Crippled Pakistan

NEW DELHI – The problems and dilemmas confronting Pakistan’s leadership – including a deepening vortex of mutual suspicions, sectarian killings, and brazen terrorism – are almost too numerous to count. And that leadership – whether civilian, military, and also the now politically active judiciary – has proven congenitally ineffective, leaving the country with a broken economy and a paralyzed political system.

Central to the world’s concerns about the region is the complex reality of the two Taliban movements – one in Afghanistan, over which Pakistan’s powerful Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence has a great deal of control, and one in Pakistan itself, which is waging an increasingly vicious guerrilla war against the Pakistani government. With the United States and NATO due to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, there is a real possibility that the Taliban will not only regain power there, but will also turn Pakistan into a truly failed state.

Encouragingly, after a gap of seven months when no military supplies could reach Afghanistan via the Khyber Pass – a cutoff that followed the death of Pakistani soldiers at the hands of NATO troops firing across the border – NATO trucks in early July were finally allowed to cross again. Somewhat guardedly, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced: “(Pakistani) Foreign Minister (Hina Rabbani) Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives. We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military.” Her affirmation of commitment to preventing such an event in the future appears to have sufficed to re-open the border to NATO’s resupply through Pakistan.

This self-defeating crisis is now over, but can both sides really prevent further deterioration in their complex, mutually dependent relationship? This question matters principally because Pakistan’s quest for national identity and territorial security is rooted in existential fear of its neighbors. Unfortunately, as Michael Krepon of the Stimson Center, an American foreign-policy think tank, observes, official Pakistani tactics sustain the country’s “isolation and decline.” Moreover, America’s tactics, Krepon argues, heighten “its estrangement with Pakistan. As long as current policies remain fixed, new points of contention seem inevitable between Pakistan, its neighbors, and the United States.”