The Plank

How Irrational Are Pakistan's Fears?

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Pankaj Mishra has a blog post at The New York Review of Books (that somehow sounds wrong) about the role of Kashmir in Obama's Af/Pak policy. Specifically, Mishra faults the Obama administration for not putting more pressure on India to resolve the Kashmir conflict. Meanwhile, in the Indian-controlled area of Kashmir, approximately 3000 graves have just been discovered, and most of them likely belong to Muslims that were killed by India's brutal security forces. Mishra writes:

The most common American complaint one now hears about Pakistan’s security establishmentexpressed yet again by Hillary Clinton at a congressional hearing on Thursdayis that it is “obsessed” with India. Her exasperated tone makes this obsession seem purely irrational, an unnecessary diversion from the urgent task of combating anti-American extremists in the region. But Pakistan is growing ever more fearful of an economically stronger India and its new intimacy with the United States. Convinced that America will turn away from Islamabad just as it did after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, Pakistan’s military leaders will be increasingly reluctant to fall in line with Obama’s announced objectives. They may well launch a few token crackdowns on militants, but they are unlikely to abandon the possibility of allowing some of them to remain in reserve in order to unleash them, at a later date, upon India-ruled Kashmir.

Mishra's logic here is confused. He is trying to argue that Pakistan is not acting purely irrationally. He then explains that the Pakistanis are worried that the United States will pull out of Afghanistan soon, which requires that the Pakistanis keep certain militants "in reserve" to use in Kashmir. This seems to me to be about as irrational as one could imagine. Nothing would undermine Pakistani security more. He also seems too willing to explain past Pakistani crimes through the prism of the country's relationship with India:

After all, India and Pakistan have fought three major wars over Kashmir. In 1971, India facilitated the secession of Pakistan’s easternmost province (now Bangladesh), provoking its humiliated army and intelligence officials to pursue a policy of creating “strategic depth” against India by seeking Pashtun clients inside Afghanistan.

The word "provoking" has no place in this paragraph even if Mishra is right that Indian support for Bangladesh's (then East Pakistan's) independence led directly to the "strategic depth" policy. But I do not think he is right: in fact, I am almost certain very few historians would draw such a close connection between these two policies. (And let's not weep too much over a "humiliated" Pakistani military that had just perpetrated genocide).

Mishra has written brilliantly before about Kashmir (see here, here, and here for his series in The New York Review from 2000), and he is certainly right that a solution to the Kashmir crisis would be a blessing for the people of Kashmir, and for the politics of the subcontinent. But none of this excuses Pakistani policy over the past few decades.

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