Friday, June 07, 2002
I have a very politically and diplomatically incorrect question: assuming it could be achieved without the loss of millions of lives in a nuclear exchange, what would be so terrible about the destruction of Pakistan?
Actually, given that the Europeans, the arbiters of diplomatic correctness in all things, seem to have no problem saying that Israel should be obliterated, perhaps I shouldn't have added the caveat. It's clearly OK now to talk about making and unmaking states. So what would be so terrible, I ask, if Pakistan were dismantled?
The premise on which Pakistan was created was that Muslims cannot be ruled by non-Muslims. It should be obvious that this is a rather problematic premise in today's world, with a large and growing Muslim minority in Europe and America engaged in a global war with Islamic terrorists who seek to expel or murder the infidels who defile the House of Islam. And it makes it rather hard for Pakistan to assert a secular identity a la Turkey. Turkey, after all, has a national identity around which to unify the nation: it is the state of the Turks (as Israel is the state of the Jews, Iran of the Persians, and Germany of the Germans). Pakistan is the state of . . . Muslims who couldn't stand to be ruled by fire-worshipping Hindus.
And it is increasingly a state of chaos. We are told by establishment opinion (that is to say, by the Economist) that were the current Pakistani government to fall, al-Qaeda would take over. Meanwhile, we are told that if the current government cracks down too hard on these terrorists, the government will fall. So we should just tolerate the terrorists as they grow in power, for fear that, were we to actually do something to fight them, this would only be playing into their hands. Meanwhile the current Pakistani government is in up to its eyeballs with al-Qaeda sympathizers and even members of the organization and allied groups. The Taleban, al-Qaedas strongest ally, was a creation of Pakistani military intelligence. So it is not obvious in what sense our enemies are not already in charge in this supposed ally of ours.
Moreover, this is the same story we hear in Saudi Arabia and in the Palestinian Authority: weak governments without the support of their people who are deeply involved in terrorism but who are nonetheless supported by the United States out of fear that the alternative is even worse, thereby giving that very worse alternative essentially limitless leverage over the existing government. Hamas is now set to enter Arafat's government; Saudi Arabia declares its willingness to cozy up to Iraq or Iran if America pushes it too hard to crack down on its own support for terrorism. What do we gain by playing this game?
Would the dismemberment of Pakistan be so bad? (Again, assuming it could be accomplished without a nuclear exchange.) Let's look at the historical record. India won a major war with Pakistan 1971 that resulted in the secession of East Pakistan, now known as Bangladesh. What has been the fate of Bangladesh since then? It's still dirt poor and periodically loses thousands of lives when storms wash away entire villages. But it's a democracy. It's peaceful. Its population control efforts are reasonably successful. How many Muslim countries can claim so much?
The Taleban and al-Qaeda elements have widespread support in the wild west of Pakistan. But this is not where Pakistan's nuclear weapons are stored, and it is not obvious why it would be any harder to subdue this region than it was to subdue Afghanistan. And the dismemberment of Pakistan would allow for India to reconfigure itself on more confederal lines, at least with respect to the border states that have long caused separatist tensions. Why not grant a generous autonomy to a united Punjab, a united Sindh and a united Kashmir in confederation with India, let the Pushtun regions join Afghanistan and leave a rump Baluchistan as a separate state? It's not obvious to me that this would be a bad bargain for any of the peoples involved - or for India, though there are significant risks involved in any constitutional change.
A number of weak states have invested in nuclear weapons as a means of blackmailing the world. Pakistan, North Korea and Iraq are all weak states, likely to fall easily to a foreign invasion, and susceptible to dismemberment or absorption by their neighbors. All have invested in nuclear weapons in order to prevent that occurrence, with the result that instability and danger in these regions has increased with every passing year. If we don't yet have a strategy for dealing with such states, we need to find one - fast. It needs to be clear to weak and repressive states that the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction will make them a target, not ensure their survival. We need to deter acquisition, not only use, of nuclear or biological weapons. If we go to war with Iraq, we'll have proved one test case. Pakistan may be another.