Pakistan: Land of the Pure, Land of Perfidy
Can Pakistan be persuaded to stop supporting insurgents — and thereby not nullifying U.S. progress in Afghanistan since 2010?
- Pakistan's readiness to collude with other violent Islamist groups has been to the net detriment of Pakistani security and regional stability.
- The United States bears some responsibility for the mess in Pakistan because of its strategic attention deficit problem.
- Since 2001, the United States has been at war in South Asia for just over 11 years.
- The United States has been partly responsible for the wars in South Asia for the last 33 years.
- The war in Afghanistan will have been in vain unless there is strategic momentum from inside Pakistan to turn off the sources of support to the insurgents.
The long war in Afghanistan has yielded uneven and ambiguous results for long-term security and stability. And, though al Qaeda is indeed disrupted and diminished, it is not fully dismantled and defeated.
This is because Pakistan, which translates to “land of the pure,” has actually been more like “land of perfidy.” If anything, the country is a paradox.
One key reason for this is that the Pakistani army and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate, under the spurious auspices of “strategic depth,” have persistently fomented insurgency and terrorism in Afghanistan.
Indeed, the principal ingredient of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), ammonium nitrate, and the detonators for those devices, still mainly flow from Pakistan. These devices are the leading killers and cripplers of friendly troops.
In addition, a veritable host of Islamist fanatic movements — notably, the Quetta Shura Taliban, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar — all likely still associate with, and receive some degree of advice or support from, Pakistan’s security organizations.
For all their bravado and perfidious use of fanatical proxies, Pakistani strategists in the military and intelligence services fail to understand the most important point about their activities.
Their readiness to collude with other violent Islamist groups in the most dangerous places on the planet, Pakistan’s tribal areas and Pakistan’s heartland, has been to the net detriment of Pakistani security and regional stability. It is the metaphorical equivalent of an arsonist ultimately compelled to act as fireman for his very own house, which he lit on fire.
But the reality is even worse than that. The central Pakistani paradox is that, for the six and a half decades of that state’s existence, almost every major war or initiative its security elites have undertaken for the ostensible purposes of improving Pakistan’s security has, in effect, achieved the opposite outcome, undermining its security and destabilizing the region.
Curiously, according to the country’s security elites, none of this is the fault of Pakistan. It is simply a consequence of adverse circumstances and conniving by others. As convenient that this self-delusion and mythmaking may be, what it is not is truthful.
Consider the four wars Pakistan started with India, including the conflict on the Kargil Heights in the fall of 1999. It endured thrashings in all of them. The only common theme is that defeat was not the generals’ fault.
And after its particularly humiliating defeat in the 1971 war with India over Eastern Pakistan, Pakistan’s leadership made a fateful choice to compensate for its apparent military ineptness. It pressed forward to acquire nuclear weapons.
The somber reality is that the international community and the U.S.-led coalition have not re-imagined the means and ways to compel Pakistan to alter its harmful strategic calculations.
The United States bears some responsibility in all of this because of its strategic attention deficit problem. The harsh fact is that, since 2001, the United States has been at war in South Asia for just over 11 years. But in fact, it has been partly responsible for the wars there for the last 33 years.
For about the first 11 years, beginning just after the Soviet invasion in 1979, it was American policy to fund and support Pakistan’s ISI to support Islamist insurgents to defeat the Soviets. This is an example of the apoplexy side of the U.S. strategic attention deficit: all on, damn the long-term strategic consequences.
For roughly the next 11 years, from the fall of 1990 to the fall of 2001, the United States generally ignored South Asia. That was the critical period when Pakistan continued to direct various movements of Islamist fanatics, condoning a malignant symbiosis between the Taliban and al Qaeda.
Consider this the narcolepsy side of the strategic attention deficit: all off, asleep at the switch.
As a consequence, for the most recent 11-plus years, beginning in October 2001, the U.S.-led coalition has been fighting some of those very same Islamist diehards that American policy helped nurture, beginning with the Soviet-Afghan War.
Starkly, if the Taliban were to revive an Islamist emirate in Afghanistan, there is every reason to forecast a future with more attacks against the West, planned and orchestrated with increasing scope and intensity from Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s tribal areas.
The only good news is that, since 2010, the combined Afghan and coalition campaign, resources and leadership fighting against the Taliban inside Afghanistan have been the most effective since this very long Afghan war began.
The war has a worthy object, but it will have been in vain unless there is strategic momentum from inside Pakistan to turn off the sources of support to the insurgents.
Without support and sanctuary, the Taliban will likely atrophy into insignificance. Reducing the potentially global radiating effects of this sanctuary is a strategic imperative for all. Perhaps there is still the time and the will to offset Pakistan’s steady diet of carrots with the addition of some compelling sticks.
Among the measures that might compel change are the revocation of Pakistan’s status as a Major non-NATO Ally, a resolution on Kashmir that makes permanent the Line of Control, a cessation in funding flows, and an invitation to other South Asian neighbors to participate in military support against the Taliban.
These views are the author’s and not those of the U.S. Government or the U.S. Naval War College.