Nothing can be more interesting than trying to piece together the six plus decades of the United States’ involvement in South Asia, especially as it pertained to Pakistan. There is nothing fanciful in the fashion in which successive American administrations since the end of the Second World War tried to deal with Pakistan starting off with that country’s importance in the context of the Cold War. But down the line, Daniel Markey pieces together the different elements that have been merely cobbled together not with any degree of finesse or particular rationale, but only that it made sense to Washington at that point of time.
A first rate contribution to the existing literature on South Asia and United States-Pakistan Relations, Markey explains why the prospect of bilateral relations getting better grows bleaker by the day. All said and done, the author points to an even more disturbing question: Why Islamabad cannot and should not be written off. In fact even to India with all the issues of terrorism that Pakistan has bloodied its hands on, the disintegration of the country will not be in the best interests of either India or the surrounding neighbourhood.
“Pakistan is like a black hole for American aid. Our tax dollars go in. Our diplomats go in, sometimes. Our aid professionals go in, sometimes. Our hopes go in. Our prayers go in. Nothing good ever comes out”, Markey quotes Congressman Gary Ackerman. If nothing can be more true of this statement of the law maker, then how come successive administrations in Washington could not rein in their so-called ally? Literally hundreds of billions of dollars have gone down under different categories but nothing ever has come out productively. In fact Markey points to a persistent trend within Pakistan among the different groups: anti-Americanism but of varying degrees, from venom and vitriol to dismay that Washington can actually be cuddling up to dictators at the expense of democracy.
It is not as though policy makers in the United States did not know what was happening inside Pakistan or precisely what the generals and Intelligence Services were up to. The stunning analysis at different points in the book leaves the reader with only one conclusion: it was convenient for Washington to look the other way or pretend not to know. For example for a country that came very close to be branded as a sponsor of terrorism during the Clinton administration, the Bush administration leaned so hard on Islamabad in the war on terror but not leaning hard enough when it came to Pakistan housing terrorists that had an anti-India orientation. Washington knew that Pakistan was — and still is to a large extent — the epicentre of global terrorism, but is unwilling to drop the sledge hammer as it continues to see Islamabad as a “partner” in the fight against terror.
Markey’s insightful analysis throws light on a number of issues that pertain to not only the United States and Pakistan but the region of South Asia as a whole. A state with dubious credentials, Pakistan has managed to mesmerise the Washington administration on not only the terrorism front, but constantly reminding the global audience of another dangerous element: nuclear weapons and the nightmarish scenario of all hell breaking loose should something happen. “If Pakistan had a firmly entrenched, moderate and democratic government in control of its nuclear programme, perhaps some of these fears would be mitigated … A country that is riven by a range of internal conflicts, suffers from ever greater bouts of internal violence, and could well adopt a far more hostile anti-Americanism as its official posture is hardly the sort of place where Washington would prefer to see a significant and growing nuclear arsenal”, Markey writes.
The book methodically outlines the drift in the bilateral relationship but at the same time pinpoints the time frame successive administrations in Washington have collared Islamabad from doing things the way it would not have otherwise. If there was the drift in dealing with the Musharraf regime prior to 9/11, the Bush administration leaned so hard with a barrage of threats that the General had reluctantly to go along with. At the same time Islamabad used 9/11 to show off their indispensability and in the process free up funding and others put in cold storage. The beauty of it all was that Washington poured in additional funding in the pipeline knowing full well that these monies could be — or was indeed — used or diverted for anti-India terror activities. Markey argues that there are essentially three strategic interests for the United States vis-à-vis Pakistan — terrorism, nuclear weapons and the emergent threat of regional stability — and makes the point that Washington should take regional stability serious especially as it pertains to China and India. And with the three strategic interests come three alternatives: defensive insulation from Pakistan based threats; a military-first approach to address security concerns and a comprehensive cooperation that paves the way for a more stable Pakistan. But where actually is the future heading in terms of bilateral relationship? Would future administrations in Washington and Islamabad take all the public exhortations with a pinch of salt or continue on this lies-and-illusions approach that seems to have made its mark in the two-way relationship. From the perspective of Islamabad there is this legitimate grievance of being used whenever convenient or in the sense of “abandonment” when the job is done.
And from the point of view of the United States, it still will be reluctant to make a clean call on Pakistan — many in that country know that Osama bin Laden was not hunted down in the caves of Tora Bora in Afghanistan but from a place called Abbottabad in Pakistan under the very nose of the ISI! So much for the commitment and noise on the war on terror.