Pakistan’s Obsession


Pakistan is in an uproar over U.S. violations of Pakistani sovereignty. They are furious over the flight of the SEALs to Abbotabad for the Bin Laden raid and the continued U.S. missile attacks against militants in North Waziristan with inevitable civilian casualties.

ByMarvin Zonis

The U.S. is in an uproar over Pakistan’s shielding Bin Laden and other militants. U.S. Pakistan relations are at their lowest level ever. The U.S. has threatened to end more than $3 billion per year of military aid. The Pakistanis have threatened to end U.S. transit routes from Karachi through Pakistan to supply international forces in Afghanistan.

The problem here can be found in Pakistan’s abiding hatred, if not obsession, with India. The greatest fear of the Pakistani military, which effectively runs the country, is that the U.S. will withdraw from Afghanistan and India will replace the Americans as the dominant foreign power. President Karzai’s welcome of India into Afghanistan has deepened the fear that eventually Pakistan will be surrounded by India.

Pakistan has responded to what it perceives to be its strategic dilemma in two ways.

First, it has maintained proxies through anti-Karzai, anti-American and anti-Indian militants. Sirrajudin Haqqani, and the Haqqani network, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his Hezb-e Islami, operate out of northwest Pakistan into Afghanistan and are high on the U.S. “kill” list. Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, and his Lashkar-e-Taiba, operate terrorist camps in Kashmir and are responsible for the 2008 slaughter in Mumbai.

Second, Pakistan is rapidly expanding the number of its nuclear weapons. It is now believed to have the world’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal after Russia, the U.S. and China. The weapons are clearly meant as a deterrent against India. But increasingly, it seems obvious, they are also meant as a deterrent against the U.S. The U.S. may reach a state of utter frustration with Pakistan and send in American troops to hunt down the militants. Pakistan would not need to send its nuclear missiles to the U.S. but only threaten to send them, say, into Afghanistan to make the U.S. wary of any invasion.

Pakistan’s Obsession With India

Like all obsessions, this one is deep and long standing. It began, at least, with the creation of the country, carved out of India with the British withdrawal in August 1947. The wealth of the former colony remained with independent India while Pakistan got two rump sections – East and West Pakistan — separated by 1,000 miles of India. Violence broke out between Hindus and Muslims and with its exhaustion, more than 1 million people were dead.

Since independence, India has seen periodic outbursts of anti-Muslim riots that have left thousands dead. These are usually portrayed as religious devotion gone wild. But almost all instances of communal violence in India are manipulated for domestic political advantage. Hindu nationalist groups have rioted against Muslims in their quest to make India a Hindu state. Even the Congress Party, long committed to a secular India, has moved dramatically to the right and become more Hindu nationalist. The result is that the riots are not just outbreaks of violence. The riots are more often launched for political gain among Hindus and tolerated or even encouraged by the police.

(See the report of the U.N. Human Rights Commission)

But in addition to the revulsion over the periodic killing of Muslims in India, the countries have fought four wars. Three were initiated by Pakistan in its struggle to claim all of Kashmir from Indian “occupation.” The 1971 war was initiated by India after the Pakistani army inflicted brutal violence in East Pakistan against a burgeoning independence movement by Bangladeshi nationalists. The number of deaths inflicted by the Pakistani army has never been definitely ascertained but estimates range from the tens of thousands to the millions. What is known is that some 10 million Bangladeshis fled East Pakistan for India in order to escape the violence. India invaded. Pakistan was defeated and India was the midwife to the newly independent country of Bangladesh.

What’s Left for U.S. Policy?

Given Pakistan’s obsession, all the U.S. entreaties and threats have not worked to get Pakistan to cooperate more fully in U.S. efforts to defeat the Taliban. Pakistan believes it needs proxies to help it threaten India and prevent Afghanistan falling under its sway. The latest idea circulating in Washington, D.C. is to assure Pakistan the U.S. will guarantee its dominance in Afghanistan post a U.S. withdrawal.

Will Pakistan buy the promised guarantee? Given its obsession of more than 60 years, any U.S. guarantee will be considered worthless by Pakistan. The roots of the problem are too deep.

The best that the U.S. can hope for is that Pakistan’s government will attempt to moderate its people’s sense of humiliation and outrage stemming from years of defeat at the hands of India as well as by constant U.S. violations of Pakistani sovereignty. Then the U.S. can continue to assassinate the militants and allow the Pakistani government to protest. It’s a dangerous charade but it will most likely continue.

Marvin Zonis is Professor Emeritus, Booth School of Business, The University of Chicago. He is author of Risk Rules: How Local Politics Threaten the Global Economy. See