The Pakistan Illusion
The friend of our enemies is not our friend.
Oct 24, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 06 • By THOMAS DONNELLY
Jinnah’s own dream, boldly assertive and fundamentally brittle, begat an expansionist tendency. When -Gandhi embarked upon his “Quit India” campaign at the nadir of Britain’s fortunes in World War II, Jinnah seized the moment to double his territorial demands, adding Kashmir, the Punjab, and Bengal to his list of Muslim provinces. He had his way, though it would exacerbate the instability of the Pakistani state: In the dissolution of the Raj, the Punjab and Bengal were split from the central mass of India, inciting massive ethnic cleansing and resulting in the deaths of nearly one million and leaving Kashmir a contested province. The violent but perhaps inevitable result was the 1971 secession of East Pakistan. That the nascent Bangladesh would rely on Hindu India to secure the separation showed the weakness of Jinnah and Pakistan’s ideas of Muslim brotherhood. The bond of Islam was not strong enough to convince Bengalis that they should remain confederate with, and subordinate to, Punjabis.
“Pakistan is a paranoid state that has enemies,” writes Cohen. Pakistani strategists and political elites fear they may become a “West Bangladesh—a state denuded of its military power and politically as well as economically subordinated to a hegemonic India.” Yet, somewhat perversely, the result is a strategic “adventurism,” by which Cohen means Pakistan’s ambitions in Kashmir and Afghanistan, but which applies equally to Pakistan’s nuclear program, its relations with China, and its ambiguous stance vis-à-vis the Taliban, al Qaeda, various “associated movements” internationally, and its homegrown radicals.
Paranoia begins at home
The bitter result of the 1971 war and the “second partition” heightened the domestic political contradictions that lie at Pakistan’s heart. In Ambassador Haqqani’s telling, a Jinnah-style “commitment to an ‘ideological state’ gradually evolved into a strategic commitment to jihadi ideology . . . then the Pakistani military used Islamist idiom and the help of Islamist groups to keep secular leaders . . . out of power.” As their larger ambitions collapsed, Pakistan’s elites—the army leaders and Punjabi oligarchs, for all their secular habits—became ever more Muslim, solidifying what Haqqani describes as an alliance between mosque and military.
A second-order effect was a widening gap between the U.S. and Pakistani militaries. Strategic and military-to-military ties had been close in the early decades of the Cold War, and many Pakistani officers received both general and professional education in the United States. But the defeats in the 1965 war with India and the 1971 independence of Bangladesh convinced many in Pakistan that the United States was an unreliable partner. In the mid-1970s, the civilian government of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, father of the late Benazir Bhutto, tried to constrain the domestic political power of the Pakistani Army—which had been twice bested in the wars with India that supposedly were the justification of the army’s privileges—while developing a civilian nuclear weapons program.
But that attempt at “reform” likewise crashed when Bhutto was ousted in a coup (and subsequently executed) and the military assumed control of the government under the dictatorship of Zia ul-Haq. Though Zia died in a 1988 plane crash, he set the course that Pakistan and its security services have followed ever since. Zia broke down the distinction between politicized Islamism and military professionalism, and public displays of Islamic orthodoxy became good for one’s military career. Although continuing to try to build up Pakistan’s conventional military strength—and to pry modern weapons like F-16 fighters out of the United States—Zia increased the emphasis on irregular and proxy wars, not only in Afghanistan but against India, including providing arms to Sikh separatists. And finally, he both gave the army control over the nuclear program and accelerated it, thanks to the proliferation program of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan.