Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Pakistan as Monolith: A Grave Error

Reports abound of 'Pakistani' support for the Taliban and other nasty actors in the Afghan war. An error, this, and neither a trivial nor unconsequential one.

Pakistan is a complicated place. The ISI (intelligence), the military, the civilian government, the legal system, the citizenry, oft compete rather than cooperate, and are hardly of one mind or one agenda. Pakistan has madrassas and Islamic fundamentalists. It also has a community of lawyers that put lives on the line in support of civil rights and civil law. Confusing one of these actors with the whole country the whole country is a capital mistake. It legitimizes the actors' role as patriotic defenders against the Great Satan, and robs of support, domestically and internationally, even denies the existence of, those we'd like to see in charge of the country. Not a good thing. A view of Pakistan as a monolith, rather than an uneasy mosaic, is wrong on the facts, contrary to American interests, and a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When he was campaigning, Obama said that were he convinced of the need, he'd send American troops on a mission into Pakistan without informing the Pakistani government, much less obtaining their permission. Americans, by and large, didn't notice. Pakistanis remember. (A friend who's been there often and has many friends there confirms that this is widespread, even amongst those with a charitable view of the West.)American national interests are enormously better served by a stable Pakistan than they would be by success in just about any unilateral action short of preventing a nuclear attack. Such an incursion would strengthen those opposed to American interests in the internal struggles of the country. The consequences would be anywhere from unpleasant to horrendous. The precedent of Nixon's 'secret' bombing of Cambodia comes to mind.

It's hard to think of a more consistently stupid, ignorant, counterproductive set of foreign policy choices we've made than with respect to Iran. We've oft viewed Iran, too, as far more monolithic than it is, as once we viewed the nominally unified Communist bloc. We'd better not make similar mistakes in Pakistan. I wish I were more sanguine about it. I'm not.

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