US vs Pakistan: Good, But…

The United States and Pakistan are in a death spiral of invective and abuse. One would presume this to be a good thing for India, and it is, largely, but with a little smidgeon of an exception.

The advantages for India are evident. The general consensus in the Indian system at present is that the Pakistani military is at the heart of the problematic nature of India’s neighbour. The military has the most invested in maintaining a hostile posture to India. They dream of Afghan conquest and Kashmiri irrendentism. They have encouraged Islamicist militancy in the belief that it is a weapon that wrecked the Soviet Union and should therefore easily be deployed against India.

India has thus protested heavily the flowing spigot of money for the Pakistani military that the US has opened over the years, correctly arguing that this only worsened the toxic effect that the men in khaki have on Pakistani society. That it gave Pakistan offensive capability against India has actually been a diminishing concern. It was the generals’ effect on society that was the real problem. Here is a cancer the US was feeding carcinogens.

But New Delhi also accepts that the US has a moderating influence on Pakistan. I can remember a former national security advisor saying it was useful for India that the US was resuming its officer training programme as the alternative was staying home or going to China.

And Pakistan’s other overseas friends, the aforementioned Chinese and the Saudis, are pretty much worse. At least the US attempts to uphold Pakistan’s secularism, however haphazardly. The Chinese wouldn’t care, and the Saudis would want to play religious Frankensteins.

The US-Pakistan fracas today is a continuation of an interagency consensus going back to the last year of the Bush Administration that Pakistan’s army was backing the Haqqani Network. The Bushies came to this view after the attacks on the Indian embassy in Kabul. This view was confirmed during the Obama years thanks to Abbottabad, and, the final straw, the attack on the US embassy in Kabul. This the US was able to connect all the way to the Haqqani Network’s headquarters in Miran Shah, not far from a Pakistani army garrison. Abbottabad had plausible deniability, this attack had none. This, more than anything else, is why Washington has steadfastly refused to apologize for the accidental border killing of several Pakistani soldiers — and generally been less than civil with Pakistan.

All this has been helping India immensely. Worried it cannot fight the US and Afghanistan and pick a squabble with India at the same time, the Pakistani army has become supportive of the peace process and even allowed normal trading relations.

But there is a longer-term, fundamental problem with this US catfight with Pakistan. Barack Obama once spoke of the need to chase Pakistan’s mindset. The present fighting between the two countries does not help in this goal. It is making Pakistan’s already highly developed sense of persecution worse and wiping out whatever little US popularity remains. Perhaps a hard-nosed confrontation is needed to force Pakistanis to come down to earth. Or it may strengthen their present self destructive tendencies. But I think the former is more likely.

Copyright © 2012 the Hindustan Times.

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