Monday, November 24, 2008

Pakistanis' Conspiratorial Views Of The U.S., And The Relationship With India

So this article in today's NYT was striking for a number of reasons, not least for its revelations about the views of the U.S. and its intentions in the region that exist among all stripes of Pakistanis - rich and poor, military and civilian, Shia and Sunni, Punjabi and Balochi. There are some remarkable but unsurprising tidbits in it, like this one:
“One of the biggest fears of the Pakistani military planners is the collaboration between India and Afghanistan to destroy Pakistan,” said a senior Pakistani government official involved in strategic planning, who insisted on anonymity as per diplomatic custom. “Some people feel the United States is colluding in this.”

Some commentators suggest that the United States is actually financing the Taliban. The point is to tie down the Pakistani Army, they say, leaving the way open for the Americans to grab Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

And, this, the kicker:
Recently, in the officer’s mess in Bajaur, the northern tribal region where the Pakistani Army is tied down fighting the militants, one officer offered his own theory: Osama bin Laden did not exist, he told a visiting journalist. Rather, he was a creation of the Americans, who needed an excuse to invade Afghanistan and encroach on Pakistan.

I've heard the OBL-is-a-CIA-agent one, but I have to confess, I have never heard the OBL-does-not-exist one. That's a new one for me.

As you can tell, I remain a heartfelt supporter of conspiracy theories. They always brighten up my day.

Be that as it may, I expect such conspiracy theorizing to gather pace in the months ahead as Pakistan destbailizes further - with the concomitant search for someone/something to blame - and as Pakistan's relationship with the U.S. deteriorates. The U.S., for its part, really doesn't help matters with its incessant drone/predator attacks in the tribal areas or with some fairly explicit threats against its purported ally:
On two other occasions, however, the situation could have gone out of hand as there was real worry over escalation of hostilities on the Durand Line border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Once near Angoor Adda where South Waziristan is bounded by Afghanistan's Paktika province, Pakistan Army troops released artillery flares to light up the night-time sky and then the soldiers and the tribesmen fired at US jet-fighters and helicopters that clearly were intending to intrude into Pakistani territory for a possible ground assault. The magnesium-powder used in the parachute flares lit up the area with its whitish-reddish light and made it risky for the US Special Forces to attempt another ground operation in South Waziristan. The tribesmen, among them militants, used the Russian-made Dachaka guns to fire at the intruding choppers, which then landed in Afghan territory close to the border instead of crossing into Pakistani territory. A US Army brigadier contacted a Pakistan Army brigadier soon after the incident and threatened to send in B-52 bombers to 'plaster' Pakistani forces in the border area. The Pakistani military officer refused to be intimidated and asked his American counterpart to go ahead and do whatever he wanted. Later, senior US military officials contacted top Pakistan Army officers to calm down the situation and explain the circumstances in which the American brigadier made his provocative remarks to his Pakistani counterpart.

I just have one question: "plaster"?

Anyway, in related news, both the article I linked to earlier and Nick Kristof's op-ed call for the possibility of greater U.S. involvement in solving the Kashmir dispute with India. The argument is that easing Pakistan's concerns about its eastern border will allow it to do a better job of security on its western border. I said as much in a post around ten months ago, and I stand by my assessment today. Fortunately, I think the Obama administration is much more likely to take a holistic approach to questions of security and war and peace in the region. Unfortunately, I don't think it will matter a great deal, at least in the short and medium terms, primarily because:

1. It's unlikely that greater U.S. involvement in the Kashmir dispute is likely to morph into real pressure on India; more likely is the possibility that greater U.S. involvement = greater pressure on Pakistan.

2. Even if by magic some settlement on Kashmir is reached, our military establishment is still likely to conceive of its gravest strategic threats emanating from the eastern border, despite what anyone else may think about the matter. Put it this way: the perceived threat from India has only an indirect relationship to the Kashmir issue - what matters more is India's brute power relative to Pakistan (a heavy imbalance) and what appear to be the new strategic alignments in the region (China+Pakistan/U.S.+India).

The only way solving Kashmir is likely to affect Pakistan's strategic relationship with India is through the political process - that is, it is likely to make it less popular to hate India and more popular (or more easy) to say that warm relations with India are key to Pakistan's survival as a state (which, by the way, is my stance). But the political process, as it were, takes a long time to affect change, if ever. You could argue, for instance, that America's political process still conceives of Russia in 2008 as the Soviet Union in 1958, which helps explain their completely dysfunctional and blinkered view of the conflict with Georgia a couple of months ago. My point is that if your idea of optimism is based on the following causal relationship

Change in external environment (solve Kashmir)-->change in domestic politics (India=ok to like now)-->change in external environment (Pakistan cares more about Western border than Eastern border)

then you might have to wait a while.

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