The Bush administration has persistently supported Pakistan’s military dictator, General Musharraf, despite widespread criticism of this policy at home and abroad. With the likely induction of the Democrats in to the White House, should one anticipate a different U.S policy towards Pakistan? This question is best answered when placed within the framework of Washington’s long term objectives in South Asia.

The neocon vision of national security is described by President Bush in the 2006 edition of the official document titled the “National Security Strategy of the United States of America” in the following words:

“We seek to shape the world, not merely be shaped by it; to influence events for the better, instead of being at their mercy”.

This preemptive foreign policy is driven by “Peak Oil” related anxiety. Cognizant of the fact that the world is headed towards a new type of international rivalry that will entail a scramble for world’s diminishing supply of fossil fuel, and encouraged by the U.S’s unrivaled status, the necocons embarked upon a policy to establish greater control over the world’s energy resources. As a functional prerequisite of this control, Washington has set out to establish alliances that will strengthen its created “energy order”, prevent China from emerging as a competitor of the U.S, and prevent major Asian countries from forming a multi polar power bloc against the U.S.

The Middle East is at the heart of this policy, where Washington is pursuing the following objectives.

  1. Middle Eastern countries that produce fossil fuel and those through which vital pipelines transit (called the “strategic core” of the Middle East), should not be allowed to develop or retain, state-of-the-art military. U.S protected Gulf kingdoms are deemed harmless and therefore allowed the purchase of military hardware.
  2. No Middle Eastern state (except Israel) should be allowed to develop or retain nuclear weapons.
  3. The concept of modern “nationhood” encompassing large states overriding ethnic loyalties should be discouraged in the “strategic core” of the Middle East as a preemptive strategy against pan-Islamic revolutions such as the ’79 revolution in Iran.

U.S policy in these areas is aimed at scuttling the “sources” of modern nationalism, i.e. a large, multiethnic nation state equipped with an equally large military. (These two ingredients serve simultaneously as the symbol and the source of modern nationalism as it evolved in Europe out of the Napoleonic wars). This explains the Bush administration’s bid to petrol the high seas under the “Proliferation Security Initiative”, its itch to attack Iran, the result of its engagement in Iraq, its post Cold War policy in Afghanistan and its current policy in Pakistan.

The imperatives of the above objectives negate the institutional strengthening of Pakistani state and society and require, above all, the dismantling of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Furthermore, for reasons elaborated below, an altogether end to Pakistan as an entity, rather then its continuity, serves long term interests of the U.S better. Events in Pakistan, it seems, are being influenced in that direction.

For Washington, the strategic importance of Pakistan has been replaced by India and Afghanistan, in that order. Afghanistan’s long term relevance to U.S energy policy lies in its proximity to resource rich Central Asian republics and Russia. Its short term importance lies in its 800 mile long border with Pakistan, a proximity which is being utilized for destabilizing the latter. The fact that Pakistan is a nuclear Islamic state is a significant negativity in the neocons’ envisaged world order. Pakistan’s size and its nuclear arsenal discourages overt military engagement to neutralize this negativity. The long standing, entrenched CIA presence in the country, on the other hand, facilitates the deployment of covert means, pivotal to which is the spill over into Pakistan of terrorism caused by U.S invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. As a “terror inflicted, failed state”, Pakistan becomes vulnerable to international pressure to disarm its nuclear arsenal.

As a transit route for Central Asian fossil fuel, Afghanistan circumvents Russia, China and Iran. It establishes an alternative route which passes through the Afghan-Pakistan territory to the Indian Ocean. To stabilize this route, the neocons plan to break Afghanistan into smaller, ethnically contiguous states capable of ensuring the safety of pipelines as they transit through the area into India. Washington does not envisage a unified Afghanistan, otherwise it would have used King Zahir Shah and his family to rally disparate Afghans, instead of the ineffective Hamid Karzai. That is why in the 2003 budget proposal, the Bush administration did not request any reconstruction aid for Afghanistan, a state it declared central to the war on terror. The Bush administration slashed reconstruction aid to Afghanistan from one billion dollars in 2005 to $623 million in 2006. Washington’s monetary commitment to the reconstruction of Afghanistan is paltry and is executed with blatant insincerity. Similarly, Washington did not engage in de-radicalization of Pakistan after the end of Soviet Afghan war, like its post Camp David engagement with Egypt. Pakistan, the only nuclear Islamic state, is too important a country to have suffered such neglect simply due to policy oversight. Washington did not commit its resources to de-radicalizing Pakistan because it does not envision a stable Pakistan as a long term U.S ally.

Bush has made unprecedented offers to co-opt India due to the following reasons:

  • India is a preferred route for energy supply from Central Asia and the Caspian region that can decrease West’s dependence on the Persian Gulf, China and Russia
  • India can be preempted from forming a power bloc with Russia and China for global multi polarity
  • Sino-Indian competition can be manipulated in containing China as a potential super power of future
  • India’s participation as a major Asian nation in U.S.-led naval patrol of the high seas under the “Proliferation Security Initiative”, can help legitimize U.S role as self-appointed gendarme that bypasses the U.N.
  • India is better equipped, socially and militarily, (as viewed by the neocons) to deal with Central/South Asian Islamic militancy. It harbors a large Muslim population of its own, enjoys cultural affinity with and a good image in Afghanistan and Central Asia and has the biggest post world war military surrender to its credit when it defeated Pakistan in 1971.

The strategic interests of U.S and India converge in Pakistan. India’s is the second largest growing economy in Asia. By 2030, India will be the world’s third largest importer of fossil fuel. Safe and stable fossil fuel supply is vital for a soaring Indian economy. Pakistan could potentially disrupt the requisite stability of such supply. It’s a hostile nuclear state through which all of India’s supply from Central Asia and the Persian Gulf conveniently transits. Pakistan also occupies the air route to India from the West. Indo-Pak hostilities have suffered two major outbreaks, in 1965 and 1971, and nearly suffered a third in 1999. India’s supply-related worries are greatly eased if Pakistan reunifies with it.

Alliance with Pakistan no longer serves the objectives of neocons whose slogan is “clash of civilizations” and whose aim is to demonize and demoralize Islamic societies so they can be militarily controlled under the newly envisaged energy order. Furthermore, America’s bid to strengthen India as a bulwark against China requires the U.S to abandon its alliance with Pakistan. Continued support to military dictatorships in Pakistan is considered fraught with dangers by Washington as centralized military dictatorships in countries with large population and fewer resources lead to poor domestic governance and political instability. Democracy in Pakistan is considered even more perilous as it can get anti-American under popular pressure, which is a likely consequence of U.S invasions of Islamic countries in furtherance of greater structural control over energy resources. Pakistan has served the U.S as a close ally for over half a century. While the U.S covets Pakistan’s arch rival India as its new Asian ally, it does not consider it wise to just abandon Pakistan to the vagaries of political developments in the region, because the political pendulum in Pakistan could swing in the direction of China and Russia. Hence, the U.S seeks a structural alteration involving Pakistan. The desirable end to Pakistan’s existence, in Washington’s view, is through its reunification with India. The combination of Indo-Pak resources not only beefs up India vis-à-vis China, it simultaneously removes from the world map a one million personnel strong nuclear military force at the service of an “Islamic” nation.

The ground work for Pakistan’s demise has already been laid with the help of Benazir Bhutto and General Musharraf. As statespersons, their ability to draw the right conclusion from their observation of international events seems severely limited. Hence their policies have been shaped by events rather then the other way round. Secondly, their politics seem captive to narrow slits of statecraft primarily aimed at perpetuation of self rule. This self imposed partial blind fold permits the third party to pursue its grand design with them unaware.

Benazir Bhutto paved the beginning of the road to Pakistan’s demise, during her premiership that lasted from 1993-1996, when she instituted the Taliban as a viable contender for power, at the displeasure of Pakistan’s military that favoured Gulbadin Hikmatyar’s party for forming the post-Soviet Afghan government. Musharraf’s current policies are carrying the work further.

Had Benazir understood the implications of the 1991 U.S invasion of Iraq and Pakistan’s nuclear program within the context of post Cold War U.S policy in the Middle East, she would not have sponsored the Taliban. Her notion of Taliban as Islamabad’s puppets did not converge with that of the CIA which planned to use Taliban to destabilize Pakistan itself. Washington’s policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan is an exercise in brinkmanship, envisaged in 1989 during the senior Bush administration. That is why despite the Soviet withdrawal, the CIA continued funneling arms to different warlords in Afghanistan. As CIA’s gun running kept the Afghan factions interlocked, the Taliban suddenly rose from oblivion in 1993, ostensibly funded by Saudi and UAE petro dollars which, coupled with Islamabad’s support, ensured their conquest of Kabul by 1996.

Pakistan knew the tide had turned when the U.S attacked Afghanistan in August 1998 with 67 cruise missiles from the Indian Ocean, at the cost of one million dollar per missile, ostensibly to hit Bin Laden. A covert operation would have cost much less and had a better chance of success. After this U.S statement, the Taliban’s days were numbered. Though it was obvious that they would rush to Pakistan once they were dislodged from Kabul, Islamabad made no strategic preparation to deal with the impending eventuality. It neither brought its semi-governed tribal areas under full state suzerainty, (the fear of U.S invasion, if successfully invoked, would have preempted tribal opposition to such a policy), nor did it launch any serious plan for the economic uplift and social development of the tribal areas whose socio-political existence is reminiscent of the European Dark Ages.

After 9/11, Pakistan’s strategic nightmare began to unfold as the allied forces invaded and occupied Afghanistan. While the Pakistan army gleefully collected the strategic land rent it received from Washington during and after the invasion, the U.S-led invasion and occupation of Afghanistan had a direct adverse impact on Pakistan’s stability. The Taliban’s flood into Pakistan was encouraged by U.S forces. Barnett R. Rubin, a leading expert on Afghanistan, testified in his 2006 testimony to the U.S Senate that the U.S.-led forces pushed even anti Al Qaeda Taliban into Pakistan, where they were presented with no other alternative except that of grouping with Al Qaeda.

Pakistan could best deal with the spillover of post-9/11 Afghanistan if a) the Western troops withdrew after regime change and b) if Pakistan planned a mechanism for the Taliban’s demilitarization and rehabilitation, instead of battling them in a semi-governed area of Pakistan. The U.S took no diplomatic responsibility for the regional fallout of its Afghan venture. Instead of Pakistan raising a clamor of protest over the U.S troops’ failures in Afghan areas bordering Pakistan, Bush reprimanded Musharraf for not doing enough in the war on terror. Bush’s increasing diplomatic dominance over Musharraf made the latter increasingly combative with the Taliban, a process which only brought increasing political and military trouble for Pakistan. Musharraf’s inveterate attitude towards Washington, and the latter’s covert objective of turning Pakistan into a failed state have coalesced to produce the Pakistan we see today: militarily besieged on both its western and eastern fronts, internally engulfed in political turmoil and terror, internationally the object of extensive apprehension.

While Bush continues to rely on Musharraf, the latter’s actions stand contrary to Bush’s avowals. As COAS [Chief of the Army Staff], Musharraf’s first move was to sabotage the “Lahore Declaration” of February 1999 and the resultant thaw in Indo-Pak relations by masterminding the Kargil invasion in Kashmir in May, 1999. By 1999, Kashmir had acquired a negative international significance. Its secession sets a bad precedence for China and Russia given their respective woes in Xingjian and Chechnya. For the U.S, it portends terrorism, nuclear drift and weakening of India that is deemed an important future ally. This negative international climate does not seem to have registered with Musharraf. While Pakistan withdrew under pressure from both U.S and China, the failed venture gave India an excuse to declare that peace pacts with Pakistan can not be trusted. Within Pakistan, Kargil led to the derailment of democracy yet again and caused Musharraf’s coup against the elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in October 1999.

As President of Pakistan, Musharraf bent an important law of the land in order to allow the Taliban-allied MMA to contest the election in 2002. Pakistan’s law prevents politicians without a university degree from contesting general elections. Musharraff passed a decree that equated madrassa certification with secular university degrees. Later, he rigged the 2002 elections to allow Mullahs to form provincial governments in the dangerous areas bordering Afghanistan. While Musharraf sought to cast himself the secular alternative to civilian extremism, his act gave nuclear armed Pakistan’s polity the undesirable image of a nation dangerously drifting towards religious extremism in the post 9/11 era.

While besieged with a civil war at home, Pakistan today suffers unprecedented isolation abroad. It ended its strategic convergence with China by allowing the U.S to stage its operation against Afghanistan from its soil. With the abandonment of the Taliban, Islamabad’s constructive influence in Afghanistan has virtually ended. China’s investment in Gwadar notwithstanding, it is more comfortable in dealing with Indian elements who are leery of the U.S, whereas Pakistan is deemed squarely within the American camp. Pakistan’s successive military administrations have not been able to strategically balance their China card versus their policy towards the U.S. to their advantage. This imbalance has corroded Chinese faith in an enduring strategic relationship with Pakistan

If the Pakistani mess worsens, it will impact India. Should the nukes fall into the hands of Islamic extremists, India will be the first country to feel threatened. Militant groups have been promoting Jihad in Indian Kashmir from Dir in Pakistan. Dir is bordered to the East with Kunar in Afghanistan, a known stronghold of Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The U.S.’s military failure in Kunar, augmented by Pakistan’s military and political failures in tribal areas are likely to draw India’s troops into the worsening quagmire. U.S does not have the capacity for ground troop engagement in Pakistan. For this reason, the neocons consider it best to de-legitimize the Pakistani state covertly, to such an extent that the event of inevitable Indian involvement is seen as a “liberation” by the people of Pakistan, just as it was in East Pakistan in 1971. This, the Bush administration seems to be doing with remarkable success and with Musharraf’s inadvertent collaboration. The Pentagon’s publicizing of Musharraf’s military operation in NWFP [North West Frontier Province] as a U.S proxy operation is not just a show of diplomatic ignorance. It is a crafted maneuver aimed at de legitimizing the military within Pakistan, legitimacy being the key to success in guerrilla warfare where every civilian is a potential combatant.

In Pakistan’s urban areas, religious lunacy is being orchestrated and celebrated while the administration watches helplessly. After the military operation of July 10, 2007 the “Red Mosque” in Islamabad was reopened for Friday prayers bearing all visible marks of the carnage that took place earlier. With blood stained walls and the belongings of killed men, women and children piled in public view, fiery sermons against the “infidels” and their paymasters were allowed to echo in the heart of Islamabad. Suicide bombings have targeted the high security garrisons of the military. No terrorist group has ever taken responsibility for these blasts. The military rank and file does not know who it is they are supposed to fight. The morale of the officers is steadily eroding. The judiciary is out on the streets. Courts are a sham. Military “defections” in the North and South Wairistan are being camouflaged as “abductions”. The disappearance of staple foods and essential commodities from the market has instilled a deep seated despondency amongst the people of Pakistan. High profile deportations of Pakistani notables from Western capitals may be exercises in absurdity, but they do make Pakistani society question the efficacy of their statehood. Washington’s “leaked” war games dealing with the ubiquitous Pakistani nukes amount to Pakistan military’s emasculation by its vital ally. Pentagon’s open declaration of its “discussions” with the Pakistani generals regarding military collaboration in the tribal areas only helps damage Pakistani troop’s as well as civil society’s moral.

Musharraf’s only asset in this mayhem was either free and fair elections or a strict martial rule. Instead of utilizing either, Musharraf knuckled under Washington’s pressure and opted for the dangerous half measure of a pseudo election entirely lacking in credibility and held against an uncontrollably chaotic background. While no one expected this stop gap arrangement to bail Pakistan out of its difficulties, Benazir led the polity to participate in the exercise nevertheless. Her assassination has added a new dimension to this mayhem. She was Musharraf’s biggest short term asset. With it, his last and only opportunity of restoring a semblance of order in an otherwise chaotic polity has been wasted.

The operation against tribal militants is a Catch 22 for Pakistan’s military. The Frontier Corps, due to its ethnic affinity with the Taliban, has no faith in this battle, hence it is unfit for the purpose. The deployment of Punjabi battalions, or overt military collaboration between the U.S and Pakistan, will be perceived as a genocide and could lead to a Mukti Bahini-like insurgency for Pakistan’s military in the NWFP and Baluchistan, augmented by the street mood in the rest of the country where economic grievance is widespread. Under the postulated circumstances, Pakistan military’s strategic capacity to resist U.S led international demand to relinquish its nuclear arsenal will decrease by the day.

Given Musharraf’s policies, spearheaded by the U.S, two plausible scenarios can emerge in Pakistan. Each will have a U.S hand in its making.

Scenario one may entail civil war in Pakistan that splits the military itself into two factions, one for the war against the Taliban and the other against it. This split will be augmented by the U.S’s patronage of the pro-war faction against the anti-war one. Due to the Pakistan military’s historically punitive treatment of its civilian adversaries, which includes executions and forced exiles, Pakistan’s civilian alternatives are crippled. As the conflict escalates, an increasing number of civilian Pakistanis will seek refuge within India, impacting its stability and providing it with an excuse to intervene. The U.S will not thwart Indian intervention, and will even encourage India to annex Pakistan.

Scenario two could plausibly entail heavy bombardment of Pakistani tribal areas by the U.S forces, causing a flood of internal migration, which will also mean the spread of militants into the Pakistani mainland. This could provide the U.S with a reason to lead an international demand, possibly through the U.N Security Council, for Pakistan’s denuclearization. Under threat of extensive U.S bombardment of the country in case of non-compliance, the Pakistan military is likely to capitulate. Once the nukes are neutralized, the U.S will withdraw its support for the Pakistan military. Given the absence of viable civilian alternatives, this could spell the strategic end of the state. India has always maintained that stability in Pakistan is essential for stability in India. Pakistani mayhem will thus guarantee an Indian intervention.

During the 1971 Indo-Pak war, when Pakistan’s defeat in the Eastern sector became imminent and the fear that New Delhi would invade West Pakistan increased, U.S sent its nuclear armed USS Enterprise to the Indian Ocean to prevent India from dismembering Pakistan. In response, the Soviet navy dispatched its nuclear submarines to ward off the U.S threat to India. The imperatives of the Cold War, thus, saved Pakistan. The new alignment of international political forces and the imperatives of Peak Oil politics are both fatefully arrayed against Pakistan. The forces with a plausible interest in destabilizing Pakistan include groups as diverse as the Indian RAW, the American CIA, the global Al Qaeda and the regional Taliban. Pakistani military dictators have failed to enter into a system of alliance that would serve Pakistan well in the post Cold War era. Their continued alliance with the U.S has enriched them personally, but it has augured ill for their country. Under the current circumstances, Pakistan’s nukes, instead of serving as its strategic asset, have become a liability. Instead of being able to dyke the flood of instability that is engulfing Pakistan, Musharraf is drowning in it more and more by the day. This, above all, explains why the neocons are so pleased with him.

The above analysis by no means entails that Washington’s policy in Pakistan will alter radically with the induction of the Democrats in to the White House. Although the current U.S energy policy, and its offshoot “the new South Asia policy” was “envisioned” by the neocons, the Democrats have already embraced it publicly during Bill Clinton’s historic visit to India in March 2000. Pakistan is not only of no use to Washington any more, it is a thorn in its side. Washington hopes to manipulate a new military rivalry in Asia to its advantage. It wants the Indo-Pak rivalry replaced by the Sino-Indian rivalry. With India as its ally, Washington hopes to gain much out of this rivalry. There is every likelihood, therefore, that the neocon policy of covertly engineering Pakistan’s dismemberment will continue under the Democrats till such time as the policy objectives have been met.

For those interested in the developing scenario in Pakistan, the following indigenous sources make useful reading. Article by BBC correspondent Rahimullah Yusufzai in the News, Feb.03, 2008, titled “The New Frontlines”. Online at the News (Pakistan).

See Also Imtaiz Ali’s article in Asia Times, January 30th, 2008 Taliban Find Fertile New Ground in Pakistan, and

Shireen Mazari’ article titled Reciprocity: A Costly Omission in The News (Pakistan), Feburary 6th, 2008.

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Zeenia Satti has taught International Relations at Harvard University, Massachusetts and Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad. She is an energy consultant and free lance political columnist based in Washington DC.