Cut Pakistan Loose






Author : Nitin Rai

As the United States reviews its troubled relationship with its meretricious ally after the killing of Osama bin Laden, a number of thoughtful voices -- including those in the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal -- have argued for Washington to continue aid to Pakistan. Regardless of ev-idence of high duplicity with respect to al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Taliban, and growing anti-Americanism in Pakistani society, the argument goes, giving money to Pakistan is neces-sary: both to buy support for a graceful US withdrawal from Afghanistan, and because nuclear-armed Pakistan is "too big to fail". This is a terrible idea.

The singular reason why US aid has not had the desired effect is because it fails to recognise that there are, in effect, two entities that constitute 'Pakistan': the military-jihadi complex and the pu-tative Pakistani state. The former first came to power on the back of US assistance during the anti-Soviet war in the 1980s and has been in effective control ever since. The latter is little more than a shell entity and is totally dominated by the military-jihadi complex. So weak is the puta-tive Pakistani state that it does not even want to make an attempt to bring to justice the assassins of Benazir Bhutto, its president's own wife. It does not, therefore, have the wherewithal to co-operate with the world's governments in combating international terrorism.

The military-jihadi complex presents a security threat to the international community because it uses terrorism as an instrument of policy, secure in the knowledge that its nuclear arsenal shields it from punishment. The putative Pakistani state is incapable of altering this calculation. Howev-er, there is a chance that it might define its interests in terms of the betterment of its own citizens. So why not bolster this entity such that it can prevail over the military-jihadi complex?

The problem is that the military-jihadi complex is able to corner aid for itself and deflect hard-ship onto the Pakistani state. Economic sanctions, for instance, like those imposed after Islama-bad tested nuclear weapons in May 1998 hurt the average Pakistani more than the average mili-tary officer and the average militant. On the other hand, foreign aid, of which Pakistan received significant amounts after 9/11, has benefited the average Pakistani less than her military and mil-itant counterpart. As long as the military-jihadi complex is in control of Pakistan, this will not change. More aid will only strengthen the very quarters that its givers seek to weaken.

It is not a coincidence that even as the United States has spent $20 billion in overt assistance to Pakistan, there has been both an increase in the size of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and the extent of anti-Americanism in the population. Both act as strategic deterrents: the former is India-focused and does not quite deter the United States, as the bin Laden hunt showed. Widespread anti-Americanism, though, provides a reality check for any Western plan to deploy ground forces to target the military-jihadi complex. The military-jihadi complex has thus reliably insulated it-self from the risk of being toppled by an external intervention.

The world must therefore rely on domestic processes to dismantle the military-jihadi complex. Long used to being bankrolled and bailed out, the Pakistani elite have little incentive to put up an existential struggle against the military-jihadi complex. They are likely to fight harder if they know that there is no bailout package in the offing. Instead of more aid that would only end up in the wrong pockets, the time has come for the United States, China and Saudi Arabia to cut Paki-stan loose. So far the onus of preventing really bad outcomes -- graphically put forth as a jihadi takeover of a nuclear-armed state -- has been on the international community. It makes a lot more sense to shift this squarely onto the backs of the Pakistani elite, who must come to realise that it is entirely up to them to put their own house in order.

The current moment provides an opportunity for the international community to get out of the way of Pakistan's political transformation. A number of incidents in recent weeks -- from the killing of bin Laden in Abbottabad, to the militant raid on a Pakistani naval base to the gruesome murder of an investigative journalist -- have begun to turn public opinion against the army. If Washington's actions end up shoring up the credibility of the military establishment, this process will stop and the old dynamic will resume.

Needless to say, turning off aid flows to Pakistan comes with risks. The military-jihadi complex can play the United States, China and Saudi Arabia against each other. However, since neither Beijing nor Riyadh would want to become the sole guardians of a delinquent ward, it is possible that they would have in interest in cooperating with Washington.

More importantly, what if tough love actually brings about the much feared nightmare, putting a jihadi regime in control of nuclear weapons? Would it change the state of affairs to such an ex-tent that the rest of the world will be unable to manage the consequences? Or, would the end of double games on all sides inject clarity in the minds of statesmen and a convergence of interests among the regional powers?

What makes the worst case outcome unlikely is that it is not in the interests of the Pakistani elite. All the more reason then, for the world to allow Pakistanis to decide what they want to do about their state. (Mr. Pai is a founder of the Takshashila Institution and editor of Pragati—The Indian National Interest Review. The edited version of this article first appeared in the Wall Street Journal on June 9, 2011)
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