The Trouble with Pakistani Security Forces

The Pakistani security forces – both the Army and the ISI secret police – are among the purest expressions in the world of absolute evil: tyrants, kleptocrats, torturers, religious fanatics, supporters of terrorism.

The U.S. decision, back when Nehru was playing footsie with Moscow, to ally with Pakistan, made us the paymasters of the security forces, earning us the hatred of ordinary Pakistanis without earning us any gratitude from the men with the guns: rather the reverse. (“Why does he hate me so much?” said Sam Goldwyn of a rival. “I never did anything for him.”)

The subsequent decision to use the ISI to channel money and arms to the mujaheddin fighting the Russians had among its many side-effects the creation of both the Taliban and al-Qaeda as important fighting forces, and obviously the Pakistani military and secret police were sheltering Osama bin Laden up until this year. The A. Q. Khan nuclear-weapons-technology-peddling ring supplied, or tried to supply, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, and Iran.

Now it emerges that, as lukewarm as the senior Army and ISI officials are toward the U.S., everyone from the colonels down hates us with a passion; the arrest of the people who helped spot bin Laden for us was. it appears, a desperation move by the Army and ISI chiefs to keep their jobs, or even to avoid a coup.

The threat, if we cut off the money, is that the goons will (one more time) kick out the civilian leadership, openly ally with the Taliban, pick up their proxy-war-by-terror against India, and start taking money from China instead. And of course there’s always the risk that someone really crazy will get hold of some of those nuclear weapons. And a decisive shift in Pakistani policy could doom any chance of preventing a return to power by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

But it seems to me – speaking as a non-expert – that to sacrifice the need to get the Pakistani security forces under control to the needs of the war in Afghanistan would get the policy problem backwards.Afghanistan is worth fighting for – if indeed it is worth fighting for, which with Karzai in charge may not be the case anyway – only as a means to the end of preventing the takeover of Pakistan by pro-terrorist forces and promoting a situation in which Pakistan and India could make peace. Our biggest long-term interest in the region surely is the promotion of Indian economic growth and political development (if only as a counterweight to China), and friendship between India and the U.S. The optimists learn Hindi; the pessimists learn Mandarin.

It seemed reasonable to hope that our show of strength and determination in taking out bin Laden would put backbone into our Pakistani friends – in particular some of the civilian politicians – and demoralize our Pakistani enemies. Whether that hope was reasonable or not, things haven’t turned out that way. Now we’re facing some tough choices. For forty years, the Pakistani security forces have known that, no matter what they did, the U.S. wouldn’t walk away from them. Maybe it’s time for that to change.

[Cross-posted at Same Facts]

Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.