Last week, I applied the metaphor of a Native American story depicting the killing of wolves to Pakistan’s current state of paranoia toward foreign intervention. The story is that Natives would kill wolves by placing a drop of blood on a blade and embedding the blade into ice. The wolf would come by, taste the blood, begin licking the blade thinking that he was eating when, in fact, he was cutting himself and drinking his own blood.
This metaphor also applies to Pakistan’s schizophrenic dependence on foreign aid. Throughout Pakistan’s history, but especially now, the nation’s leaders lick at the “blade” of dependence placed in the “ice” by foreign powers who pursue their interests at the cost of the nation’s own domestic long-term goals, causing it to “bleed.”
For its part, the U.S. is much like the Native in the story because its actions are based on a survival instinct that humans who lived off the land were affected by. The increasing involvement of the U.S. in foreign affairs after World War II created scenarios where “blades” were set in ice to maintain the survival of U.S. supremacy abroad.
Pakistan played a special role in U.S. strategy during the Cold War, which was the moment that the “wolf tasted the blood on the blade.” Leading up to the Indo-Pak War of 1971, President Nixon saw India’s close relationship with the Soviets as a threat to American interests in South Asia, and thus, supplied Pakistan with military arms to fight India. While the war was lost, the influx of foreign involvement set the precedent for rulers to look to America as a parent-power providing aid and military assistance in times of conflict.
During the Afghan-Soviet War, the U.S. viewed the Soviets rolling into Kabul as a direct threat to U.S. power and thus gave hundreds of millions in military aid to General Zia. The U.S. encouraged Zia to indoctrinate his people with a militant religious ideology to produce fighters for the war in Afghanistan, and saw his piety as an asset. While a Soviet Afghanistan was itself a threat to Pakistan’s security, much of Pakistan’s active resistance to the Soviets was done to illicit more funds from the U.S.
Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa stated in a talk at Brookings, that Pakistan’s governance rents itself out to super-powers to play out their interests in exchange for compensation through aid and military assistance. The Afghan-Soviet war is one example of this state-for-rent mentality. While a certain segment of the population redirects these funds to their personal bank accounts, that is the topic of my article for next week.
Dr. Siddiqa asserts that Pakistan has only one product it can create and reproduce- insecurity. This explains the on-again-off-again relationship between the extremists and the ISI, who have seen the insurgent groups both as a threat and asset to illicit more support from the U.S. Simply put, if there is no threat of extremism in Pakistan, the U.S. will no longer provide aid to the struggling nation.
A prime example of this self-defeating governing ideal is the Army’s relationship with the Haqqani network, which many say is merely Pakistan hedging its bets for when the U.S. exits Afghanistan. If one looks to the overall pattern of Pakistan’s decision-making, the Haqqani group is being used as bargaining leverage in aid negotiations with the U.S. However, as evidenced by the many extremist groups now attacking Pakistan’s intelligence agency itself, it is clear that controlling lawless insurgent groups is an impossible business.
The intelligence services, Army, and democratic institutions have engrained a paranoia toward foreign intervention in the population, which manifests in a conspiracy theory culture that sees America behind every domestic catastrophe. This attitude is paradoxically matched with Pakistan’s propensity to do the bidding of foreign powers in exchange for aid. Collectively, these two elements allow for the Establishment to survive off foreign aid without having to invest in the population who has been trained to be more concerned with the C.I.A. than with the failures of the education system or the growing income disparity.
On the American end, the Obama administration seems to have found error in the “blade embedding” techniques of the Cold War Era. The 1980’s U.S.-funding of mujahiddin who now carry on brutal attacks against American interests serves as an example for future U.S. policy-makers. While the current administration espouses a new strategy of long-term state-strengthening goals in Afghanistan and Pakistan, one should remember that the “Native” will use the blade again when his survival is at risk.
It is up to the leadership of Pakistan to realize that they are in fact licking a blade and choking on their own blood by continuing to center their policies around foreign aid. The U.S. doled out money to Pakistan to foster the same religious ideology and identity which enhanced the rise of militant extremism that now threatens the daily life of Pakistani’s from Lahore to Quetta. Pakistan’s leadership must introspectively realize that by appeasing the short-term goals of the U.S., the establishment has historically sold out Pakistan’s long-term interests to become a modernized stable state with an effective social service apparatus. Foreign aid is important for poor nations, but becomes a “blade in the ice” when it becomes the central obsession for the state.
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