Point/Counterpoint: The Case against US Intervention in Pakistan
by Peter Remsen on Friday, November 22nd, 2013
(The counterpoint to this article can be seen here.)
The centuries since the American Revolution, when America fought for its own sovereignty against the British Empire, have seen a strange role reversal: many times, the United States finds itself the country violating the sovereignty of other nations. For example, on May 2nd 2011, a group of Special Forces operators, an elite squadron of Navy SEALS, conducted a raid in which they executed Osama bin Laden, the former al-Qaeda leader. While taken as a great success for our country, the raid infringed upon the sovereign territory of Pakistan, where bin Laden had been hiding. To understand the US-Pakistan relationship and the aid we now give them, one must understand the background.
The American decapitation of al-Qaeda and the American soldiers physically deployed on Pakistani soil would be viewed as an invasion if the two countries were not allied; as a result, it merely caused a diplomatic nightmare, resulting in the cessation of American foreign aid to Pakistan. After two years, despite escalating tensions due to continued use of airstrikes on Pakistani soil, the US once more released $1.6 billion of foreign aid to Pakistan. This foreign aid is a classic example of American over-involvement in turbulent regions, yet throwing money at Pakistan’s government may buy only loyalty. US foreign aid to Pakistan and the demands America sends with it contradict Pakistan’s national interests.
Pakistan is far more important to the US in terms of strategic interests than for its trade value, so a careful political approach is necessary. Pakistan has a large population, a volatile relationship with its neighbors, especially India, and a good relationship with China. It is internationally ranked 38th in defense spending. It has a GDP purchasing power parity of $523.9 billion, the 28th highest in the world. It also has nuclear weapons. Make no mistake: Pakistan is no backwater puppet state.
Ethnic tensions have always run strong in an area which was originally contained entirely within India. Along with the India-Pakistan split in 1947 came increased stress levels surrounding political and religious boundaries, so the United States has to respect those regional complexities, because establishing too tight of a relationship with Pakistan may result in the loss of other allies in the area. When the British Empire created the Pakistani borders, it cut in half the area inhabited by the Pashtuns, an extremely large ethnic minority that occupies northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan, an notorious stronghold of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
In the 1980s, America and its allies launched a campaign to expel the Soviet Union from Afghanistan and restore the balance of power by covertly sending all of its funds and weapons through an allied Pakistan. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, all support to the rebels in Afghanistan stopped, and the region effectively left the American radar until September 9th 2001, when an al-Qaeda terror attack left America reeling with shock. The US promptly invaded Afghanistan and shattered the Taliban regime.
However, many Taliban refugees fled to their brethren in Pakistan and others fled to remote corners of Afghanistan, bringing with them extremism, money, and lots of weapons. Thus, the Pakistani Taliban was born, while the one in Afghanistan still continued its operations in Pashtun Afghanistan.
Pakistan is in a very dangerous diplomatic situation. Since its creation from India in 1947 as a refuge for Indian Muslims, the state has been on very poor terms with its former compatriots. The United States would need to tread carefully in order to avoid alienating India over political issues, because jeopardizing US-India relations might just be worse than losing an ally next to Afghanistan.
This spirit of self-preservation brings us to the modern day. In Pakistan, local Taliban have assaulted military installations and killed hundreds of civilians. In Afghanistan, local Taliban have assaulted NATO bases and killed dozens of soldiers and civilians. Pakistan is seeing its fears come to fruition: President Karzai of Afghanistan recently invited the Indian Prime Minister to Afghanistan in a diplomatic mission. It must stop the terrorists within their borders, but a direct attack on the Taliban would risk alienating the thirty million-odd Pakistani Pashtuns who favor the Taliban.The United States will have to weigh the costs of galvanizing a large portion of the Pakistani population. Funding any venture for a government dominated by its military may engender a conflict where one is unwanted.
The US’ characteristic blundering has made this complex situation only worse. America has given Pakistan $1.6 billion of aid with the demands that they cease to support the Taliban. However, the US has failed to specify which one. Should Pakistan attack both the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban at the cost of immediate instability and possible civil war? A civil war would result in the destabilization of the Middle East. In some ways, the United States would be better off shunning any involvement through financial aid.
The US relationship with Pakistan is mutually needy. We need them, and they need us. Pakistan is on the proverbial edge, and American involvement may lead to yet another coup in a country notorious for rapid and violent political turnover. We’ve already jumped off of the deep end of the pool through our involvement in Middle Eastern affairs, so if history is any indication of the risks present in American involvement in Pakistan, American aid to Pakistan could have far-reaching geopolitical ramifications.
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