Pakistan's Dilemma: Breaking Links with the Past. (Perspectives)

By Bhutto, Benazir | Harvard International Review, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Pakistan's Dilemma: Breaking Links with the Past. (Perspectives)


Bhutto, Benazir, Harvard International Review


The unspeakable sequence of terrorism in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC on September 11, 2001, was a crime against humanity that sent a wave of revulsion throughout the civilized world--a world that will never be the same again. The lives of many people and many nations are now on the threshold of change. Pakistan's entrance into the international coalition against terror mirrored a broader worldwide development. Forces unleashed by the events of September 11 leave nations no choice when it comes to choosing where they stand. US President George Bush put it succinctly when he said, "Either you are with us or you are against us." Pakistan's cooperation re-invigorated its longstanding interaction with the United States, but the relationship will have moments of strain in these new circumstances. The dilemma that Pakistan now faces is that while it stands on the side of the forces aligned against international terror, it finds old linkages difficult to leave behind.

Tough Breaks

The first repercussion of September 11 was the end of the Taliban regime that harbored Al Qaeda, but the engine of change in Kabul was the Northern Alliance's General Dostum rather than the Pakistani president, General Pervez Musharraf. The inability of Pakistan to engineer change in its own backyard where it previously enjoyed influence is significant. The military establishment has long viewed the Muslim Brotherhood as an ally because of its close alliance with the Pakistani military and security apparatus during the Cold War and its prevention of domestic socialist revolt. But the external forces unleashed by September 11 are forcing new political alignments that have led Pakistan to abandon some of its cherished policy goals. The first welcome casualty of the new Pakistani-US relationship was the longstanding romance between Pakistan's security apparatus and the rigid, extremist Taliban leadership. Yet the first tension in relations between the United States and Pakistan comes from their diverging viewpoi nts on the new Afghan interim government led by Hamid Karzai. Although Pakistan welcomed the Karzai government, it is uncomfortable with the leading role of the Northern Alliance.

The Pakistani military regime joined the US-led coalition against terror less from conviction than compulsion. Soon after September 11, President Musharraf appeared on state television to explain that he chose "the lesser evil" by joining the coalition and justified the move by saying that failure to do so could have damaged the country's nuclear assets. The notion of "compulsion" explains the inability of Pakistan to engineer the downfall of the Taliban or even to quickly break relations with it after the rout began. The long-term ties with the Taliban make Pakistan wary of the new internationally supported Afghan government. The ruling elites in Pakistan will seek an opportunity to re-assert their influence in Kabul by continuing linkages with some of the most extreme factions of the former mujahideen, the freedom fighters that forced the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan.

Pakistan formulated its policy toward Afghanistan on the basis of "strategic depth." It saw in a pliable Afghan regime a foil to its uneasy relations with India, a country against which it has fought three wars since gaining its independence. Pakistan fears that its policy of strategic depth in Kabul will collapse if it discontinues support for the extremist factions. The Pakistani government does not believe that a friendly Afghan government is a sufficient guarantee of a secure border. The support for the Taliban produced linkages between the military and religious and militant groups. The ruling elites are finding it difficult to absorb the changes required of Pakistan as domestic linkages mesh with external requirements.

The second factor that causes concern in Pakistan is that breaking the linkages between the military, security apparatus, and religious groups could undermine its political support for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. …

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