For obvious reasons, I’ve been obsessing about India and Pakistan for the last two days. To use the language of Joe Biden, it looks like Pakistan will be Obama’s first big foreign policy “test.” We don’t know whether the terrorist attacks in Mumbai were sponsored by the Pakistani intelligence services or not. But there is a sense in which this question is irrelevant since it’s clear that whatever the origins of the terrorist might be, the intent of the attacks was to strain relations between Indian and Pakistan, and also to punish India for its closer ties to the United States.
Having said all that, I’m not sure what policy (or policies) the US should follow. Every path that’s open to the US seems fraught with danger.
A few quick points need to be made:
* One reason I’ve always been skeptical of all the talk about “democracy promotion” popular in US elite circles is because of the history of India and Pakistan. However imperfect it might be, India is the world’s largest democracy. And however valuable it may be as an ally, Pakistan has had only brief periods of democracy. Yet the United States and Britain have over the last 5 decades and more consistently allied themselves with Pakistan, not India.
* It’s not just that the Western powers are willing to overlook Pakistan’s lack of democracy. Britain and the US have been the great patrons of the Pakistani military, the most powerful and anti-democratic insitution in that country.
* Looked at honestly, there is no real Pakistan problem. The real problem is Western support for the military in Pakistan, which has warped that nation’s history. As Zizek said in a related context, we’ve created this monster, so we have an obligation to tame it.
* In the long run, I’m all for a policy of democracy promotion and de-militarization (Pakistan is one of the most militerized countries on earth). But given the current crisis, I’m not sure if there is time for that.
For some very reasonable thoughts on future US policy in the region, take a look at this report from the Center for America Progress, the liberal think tank that is emerging is the intellectual powerhouse of the Obama administration. Written by Caroline Wadhams, Brian Katulis, Lawrence J. Korb, Colin Cookman, the report offers some hope that American policy makers are fully aware of the complexity of the situation. As allergic as I am to technocratic liberalism, I appreciate the thoughtful of the report and it’s attempt to place current problems in a broad complex. The fact that president-elect Obama is listening to people like this is re-assuring.