Book Review: Empowering Pak Army was a US Mistake

Posted on 03/11/14

No exit from Pakistan“Empowering the Pakistani military at the cost of democratic institutions was an American mistake and Washington’s personalization of relations with different autocrats has significantly weakened the state of Pakistan,” so says a recent book which has been authored by a former high-ranking official of the US State Department who had served the policy planning staff of the secretary of state for years.


Currently serving as a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Daniel Markey, the author of the book titled “No Exit From Pakistan: America’s Tortured Relationship with Islamabad”, has challenged the previous narrative of the Americans about the indispensability of the Pakistan Army. The book assesses how the US has made and implemented policies regarding Islamabad since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. While Markey provides an exhaustive historical account of the Washington-Islamabad ties, the most striking feature of his book remains the realisation that a military-first approach towards Pakistan suffers from the crucial fact that the army has never run the country very effectively. He writes: “The generals have never managed to set Pakistan on the path to better governance, unlike celebrated strongmen in other countries such as Turkey or Singapore…America will be better off it advocates universal principles and supports stronger democratic institutions in Pakistan rather than specific individuals.”


The title of his book actually references Jean Paul Sartre’s play ‘No Exit’ because the Pak-US relationship has a very specific comparison with the play that consists of characters that are pitted against one another in a living room. Markey believes that these aspects of the play worked as a useful analogy for US-Pakistan relations.


He likens the frustration of American and Pakistani policymakers to that of the sinners in Jean-Paul Sartre’s play, who discover hell is a room where they torment one another forever. “Both sides believe they have been sinned against. Even at high points in the relationship there were still underlying irritations and disagreements that got in the way of building any sort of strong, sustainable cooperation,” Markey writes.


He explains that the United States is concerned about terrorist threats emanating from Pakistan, its nuclear arsenal, growing military ties with China, and history of tensions with India.


Together these issues are too large and complicated for the United States to resolve quickly – or perhaps ever – yet they are also too important to neglect; there is no exit.


“To best achieve its goals with Pakistan, the United States will need to pick carefully among aspects of three strategic approaches – defensive insulation (to protect US from Pakistan-based threats, such as nuclear proliferation and terrorism); military-first cooperation (by providing technical and financial assistance to Pakistani military to address top security concerns); and comprehensive cooperation (by supporting Pakistani military and civilian leadership, as well as its civil society, to build a more stable Pakistan over time).”


While stating that Pakistan always perceived its relationship with Washington as a means to deal with India, the writer refers to General Pervez Musharraf’s memoirs in which the latter says: “Pakistan chose to partner with America out of fear that Washington and New Delhi might unite against Pakistan, not because Islamabad felt a genuine compulsion to assist after the 9/11 tragedies.” Markey then states that Islamabad is guilty of “misrepresenting its commitment to American goals in order to extract the material benefits of partnership with a superpower.” The author describes Pakistan as a black hole for American aid out of which nothing good comes out, but concedes in the same breath that there seemed to be no alternative than to work through this relationship. “War against Pakistan would be too messy, too dangerous and too awful.


The former State Department official then classifies Pakistan as a country with four faces: an elite-dominated basket; a garrison state; a terrorist incubator and a youthful idealist. The Americans believe that Pakistan multiplies its faces while dealing with different audiences.


Its internal politics and society are deeply influenced by Islam and insecurity from India. Thus, it is these dynamics, not US strategic goals or financial assistance, which defines Pakistan’s relationship with the US. Markey has picked up two Pakistan individuals in his book with contrasting reasons but the mutual hobby of bashing the United States inside Pakistan.


The first individual is Dr Shireen Mazari, who is now affiliated with Imran Khan’s Tehrik-e-Insaf and earned her doctorate at Columbia University.


Mazari represents a breed of Pakistanis who are educated in the West and do not look at all like radical Muslims. The book states: “Mazari’s worldview begins with the conviction that the United States is untrustworthy, India is the enemy and China is Pakistan’s one true ally. She reflects a mind-set that runs throughout much of the Pakistan’s military, no matter that tens of billions of dollars in US assistance and weaponry has flowed to Pakistan over the decades.”


The second individual mentioned by Markey is Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, a liberal lawyer and politician, who represents the other school of thought, which blames the US for contributing to Pakistan’s dysfunction by bolstering the country’s army; criticises the US for intentionally undermining democracy and free expression in their country by supporting dictators like Ayub Khan, Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf.


The US State department official concludes that Pakistan may be a problem too big to solve and too big to avoid, but a unified strategy may provide some hope of a better alliance with Pakistan in the future.


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