Book Review

04.23.12

David's Book Club: Pakistan, Between Mosque and Military

mosque-military

For years, the leaders of Pakistan have confronted the United States with an agonizing choice:

Either work with the authoritarian, corrupt, and two-faced Pakistani military—or else see the country slide into the control of Islamic militants.

The United States has usually yielded to the first alternative, even after the discovery that the Pakistani military for years shielded Osama bin Laden his evil self.

In his meticulously researched 2005 study of Pakistani politics, Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military, Husain Haqqani warns us that the choice is a false one. The warning comes all the more scorchingly given its source, for Husain Haqqani was until last year Pakistan's ambassador to the United States. He has since been removed from that position as a result of yet another round of the intrigues and power plays that have made Pakistan what it is today.

The analysis in Haqqani's book is thus corroborated by the course of his own official career.

Haqqani's core argument is this:

From the inception of the Pakistani state, Pakistani security policy has been guided by three main ideas:

1) Unremitting mistrust of and hostility to India. 

2) The political use of Islam to unite an ethnically and linguistically divided state.

3) Reliance on the U.S. as a source of military and economic aid. 

You can see the problem here.

Since 9/11, the U.S. has aided Pakistan as an ally against militant political Islam. But militant political Islam is the ideology of the Pakistani state. The U.S. wants Pakistan's help against terrorism. But terrorism has been Pakistan's preferred weapon against India since its defeats in the conventional wars of 1965 and 1971.

Pakistani security doctrine has built tension into the U.S.-Pakistan relationship from the start. To manage those inherent tensions, Pakistan has relied on deception as its most important tool.

A story from Haqqani's book nicely epitomizes the pattern. In the early 1990s, the U.S. became increasingly concerned about Pakistan's support for Islamist terrorism in Kashmir. Haqqani:

During meetings with [the U.S. ambassador Nicholas] Platt and the State Department's coordinator of the office of counterterrorism, Peter Burleigh, Pakistani officials flatly denied any official Pakistani involvement in support of terrorist activities. The [Pakistani intelligence agency] ISI advised civilian officials dealing official Americans to ask for evidence from the Americans of Pakistani activities supporting terrorism. The answers would give the ISI an idea of the means the United States was using for intelligence gathering in Pakistan and would enable it to restructure its effort to evade U.S. detection.

When an exasperated U.S. government threatened to designate Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism:

Prime Minister Sharif presided over a meeting of senior officials .... The army chief, General Asif Nawaz, and the ISI director general, Lieutenant General Javed Nasir, participated. Nasir began by blaming the 'Indo-Zionist lobby' in Washington for the changed U.S. attitude toward Pakistan and insisted that Pakistan demand evidence from the United States confirming its allegations. He argued that the jihad in Kashmir was at a critical stage and could not be disrupted. 'We have been covering our tracks so far and will cover them even better in future ...."

The one option that was never seriously considered back in the early 1990s: to cease sponsoring terrorism. The Prime Minister's conclusion from the meeting:

We have a problem only with the American media and the Congress ... This problem can be resolved by a stronger lobbying effort.

Duplicity likewise covered Pakistan's Afghan policy from the start.

In the 1940s, Pashtun leaders in the British Raj—although Muslim themselves—favored the Hindu-majority Congress Party. When partition came in 1947, the Pashtun demanded the redrawing of the old borders of the Raj so as not to bisect their homeland. Horrified, the authorities of the new country of Pakistan identified Afghanistan as a security threat. Pakistan immediately launched a program of subversion within Afghanistan to neutralize the perceived threat:

Only Afghans convinced of Islamic ideology, and Pakistan's special place the revival of Islam's glory, would transform their country into Pakistan's allies. By the early 1960s, Pakistan's intelligence agencies were encouraging Pakistan's Islamist political groups to pursue a forward policy of seeking ideological allies in Afghanistan.

Islamism in Pakistan reached far beyond the rhetorical and ceremonial:

Civil servants sought promotions by demonstrating their religious observance .... Within the military, the culture of the British Raj was supplemented by a new culture of Quranic study groups and ... evangelism. ... [The] military regime favored Islamist student groups and facilitated student-faculty clashes aimed at purging Pakistani universities of secular professors. Professors were penalized for refusing to accept the official view of Pakistan as an Islamic state, and those not purged preferred to resign. The government also declared the higher sanad - a diploma from Islamic seminaries called madrassas - was equivalent to a university degree. This paved the way for graduates of traditional seminaries to qualify and compete for government jobs.

During the 2000s, Americans sometimes debated whether a civilian government in Pakistan would be more or less helpful than the military regime led by Musharraf. Haqqani insists this is the wrong question. Civilian government in Pakistan, when it occurs, is government in name only: the important decisions are always made by the military. Haqqani quotes an academic study of civil-military relations:

Benazir Bhutto complained in September 1991 that she was denied information about highly sensitive aspects of the country's nuclear program during her first term as prime minister.

Those denials carry force, for Pakistan's civilian governors well know that if they should ever press too hard, the military will simply remove them. Yet the military—for all its monopoly of power—strangely lacks the acumen and competence that should guide power. 

Pakistan's military has lost every war it has ever fought. It has dragged Pakistan into disastrous confrontations short of war, which ended in abject retreat before India's superior power. It regularly misjudges the intentions and capabilities of the United States. And under military hegemony, Pakistan's economic and social clout within South Asia has deteriorated relative to India's. India is a rising state; Pakistan, a failing one.

Haqqani invests great hope that a decision by Pakistan's military to abjure politics may correct these trends. He looks to the United States to influence the military.

Yet these hopes look more forlorn in 2012 than they did in 2005, when they looked forlorn enough. If the Pakistani military cares so little about U.S. views that it would actually shelter Osama bin Laden, it's hard to imagine what the U.S. could do to persuade that military to rethink its role within the state it controls. It's a cliche that Pakistan, like 18th century Prussia, is less an example of a country with an army; much more an army with a country—but it's no less true for being a cliche, and it's no less difficult to discern why that should change.

Likewise, it's sadly difficult to feel confident that Pakistan's political culture would change very much if the army did recede from the scene.

Whatever the views of ordinary Pakistanis may be, it's clear by now that Islamism, ultra-nationalism, and all-purpose paranoia have gripped the urban Pakistani middle class that should offer the most plausible alternative power base to the armed forces. Over the longer term, yes, a more democratic Pakistan might well be a less dangerous and subversive member of the community of nations than military-dominated Pakistan has acted since 1947. But that longer term seems very long indeed. What was true at the beginning remains true now:

Unsure of their fledgling nation's future, the politicians, civil servants, and military officers who led Pakistan in its formative years decided to exacerbate the antagonism between Hindus and Muslims that had led to partition as a means of defining a distinctive identity for Pakistan .... Pakistan's political commitment to an ideological state evolved into a strategic commitment to export jihadist ideology for regional influence.