The military and civilian government is generally considered to be pro-Western and willing to cooperate with the Allies (while there is plenty of evidence suggesting that the government is involved with the Taliban, it is fearful enough of the Allies military and economic might to remain at least nominally cooperative). The intelligence agency, the ISI, however, is considered to be thoroughly Islamist in its ideology and goals, and Pakistan is of course home to numerous terror cells and anti-government Islamist groups.
In short, the thought of dealing with Pakistan on a government level, as one might with Australia or Norway, is naïve. Loyalties shift so frequently in Pakistan, and so many competing interests are being balanced, that it is perhaps safest to simply consider them a deeply unstable, fundamentally conflicted country that it is best to feign friendship with rather than wage war upon. For now. Given the very real prospect that Pakistan might collapse into nuclear-armed Islamist anarchy, it is best to be prepared for any eventuality.
In the meantime, however, Pakistan and the West need each other, however uncomfortable both might find the arrangement. Expect to see a flurry of diplomatic activity over the next several days (indeed, it has already begun) and the border crossing to be reopened to NATO convoys soon. Pakistan simply cannot risk antagonizing NATO blatantly and publicly for too long, not when they are dealing with critical internal problems and are dependent upon Western monies and support to keep the Islamists — who’d hang them all — at bay.
That last issue is the one most worrisome. Having shut the border and announced that NATO’s drone and helicopter attacks into Pakistani territory are unacceptable, Pakistan might well have overplayed its hand. It cannot indefinitely hold back NATO’s convoys, and it has proven either unwilling or unable to police its borders to NATO’s satisfaction. In other words, the Pakistani government has painted itself into a corner. It will back down, and NATO will not stop its increasingly muscular air activity over Pakistan’s essentially lawless northern tribal regions. Such blatant weakness will discredit the government in the eyes of Pakistan’s proud military, and will serve as pitch-perfect propaganda fodder for the Islamists and Taliban militants already at work inside Pakistan. How can they not claim that the weak infidel government caved to Crusader pressure? In effect, that is exactly what will happen.
One can be justly critical of the Pakistani government. And its situation now perfectly reflects the reality of being stuck between a rock and a hard place. In the end, its own bluster will serve as its undoing. It has already handed the worst elements of Pakistani society a tremendous propaganda victory, and yet, it has alienated its NATO allies upon whom its tenuous grip on power is dependent.
After announcing the closure of the border crossing, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters, “We will have to see whether we are allies or enemies” with NATO. The Minister should bear in mind that Pakistan already has internal enemies enough, and given his own country’s role in supporting the Taliban, the question he poses might be one his government would prefer NATO not to ponder too closely.
Matt Gurney is an editor at the National Post, a Canadian national newspaper, and writes and speaks on military and geopolitical issues. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @mattgurney.
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