If Pakistan's intelligence service continues to plot terrorist attacks with the Taliban in Afghanistan, as the mass of documents released yesterday by Wikileaks allege, who is responsible for covering this up for so many years? The answer, I argue in this morning's Asia Times Online, is everybody.
This raises the question: Who covered up a scandalous arrangement known to everyone with a casual acquaintance of the situation? The answer is the same as in Agatha Christie's 1934 mystery about murder on the Orient Express, that is, everybody: former United States president George W Bush and vice president Dick Cheney, current US President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, India, China and Iran. They are all terrified of facing a failed state with nuclear weapons, and prefer a functioning but treacherous one.
As of 9:00 a.m., there was nary a mention of one of the year's biggest news stories on either National Review or the Commentary magazine website. Perhaps that is because the new documents put as much egg on the face of the previous Republican administration as on the present Democratic one. "What elephant in the parlor?," sadly, is not a full-credit answer.
It is hard to dismiss the documents as a fabrication: Who has time to forge 92,000 documents in a credible style imitation of American military-speak? And if the documents are genuine, it is hard to dismiss them as unimportant. Even for those of us with an extremely dour view of the Afghan War (and I took such a view in my May 2010 First Things essay, "The Morality of Self-Interest"), the contents are eye-popping. Certainly they reinforce my view that the nation-building strategy of the past Republican administration was a delusion. Social engineering doesn't work, whether attempted by the right or the left.
Everyone has a good reason to ignore the suppurating mess that is Pakistan:
To exit the Afghan quagmire in a less than humiliating fashion, the United States requires Pakistani help to persuade the Taliban not to take immediate advantage of the American departure and evoke Vietnam-era scenes of helicopters on the American Embassy roof. The politicians in Washington know they have lost and have conceded to the Taliban a role in a post-American Afghanistan. They can only hope that once the country plunges into chaos, the public will have moved onto other themes, much as it did after the Bill Clinton administration put Kosovo into the hands of a gang of dubious Albanians in 1998.
India does not want America to call Pakistan to account. In the worst case, Pakistan might choose to support the Taliban and other terrorist organizations—including Kashmiri irredentists—openly rather than covertly. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, of whom the Economist on July 25 wrote "the strength of his coalition depends largely on how weak he is as Prime Minister", does not want to confront Pakistan. If Pakistan's support for anti-Indian terrorism became undeniable, India would have to act, and action is the last thing the Congress party-led coalition in New Delhi wants to consider.
China has no interest in destabilization in Pakistan; on the contrary, Beijing lives in fear that radical Islamists in Pakistan might infect its own restive Uyghurs. And Iran, which shares the fractious Balochis with Pakistan on their common border, lives in terror that a destabilized Pakistan would free the Balochis to make trouble.
Balochis comprise little over 2% of Iran's population, but they have demonstrated their talent at bomb-making on several recent occasions, including the bombing this month of a Shi'ite mosque in southeastern Iran in which 28 people were killed and hundreds wounded. Iran has accused Pakistan of sponsoring Balochi terror attacks, but intelligence community sources in Washington insist that the Pakistanis would never be so reckless as to put bombs into Balochi hands.
With 170 million people—more than Russia—and a nuclear arsenal, Pakistan is too big to fail, that is, too big to fail without traumatic consequences for its neighbors. Whether it can be kept from failure is questionable. Half its people live on less than a dollar day, and half are illiterate. It is riven by religious differences—a seventh of Pakistanis are Shi'ite—as well as ethnic ones.
No one will accuse me of dovishness. But to continue to sacrifice American lives in Afghanistan under the circumstances seems stupid and immoral. It may be true that Afghanistan will be a breeding ground for terrorism when American troops leave, but Pakistan already is a breeding ground for terrorism. But there are other, cheaper ways to deal with the problem. Here's an idea: freeze travel between Pakistan and the United States (or subject prospective travelers to extreme scrutiny) until Pakistan roots out and punishes the elements of its military who help the Taliban kill Americans and their allies.
As for the threat that Pakistan may become a failed state: Pakistan already is a failed state. America's natural ally in the region is India.
David P. Goldman is a senior editor at First Things.