Dogs and fleas in Pakistan

Is it time to write off our relationship with the Pakistani Army and ISI as a bad investment?

The Pakistani security forces – both the Army and the ISI secret police – are among the purest expressions in the world of absolute evil: tyrants, kleptocrats, torturers, religious fanatics, supporters of terrorism.

The U.S. decision, back when Nehru was playing footsie with Moscow, to ally with Pakistan, made us the paymasters of the security forces, earning us the hatred of ordinary Pakistanis without earning us any gratitude from the men with the guns: rather the reverse. (“Why does he hate me so much?” said Sam Goldwyn of a rival. “I never did anything for him.”)

The subsequent decision to use the ISI to channel money and arms to the mujaheddin fighting the Russians had among its many side-effects the creation of both the Taliban and al-Qaeda as important fighting forces, and obviously the Pakistani military and secret police were sheltering Osama bin Laden up until this year. The A. Q. Khan nuclear-weapons-technology-peddling ring supplied, or tried to supply, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, and Iran.

Now it emerges that, as lukewarm as the senior Army and ISI officials are toward the U.S., everyone from the colonels down hates us with a passion; the arrest of the people who helped spot bin Laden for us was. it appears, a desperation move by the Army and ISI chiefs to keep their jobs, or even to avoid a coup.

The threat, if we cut off the money, is that the goons will (one more time) kick out the civilian leadership, openly ally with the Taliban, pick up their proxy-war-by-terror against India, and start taking money from China instead. And of course there’s always the risk that someone really crazy will get hold of some of those nuclear weapons. And a decisive shift in Pakistani policy could doom any chance of preventing a return to power by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

But it seems to me – speaking as a non-expert –  that to sacrifice the need to get the Pakistani security forces under control to the needs of the war in Afghanistan would get the policy problem backwards.Afghanistan is worth fighting for – if indeed it is worth fighting for, which with Karzai in charge may not be the case  anyway – only as a means to the end of preventing the takeover of Pakistan by pro-terrorist forces and promoting a situation in which Pakistan and India could make peace. Our biggest long-term interest in the region surely is the promotion of Indian economic growth and political development (if only as a counterweight to China), and friendship between India and the U.S. The optimists learn Hindi; the pessimists learn Mandarin.

It seemed reasonable to hope that our show of strength and determination in taking out bin Laden would put backbone into our Pakistani friends – in particular some of the civilian politicians – and demoralize our Pakistani enemies. Whether that hope was reasonable or not, things haven’t turned out that way. Now we’re facing some tough choices. For forty years, the Pakistani security forces have known that, no matter what they did, the U.S. wouldn’t walk away from them. Maybe it’s time for that to change.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

7 thoughts on “Dogs and fleas in Pakistan”

  1. Mark must be right even though he is a “non-expert” since he always reads and tells the truth!

  2. “The threat, if we cut off the money, is that the goons will (one more time) kick out the civilian leadership, openly ally with the Taliban, pick up their proxy-war-by-terror against India, and start taking money from China instead. And of course there’s always the risk that someone really crazy will get hold of some of those nuclear weapons. And a decisive shift in Pakistani policy could doom any chance of preventing a return to power by the Taliban in Afghanistan.”

    You know, I’m tempted to say something like “Bring It On.”

    But the nukes…

  3. So the new justification for our wars is that we need to help India, and also, NUKES NUKES NUKES? Somehow I don’t remember anyone asking the American people whether we really wanted to go to war for the former reason, and I also remember the latter one as having been a somewhat significant lie. But maybe my memory’s fuzzy. Maybe I’m really excited to be fighting a useless war.

  4. “and start taking money from China instead.”

    Is this claim based on anything other than the usual “OMG, the Chinese are going to kill us all”?

    The Chinese are every bit as interested in the US in suppressing terrorism. I’m unaware of anything they’ve done equivalent to the US arming Afghanistan to the teeth in the 80s. (You could bring up North Korea, but that was old-style China; I’m obviously talking about the post-Mao period.) And they can hardly be thrilled that Pakistan led to the mess that is nuclear-armed NK on their border.

    They’re not especially profligate even with basic weapons — such assistance as they give to NK and Myanmar seems very much the begrudging minimum necessary to keep these places falling apart (and leaving China with the problem). Their arms exports are 1/6th those of the US. They (unlike the US and the USSR) seem to understand the concept of deterrence, and so have never gone on an insane binge of creating thousands of nuclear weapons.

    Maybe there is some weird deep history here — China hates India so much they’d risk causing troubles in Xinjiang, and an Indo-Pakistan nuclear war on their border to piss them off — but I’m just not seeing this claim of China rushing in to court the oh-so-desirable Pakistanis as a likely outcome.

  5. Rob is right, it’s mostly about the nukes. I think, however, that it’s a bit of a stretch to tar the Army with the ISI brush. We should be able to effect some distancing & India-friending without much risk that the Army will slip into full-on Jihadi mode. & I’m with Maynard on the limited role of the PRC in this … is it a crisis? I’m not sure.

  6. My advice is don’t just do something, stand there.

    It’s increasingly obvious that India has its act together and Iran doesn’t. Which of its two neighbors should Pakistan emulate? It might not be clear to some colonels, but I bet many of them and increasing number of junior officers will realize that they need a stable society, and that democratic inclusion is the way to get it. We just keep things from blowing up in the next 10-20 years, and maybe we’ll be in a better spot.

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