It is rare in the annals of history for countries purportedly allied with each other also to be at war against each other. The alliance between the US and its Western allies with the Soviet Union during the Second World War (WWII) was one such instance. The US-Pakistan cooperation in the so-called war against terror is another example. In both cases the allies regularly assaulted each other even as they fought against a common enemy.
In the first instance Winston Churchill eloquently and scathingly summed up the predicament of the alliance with Moscow when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 thus: “If Hitler invaded Hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.” Subsequently in 1946, just months after the war, Churchill again dramatically observed that “an iron curtain has descended across the Continent” and warned of a Cold War with the Soviet Union.
While top US officials, including the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, have not been as oratorical or succinct as Churchill, their comments convey the same quandary over Pakistan. Over the past year alone, attacks led by the Sirajuddin Haqqani network, including on the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul, a truck bomb that killed several Afghans and injured over 70 US soldiers, and the brazen assault on the US embassy in Kabul, compelled Mullen to publicly admit that not only is the Haqqani network “a strategic arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] agency” but that these attacks were probably carried out at the behest of the ISI, the ostensible ally of Washington. Other revelations of deadly attacks by Pakistani troops on their US counterparts in 2007 in Teri Mangal have only strengthened the conviction that the ally may be more dangerous than the common enemy they are fighting.
However, unlike the WWII experience, the current relationship with a nuclear-armed Pakistan poses greater complications for the US. First, while there was a definite end to WWII, which enabled the US (and the West) to brand the Soviet Union as an enemy, the absence of a neat conclusion to the war against terrorism and the dependency on Pakistan to conduct it means the US may never be able to condemn its reluctant ally as an enemy. This is evident from the pussyfooting in Washington around even the decision to declare the Haqqani network as a terrorist organization.
Second, after WWII the US was able to use the Marshall Plan to wrest at least two allies—Greece and Italy—away from the lure of communism and, possibly, the Soviets. However, similar efforts by the bold Kerry-Lugar-Berman plan and other US aid to wean Islamabad from its unsavoury friends have come to naught. (“Throwing good money after a bad cause”, Mint, 3 November 2009).
This is because Pakistan is not a normal state. The primary reason is the very nature of its polity, particularly the omnipotent security establishment, which has monopoly over the decision-making process even when it is ostensibly accountable to the democratically elected civilian government. Thus, to retain unfettered power, the security establishment will inevitably put its own survival over even that of the state of Pakistan. As noted Pakistani scholar S. Akbar Zaidi cautioned, “US aid to Pakistan’s military has only strengthened Pakistan’s military instead of strengthening its weak, fledgling, but emerging, democracy.”
At stake is the very survival of Pakistan and its evolution into a normal state where the security apparatus serves the interests of the state and not the other way around. This is only possible if Washington has the courage to stop sleeping with the enemy. Otherwise, the spectre of a failed state armed with nuclear weapons will continue to haunt the world.
W Pal Sidhu is senior fellow, Centre on International Cooperation at New York University. He writes on strategic affairs every fortnight
Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org