The U.S.-Pakistan relationship is facing a tumultuous period after the discovery of Osama Bin Laden near Islamabad, as allegations have been lodged that the ISI was providing bin Laden protection. This has prompted the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations committee to hold hearings on Pakistan, and possibly reconsider distributing civilian aid to punish the state for its reticent support of terrorists. However, such debate brings to light a mistaken assumption on the part of U.S.policy-makers: that the civilian government controls the nation’s foreign policy, and deserves punishment for the bin Laden incident.
TheU.S.cannot make the grave mistake of treating Pakistan as a singular unit, if it wishes to diminish the capability of international extremism growing within the country. The military in Pakistanexercises absolute power over foreign affairs and national security, without the advice or consent of the civilian government. This has led to the army being able to secretively engage in a dangerous double-game of accepting U.S. military aid with one hand and harboring extremists with the other. If the U.S. cuts off both its civilian and military aid toPakistan, this will play directly into the hands of the military as it grapples control from the civilian government. In fact, the U.S.must now increase its support for the civilian government, to challenge the illegitimate control of power by the Army, and pursue the interests of both nations openly and progressively.
Before delving into the specifics of Pakistan, Americans must try to imagine what a similar structure of power exclusively held by military-men would result in at home. If the American army operated likePakistan’s, there would be no oversight or power for the President or Congress to determine the nation’s foreign policy. The CIA would be able to secretively set foreign policy, engage in wars with other countries, and fund “fighters” that serve American interests abroad. This would tear at the very fabric of the constitutional democracy established in the U.S., where the power to make such significant decisions emanates solely from those who were chosen to lead by the people.
In many ways the U.S.civilian government has capitulated to military interests over time. However, the reigns of power still remain in the hands of elected officials. The Congress holds the ultimate “power of the purse”, where its members determine both the scope and budget of the armed services and can cut those funds at their own will. In the executive branch, the CIA or military might be asked to advise the President when setting a national or international security strategy, the opposite is true inPakistan.
The military directly dictates the policies relating to foreign relations and the civilians are told to follow suit in some instances. Other times, the civilians are left completely out of the loop and no information is given to them, which is especially true for the ISI’s support for some extremist groups. While General Kayani has often tried to give the impression in pubic statements that the civilian government has a place in security and foreign policy matters, his actions have made it abundantly clear that the military has no intention of relinquishing any of its powers.
There are several reasons that explain the military’s ability to command civilian governments throughout the nation’s history, but above all those who control money control the power. And since American policy-makers have until recently focused almost exclusively on assisting and developing relations with the military, the army has enjoyed billions of dollars in aid while the civilian governments have struggled financially.
The unequal distribution of aid by the U.S.could have been beneficial if the Pakistani army shared the same goals and visions as the U.S., but they clearly do not. The top brass has always believed that theU.S.and its coalition partners would fail inAfghanistan, and that a power vacuum will form after theU.S.exits the nation to be filled the Taliban and its affiliates. This scenario explains why the ISI may have been providing a safe house to the most wanted terrorist in the world, bin Laden, and doing less than two hours away from the nation’s capital.
The Pakistani military does not wish to achieve a democratic or free Afghanistan. What is far more important is that the regime be Pakistan-friendly. Thus, the Army will continue to hedge its bets by providing protection to the very Taliban commanders who plan attacks onU.S.interests and hope to reclaim control ofAfghanistanone day.
The more toxic aspect to the Pakistani military is not in its double-crossing of its partners but their ability to control public rhetoric and opinion. From the time of General Zia onwards, the public has been indoctrinated by the military, through schools and media, to support their extremist-sponsoring policy. This has created the rampant anti-Americanism that denies progress in the nation and hinders the ability of the U.S. to eradicate the region of international extremists.
Further, the very nature of having an army and its spy organization run the affairs of a nation is at odds with a democratic order due to its secretive nature. Because the public is not able to access information to judge the validity of the army’s actions and policies, the nation has erupted in a conspiracy- theory culture. This frenzy of theories has been fed by the army as a means to distract the public from realizing that the army was playing with fire by allowing the monsters of extremism to roam the lands freely.
In examining the future of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, President Obama and members of Congress should reflect on the words of Dwight Eisenhower, who warned the American public of the dangers of allowing the military to control the nation’s policies. The nightmare of President Eisenhower has come true inPakistan, with the military unitarily leading the nation and the peoples’ psyche towards accommodating hateful religious extremism. Thus, instead of “calling the whole thing off” inPakistan, theU.S.would be well served in realizing this as a momentous opportunity to empower the civilian government to regain its legitimate power from the military. This would make the security and foreign policy-making of the nation more transparent, and deny the ability of military men to create secret deals with terrorists that can lead to leaving the country, as it is today, in a state of acute international embarrassment.