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Pakistan’s Dangerous Game

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Pakistan’s Dangerous Game

Bin Laden is gone, but the nation’s military remains a destabilizing force. May 2, 2011

Osama bin Laden has been killed in a distant country, one we all know as Pakistan. When you look at a map, you find its name and geographical location, but both are illusions. Pakistan is a loose association of different nations with no common language and few common interests. If you ask Pakistanis about their identity, they will answer that they are Balootch, or Sindhi, or Punjabi—not Pakistani. The only exception to this fragmentation is the military: “Pakistan” is, above all, the Pakistani army and secret services, whose members are mostly of Punjabi descent. They have one purpose in life: fighting India.

Without India as an enemy, the Pakistani military would disappear. In the protracted conflict that has raged since the 1949 Partition, the Pakistani military make use of any armament and proxy they can find: nuclear threats, the Taliban, Islamic terrorism. Bin Laden fit right into that purpose. But the 2011 Arab revolutions had rendered the al-Qaida mastermind irrelevant in the Arab world. Millions of Arabs had let him know that they’re not interested in his caliphate and sharia ideology. They don’t want bin Ladenism, but more democratic societies.

But bin Laden was still useful for the Pakistani military. He could engineer terrorist attacks globally, including in India, home to more Muslims than Pakistan. He could sponsor anti-Indian regimes in Afghanistan like the Taliban, and, after the Taliban’s overthrow, threaten President Karzai if he acted against the Pakistani military’s interests. Bin Laden was also useful in preventing the U.S. from becoming too close to India at Pakistan’s expense—since the U.S. needed, or felt it needed, Pakistani cooperation in fighting terror. The Pakistani military and secret services wielded the al-Qaida threat like a military deterrent. Keeping bin Laden close, and seemingly protected within the Pakistani secret services, sent a message to the U.S.: if you favor India over Pakistan, we will turn him loose.

Now, the bin Laden bomb has been defused, but the problem of the Pakistani military remains. The end of the war on terrorism will not occur in Afghanistan but in Pakistan. Through a variety of measures, including cutting U.S. equipment supplies, the Pakistani military must be neutralized. In a more perfect world, India and Pakistan should someday be reunified or, at least, reconciled.

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