Wednesday, May 15, 2002
A good reminder from a Subcontinental-American (is that proper) blogger, linked via Instapundit, of the pessimistic case on Pakistan. Before 9/11, arguments along these lines were commonplace, though the more interesting debate was about the future of India, on the assumption that Pakistan was unquestionably a basket case. We've heard a lot less of that since Musharraf cast his lot publicly with the U.S. I think casting the whole question in personal terms is foolish: we have no hard evidence yet that Musharraf is anything but an aparatchik looking to save his skin. To me eyes, he hasn't shown real signs yet of being an Attaturk or a Saddam. The real problem is Pakistan itself. The country is by definition Islamic; if there didn't need to be a specifically Muslim state in the subcontinent, why was Pakistan created? And what is a Muslim state if not an Islamic state? The country's resolute inability to make sense of itself, combined with the usual fiascos of political repression, economic mal-development and rampant corruption that plague that part of the world, have left the country in the sorry state it's in today. Compare it, for example, with Bangladesh which, since the 1971 war that separated it from Pakistan, has had a moderately happy history. It has a relatively benign and democratic government, it's gotten its previously terrifying rate of population growth under control, and it has peaceful if dependent relations with India. It's still horribly poor and thousands of people get washed away whenever a typhoon roars in, but on the whole who wouldn't rather be in Dhaka than in Islamabad?
I don't know what to do about Pakistan. I'm sure they're harboring Osama bin Laden as we speak, and that the ISI knows exactly where he is. Whether Musharraf has delusions of being the Pakistani Attaturk or the Pakistani Saladin, he's got limited freedom of movement given the power of the ISI, the military, and the bureaucracy. He's a weak thug, and I'm not sure he's our thug. Relying on him seems foolish, but trying to topple him seems silly; the alternative is surely an ideologically Islamic dictatorship overtly committed to war with India and the United States.
I know I'm a broken record on the subject, but I really do think a precondition to having a strong foreign policy in Central Asia is a revolution in Iran. That would discredit the Islamic revolution, provide us with a crucial ally in the region that would potentially replace both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and clarify our Central Asian diplomacy enormously. Encircled by Russia, Iran and India all allied with one another, Pakistan would be in no position to play the spoiler, whatever the ISI wants.