Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Sunil Adam’s Abominable Foreign Policy Advice: “A collapsed Pakistani state is better than a toxic state precariously perched.”

Posted by K.E. White on April 22, 2009

Yes, you read that right. Yesterday’s Huffington Post features Sunil Adam’s review of Obama’s first hundred days. And while it touches on many topics, it’s real aim is U.S.-Pakistan relations–and pushing for a ‘hands off approach’.

It is not too late for him [President Obama] to change course — hands off Pakistan, follow a containment policy in Afghanistan and secure the homeland. Tacitly, this amounts to not propping up the Pakistani establishment through any form of aid — arms or developmental — and letting it sink or sail by its own volition. A collapsed Pakistani state is better than a toxic state precariously perched. Only the likelihood of collapse will galvanize the democratic and modernizing forces within Pakistani society and culminate in a popular revolution.

On the flip side, by taking itself out as a political, economic and military factor in the existence of Pakistan, America will probably help Pakistanis to have an objective national debate about the identity, direction and destiny of their country. Thanks to American influence on the one hand and the avowed threat of India on the other, Pakistan never really had a chance to introspect.

Meanwhile, the most effective policy President Obama could pursue would be to insulate the U.S. and its democratic allies from the likely fallouts of a collapsed Pakistan, including the possibility of Islamists laying their hands on nuclear weapons. In other words, his approach has to be the exact reverse of President Bush’s — making the homeland secure so that “they” can’t follow us home. 

Is such an inward turn really worth the risk? The first question to answer is just how critical is American support to maintaining the current Pakistani regime? Critical, but not vital. First, Pakistan’s “leaders have so far demonstrated a surprising ability to muddle through periodic crises.”* So, on a point that may lend credence to Adam, the world need not fear the imminent threat of nuclear detonation if American support dries up. 

But will this move force Pakistan to change?

Pakistan can find support from other nations, specifically China. (Read this CFR report reviewing their bilateral relationship, and this TIME article highlighting its recent tensions.) In return America loses an imperfect partner, and turns their interest inward–not towards fighting shared enemies, but getting through the day. Expect flare-ups along the Af-Pak  border and Kashmir as Pakistani military seeks 1) retaliation and 2) attempts to turn fundamentalist impulses away from Islamabad.

But there’s a deeper flaw in Adam’s portrayal of Pakistan as merely a client state that sucks resources and changes little. The main determinants of Pakistan’s policies are Pakistan, not outside players. Pakistani leaders–whatever their policy differences–desire nation-state integrity and pursue that policies that foster stability. Adam’s suggestion that Pakistan has only America for support greatly simplifies the Pakistan’s role in the world, and the challenges it faces.

And the idea that the Pakistani public or regime is not lacking ‘self-reflection’ is bewildering. A nation that threw out Musharraf by public protest and returned to liberal rule does not suggest a lack of ‘self-reflection’.

Yes the current government has challenges: the liberal parties are battling amongst themselves, and cannot wrestle power away from the military establishment. But this is not a two-step game of ‘failure’ and ‘success’. Rather its a series of steps–that in many combinations–bring one closer or further away from stability. Abandoning Pakistan does not guarantee reform: it guarantees antagonism and Pakistan aligning its security interests away from America’s security interests.

Imagine the Pakistani viewpoint. Pakistan throws out Musharraf, ushers in liberal rule and (however imperfectly) works with the United States in its Af-Pak mission and in return gets slapped. Something tells me that those predator drone operations will stop, and the Pakistani public will not stomach the site of American forces near their border.

The best strategy for America is to show itself a reliable partner that both puts down a long investment in Pakistan’s future (not just buy-off Pakistan for short-term interests in eradicating terrorists that threaten American interests) that then expects a return on its investment.

And in regards to dealing with Afghanistan, whether it’s Adam’s containment (ie apparently let the current regime crumble and have that country return to it’s fractured past) or active engagement, Pakistan is a critical part of success. Without cooperation from Pakistan, America has no way of either ‘fixing’ Afghanistan through our mini-surge or containing the fail-out of a failed state. 

What is guaranteed by Adam’s policy perscription is ever-expanding lawless areas, which not only destabilize neighboring countries, but pose a threat to America’s homeland and allies.

The key to Afghanistan is following through on an American commitment to bring security and development to that nation. And the key to Pakistan is not (a false) task of forcing it to choose ‘success’ or ‘failure’, but linking Pakistani and American priorities.

A collapsed Pakistani state might never recover, unleashing unpredictable fall-out; a ‘toxic state precariously perched’ can be engaged and strengthened over time–primarily from within.  But, let’s make one thing clear, Pakistan is not a toxic state: it is a challenged nation in need of reliable, long-term partners.

Update (7:10 pm): Secretary of State Hillary Clinton states Pakistan faces a “existential threat”; Dawn reports on the Taliban’s recent moves in Buner–the district neighboring the Swat Valley.


*Krepon, Michael. ‘Better Safe Than Sorry: The Ironies of Living with the Bomb’

One Response to “Sunil Adam’s Abominable Foreign Policy Advice: “A collapsed Pakistani state is better than a toxic state precariously perched.””

  1. neel123 said

    Pakistan is a Chinese proxy, that is at work to promote Chinese strategic interests vis a vis America’s. A stable and strong Pakistan is good for the Chinese, not for the US any more.

    The Pakistani army is pushing the envelop and seems ready to pay any price, but will not re-think its policy of looking at the terrorists as strategic asset.

    After seven years and 11.5 billion dollars, the US tax payer’s money must not be wasted on a failed state.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: