Pakistan: Can U.S. Policy Save the Day?

Middle East Policy
Summer 2009

Ever since 9/11, America’s preoccupation in Pakistan has been with “terrorism.” Anti-American Pakistani militants call it part of their jihad against the U.S.-NATO “occupation” of Afghanistan. Today political stability has become the overriding U.S. concern in Pakistan. President Obama says his administration is “working to secure stability in Pakistan” because he is “gravely concerned” that an unstable Pakistan could become a haven for militants.1 Pakistan’s stability hinges mainly on its interethnic equations, mode of governance, relations with India and the American policy toward Pakistan. Obama aides acknowledge that U.S. policy since the 1950s has continually abetted the disruption of the nation’s democratic governance, fueling its disintegrative trends.

The administration is also worried that political chaos could lend Taliban or al-Qaeda militants access to Pakistani nuclear weapons. Yet Washington has pushed Pakistan into an ominous war with the Taliban, which is spawning the chaos that troubles it. To promote Pakistan’s stability, the administration is recasting U.S. policy objectives in that country. It is unclear, though, to what extent the U.S. policy shuffle would help the fraying society pull together.

In this article I explore the threats to Pakistan’s political stability, foremost among them the ethnocentrism that is inherent in the multiethnic postcolonial state. Punjabi ethnocentrism, in particular, has played a pivotal role in exacerbating Pakistan’s separatist movements and impeding the democratic process. Furthermore, Washington has supported Pakistan’s dictatorial regimes and used the country’s military forces to promote U.S. foreign-policy goals. I also discuss the impact on Pakistan’s stability of the continuing “war on terror” (a term the Obama administration has stopped using). Finally, I look into the steps the United States might take to help shore up Pakistan’s troubled political and economic institutions.

Pakistan was born in 1947 as an unstable “nation-state.” Like many other postcolonial states, it was created overnight out of disparate ethnic communities that had never lived together as a “nation.” The previous year, the departing British colonial rulers of undivided India had held an election, partly to determine which Indian provinces wanted to join the “Muslim homeland.” Pakistan would be chopped off from the country’s Hindu-majority provinces, which together would become modern India.

The All-India Muslim League spearheaded the Pakistan movement and called the election a “referendum” on its Pakistan project. Ironically, in none of the four provinces that make up today’s Pakistan (Baluchistan was carved out as a separate province after the creation of Pakistan) did the Muslim League win the election. The legislature of Sindh province had, however, adopted a resolution three years earlier signaling its support for Pakistan. The ethnic groups in each of these provinces, which would be known collectively as West Pakistan, were preoccupied with their ethnic interests. Only the province of Bengal, a thousand miles to the east, elected a Muslim League government. Besides, Muslims in the Indian province of Uttar Pradesh played a key role in the creation of Pakistan.

Years later, the would-be founder of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, said to me, “Without the victory of the Bengal Muslim League [in the 1946 elections] and the Calcutta riots, Pakistan would have remained a dream.”2 Sheikh Mujib had joined the Pakistan movement as a Muslim League activist and defended Muslims during the Hindu-Muslim riots in Calcutta that broke out over the Pakistan question in August 1946. Part of Bengal, home of the Bengali ethnic community, would join Pakistan and be called East Pakistan. And yet, irony of ironies, East Pakistan would break away from Pakistan 24 years later to become independent Bangladesh, complaining bitterly of the Punjabi political and economic stranglehold on the country.

British Indian Muslims shared a common religious bond, but their religious values metamorphosed into their ethnic lifestyles, and their political behavior was guided essentially by their ethnicity. In undivided Bengal, Muslims were 52 percent of the population, most of them exploited and suppressed by upper-caste Hindu landowners and money lenders. In 1946, they voted overwhelmingly for the Muslim state, primarily so as to rid themselves of caste Hindu exploitation. Muslims in what would become the four West Pakistani provinces — Punjab, Sindh, Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and Baluchistan — had not suffered similar Hindu suppression. In Punjab (which, like Bengal, would be split between Pakistan and India), Muslims were a third of the population but had a strong middle class, while in the three other West Pakistani provinces they made up large majorities.

Most West Pakistani Muslims warmed to the Muslim state after learning that their provinces would become part of it in any case. The inception of Pakistan sparked vicious riots between Muslims and Hindus in Punjab, Bengal and other parts of the subcontinent. These were followed by three full-blown wars and several minor conflicts between Pakistan and India. The Hindu-Muslim riots, the India-Pakistan wars and the Islamic bond fostered Pakistanis’ national solidarity.Yet ethnic values and affinity remain strong among Pakistanis and have been exacerbated by the Punjabi military and political elites’ domination of other provinces.

Approximately 75 percent of contemporary Pakistan’s armed forces, and roughly an equal percentage of its central government bureaucracy, come from Punjab. The Punjabis rebuff complaints about their domination, claiming that since they are Pakistan’s majority ethnic community (about 60 percent of the country’s population), their leading role in national affairs is natural. In the old Pakistan, though, the Punjabis were a minority, but they stubbornly resisted the leadership of the East Pakistani Bengalis, the majority community. The main complaint against them concerns the constant use of their preponderance in the army and bureaucracy to impose dictatorships and promote Punjabi interests in other provinces.


The United States has supported all of Pakistan’s half-dozen dictatorial regimes and been accused of abetting the unconstitutional overthrow of some of its democratic ones. The first such allegation followed a 1953 coup. Those who related the story to me included the late Pakistani Prime Minister Nurul Amin. The Eisenhower administration had invited Pakistan through its pro-American army chief, General Mohammad Ayub Khan, to join the proposed Baghdad Pact. This anti-Soviet treaty, sponsored by America and Britain, would later be renamed the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO).

Prime Minister Khwaja Nazimuddin, a native of East Pakistan, wanted the draft treaty reworked to enable Pakistan to count on alliance support if attacked by a foreign power. The Americans rejected his request, and the prime minister was having difficulty making up his mind about the alliance, despite the prodding of the Punjabi governor general. On the afternoon of April 17, 1953, Governor General Ghulam Mohammad told an incredulous Nazimuddin that he was being fi red as prime minister. The governor general had no constitutional authority to dismiss the prime minister who had the support of a parliamentary majority. Three days later, the deposed prime minister told visiting Nurul Amin, then chief minister of East Pakistan, that he had been warned by army sources that any challenge to his dismissal would “compel the army to step in.”

Nurul Amin told me in 1970 that “Ghulam Mohammad and his coterie were uncomfortable” about having a Bengali prime minister, and that Nazimuddin believed that they made common cause with the Americans to get rid of him.4 On February 24, 1955, Pakistan joined the Baghdad Pact without the alliance’s commitment to its defense. The Nazimuddin episode instilled anti-American feeling in many of the first generation of East Pakistani leaders. This was reflected in Nurul Amin’s last letters to me before his death in 1974.

Four months after Nazimuddin had been overthrown, the CIA openly orchestrated a military coup against the democratically elected prime minister of neighboring Iran, Mohammed Mosaddeq, and replaced him with American protégé Muhammad Reza Pahlavi. Like Nazimuddin, Mosaddeq had resisted the U.S. demand to join the Baghdad pact; the autocrat Reza Pahlavi had no such compunctions. Nazimuddin, one of Pakistan’s architects, swallowed his humiliation to avoid a military adventurism that could harm the five-year-old state. Nurul Amin had told him that he would resign as East Pakistan’s chief minister and launch a movement challenging the “illegal, ultra vires [extra legal] and undemocratic” act of the Punjabi governor general, “provided you come with us.” The ousted prime minister rejected the idea. He had evidence that Ghulam Muhammad had “acted in this matter in consultation with General Ayub Khan,” who was present in the governor general’s official residence when the prime minister was fired. “The army was kept ready to take over.” Political turmoil in Pakistan, Nazimuddin feared, could give “enemies of the country,” meaning India, an excuse for intervention. 5

Another East Pakistani leader, Sheikh Mujib, refused to accept an obstruction of the democratic process by a Punjabi military dictator, and Pakistan paid dearly for it. Sheikh Mujib’s political party, the Awami League, had won a majority of parliamentary seats in the 1970 elections, but the military ruler General Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan would not allow the party to participate in creating Pakistan’s future constitutional framework, prompting it to launch the Bangladeshi independence movement. And as though to vindicate Nazimuddin, India invaded East Pakistan, dismembered the old Muslim state and helped create Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi political elite never forgave the Nixon administration for staunchly supporting the Punjabi dictator through this vicissitude.

A third Pakistani leader — a democratically elected prime minister from Sindh — was toppled and executed by the Punjabi General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq after the prime minister had a falling out with the United States over Pakistan’s nuclear program. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto told family and friends that his resistance to pressure from Henry Kissinger (then U.S. national security adviser) to abandon Pakistan’s nuclear program cost him his prime ministership and “perhaps my life.” Later Benazir Bhutto, his daughter and successor as prime minister, related his encounter with Kissinger in her autobiography. Zulfikar Bhutto, she wrote, returned from his meeting with President Richard Nixon’s emissary “flushed with anger.” Kissinger had spoken to him “crudely and arrogantly,” warning him that if he didn’t give up Pakistan’s nuclear program, he could be “made into ‘a horrible example.’”6

Significantly, the day before his July 5, 1977, coup, Zia had met with the U.S. ambassador to Islamabad alone, telling others that he wished to greet the envoy on America’s Independence Day. Zia had not visited the embassy on July 4 before, and Zulfikar Bhutto did not know about the visit until a week after he had been overthrown. Kausar Niazi, a fellow journalist who had become a member of the Zulfikar Bhutto Cabinet, told me during a 1989 trip to Islamabad, “Mr. Bhutto took Kissinger’s threat seriously,” but never thought “Zia, of all people, would betray him.” Zia had been Zulfikar Bhutto’s favorite general. The prime minister had suspected, Niazi added, that “the Americans could try to get him some other way.”7

Few of America’s policy initiatives have had a more destabilizing effect on Pakistan than its use of the Pakistani armed forces to fight the “war on terror.” Pakistan’s Punjabi army chief of staff, General Pervez Musharraf, had staged his military coup against a democratically elected prime minister — who happened to be a Punjabi for a change — and had become a pariah in Pakistan and abroad until the United States tapped him to run its anti-terror campaign.

The campaign against Pakistani militants continues under the Obama administration. During the Cold War, the United States cultivated Pakistani generals in order to use the Pakistani army as a bulwark against the Soviet Union’s southward expansion. Most Pakistanis did not like the one-sided relationship because America had no commitment to Pakistan’s defense. They resented it especially when successive U.S. administrations supported or condoned the generals’ coups d’état against democratic governments. In the post-9/11 phase, Pakistanis see the United States using their army against, not an external power, but their own children. Many Pakistanis who would normally have supported the army campaign to rein in the Taliban oppose it instead for two reasons. One, they know that their army has waged the anti-Taliban war at the American behest because part of the guerrilla force is fighting U.S.-NATO troops in Afghanistan. They are anguished by the sight of Pakistanis in uniform killing young Pakistani civilians. Secondly, most Pakistanis, including those who denounce the Taliban’s religious extremism, support their struggle against foreign forces in Afghanistan. And they are alarmed by the progressive alienation of the army from the public during the anti-Taliban campaign. The U.S. assignment for General Musharraf was to keep Pakistan’s mostly Pashtun guerrillas from crossing over into Afghanistan, besides allowing the passage of war matériel through Pakistan. Under the Obama administration, the focus of the “anti-terror” campaign in Pakistan has shifted from Afghanistan to Pakistan. The administration not only continues the air raids on Pakistani Taliban targets begun by the Bush administration, but has also sponsored and funded the Pakistani army’s war on the militant organization. The whole campaign is based on the apparent assumption that anti-American militancy in Pakistan and Afghanistan stems essentially from the militants’ religious and social values. The Americans routinely attribute the Taliban and al-Qaeda jihad to Islamic scripture and seminaries, poverty, illiteracy and so forth. Seldom do they ponder whether American policy has had anything to do with it.


During two trips through Pakistan in the last three years, I was told by politicians, scholars and activists over and over that anti-American militancy there had been fueled mostly by the “reckless military campaign” against militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and America’s support for repressive Pakistani dictators. My interviewees said that prior to the Afghanistan invasion, suicide bombing had been practically unknown to Pakistanis. Al-Qaeda did not exist there; neither did the Taliban have much of an organization. By now, the militancy has spread from the tribal areas and the NWFP to Punjabi and Sindhi cities. The guerrillas are moving to the Pakistani heartland because, noted a British reporter, “U.S. air strikes have made life uncomfortable in their traditional homelands in the northwest frontier regions.”8

The movement of the mostly Pashtun Taliban is inspired by the Islamic values that underpin their ethnic community more than any other in Pakistan. Islam propelled British Indian Muslims into a two-pronged liberation struggle. They fought to end British colonial subjugation as well as economic and social suppression of the Hindu caste system. Six decades later, the Taliban, xenophobic and obscurantist as they mostly are, have launched a similar struggle. They are fighting to end the U.S.-NATO occupation of Pashtun territory in Afghanistan and the political suppression of the Pakistani lower classes. Despite their Islamic agenda and activism in non-Pashtun areas, the Taliban retain their ethnic orientation and are focused mostly on the Pashtun-inhabited NWFP.

The Taliban’s February 2009 peace agreement with the government set off alarm bells in Washington. American officials and media viewed it as the Pakistani federal government’s capitulation to Islamism, which, they contend, could engulf the whole nation. Actually, the deal was an intra-Pashtun rapprochement, negotiated by the Pashtun government of the NWFP in support of its Pashtun feudal constituency. The Taliban had expelled dozens of landlords-cum-politicians from Swat and distributed their estates among the poor, creating excitement among the local public and part of the Pakistani intelligentsia. Columnist Manzur Ejaz of Pakistan’s Daily Times wrote, “The foreign powers obsessed with extremism and jihadi violence in Pakistan have little insight into Pakistan’s real issues.”

The foreign powers obsessed with extremism and jihadi violence in Pakistan have little insight into Pakistan’s real issues, Pakistani society has long reached the boiling point because of continuing oppressive feudalism at the political and economic levels. To that has been added the new rich class of Pakistan, brazenly exhibitionist, which, too, has no regard for the poor. The country has thus become a conglomerate of urban and rural fiefdoms where the powerful make their own laws and state institutions extract from the poor whatever they can. No one has yet put a stop to such degradation. Perhaps the Taliban will.9

In the 1960s and early 1970s, Pashtun landlords in the Malakand and Hashtnagar areas of the NWFP were threatened by peasant movements, usually supported by Maoists. Some of those movements were defused by the pro-Soviet leftist provincial government of Abdul Wali Khan, the father of the current leader of the NWFP-based Awami National Party, Asfandyar Wali Khan. Pakistan’s pro-Soviet left was led by landlords. The Taliban, on the other hand, come mostly from the lower classes, and they have revived the anti-feudal movement once led by Maoists. Their socioeconomic agenda resembles that of Catholic liberation theology in Central and South America.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s stability is threatened, not so much by Islamism, but by ethnocentrism, especially the hostility between the Punjabis and minority ethnic groups. Democracy could have helped bridge the ethnic fissures by giving citizens from minority provinces greater stakes in the national economy, politics and culture. Continual military coups — establishing Punjabi military, bureaucratic and economic domination of minority provinces and ethnic groups — obstructed that process and sustained most of the ethnic fault lines inherited by Pakistan.

The Pashtun “nationalist” upsurge was once symbolized by the pro-Soviet left in the NWFP. It seemed to be tapering off during the past three decades, mainly from the fading of the left and the gradual Pashtun incorporation into the army and economy. The war on the Taliban, who are deeply rooted in Pashtun society and culture, threatens to reverse that trend. If this war on the Islamist movement goes on, Pashtun nationalism could revive under Islamic garb.

The Pashtun ethnonational movement is as old as Pakistan. The historical Pashtun homeland was split in 1893 by the British colonial power between Afghanistan and what would later become Pakistan. The Afghan government has not recognized the partition to this day, but, curiously has been complaining about Pashtun militants from Pakistan crossing into Afghanistan. Few Pashtun, on either side of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border have ever reconciled with it.

In 1974, the Zulfikar Bhutto government arrested the Pashtun leader Abdul Wali Khan on the apparently baseless charge that he had accepted a bribe from then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to carry on secessionist activity in the NWFP. In court the defendant said he was a Pashtun and also a Muslim, but that neither his ethnic nor his religious identity conflicted with his loyalty to Pakistan. Which was his primary identity — Pashtun, Muslim or Pakistani? — the prosecutor demanded to know. “I am a 6,000-year-old Pashtun,” roared the Pashtun warhorse, “a thousand-year-old Muslim and a 27-yearold Pakistani!” Islam had spread among Pashtun tribes during the eighth century, and in 1974 Pakistan was 27 years old.

Like the Pashtun, the Baluch have a unique ethnolingual tribal culture. Depressingly poor and uneducated as most of them are, they are fi ercely independent and resent the domination of their community and exploitation of their minerals by the Punjabi-dominated central government. Since the creation of Pakistan, the Baluch secessionist campaign has ignited a half-dozen extremely bloody wars and miniwars between their guerrillas and the Pakistani army.

The Baluch are, says author Stephen Philip Cohen, “an unlikely candidate for a successful separatist movement.”10 Though their province spans 42 percent of Pakistan’s territory, they make up only 5 percent of the Pakistani population. And a massive influx of Pashtun and Punjabis has turned the Baluch into a minority in Baluchistan. Still, their independence movement rages on. Two years ago, I saw graffiti on store walls in Quetta, the provincial capital, and hillside rock faces in the countryside: “Islam is our religion, Baluch is our nation, independence is our goal.” “Pakistanis out!” “Stop looting Baluchistan,” and so forth. The secessionist movement has been waged by the Baluchistan Liberation Army, the Baluchistan Liberation Front, Jundallah, the Bugti militia and other militant groups.

Many of the Baluch separatists are left-leaning and critical of the United States. They also resent U.S. support for the predominantly Punjabi army, which has waged bloody wars against them. Interestingly, some intellectuals and government officials in Punjab and the NWFP accuse the Americans of supporting the Baluch rebels. Among them is Azmat Hayat Khan, head of the Area Study Center at Peshawar University in the NWFP capital of Peshawar. He told me that the CIA and Indian intelligence had been funding and arming Baluch rebels out of different motives. Pointing to a map on his wall, the professor said the United States wanted a “corridor through Baluchistan” for passage of its military forces, oil and other resources from Central Asia and Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean. India was trying to “destabilize Pakistan,” he added, to counter Pakistani support for the Kashmiri insurgency.11 America may or may not have anything to do with Baluch separatism, but the complaint echoed a near consensus among the Pakistani intelligentsia that American “interference” is destabilizing Pakistan.


The Sindhis, also resentful of Punjabi dominance, waged their separatist movement in 1972. Leaders of the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz, the umbrella organization of several Sindhi separatist groups, complained that the Punjabis, along with immigrants from India called Mohajirs, were scooping up jobs and land in Sindh. And they denounced the diversion of river water to the upper riparian Punjab, hurting Sindhi agriculture. The movement’s leader, the late Ghulam Murtaza Sayed — better known as G.M. Sayed — was inspired by the independence of Bangladesh and wanted his province to become an independent “Sindhu Desh,” the country of Sindh. The Jeay Sindh movement had abated by the mid-1970s but revives continually.

The late Akhter Hameed Khan, one of Pakistan’s best-known intellectuals and social activists, blamed Pakistan’s separatist ferment partly on “Punjabi greed and militarism.” During a series of interviews in 1989, Khan likened the new Punjabi neighborhoods in Sindh and Baluchistan to “the British [colonial] settlements in Kenya or Zimbabwe” and said Punjabi land grabs and “brutal military crackdowns” in trouble spots had aggravated ethnic conflicts and “threaten[ed] the stability” of Pakistan.12

Today, the war against the Taliban, unless ended soon, could pose a greater threat to Pakistan’s stability. It threatens to deepen the Pashtun Punjabi ethnic divide, while fomenting the class dissension between the feudal aristocracy and the landless poor in the NWFP. President Obama believes, an administration source told me in February, that al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan could be “defeated by a combination of military, economic and diplomatic tools” which, in the president’s opinion, would be more palatable to Pakistanis. This view was reflected in the “comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan” that the administration has announced. Under it, the United States has undertaken to dispatch an additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan and pour billions of additional dollars in economic and military aid to Pakistan and Afghanistan. The expectation that military action and economic assistance would “defeat” the anti-American militants in Afghanistan or Pakistan betrays a serious lack of understanding of what the militants are fighting and dying for.

Taliban activists and guerrillas are amused by the American political and media speculation that they have been inspired by Islamic scripture, enjoining them to fight Christians and Jews. Several of them told me that they did not see their anti-American jihad today as any different from the anti-Soviet one that their elders had fought in Afghanistan two decades before. They recalled that the CIA had helped arm and train those Pakistani guerrillas, and that the Americans “called them mujahedeen,” freedom fighters.13

Mighty foreign hegemons have occupied Afghanistan and other South Asian countries before, and some spent money and energy to spread education and build infrastructure in those countries. But their good deeds, which the benefi ciaries appreciated, did not buy them the natives’ tolerance of their hegemony. “The West doesn’t seem to understand,” says British author and activist Tariq Ali, “that people do not like to be occupied. The British tried and failed, the Russians tried and failed, and now the U.S. and NATO are trying, too.”14 Cohen says U.S. policy toward Pakistan has often been clueless because “the United States has only a few true Pakistan experts and knows remarkably little about this country.”15 Obama appears instinctively to realize the need for a fundamental change in U.S. policy toward Pakistan (and Afghanistan). It requires fresh ideas based on facts on the ground. The president’s reliance on the advice of retirees from past administrations with little useful knowledge of the region seems to have become his administration’s Achilles heel in its dealings with Pakistan and Afghanistan.


At his 2003 Camp David meeting with Musharraf, President George W. Bush outlined three issues that were of paramount American interest in Pakistan: terrorism, nuclear proliferation and democratization. The three issues also underlie the Obama administration’s Pakistan policy. In addition, the administration is pursuing two other objectives: improving Pakistan’s relations with India and shoring up its rickety economy. Some of these objectives are contradictory.

The Obama administration is wasting its time trying to get Pakistan to defeat the Taliban militarily. The Pakistani Taliban organized itself to fight U.S. and NATO forces in the Pashtun land of Afghanistan and, along the way, launched its campaigns to introduce Islamic law and take on the feudal aristocracy in areas under their sway. Military force will not defuse the movement, especially while foreign troops roam Afghanistan. On the contrary, Pakistani military and paramilitary crackdowns and, especially, the U.S. drone attacks, are found to have swollen the ranks of the Taliban: A Pakistani writer narrates the impact of the drone strikes on his state and society. “The message given [by the drones] to the people,” says Khalid M. Ashraf, “is that it is not the government of Pakistan that controls these areas, it is we who control these areas. Your lives are at our mercy. We will attack anywhere, anytime.” While Pakistani government forces flee at the sight of the drones, “the Taliban are closing in … on Islamabad. Pakistan will crumble if these attacks continue.”16

The U.S. position on Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons facilities also needs to be reassessed. Pakistani government offi cials and generals, dependent on American military and economic aid, would not pick an argument with the Americans on the issue. In private, they resent the traditional “American hostility” to their arsenal of nuclear devices. They consider the nukes their only deterrent against India’s overwhelmingly superior nuclear and conventional military forces. Some fume over American official and media “paranoia” about the safety of their nuclear facilities. They insist that the security system at their nuclear plants is “ironclad.” Some Pakistani offi cials are worried that the Americans, by throwing a fit about their nuclear arsenal and the country’s instability, may be building a case to take over their nuclear facilities.

It is hard to understand, too, whether Washington is serious about its professed commitment to democracy and human rights in Pakistan. The United States has had close ties to all of Pakistan’s autocratic governments. America does not talk about the democratization of the Saudi, Egyptian, Jordanian, Moroccan and other repressive Muslim regimes. After 9/11, it introduced the surveillance of hundreds of law-abiding American Muslim citizens and incarcerated and tortured hundreds of other Muslims at Guantanamo, Abu Gharib, Bagram and the “black sites.” These actions have flouted international law and, in some cases, amounted to war crimes. They have undercut America’s credibility as a promoter of democracy and human rights. Furthermore, if the Pakistani army decides to grab power again, Washington would still need to work with it on terrorism, proliferation and other issues.

A well-considered initiative to improve Pakistan’s relations with India would indeed serve the cause of peace and stability as much as American interests in the subcontinent. The Pakistan-India conflicts have, as mentioned, strengthened Pakistanis’ national solidarity. But they also have unduly elevated the army’s clout, which is among the country’s major destabilizing agents. If the United States is serious about promoting Pakistan’s stability, it should begin by discontinuing its long-standing direct liaison with Pakistani generals.

Bruce Riedel, the administration’s resident expert on South Asia, wants the United States to begin its quest for peace between Pakistan and India with the Kashmir issue. The Hindu ruler of that Muslim-majority principality had refused to join Pakistan or India. Subsequently, each country occupied part of the state, demarcated by a “line of control.” Riedel suggests “making the line of control a permanent and normal international border.”17 I doubt that this would pacify the Kashmiri militants, who have been struggling for their “national independence.” A better way to begin the search for a resolution of this thorny issue could be to try to persuade India and Pakistan to make the line of control permeable and grant the Kashmiris greater autonomy over their territory.

The administration plans to dramatically increase the volume of aid to Pakistan and focus on the country’s economic development. In the eight years following 9/11, Pakistan received $12 billion in U.S. aid, nearly 90 percent of which went to the military and was intended mainly to be used in “war on terror” operations. Yet today the Talibans’ robust network spans most of Pakistan’s northeast and challenges the Pakistani army, while part of it continues to engage U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Obama advisers blame the dramatic rise of the Pakistani Taliban on the Bush administration’s obsession with military crackdowns on the group. They are trying to win the hearts and minds of Pakistanis in an attempt to erode the Taliban’s public support, simultaneously arming and pushing the military to fight the militants. The administration has introduced measures in Congress to triple the amount of Pakistan aid to $1.5 billion a year for a five-year period, allocating a substantial portion of it to education, infrastructure and other programs for public good.

This substantial aid package would help alleviate some of the hardships afflicting everyday Pakistanis, provided the United States makes sure a good portion of it is used to benefit the lower classes. For this, the aid program should include such efforts as job creation, promotion of small business, and technical and vocational education. Equally important, an effective monitoring mechanism should be put in place to insure the use of the aid for the intended purposes. Studies have shown that in South Asia only about a third of foreign economic assistance reaches the target groups. The rest is siphoned off by bureaucrats and used for unintended projects.

Pursuit of these objectives could assuage some of the grievances the Pakistanis have been nurturing against the United States. It would not do much, however, to defeat the Pakistani Taliban movement. Many Pakistanis criticize the Taliban’s obscurantism and cruelty to those who do not conform to their brand of Islam, but most support their struggle to expel foreign forces from Afghanistan. American aid would not diminish Pakistani public support for the “Afghan jihad.” Neither can military power vanquish Taliban guerrillas while U.S.-NATO troops remain entrenched in Afghanistan. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a steadfast U.S. ally participating in NATO’s Afghan mission, understands this reality. “We are not going to ever defeat this insurgency,” he told CNN and The Wall Street Journal.18 The administration should begin exploring a strategy to wind down the Western military presence in Afghanistan. This would take care of anti-American militancy in Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan.Jon Meacham, “A Conversation with Barack Obama: What He’s Like Now,” Newsweek, May 25, 2009; Helene Cooper and Jeff Zeleny, “Obama Voices Concern on Pakistan and Defends Interrogation Memo Release,” The New York Times, April 30, 2009.

Author’s interview with Sheikh Mujibar Rahman, Dhaka, East Pakistan, March 14, 1970.

Mustafa Malik, “Pakistan: Terror War Bolsters Islamism, Nationhood,” Middle East Policy, Vol. 15, No. 1, Spring 2008, pp. 111-124.

Author’s conversation with Nurul Amin, Dhaka, East Pakistan, February 28, 1970.

Nurul Amin’s forthcoming autobiography, narrated to the author.

Benazir Bhutto, Daughter of Destiny (Simon and Schuster, 1989), p. 95.

Author’s conversation with Kausar Niazi, Islamabad, Pakistan, August 26, 1989.

Michael Burleigh, “Will World War III Start Here?” Daily Mail (London), March 4, 2008, p. 14.

Manzur Ejaz, “Taliban to the Rescue,” Daily Times, Lahore, April 22, 2009.

10 Stephen Philip Cohen, The Idea of Pakistan (Brookings Institution, 2004), p. 1.

11 Author’s interview with Azmat Hayat Khan, Peshawar, Pakistan, October 3, 2007.

12 Author’s interview with Akhter Hameed Khan, Karachi, November 2, 1989.

13 Author’s interviews with tribal youths and a tribal elder at the Mohmand Agency town of Yaka Ghund, October 4, 2007.

14 Lisette B. Poole, “Author Tariq Ali Warns against U.S. Actions in Pakistan,” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2008, pp. 70-71.

15 Cohen, p. 221.

16 Khalid Ashraf, “Drone Attacks Will Crumble Pakistan,” Writers Forum, Islamabad, April 9, 2009.

17 Bruce Riedel, “Pakistan: The Critical Battlefield,” Current History, November 2008, p. 361.

18 Robert Marquand, “Clinton Pushes NATO Allies for United Strategy on Afghanistan,” Christian Science Monitor, March 6, 2009, p. 7.

Mustafa Malik
Mustafa Malik, the host and editor of the blog Community, worked three decades as an American journalist and as a researcher for U.S. think tanks. He wrote continually for major U.S. and overseas newspapers and journals. He also conducted fieldwork in Western Europe and the Middle East on U.S. foreign policy options, "crisis of liberalism" and Islamic movements.

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