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Ever since the US occupation of Afghanistan almost ten years ago, two illusory fictions, common in many nuclear families, have dominated the discussion on AmPak relations. The first is that neither side is fully aware of what the other is doing; the second that a total breakdown of the relationship is imminent.
As long as the Pentagon bankrolls the Pakistan Army to fight its wars and NATO troops remain in Afghanistan there will be quarrels, charges of infidelity, tantrums, a reduction in the household allowance, taking away of toys like night-vision goggles, perhaps even a short separation, but a divorce? Never. The cash/arms nexus is crucial to this most recent phase of the AmPak relationship. In return for it, as Wikileaks revealed, Washington defines, interprets and implements the rules of the marriage. It drones the country, it violates its sovereignty, its agents kill citizens on public highways, etc. International law is arbitrary and Pakistan’s response was suitably mild: the expulsion of 100 US Army special trainers.
It is in this context that the threat to reduce the military aid by $800 million dollars (a quarter of the total annual payment) will hurt, but not too much. General Kayani, the military chief whose term of office was renewed only recently and, no doubt, with Pentagon approval, has been contemptuous of the cuts in aid. Why not give the same amount for civilian purposes he wondered aloud, knowing fell well that any money on this scale given to the Zardari government would end up abroad. Figures released by Transparency International claim an increase in corruption from Rs 195 billion in 2009, to Rs223 billion last year, but these are an obvious understatement since most of the corrupt deals are conducted without paperwork and many involve the accumulation of valuable property by ruling politicians at knock-down prices.
Cronyism and protection rackets have made Karachi, the country’s largest city, a war-zone with rival gangs affiliated to rival political groups (including the ruling party and its sometime-allies, sometimes-enemies) virtually ungovernable. More people died in Karachi last year than in Waziristan or as a result of Afghan war-linked suicide terrorism. The social fabric of the country is being torn apart and an implosion is inevitable.
The AmPak marriage goes back to the Fifties of the last century, but was given an enormous boost during the Second Afghan War (1979-89) when the Soviet Union occupied the country. The Pakistan Army became a conduit for Western support to the mujahedeen. This was the period when the ISI expanded beyond its wildest dreams and, acquired a relative autonomy by dealing directly with the United States and the mujahideen. from its parent That is when every single group currently fighting AmPak was created to the hosannas of Western government and their media networks.
The third Afghan War (2011—) has not been a happy experience for either side. The Pakistan Army was compelled after 9/11 to roll back its only military triumph: the capture of Kabul via and with the Taliban guerrillas it had trained. The links created over twenty years were less easily broken. It is much easier for powerful Empires—laws unto themselves— to execute a 180 degree turn than for the vassal state. A few of us have been arguing that the more pressure put on the Pakistan Army the greater the chances of internal combustion.
That there is real tension between large chunks of the Pakistan Army and the United States is indisputable. This has existed ever since the Pentagon called on its Pakistani friends to clear out the AfPak border zone of ‘militants and terrorists’ and came to a head with the Abbottabad incident and the video-recorded execution of Bin Laden by the Navy Seals. While many scooter-rickshaw cabbies put up signs reading: “Shhh. Don’t blow your horn today. Our Army is asleep’ there was a stormy meeting of Corp Commanders at which younger Generals reported that the High Command was getting isolated within the Army.
If the US goes hunting again to target and kill more people in the country, tensions could reach breaking point. The fact that the command structures in the Pakistan Army have held firm over the years should not be taken as a permanent guarantee. A quick NATO exit from Afghanistan is the only basis to stabilise Pakistan.
Tariq Ali is the author of The Duel: Pakistan on the Flightpath of American Power.