No apologies should be due for devoting this week’s column to George Perkovich’s 18-page essay published by Carnegie under the title “Stop enabling Pakistan’s dangerous dysfunction”. Perkovich, is well-known in Pakistan for his book “India’s nuclear bomb”. At a time when much of American writing about Pakistan is stuck in a tedious stereotype, his analysis combines forthrightness with empathy; it is notable for its critical insights into Pakistan’s history, its traumas and self-inflicted wounds; the genesis of its present existential crisis; the nature and scope of American assistance; recommendations for straightening out Pakistan-US relations and the perils of over-indulging India, a necessary new strategic partner of the United States. What one misses occasionally is greater candour in mapping the distortions injected into Pakistan’s body politic by day-to-day coercive American interference.
Pakistan’s chequered history is a necessary backdrop to a discussion of how it became a lopsided national security state. Perkovich walks his readers through the 1950s, the India-Pakistan war of 1965, the Bangladesh conflict, the quest for nuclear weapons and Pakistan’s role in defeating the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. He gets his narrative right except when he relies too heavily on the opinions of some of his Pakistani sources. The quote from Hussain Haqqani, about the civil-military complex adapting the ideology of Pakistan to the demonisation of India’s Brahmin Hinduism is only a half-truth; the other half is to be found in the fact that in the early, post-independence years, Indian leaders including Nehru, expected Pakistan to collapse and exerted pressure from the international border; Kashmir and Afghanistan to accelerate this process. The observation made by Pervez Hoodbhoy and Zia Mian about the security establishment exploiting the nostalgia for a time when Muslims ruled India, ignores the fact that the central narrative culminating in the creation of a separate state was not revanchist but rooted in deep-seated secular anxieties of Muslims about the inevitability of the majoritarian principle in a modern state. Again, a major engine of the militarisation of the Pakistani state was the role that the US crafted for it in the Baghdad Pact, the ludicrous SEATO and in the subsequent ‘frontline state’, first against Moscow and then against violent jihadis, the legacy of that crusade. Perkovich describes the empowerment of Pakistan’s “grossly oversized and hyperactive military and intelligence services” as “the unintended but undesirable effect” of the American posture. Unfortunately, most of us recall it as very much an intended consequence.
The most compelling part of the study is the portion addressing the question of what the US and Pakistan should do now. The recommended template is that Washington should “stop enabling the Pakistani security establishment’s dysfunctional dominance of state” and pursue democratisation as “the only constructive alternative”. The one caveat that one has to enter here is that, unfortunately, Pakistan’s political class is no less addicted than the military to the dole-outs from Washington. The relationship is transactional as much because of its incessant demands for this largesse as Washington’s readiness to provide it on conditions that often hurt the interests of Pakistan’s people. The unprecedented paralysis of Pakistan’s political elite and bureaucracy is partly due to exaggerated fears of American displeasure kept at a very high level by visiting American dignitaries and by micro-management by American officials — diplomatic and non-diplomatic — posted to Pakistan. A rough and ready example of it is Islamabad’s prolonged vacillation about the desperately needed Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline.
Perkovich’s emphasis on redesigning American assistance and on new measures such as opening America to enhanced Pakistani imports is a qualitative departure from the standard American analysis. So is his advice that retrenchment of American involvement with the military should be accompanied by an effort not to over-indulge India and to reassure Pakistan that India-US collaboration will not threaten (its) security “ and also that India would not exploit its ongoing role in Afghanistan to challenge Pakistan’s internal stability, including in Balochistan”. Limitations of space do not permit a reference to many other preeminently sensible ideas in the essay. Suffice it to note, it offers a basis for a lighter but durable engagement between Pakistan and the US.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 19th, 2011.