Quo Vadis, Pakistan

Pakistan matters critically to India. One could dismiss it as a failed tin-pot dictatorship and is of little consequence with respect to India’s development and economic growth. But it is just because it is a tin-pot dictatorship that it matters. Even more precisely, it has been made into a tin-pot dictatorship so that it can serve as a lever to indirectly control India. I deliberately say “made” because it is a tool used by the West and therefore fashioned by and kept in “good” shape to serve the purpose. Principally, it is the US which wields Pakistan most adroitly.

One cannot escape the fact that the US is the world’s reigning hegemon. Nothing much of any significance happens around the world is not in some way affected by what the US does. No large nation or a confederation of nations is immune from US influence to some extent, whether it be India, China, or the EU. But when it comes to small impoverished dependent nations, the US is the ultimate dispenser of their destinies. Pakistan is what the US wants it to be, and Pakistan does what the US wants it to do.

For most of its existence as a nation, Pakistan has been a dictatorship. It could not be a democracy because India is a democracy (for whatever it is worth.) Here’s what I mean. India is a large country and for historical and cultural reasons, it took the path of being a democracy. Large democracies are hard for foreign powers to control — unless of course foreign powers are somehow able to install their own agents at the highest levels of political power. Although there have been reports of some Indian leaders being CIA agents, for the large part the Indian leaders are homegrown and are not traitors. Indian leaders may be misguided and ignorant but they are not traitors. Exhibit A in this context is Mr Jawahar Lal Nehru.

Nehru’s ignorance and misapprehension of the world actually plays a very significant role in the story that I am telling. At the time of India’s political independence from colonial rule, Nehru decided that India must be non-aligned. That was a silly idea to begin with but in an amazing display of doublethink aligned India with the USSR. The USSR was militarily powerful but was a socialist state doomed to fail as socialism eventually does. The US was clearly miffed that India was not going to be its client state and being a democracy could not be directly controlled. Pakistan provided the required indirect control that the US sought over India. Not just the US, but China also recognized the utility of Pakistan as an instrument for torturing India.

It is interesting to imagine how it would have turned out if Nehru had not being mesmerized by socialism and non-alignment, and had instead aligned India with the Western powers and market economics. Perhaps India could have been a developed economy. But let’s leave that counterfactual aside for the moment.

Even a small democratic country is hard to control — whether externally or internally — because the democratic political process is sluggish and sticky. Dictatorships, in contrast, are quick in their ability to implement dictates from up on high. Pakistan therefore had to be a dictatorship. As it happened, the military was clearly able and willing to step up to the plate and dictate. The circumstances were right. Culturally, Pakistan was (and still is) a feudal society. The top brass in the military have feudal backgrounds and took easily to the role of controlling the serfs. As long as the military was powerful, the country was under control. Now, it does not require a very powerful military to control a very poor population. Western control could still be imposed through a cooperative dictator with a military armed with rifles and bazookas. What was really needed though was a military powerful enough to pose a challenge to India’s military.

So here’s the story. The US could not have India as an allay because Nehru decided the USSR was the one to follow. The US therefore could not allow India to become developed and powerful. So it needed Pakistan to be the instrument to use against India. Therefore Pakistan had to be dictatorship. The Pakistani military obliged and for its rewards, not only does it rule the country, but it also gets to play with very powerful weapons that the US gives away as aid. Every time Pakistani army is at the brink of defeat in one of its declared 1000-year jihads against India, the US quickly intervenes and saves the Pakistani military butt. Since Sept 11, 2001, the US has given $10 billion or so as aid (all but one billion of which was for weapons.) All that military aid is clearly not meant for use against the Taliban (which are all Pakistan’s children raised through US aid in the first place.) India is the only logical target of the weapons that the Pakistani military acquires.

Based on that model, let me see what I believe is going to happen. Musharraf seems to be losing control. Will he leave? Yes, if the US can find a replacement for him; no, otherwise. The US is thinking. Here’s the NY Times (Nov 15th):

In meetings on Wednesday, officials at the White House, State Department and the Pentagon huddled to decide what message Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte would deliver to General Musharraf — and perhaps more important, to Pakistan’s generals — when he arrives in Islamabad on Friday.

Administration officials say they still hope that Mr. Negroponte can salvage the fractured arranged marriage between General Musharraf and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. But in Pakistan, foreign diplomats and aides to both leaders said the chances of a deal between the leaders were evaporating 11 days after General Musharraf declared de facto martial law.

If Negroponte finds a nice pliant military general to replace Musharraf, Musharraf is out. There are other combinations too. If Bhutto and Musharraf as a team are willing to take orders from the US (as Musharraf has done so far, and presumably Bhutto and Sharif did during their tenure), then Musharraf will continue as president till the sham elections in January. Currently he has signaled to his US bosses that he is willing to continue to dance to their tunes by claiming that he will step down as the military chief by December.

The problem is that Musharraf is no longer the one powerful person he was earlier. It is always good to have to deal with one dictator. It gets messy when you have to deal with a coalition of less powerful persons. Still, what is the US to do? It can club together a team consisting of Musharraf, a politician (Bhutto), and one general and see that they are all on the same page in their oath of allegiance to the US. To the common people of Pakistan, there are three A’s that matter: America, Army, and Allah. To the rulers of Pakistan, only one A matters.

America matters to Pakistan because the very existence of Pakistan has been entirely dependent on America. Without the billions in military aid, Pakistan would never have dared to go on its military misadventures against India. Its internal strife would have torn it into smaller states by now. Without the US’s tacit acquiescence, Pakistan would have never been able to acquire nuclear bomb-making technology. Pakistan is the dog that barks courageously at the shackled elephant. It cannot continue its proxy way against India in Kashmir without US support. If the US wanted, it could over a 3-minute call from Washington DC to Islamabad end Pakistan’s involvement in Kashmir. But that is not what the US wants. The US wants that India continue to spend obscene amounts on weapons. It ensure that by arming Pakistan for free. (See my piece “Dollar Auctions and Deadly Games.”)

I am a pacifist. I don’t like violence and dislike all ideologies that are violent and that promote their ideology through death and destruction. Power that flows out of the barrel of a gun is awesome to behold but it is contemptible and inhuman. The more military power the US projects around the world, the more reasonable people hold it in contempt. My love for the US is only second to my love for India. But I have intense dislike for its foreign policies and what that foreign policy does to the poor and the wretched of the world.

I have written before about what the world owes to the US. The US can really be the greatest force for good in the world. But it isn’t. I think it isn’t because it is controlled by the logic of war and the military-industrial complex that controls power in the US. It could invent great things that could make humanity prosper and live decent lives all across the world. But instead, it spends $2 trillion (a number beyond mortal conception) on a needless war in Iraq. Just see this graph — the Cost of War — for getting a perspective on how much that is and what it spends on other things.

In the end, what happens in Pakistan is of vital interest to India. It will never become so destabilized so as to entirely collapse as a state; but it will never actually be anything other than a dictatorship constantly being propped up by the US because that is what the US wants it to be. The names of the generals will change but not the tune to which they dance.

[See also: The Dollar Auction Continues.]

Author: Atanu Dey


7 thoughts on “Quo Vadis, Pakistan”

  1. Atanu,

    Excellent post—and I say this not because I agree with everything you write, but because it’s internally consistent and allows one to extrapolate. And I also agree with the primary conclusion: that America will call the shots.

    The problem I have with your thesis is at the beginning. While I hold no brief for Nehru’s socialism nor the naivete underpinning his foreign policy there are two factors you must consider:

    (a) John Foster Dulles and his early with-us-or-against-us logic. Quite obviously a newly independent India was unlikely to sign-up to dance to another pipers’ tunes. Then also the bit you mentioned about democracies not being too biddable. You must read the accounts of Chester Bowles, the first ambassador, and the cold warriors at the State department. The United States itself cannot escape responsibility for the estrangement.

    (b) That non-alignment was a realist response in the beginning. In the early days it was really non-alignment. But things began to go downhill when non-alignment became unsustainable—first for other smaller, non-aligned states, and then for India itself. That Nehruvian naivete and Krishna Menon’s madness was driving day-to-day affairs didn’t help; for non-alignment, by definition is a tightrope. In time ossification and dogmatism converted the policy for the time to a policy for all times, and India began to embrace non-alignment as a foreign policy religion.

    So, the point is not so much that US preference for Pakistan was driven by India’s closeness to the Soviets but because it was inevitable.

    The geopolitics of the time required a Pakistan to be created to act as a counterbalance to India. From the acts of British officers in what is now Pakistan occupied Kashmir and Nagaland to Britain’s conduct over the Kashmir issue during and after it was taken to the UN suggests that they wanted a Pakistan that could hold up their interests in the region (especially after India would break into several smaller states).

    Such is the tragedy of realpolitik that this outcome was inevitable given (a) the creation of Pakistan (b) India’s commitment to an independent foreign policy. Cold Warriors could not accept a neutral player without hedging against the neutral turning hostile (by creating counter weights). But in many ways, cold warriors were justified in doing what they did. The risk of a large, geopolitically important state like India falling into the Communist sphere could not be dismissed—not least after Nehru had chosen a socialist path for the economy.


  2. WRT pakistan what has india done about the situation.
    Pranab M. was in US recently but apart from seranading the great Indira and Rajiv what has he been able to accomplish?
    US offered India a deal that allows it to buy nuclear fuel and Indians themselves pushed it aside in the near $100/barrel oil prices all the while running Indian nuclear reactors at quater the capacity.
    Pakistan is great at securing its goal with US despite having been involved with 2 WTC bombings and many other anti-US activity.
    Who is to blame but the Indians for not having good relations with US?

    And Hey Atanu arent you a US citizen?


  3. Hi, I think the beginning of your article assumes that India was important enough for US to interfere with Pakistan. Might be a totally stupid question but I was wondering could you explain why?

    Or am I misreading something?



  4. India was — and is — important to the US simply because India is a large country. So, yes, India does matter. That is why the US needs a lever to control India. Pakistan serves that purpose.


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