As Pakistan sinks steadily into the
pit of political oblivion, it will inevitably drag the US' Afghan
policy down the drain with it, because without the availability of
Pakistan's logistical and civil infrastructure, and regardless of
Gen. David Petraeus's (top US military commander in Afghanistan)
vaunted military talents, what remains of America's struggle to
wrest Afghanistan from eventual Taliban investiture is almost
certainly doomed to failure.
US President Barack Obama's pledge to draw down the American
military commitment in Afghanistan may ultimately turn out to be
more a Vietnam-like strategic capitulation than a victory lap.
Should this turn out to be the case, in the face of a Pakistani
political collapse, what other alternatives will exist which an
already war-weary American public will accept?
Viewed in historical perspective, what is gradually taking place
before our eyes is the final consequences of flawed political
choices which the emergent Pakistani elites made following the
nation's founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah's death in 1948, which were
compounded by subsequent regimes, and further exacerbated by
faulty US Cold War policies towards the South Asia region. In this
sense, the story of Pakistan is one of "chickens coming home to
Put succinctly, the subsequent history of Pakistan has been the
systematic rejection of the efficacy of Jinnah's vision of a
consensual political mode for Pakistan, in keeping with the
multi-cultural, politically accommodative model that alone has
proved viable in the South Asian context, literally since the
Indus Valley Civilization, and irrespective of whether the regimes
in power have been Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim. The political
contrast between India and Pakistan makes this clear.
One might say that over the years the Pakistani public allowed
itself to be hijacked by Islamic fundamentalism, partially as a
means of coping with its phobic fears of "Hindu India" and
partially because the lack of socio-religious flexibility left
religious extremism, and its political extensions, as the sole
doctrinal basis for attempting to achieve a politically coherent
Islamic fanaticism, conjoined with military authoritarianism, has
ripped Pakistan to shreds and soon will provoke its political
disintegration. What alternative is left for US, NATO and Indian
strategic policy in the face of a Pakistani political meltdown?
In my opinion, the best option is what I would call strategic
consolidation. That is, India, the US and its allies, must "step
aside", let the holocaust happen, and try to contain in every way
possible its spread beyond Pakistan's borders and the Pashtun
region now dominated by the Taliban.
As the dimensions and ramifications of the "implosion" become
apparent, the US, NATO and India can deploy their military and
diplomatic resources in whatever manner they deem necessary and
possible to contain, ameliorate and mediate the undoubtedly
pervasive violence that will ensue and must run its course.
With regard to Afghan policy in the face of a Pakistani political
meltdown, and an inevitable consequent upsurgence of Taliban
militancy in the Pashtun region, former US ambassador to India
(2001-3) Robert D. Blackwill has offered a highly imaginative
The US, he says, should for the time being consolidate its forces
and resources in the non-Pashtun portions of the country where
Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazarras predominate and originally formed the
core of the Northern Alliance which in concert with the US after
9/11 defeated the Taliban.
His observations concerning the interim realignment of forces in
Afghanistan in the face of the worst-case scenario are highly
"Washington should accept," he declares, "that the Taliban will
inevitably control most of the Pashtun south and east and that the
price of forestalling that outcome is far too high for the United
States to continue paying."
Even prior to the impending collapse of Pakistan, or indeed if in
the end it avoids this terminal fate, Blackwill rightly concludes
that "the emergence of a clear division in Pakistan might provide
just the sort of shock the Pakistani military apparently needs in
order to appreciate the dangers of the game it has been playing
Leading American commentators, including this one, are now
convinced that Pakistan is only a furtive step away from ceasing
to be a viable modern state capable of carrying out its
responsibilities as a purported "non-NATO ally" of the US in the
war against the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other jihadi extremists.
Yes, this implies a comprehensive realignment of forces, resources
and strategic orientation towards the Af-Pak theatre. But in the
face of a steadily disintegrating, politically pathological
Pakistan state, it is only a matter of time until such a
realignment takes place anyway. For US-Pakistan relations, as we
have known them, it is indeed the end of the affair.
(Harold Gould is Visiting Scholar in the Center for
South Asian Studies, University of Virginia. He can be contacted