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The Pakistan Illusion

The friend of our enemies is not our friend.

Oct 24, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 06 • By THOMAS DONNELLY
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During his four-year tenure as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen embodied the quiet professionalism of the American officer corps. He had been chief of naval operations, yet became the steward of two difficult and draining counter-insurgency campaigns, freeing generals in the field​—​David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno in Iraq, then Stanley McChrystal and Petraeus in Afghanistan​—​from Washington worries.

Photo of Admiral Mike Mullen

Admiral Mike Mullen

But his signature contribution to the wartime effort was trying to cultivate an improved relationship with the military leadership in Pakistan, particularly General Ashfaq Kayani, the Pakistani Army chief of staff. Mullen flattered Kayani in dozens of high-profile visits. In 2009, he convinced Newsweek that the general-to-general chemistry was “the most important relationship in the fraught dynamic between the two countries.” Mullen trumpeted the good news that Kayani “was making promises and keeping them.”

In hindsight, it would seem that Kayani had no intention of promising or delivering anything that mattered to the Pakistani Army and its officer corps. Pakistan’s generals have been masters at playing their American counterparts. A passage from the autobiography of General Tommy Franks, head of U.S. Central Command during the initial invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, gives a hint as to who gets the better of these “relationships.” Recalling his first meeting with one of Kayani’s predecessors, Franks wrote: “It struck me that it was appropriate that we both wore uniforms. For years, American officials and diplomatic envoys in business suits had hectored soldier-politicians such as Pervez Musharraf about human rights and representative government.”

Mullen never quite sank to such romance-novel heavy breathing with Kayani, and by the end of his term as chairman he saw the truth clearly. Osama bin Laden had been living in Abbottabad, Pakistan’s West Point. Mullen publicly has charged Pakistan’s military intelligence agency​—​once commanded by Kayani​—​with supporting attacks by the insurgent Haqqani network, including the September 13 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kabul. In a valedictory interview with columnist David Ignatius, Mullen admitted it took him a long time to appreciate the “trust deficit” with the Pakistani Army. He also worried that they are on a “declining glide slope.”

Plus ça change

The tragedy of American policy is its failure to see that Pakistan has been on a very long downward slope​—​arguably since 1947, when independent Pakistan and India separated from the British Raj. Indeed, Husain Haqqani, currently Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, has described his country as “in some ways a state project gone wrong.”

Pakistan has had a confused and troubled identity. The original idea of Pakistan, as Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution has written, was of an “extraordinary” state, “a homeland for Indian Muslims and an ideological and political leader of the Islamic world.” At the same time, the ideology of the Pakistan founding was opaque and contradictory, with the contradictions seemingly captured in the figure of its leader, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Karachi-born but trained as a lawyer in England and retaining a lifelong affinity for fine English tailoring. Though a partner of Gandhi and Nehru in the India Congress, Jinnah was suspicious of their all-India approach, and as British imperial power on the subcontinent began to wane in the early 20th century, the compact between India’s Hindus and Muslims weakened.

Thus, at the 1928 session of Congress, Jinnah proposed not only guaranteed seats for Indian Muslims in national and provincial legislatures, but the creation of three “designated Islamic states”​—​Sind, Baluchistan, and the Northwest Frontier Province​—​within a future independent Indian federation. In other words, while the subcontinent was still struggling to separate itself from British rule, Jinnah was proposing an ethnic state-within-a-state that held within it the promise of further separation. To Jinnah and his contemporaries, the allegedly inclusive All-India Congress appeared more like a vehicle for Hindu political dominance. And the broad definition of who was a Muslim—mostly in terms of antagonism to Hinduism—elided traditional differences between regions and tribes. The deeply secular Jinnah declared in 1940 that the two communities “are not religious in the strict sense of the word, but are in fact different and distinct social orders. And it is a dream that the Hindus and Muslims can ever evolve a common nationality.”

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