Pakistan – an International Tumor.

Hardly had the anti-terror operations begun in Mumbai when Pakistani commentators started to bemoan the “Indian-media tendency” of pointing an accusing finger toward Pakistan. They ignore the fact that it is not only an Indian tendency but a global phenomenon and it is based on a dubious track-record of being the epicenter of global jihad (e.g. London, Mumbai, Daniel Pearl….).

It is not for nothing that former Secretary of State Ms. Madeline Albright has called Pakistan an “international migraine” (not just any run-of-the-mill headache). With all due respect to Ms. Albright and her charitable outlook, I would like call it an “International Tumor”.

US$10B (that’s $10,000,000,000) and seven years later, the Taliban is still resurgent and the average Pakistani is still impoverished.  The US , it is clear, was woefully wrong in its approach. But whenever a change in approach or strategy is talked about, that conversation gets arrested by just 2 words: nuclear stockpile.

I don’t know about you – but this sounds rather like a hostage situation or blackmail to me. Consider the recent communications to Dr. Rice where the entire Pakistani establishment warned that in the event India initiated any hostility, Pakistan would have to consider the war on terror a low-priority and divert troops to the east (toward the Indian border).

Pakistan is much too used to getting away with such bluffs and hence repeats them sanctimoniously with religious regularity whenever conditions become adverse. What would happen if we called Pakistan’s bluff?

They would move their troops. Big deal! Those troops have pretty much not been there for most of the last seven years.  The US conducted air-strikes earlier this year precisely because Pakistani presence was meaningless. The US could simply fall back to the premise that the tribal region is theirs to quell and do so with might and vigour (and shall we say efficacy?).

In parallel, India could conduct strikes on terror sites in POK and also Karachi. Of course, this would start a war and of course this would cause blood-shed – but there is blood-shed even without a war. Many people worry that this could cause a nuclear conflagration. My contention is that it is only a bluff. Pakistan will thunder and rage – but it will almost certainly not press the nuclear trigger because that would most assuredly lead to self-destruction (due to Indian reprisals).

Pakistan, we must understand, is really a fiefdom with the Army running the show and the politicians playing bit parts and the people simply paying for all of this. The Pakistani Army is not in the business of serving the people. It is purely about self-survival. It is not likely to do something that assuredly destroys itself.

So Pakistan is not likely to press the nuclear trigger unless its survival is threatened. Targeted strikes in POK do not threaten its survival. It raises its hackles but nothing more. It is similar to the strikes in the tribal region earlier this year.

Frankly, I do not think it will even come to all this. When the threat of concerted US and Indian action becomes credible and real, the Pakistani high-command will buckle. It is at that point that we will see Pakistan take Indian demands for extradition seriously. It is at that point that Pakistan will actually stamp out LeT and JeM (even if it is grudgingly).

The Pakistani establishment is used to creating a stalemate situation by resorting to nuclear blackmail. We need to disabuse them of this notion now. I know some of you might think that this is a dangerous game of chicken but I am going by the experiences of the recent past:

Pakistan had a nuclear stockpile when 9/11 occurred. Did that play into the equation when Gen. Colin Powell made that famous call to the Commando?

Let us analyze a realistic (though fictitious) scenario. Let us suppose that a string of NYC hotels are bombed and 200 people die and several hundred more are injured. Let us presume that we have 1 surviving member of the bomber-squad who, upon interrogation, reveals that this was an operation that was run out of Pakistan. Will we expect the US to take action or be paralyzed that such an action could trigger a nuclear response?

My belief is that the US will take action and we will do it ruthlessly. And the fact that the US will act in that manner will persuade the Pakistani establishment to hand over the accomplices, kith, kin and all of the perpetrators without wasting time on courtesies such as “evidence”. The reason is because the Pakistani military is under no illusions about their survival if it came to a nuclear war. They will get beyond their bluster. They have done that in the past and they will do that in the future.

The nuclear threat is only as frightful as we allow it to be. But it assumes sinister proportions because it provides the perfect cover for “non-state actors” to go about their vile business safe in the assumption that there will be no consequences. This is the reason terror survives to strike yet another day.

Just in case, you think the scenario of bombing NYC hotels is far-fetched… just wait and see. It is only a matter of time before these terrorist or their fellow-travelers around the globe draw inspiration from this “successful operation” and try to achieve greater glory by duplicating it in a high-profile location.

If we don’t stop it now, we will have to spend much more in life and treasure to do it later.

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2 Responses

  1. I have long thought of Pakistan as the stunted, deformed twin born out of the subcontinental partition. Every passing year adds to the sad truth of this image.

    I have also long thought of Islam as a cancer upon the face of the world. Sooner or later, if it is not excised, it is sure to kill us all. In that sense, I rather appreciate the “Pakistan-as-tumor” metaphor. The tumor here is the physical incarnation–and metastasizing agent–of the cancer.

    In other areas, though, my views diverge from yours a bit.

    Re- the nuclear stockpile: You are right that Islamabad would never use nukes in an Indo-Pak war unless it faced an existential question. But what I *could* see is bad elements in the ISI passing their jihadi friends a small nuke or two. What scares me, in other words, isn’t state actors, but non-state actors.

    I am not sanguine, either, about the scenario you draw, although I don’t think it is unrealistic.

    I don’t think the US is prepared to undertake the brutal warfare necessary to neutralize the threat from the NW Frontier Provinces; our army is broken, for now, upon the rocks of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.

    I further believe that the US pressure will–at least behind the scenes, where it counts–be less on the Pakistanis, and more on the Indians. (Just as the US preaches “Israeli restraint” with every Palestinian outrage that occurs.)

    Pressure on Islamabad could also redound to the disadvantage of both Washington and New Delhi. To wit, if Zardari & Co. go around arresting jihadis and sending them to India for justice, the militant groups are sure to take up arms (as they’ve begun to already, really) against the govt in Islamabad. A revolution, culminating in jihadi ascendancy in Pak, would not be a good thing.

    As for the American mainland, you are right. 9/11 was only a matter of time, and other–worse!–things are, too. Actually, I predicted after 9/11 that jihadis would seize American schools and cold-bloodedly murder our children. (Can you imagine how easy it would be for them to seize an elementary school somewhere, and start lopping off little heads?!) Soon after, Beslan (google it) took place. I got the country wrong, but got the phenomenon right on the money.

    The only upside to the next attack–and I pray it will at least be only conventionall–is that it may serve as the Pearl Harbor that jolts America out of its New Isolation.

    Just as McCain would have been uniquely qualified to enact a draft, Obama (he of the Hussein middle name) is uniquely qualified to crack down on the Muslims.

  2. Dave, you said “But what I *could* see is bad elements in the ISI passing their jihadi friends a small nuke or two. “

    What do you think is preventing ISI passing on nukes now? It would be a stretch to imagine that it is a nobility of the soul.

    You are right that the US pressure seems to apply only to India and not Pakistan (similar to Israel). However, India is not as beholden to the US establishment in any tangible terms like financial aid or military sustenance. India has the ability to strike (both in terms of military prowess and international stature) but what it sorely lacks are a pair.

    As I have mentioned in my essay, if the attack were to occur on US soil would the US pause for the same concerns? And if the US does not pause, will Islamabad demure about things like hand-over of terrorists? No. This proves that when the threat of retribution is REAL, Islamabad gets over its sense of protocol rather quickly.

    My contention was that we (India and the US and possibly Israel) bring such a credible threat to their doorstep.

    Yes this will cause heart-ache – but they will get over it just like they got over A.Q Khan, KSM and several others whose names I do not recall now.

    So long as we succumb to nuclear-blackmail, we will always have a poor hand to play with.

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