Even Pakistanis do not believe that their political and military leaders did not know bin Laden was living, as one columnist put it, “wrapped in the bosom of the Pakistani security establishment.” Cyril Almeida, writing in the Pakistani newspaper, Dawn, a few days after the killing of bin Laden noted that, when the question is asked privately, “No one will say anything but, yes, they knew he was there.”
For 34 of its 64 years, Pakistan has been run by generals whose military intelligence presumably works in league with its Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), though both have their own agendas. It is unlikely that much civilian control over either exists.
Almeida wrote, “If we didn’t know, we are a failed state; if we did know, we are a rogue state. But does anyone believe they didn’t know?”
If it were an individual, Pakistan would be diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, subject to raging fears that India intends to invade on a moment’s notice and antagonistic to Afghanistan as it harbors those who attack it.
In his recently published book, “Pakistan: A Hard Country,” Anatol Lieven provides insight to a nation that, until lately, was home to the most wanted man on the face of the Earth, Osama bin Laden. He was dispatched in a compound that was within a short distance of Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point or England’s Sandhurst. If we are to believe Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership, neither had any idea he was there.
“Trying to understand Pakistan’s internal structures and dynamics is complicated,” writes Lieven. “If there is one phrase which defines many aspects of Pakistan…it is ‘Janus-faced’: in other words, many of the same features of Pakistan’s state and government which are responsible for holding Islamist extremism in check are at one and the same time responsible for holding back Pakistan’s social, economic, and political development.”
“Pakistan,” writes Lieven, “is divided, disorganized, economically backward, corrupt, violent, unjust, often savagely oppressive towards the poor and women, and home to extremely dangerous forms of extremism and terrorism.”
Pakistan came into being in 1947 when leaders of India’s Muslim population like Mohammed Ali Jinnah, its founder, made it clear they did not want to be part of the newly independent India after Great Britain relinquished its colonial rule. Later, when East Pakistan broke loose to establish its independence in 1971, it became Bangladesh.
The thing Westerners find difficult to understand is the tribal nature of nations like Pakistan and Afghanistan, but it is not difficult to understand “Muslim nationalism and the bitter hostility to the U.S. role in the Muslim world in general and Pakistan’s region in particular.” However, in order to pursue the present combat role against the Taliban in Afghanistan, the U.S. and its European allies rely on neighboring Pakistan in order to provision supplies to their troops.
Since the Taliban are a creation of Pakistan’s ISI and because Pakistan has long been where al Qaeda has found refuge, those in charge have played a Janus or two-faced role for a very long time; at times providing intelligence of great value and at others aiding or at the very least, protecting the terrorist organizations. In return, the Taliban have proven an internal problem for the military and the government, occasionally requiring that they be driven out of areas they have seized.
In many ways, Pakistan is barely a nation. In its tribal northwest regions, such as the now fabled Waziristan, the state has little influence or control. As to its tribes, the two dominant ones are Punjab and Pathan. Both pursue their own interests.
As Lieven describes it, “A fundamental political fact about Pakistan is that the state, whoever claims to lead it, is weak, and (the) society in its various forms is immensely strong.” It is a nation of many separate fiefdoms who “plunder the state for patronage and favors” and this is graphically demonstrated by the fact that “barely one percent of the population pays income tax, and the wealthiest landowners in the country pay no direct taxes at all.”
Thus, the billions that the U.S. has pumped into its economy take on a very critical role, particularly for the military. This is a very different world from that of the West. The majority of Pakistan’s political parties are dynastic, led by a few powerful families. The entire society operates on kinship loyalty.
Pakistan is a perfect example of why the U.S. and the West are stymied by the illogic, the irrationality, and the duplicity of nations in which Islam is the predominant factor in their politics and society.
When you add in the geography of Pakistan, lodged between India and Afghanistan, bordered by China and Iran, you have a nation that can neither be ignored nor abandoned because of its strategic location.
Finally, there is the fact that Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal that must never be allowed to fall into the hands of the Taliban, al Qaeda, or anyone else crazed enough to use it for the greater glory of Allah.
Pakistan is a pit of deception and it is notable that our current relations with it consist of the special operations raid that killed bin Laden and the drones that continue to kill al Qaeda and Taliban who make themselves available targets.