it’s right in their backyard,” says Bruce Riedel, the former senior director for South Asia on the National Security Council.
Militancy is woven into the fabric of Pakistani society. At independence in 1947, the country’s whisky-swilling founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, used Islam to forge a sense of national identity. Since then the various military dictators who have periodically ruled the country have found jihad to be a convenient means of distracting their citizens and furthering their foreign-policy aims. Gen. Zia ul-Haq turned Pakistan into a base for the mujahedin waging war on the Soviets in Afghanistan—and won billions in American aid in the process. In the 1990s, after the Soviet defeat, generals like Musharraf dispatched thousands of those fighters to wage a guerrilla campaign in Kashmir. Many trained across the border in Afghanistan, in the same camps that Al Qaeda had set up under the Taliban.
Pakistan immediately pointed out that that’s not a nice thing to say about your one big Muslim ally who’s actually going out into the trenches with you. Besides, as Benazir “Mother of Taliban” Bhutto (is it warped that I find that hilarious?) says, Pakistan had quite a bit of help creating the Afghan monster. Hollywood even has a movie coming out this December about it – Charlie Wilson’s War starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Om Puri as Zia ul Haq.
[R]ather than use the more than $7 billion in U.S. military aid to bolster its counter-terrorism capabilities, Pakistan has spent the bulk of it on heavy arms, aircraft and equipment that U.S. officials say are far more suited for conventional warfare with India, its regional rival.
That has left fighters with the paramilitary force, known as the Frontier Corps, equipped often with little more than “sandals and bolt-action rifles,” said a senior Western military official in Islamabad, even as they face Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters equipped with assault rifles and grenade launchers.
The arms imbalance has contributed to Al Qaeda’s ability to regroup in the border region, and reflects the competing priorities that were evident even before this weekend between two countries that are self-described allies in the “war on terrorism” but have sharply divergent national security interests.
As it’s extremely unlikely that Pakistan is at present considering a full scale war with India, I see this more as a reaction to the arms race that China and India are currently engaged in. India, with China to the north, Bangladesh and Burma to the east, Sri Lanka to the south and Pakistan to the west, is not a country that can afford to take its defense spending lightly. However, the fact remains that India too, is highly unlikely to immediately declare war on Pakistan. Even if a right wing government were to be sworn in at the Centre, we have a whole bunch of things (like a couple insurgencies that everybody talks about ending with a distinct lack of enthusiasm and/or planning) on our plate right now and don’t need the hassle.
But the LA Times story also makes me wonder if the Pakistani establishment isn’t seeking comfort in a more standard enemy. I know this is definitely true in India – we’ve relied on Pakistan to play bad guy for so long that it sometimes feels as though we’ve forgotten to ask questions. Who set off that bomb? “Pakistan did it!” Who stole the cheese? “Pakistan did it!” Where are my sandals? “Pakistan took it!” Where are you going? “I don’t know but Pakistan must be kidnapping me!”
Jokes aside, what I found interesting about the LA Times story is this bit:
Plans to build up the Frontier Corps are not universally supported by U.S. military officials. Loyalties within the corps are thought by many observers to be divided. Members are recruited mainly from Pashtun tribes with long-standing mistrust of outsiders. Most reject militant ideology, and have suffered hundreds of casualties in the fighting. But many also are devoutly religious and feel some degree of sympathy for the Islamists’ cause.
Taking on Al Qaeda and Taliban militants represents a significant departure for the Frontier Corps, whose members are typically outfitted with castoffs from the regular army. Led by army officers who often disdain the assignment, Frontier Corps units have obsolete artillery pieces, have to travel by foot because they have no ground transport, lack night-vision equipment, and have almost no air power.
“Yesterday they had one helicopter operating,” a senior Western diplomat in Islamabad said during a recent interview. “If they had two, it was a good day.”
Is it any wonder that the so-called War on Terror is such a fucking mess?