Is Pakistan an Ally or an Enemy? How about “neither”?

Daniel Larison objects to attacks on Pakistan’s loyalty as an ally, noting (correctly) that allies don’t always agree.  Jeffrey Goldberg also sticks up for Pakistan as an ally. (h/t Sullivan)

I think we’re getting to the point where these terms don’t make much sense as regards Pakistan.  There are countries and non-state actors out there that are US allies, and there are countries and non-state-actors that are US enemies.  And you know what?  There are countries and non-state actors out there that are neither one.

Let’s make the hardly-bulletproof-but-still-reasonable assumption that most nations follow what they perceive to be their interests, whether that is some sort of overarching “national interest” or the collection of interests of individuals and groups within those societies.  Those nations whose interests very strongly dovetail with the United States we will call “allies”, and those whose interests are rarely aligned with the United States we can call “enemies.” 

Where is Pakistan?  It is in neither of these camps.  It has no use for Al Qaeda, but probably welcomes Taliban rule in Afghanistan because the Taliban will never ally with India.  It probably doesn’t want nuclear proliferation, but isn’t averse to selling some secrets to get foreign exchange.  It certainly doesn’t want a nuclear war, but it does want Kashmir, and isn’t averse to having groups of terrorists attack India if for other reason than domestic political consumption.

The Cold War is over.  We are in a very complicated multipolar world with far more powers than even Europe in the 19th century.  Most nations will be neither our allies or our adversaries.  We should be getting used to it by now.

This is so obvious I’m not even sure why I had to write it, but several years of “you’re either with us or against us” has obviously taken its intellectual toll.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

8 thoughts on “Is Pakistan an Ally or an Enemy? How about “neither”?”

  1. It is in neither of these camps.

    I would say rather that it is in both of these camps. There are extremely important interests in Pakistan that are profoundly anti-American, and there are extremely important interests in Pakistan that the USA can purchase.

  2. I have been waiting for two days to hear anyone utter “Kashmir” on radio or TV. The leftover bone of contention from partition has had catastrophic consequences for our country, but you never hear it mentioned; we are left thinking that 9-11 came out of nowhere and that there is no such thing as context for the events which shape our world. Indian misrule of Kashmir never gets even a whisper; is there a reason for this?

  3. What politicalfootball said. I think it’s a big mistake to think of the Pakistani government as a unified agent. It is not. Barack Obama and/or the Congress can decide on a policy and (more or less) get it implemented. It’s not clear that anyone in Pakistan can do that across the board. Certainly both the military and the intelligence services are independent centers of power which are not under the control of the civilian government. So you can have “the Pakistani government” pursuing a number of different and incompatible policies all at once.

  4. First, it is one thing for two allies to not agree over policy, but it is something entirely different for an “ally” to actively undermine the principle objectives of another. And the previous paradigm would ring especially true if said alliance/partnership was buttressed by billions of dollars that changed hands in the spirit of cooperation and compliance.

    Second, I find it interesting, that in the same paragraph you acknowledge Pakistan’s interests in A) a Talibanized Afghanistan and B) terrorist groups operating in Kashmir, you make the argument that Pakistan has no use for al Qaeda. This shows me that you fail to understand the role al-qeada currently plays in the Af-Pak theater and with Kashmiri extremist groups like LeT and HUM. In the Af-Pak theater, Al-Qeada operatives are some of the most well-trained and experienced fighters, who serve as force multipliers and financiers within the very Taliban groups (like the Haqqanis and QST) that the Pakistani government rely on and, as you say, “probably welcome” in Afghanistan. Similarly, on Pakistan’s Eastern border, recent years have seen a growing synthesis between al-qeada operatives and the hydrahead of Kashimiri extremist outfits. These al-qeada operatives bring skills, recruits, and most importantly, Persian Gulf financing to the very LeT, HuM, and Jama’at-ud-Da’awa cells and operatives that the Pakistani government helped create and remain loathe to disband.

    Ten years of continual fighting has blurred the lines between al-qeada and other Central Asia extremist groups, often to the point where they are no longer independently discernible. With an accurate understanding of these realities on the ground in Central Asia, it is not too difficult to see why elements of either Pakistan’s civilian government or (more likely) the country’s military/intelligence establishment, might see a reason to keep around a guy like Osama bin Laden. You are right to point out that Pakistan is motivated by its place in the world to act the way it does, and it likely follows that any Pakistani decision to protect Bin Laden would have been the product of a careful analysis of the dictates of “a very complicated multipolar world”.

    However, you unfairly condemn those in the United States who are critical of Pakistan as small minded-folk carrying a banner of “with us or against us”. I’d contend that a lot of Pakistani detractors, as well as those angered by recent developments, are not interested in a trite debate about whether or not Pakistan is “with us or against us”. Indeed, I’d argue that many of us simply want to explore the wisdom of continuing to align with and provide billions to an “ally” who would look at our “complicated multipolar world” and make calculations that, like the decision to protect UBL, are so out of line with our own interests.

  5. Just to add some non-reality-based speculation, I’ve been wondering about the price OBL paid for what might have been Pakistani protection. I was surprised that he didn’t intervene in our 2008 election as he did in 2004. Benefits would have been obvious, and it would have been easy and surely a total hoot, from OBL’s perspective. I wonder if he wasn’t living in something like forced retirement. The folks cracking his hard-drive will soon be in a position to know, I suppose.

    Back to reality, I’ve learned less about India’s role in the Afghan civil war prior to 9/11/01 than maybe I should have. (I have a vague recollection that before the US intervened, the primary support for the Northern Alliance came from India, Russia, and Iran. This is probably more wrong than right . . .) Some interesting context, there.

  6. This tribal conception of friend or foe will only generate trouble. Anyone who does not understand that is the enemy. There are two kinds of people: those who assign people to one or another of two categories and those who do not.

  7. I only know what I read in the papers about this area of the world. But it seems to me that a basic motivator for Pakistan is fear of India. How well-founded is this fear, and what might we do to try to reduce it, if anything?

Comments are closed.