Monday, May 21, 2007

Gracchi on Pakistan

Gracchi appears to have built a rather elegant house of cards in his analysis, on Bits of News, of US aid to Pakistan. He first points to the fact that much US military aid to Pakistan since 9/11 has been used to strengthen its armoury to confront India rather than to bolster its fight against our common enemy in the Taleban. This is undoubtedly true but, as Gracchi notes, is not a critical objection in itself.

With military aid to any ally there will be a certain amount of leakage to that ally's other objectives. Britain was undoubtedly a very good ally for the US during the Second World War. However, clearly we did at times direct US help towards safeguarding our remaining imperial objectives which distracted, at least a little, from the fight the US was interested in: beating Germany and Japan. That was despite Britain and the US both having rather similar interests in most respects. Winning the Second World War was a priority for both.

In a state with radically different interests that effect is bound to be magnified. Clamping down on the Taleban is something in which Pakistan has only a marginal interest. Pakistan's Inter Service Intelligence agency was involved in creating the Taleban in order to stabilise their Afghan border.

I'm not implying that Pakistan is still loyal to the Taleban. I'm pretty certain the military at least see the danger in a revolutionary Islamic state next door. However, clearly in a list of Musharraf's priorities fighting the Taleban is much lower down the list than in the list of our priorities for Musharraf's attention.

As such, we're 'paying' Musharraf to do what we want. If we were to pay him entirely in the tools to do the job we want him to do why would he bother?

Gracchi's objection to this is that it alters the balance of power against a democratic state in favour of a military dictatorship. What he's missed is that this balance of power is far from delicate. No amount of US military aid is going to give Pakistan a realistic chance of winning a war with India. Even leaving aside nuclear weapons India just has too many people and too much economic power. It will always win a war with Pakistan.

Pakistan's strategy has been to create as powerful a military as it can, and develop nuclear weapons, in order to increase the costs of an Indian attack so that India cannot use a credible military response to strengthen its hand in negotiations over issues like Kashmir. The balance of power in this region isn't going to change if Pakistan is sold a few more jets or artillery pieces. At the very worst we might make Pakistan a little more intransigent over Kashmir. Given that pretty reasonable progress is being made on that issue at the moment I wouldn't worry too much.

The only real danger is Indian hurt feelings but given that Bush has signed a deal to break the Non-Proliferation Treaty in order to provide them with nuclear energy technology I wouldn't let fears of Indian resentment keep you up at night.


Vino S said...

Matt, I think you are ignoring a lot of the history behind US/Pakistan relations.

Lets not forget that - more or less continuously since the 1950s the US has been closer to Pakistan than to India. It is nothing to do with fighting islamic fundamentalism or supporting democracy or anything like that. After all, for most of the time, pakistan has been a military dictatorship. The real reason is that India (in my view, rightly) was non-aligned in the Cold War. The US didn't like this and so was happy to support Pakistan (which was more pro-Western/anti-communist) against India. This support for a dictatorship against a democracy is to my mind typical of many of the manouverings against the Cold War. Although the battle may have been posed as an ideological one between democracy and communism - in fact it was a _geopolitical_ struggle between the US and the USSR.

As part of this Cold War geopolitical arrangements, the CIA funnelled lots of money through the Pakistani secret services (the ISI, who seem to be almost a state within a state) during the Afghan war. This money was given to religious fundamentalists (the mujahedeen groups). It is thus natural that the ISI would then have ended up being close to the Taliban. To some degree, the US is also indirectly responsible for the strength of the Taliban, since it was often their money the ISI were funnelling to them. Also, during the Cold War, the US was happy to have people like Bin Laden on the payroll since (whatever else they were) they were reliably anti-communist. It does amaze me that some on the Right try and air-brush this period out of history when, to my mind, it is cruicial in understanding the history of Afghanistan.

With regard to Pakistan, I also think people see things too much as a conflict between religious and secular forces. There is an ethnic aspect to the political crisis in Pakistan as well - as i mentioned in this post on my blog -

The fact is that Pakistan remains an artificial state - created because of the surge of (semi-secular) 'Muslim nationalism' among Indian Muslims in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. Since then, the state has been weak and so it has ended up being dominated by the military and the secret services. It,to my mind, is one of the many foolish stances taken by NATO during the Cold War that this was a state that merited support.

Vino S said...

sorry, sent the wrong blog link in my previous post!


Tony said...

I think the Americans were mistrustful of India because although she was officially unaligned as Vino points out, she nonetheless spent a lot of time buying soviet armaments.

A few years ago I was chatting with a military specialist about the India / Pakistan situation. It was his considered view that excluding the nuclear scenario, if a conflict broke out and India chose to dedicate her resources to it, she could be in Islamabad within 10 days - regardless of any conventional resistance. Small wonder Musharraf is making hay while the US sun shines.

Gracchi said...

I suppose as well I'm more interested in the wider point- that Pakistan is an instance of- that our priorities in the war on terror may end up distorting our priorities more globally.

edmund said...

Vilno i think your point works quite well for the cold war (thogh i think ti's importnat o realize this was because of mostly irratioal indina hostlity-if they'd been more firendly i'm sure the US) and i'm not realy show how pakisan can be seen as being in the US camp in a seprate way from Indian in the Soviet.

Also i fail to see how the amir aid was respobe for the muhadurion's -if there was aproblme it was the failur to exert us infence separatel from pakisanti (though that may have been unrealsitic)

in an case the taliban took power years latter-and bin laden was never paid by the CIA.