When you get into discussions about the Middle East with certain people, you start hearing that the great mistake was the partition of Palestine and the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. If that had somehow just not happened, you hear, everything would be all right.
That’s not my view. I think the big mistake made in a British possession around that time was the partition of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan in 1947.
The British thought that Pakistan under the leadership of the secular lawyer Muhammad Ali Jinnah would turn out to be an acceptable counterbalance to an India led by Jawaharlal Nehru’s Congress Party.
But Jinnah was suffering from cancer at the time and died in September 1948, 13 months after partition. And Pakistan ever since has been — well, let’s say it has been a problem.
While India has had only one brief suspension of its democratic constitution since independence, Pakistan has been ruled by generals most of the time since 1948. Pakistan was an American ally during the Cold War and helped expel the Soviets from Afghanistan.
But in the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, elements in Pakistan’s military and its intelligence service, the ISI, backed the Taliban in Afghanistan and supported terrorist attacks on India. They have sheltered A.Q. Khan, the nuclear scientist who developed Pakistan’s nuclear bomb and conducted, as analyst Walter Russell Mead writes, “the nuclear proliferation circus that helped countries like North Korea, Libya, Syria and Iran advance their nuclear ambitions.”
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf was pressured into announcing that Pakistan would support the U.S. against the Taliban after Sept. 11. But it’s widely known that Pakistanis have been giving aid and sanctuary to the Taliban and the Haqqani terrorists in recent years.
And the fact that American forces found and killed Osama bin Laden in a $1 million house less than a mile from Pakistan’s military academy in Abbottabad makes it plain that some if not all Pakistani leaders were harboring America’s No. 1 enemy.
Pakistan’s current president, Asif Ali Zardari, took to the pages of The Washington Post to deny that Pakistan knew anything about bin Laden’s hideout. And National Security Adviser Tom Donilon told Sunday talk show viewers that he has “not seen any evidence at least to date that the political, military or intelligence leadership of Pakistan knew” about it.
Now it must be conceded that Zardari represents democratic forces in Pakistan that rallied around his wife, Benazir Bhutto, before she was assassinated when she returned to the country in December 2007. Perhaps he was not let in on the information on bin Laden.
And Donilon has good reason not to want to seen any evidence that Pakistani officials were harboring bin Laden. The uncomfortable truth is that we need at least the veneer of cooperation from Pakistan so long as we maintain the battle against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
But we shouldn’t kid ourselves. Since bin Laden’s death, Pakistani media have, for the second time in six months, divulged the identity of the CIA station chief in the country. People in the Pakistani military and/or the ISI are giving the United States a big middle finger.
How should we respond? We could list Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism, we could cut off the billions in aid we send to the Pakistan government, and we could conduct additional operations like the Abbottabad raid. But those moves would risk an open rupture that would imperil our efforts in Afghanistan.
One card we could play would be to strengthen relations with India. In the Cold War, we backed Pakistan against India. But after 1991, we moved closer to India, first under Bill Clinton and more so under George W. Bush with the U.S.-India nuclear cooperation treaty. I’ve long felt that the India card was one reason Musharraf agreed to cooperate after Sept. 11.
Another possibility, suggested by Mead, is to persuade the Saudis to pressure Pakistan to break ties with terrorists. Bin Laden, after all, was their sworn enemy, too.
Meanwhile, in our dealings with the Pakistanis, we need to keep our eyes open, as I hope our leaders are doing.
In retrospect, the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan in 1947 was a terrific mistake. Unfortunately, we can’t rewind history.