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Pakistan, A Questionable Friend By: Serge Trifkovic
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, January 02, 2003


(One in a series of articles adapted by Robert Locke from Dr. Serge Trifkovic’s new book The Sword of the Prophet: A Politically-Incorrect Guide to Islam)

Thanks to a huge bribe in the form of forgiveness of its massive foreign debt, Pakistan sided with the West in America’s war to uproot the Taliban in Afghanistan, and we are told that it is a reliable ally in the War on Terror.  But beneath the thin crust of the Musharraf regime, there lurk deep tensions in Pakistan that should lead us to question whether it is likely to be our ally for the long haul.

For a start, there is the basic fact that Pakistan was the first modern state to be established on openly Islamic principles, and even its name, “land of the pure”, implies that only the “pure” ones — Moslems — are true citizens. Having no real history as a nation, it was artificially carved out of British India to create a Moslem-majority nation when the Raj dissolved in 1947.  The result was a semi-coherent hodgepodge with nothing but religion and military force to hold it together.

Pakistan suffers from many defects derived from its origins. It is divided by caste, with the highest status reserved for the alleged, imagined, and perhaps a few real descendants of Arab conquerors, called ashraf. This social structure predicated upon the supposed superiority of Islamic imperialism in itself suggests that Islam is the cause, or at least an aggravating feature in the array of problems of underdevelopment, illiteracy, oppression, poverty, disease, and rigidity of thought. For as long as the country’s Islamic character is explicitly upheld by General Musharraf and his successors, Pakistan cannot evolve into a democracy, an efficient economy, or a civilized polity, without undermining the religious rationale for its very existence.  The political structure of the nation thus guarantees its subservience to politicized Islam. Unlike neighboring India, Pakistan has never been a functional democracy.  It legislates discrimination against Christians and other religious minorities and it covertly aids terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir in India.

Always on the verge of bankruptcy, Pakistan has been for most of its 55 years of existence under military dictatorships. None of its leaders has ever left power voluntarily. Some were executed on trumped-up charges, notably the democratically elected Prime Minister Bhutto. His executioner, the ultra-pious Islamist General Zia ul-Haq, was the military dictator of Pakistan from 1977 until 1988. He had strong links with the Moslem Brotherhood and sharia was reintroduced after a bogus referendum. At the domestic level, Pakistan is an unstable powder-keg, torn by religious divisions which set Sunni against Shiite Moslems (20% of the population); by ethnic conflict between Pashtuns, Baluchis, Sindhis and Punjabis; and by social inequality, with 40% of its population below the poverty level. It is also one of the most corrupt countries in the world—a country where, according to the United Nations, the criminal economy is larger in real terms than the legal economy.[1]

And yet its president Pervez Musharraf, described in a thousand American editorials as “a key ally in the U.S.-led fight against terror,” was warmly welcomed by President Bush at the White House in February 2002. He came to Washington asking for money, arms, and political support in the territorial dispute with India, while declaring his goal to turn his country into “a modern, progressive Islamic state.” The visitor clearly thought it was payback time: After the September 2001 attacks, Musharraf allowed America to use Pakistani air bases and air space, winning praise from Bush and obtaining an improvement in U.S - Pakistani relations that had deteriorated since the end of the Cold War. The U.S. has dropped long-standing economic sanctions resulting from Pakistan’s nuclear program, committed up to $600 million in loans and aid, and encouraged the IMF to give Pakistan a $135 million loan. In addition, Pakistan wants to begin buying military goods from the United States and has sought the release of 28 American F-16 fighters sold to Pakistan but withheld by Congress when Pakistan developed nuclear weapons.

While Mr. Musharraf's cooperation was helpful to the military campaign in Afghanistan, the Pakistani Army’s deliberate failure to block escape routes ensured that all the big fish have safely slipped away.  The Pakistani military were loath to risk firefights with their erstwhile Taliban clients and allies, and never went into the remote border areas.  All that Musharraf has done can only partly atone for Pakistan’s many past transgressions, rather than be treated as a capital investment that should yield open-ended dividends. It would be wrong to assume either that Musharraf is turning into a Pakistani Kemal Ataturk, the brutal but efficient modernizer of Turkey, or that Pakistan itself is a stable and reliably responsible partner of the United States, let alone an “ally” in the way Britain is or Russia can be.

Contemporary jihad was born out of ideas conceived in the battlefields of Afghanistan but subsequently matured and spread from Pakistan’s political, military, and religious establishment. These movements enjoyed the support of the Pakistani military-intelligence structures, and most notably its powerful, 40,000-strong Inter-Service Intelligence Agency (ISI).[2] It grew rich and mighty thanks to the U.S. role in helping Islamic fundamentalists fight their Soviet foe in the last decade of the Cold War. The ethos of the Pakistani military may be better understood from the preface to “The Koranic Concept of War” by Brigadier S.K. Malik:

“But in Islam war is waged to establish supremacy of the Lord only when every other argument has failed to convince those who reject His Will and work against the every purpose of the creation of mankind… Many Western scholars have pointed their accusing fingers at some of the verses in the Koran to be able to contend that world of Islam is in a state of perpetual struggle against the non-Moslems… [T]he defiance of God’s authority by one who is His slave exposes that slave to the risk of being held guilty of treason.”

It is therefore “necessary to remove such cancerous malformation even if it be by surgical means, in order to save the rest of humanity,” the good Brigadier concludes.  With friends like these…

It was in such spirit that the officers of the ISI were steeped when the CIA subcontracted to the ISI the arm-them-to-their-teeth policy on the mujahedeen. The ISI’s past and current loyalties are, at best, uncertain. It was hedging its bets during the 2001 Afghan war, and probably arranged last October’s murder of Afghan opposition leader Abdul Haq. The U.S. intelligence admitted to having no idea “which side of the street they’re playing on.”

For decades Pakistan has waged its own war by proxy against India through its Kashmiri surrogates controlled by the ISI, even while denying any links with or control over them.[3] Bombings at the Srinagar legislature and the Delhi parliament last year, which killed dozens of people and brought two countries to the brink of war, were terrorist acts par excellence by Moslem groups with Pakistani connections.

Under intense international pressure following the attacks, last January Mr. Musharraf finally promised to end Pakistan’s support of terrorists who have been crossing its border to carry out attacks in India. A few weeks later, and only days before his subsequent trip to Washington, he completely backtracked and restated Pakistan’s long-discredited official position: that the violence in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir is the result of an “indigenous” liberation movement, operating independently but nevertheless eminently worthy of Pakistan’s support.  This endless hedging and equivocating is typical.

The future of Pakistan’s nuclear program should be of even greater concern to the United States, but on this front we also encounter denial and make-believe optimism that has characterized Washington’s relations with the Moslem world for decades. Before leaving Pakistan at the end of his official visit in November 2001, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld declared that Washington was not concerned about the potential for misuse of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

In 1972, following its third war with India, Pakistan secretly started nuclear weapons program. It was ostensibly peaceful — that’s how they all start — and Canada supplied a reactor, heavy water, and a production facility. But in 1974 Western suppliers embargoed nuclear exports to Pakistan, suspecting its true agenda, and in 1976 Canada stopped supplying nuclear fuel.  In 1979, the U.S. imposed economic sanctions when Pakistan was caught importing equipment for its uranium enrichment plant at Kahuta. This was more than compensated by support from Arab states, particularly Libya — which provided funds and access to clandestinely obtained West European technologies and materiel — and Saudi Arabia, which gave Pakistan money and access to U.S.-made supercomputers.

Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the Reagan administration radically changed its policy, however. It lifted sanctions and provided generous military and financial aid because of Pakistan’s help to Afghan rebels battling Moscow.  The process reached its logical conclusion on May 28, 1998, when Pakistan detonated a string of nuclear devices and became the first Islamic country to join the nuclear club. The United States imposed sanctions, as it had on India.

When the jubilant masses poured to the streets of Pakistan to cheer the news, they shouted Allah Akbar! They carried models of the Hatf—Pakistan’s nuclear missile—marked ‘Islamic bomb.’ In Friday prayers mullahs stressed that the tests are a “triumph for Islam.” The question vexing the U.S. intelligence community now is not so much whether there will be a nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India, but what will happen if some of Pakistan’s assets — two-dozen warheads, not counting fissure material — fall into the wrong hands. Even if the regime survives, Pakistan’s nuclear material may be stolen by officers or renegade scientists sympathetic to the extremists, and used for crude terror devices.

In 2001 U.S. intelligence officers were alarmed over the disclosure that two retired Pakistani nuclear scientists have had connections to the Taliban. Both men, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudry Abdul Majid, had spent their careers at the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, working on weapons-related projects. This indicates that extremist sympathies extend beyond the Pakistani Army into the country’s supposedly highly disciplined nuclear-weapons laboratories.

Benazir Bhutto promised a new dawn for Pakistan in the ‘80s, but in the end had to make compromises with the religious groups. She may have thought that they would accept the legitimacy of her credentials in spite of her sex, but she was wrong. Her career is not a demonstration that women may succeed in Islam, but, quite the contrary, that they are unwelcome at the top. The civilian government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was overthrown on October 12, 1999, by General Musharraf — who is now a self-anointed president. That was the first military coup in a major country since the end of the cold war and the first in a country with nuclear weapons.

Pakistan has a constitution that guarantees religious freedom, but harassment of Christians in Punjab’s villages is persistent. Any dispute with a Moslem — most commonly over land — can become a religious confrontation; Christians are frequently accused of blasphemy against Islam, an offence that carries the death penalty. Pakistan has some of the strictest blasphemy laws in the Moslem world. Moslem rioters in Rahimyar Khan, a town in southern Punjab, burned a dozen churches in 1997 after attacking Christians they accused of throwing torn pages of the Koran into a mosque. This turned out to be a fabrication invented by the surrounding Moslems as the pretext to occupy their land.

Pakistani-born Patrick Sookhdeo, who grew up as a Moslem, converted to Christianity, and eventually became an Anglican priest, laments the fact that the West prefers to deny the suffering of Christian communities at the hands of Moslems:

“We can rescue Kuwait because there is oil, but why should we want to rescue black Sudanese Christians? And the church opted for inter-religious dialogue. They desperately wanted a relationship with the Moslems. So it meant the Christian minorities had to be sacrificed on the altar of community relations.”[4]

As Pakistani journalist Najum Mushtaq points out, the mere spectacle of the WTC towers crumbling is hailed in the streets of Karachi as symbolizing the destruction of the myth of U.S. power:

“The heavily indoctrinated, religious-minded public sees it as a miracle of faith… In official as well as public parlance, ideology of Pakistan and Islamic ideology are interchangeable phrases. And those who enjoy ‘property rights’ over Islam here--the sectarian clergy and militants--interpret the religion in anti-West, anti-U.S., anti-India terms. Theirs is an anti-culture which, incidentally, coincides with the mindset of Pakistani soldiers.”[5]

It may be necessary and prudent for the United States to humor those soldiers, led by General Musharraf, lest someone worse takes their place. It would be folly, however, to pretend that they are – or can ever be – America’s reliable and trusted allies.[6]  We made this mistake once with the Shah of Iran, twice with the Saudi monarchy, and Heaven knows we don’t need a third time. America must steel itself to the realpolitik necessity of admitting to ourselves that we do business with complete bastards and stop pretending that any country whose rulers momentarily square their interests with our own is a real friend to be relied upon.


[1] www.en.monde-diplomatique.fr/1999/11/01leader

[2] Cf. “The Unseen Power” by Michael Schaffer, U.S. News & World Report, November 12, 2001; also see, e.g., Asia Times, “America’s Pact with the Devil,” September 18, 2001: http://www.atimes.com/ind-pak/CI18Df02.html

[3] See Patterns of Global Terrorism during 2000, released by the Counter-Terrorism Division of the U.S. Department of State, April 2001.

[4] The Washington Times, January 16, 2002.

[5] “Moderate Jihad?” http://www.bullatomsci.org/issues/2000/ja00/ja00mushtaq_report.html

[6] “The Unseen Power” by Michael Schaffer, U.S. News & World Report, November 12, 2001


Serge Trifkovic received his PhD from the University of Southampton in England and pursued postdoctoral research at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. His past journalistic outlets have included the BBC World Service, the Voice of America, CNN International, MSNBC, U.S. News & World Report, The Washington Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Times of London, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He is foreign affairs editor of Chronicles.


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