Poisonous in Pakistan

Should America stop providing aid to Pakistan?


    It's a mess, ain't it Sheriff?
    If it ain't it'll do till a mess gets here.
    Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

For years, we have poured billions of dollars into Pakistan, and the payoff is that two out of every three Pakistanis regard the United States as an enemy. After the discovery that Osama bin Laden had been living there for years, the feeling in America is: Right back atcha.

Some marriages can't be saved, and this looks like one of them. Ever since the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government has treated Pakistan as an indispensable asset while leaning on its rulers to do our bidding. They have taken the money and, often as not, sabotaged our interests. The Obama administration, however, resists all calls to end or curtail our aid.

Today, the war in Afghanistan drags on, al-Qaida has a large presence in Pakistan, and elements of the government are obviously working with our worst enemies. When we went after bin Laden, we didn't notify the Pakistanis in advance, figuring they would help him get away. The other day, Pakistani troops fired on NATO helicopters that strayed over the Afghan border.

Writing in The New Yorker, Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, notes that Pakistan "is one of the most anti-American countries in the world, and a covert sponsor of terrorism. Politically and economically, it verges on being a failed state." Whatever you can say about our policy, you can't say it's working.

The fault lies as much with us as with them. For nearly 10 years, the U.S. has been waging war next door. Lately it has also been waging war inside Pakistan with unmanned drones that are used to kill jihadists but sometimes slaughter innocents. How many Pakistani troops in Mexico, or errant Pakistani bombs exploding in California, would it take before Americans got fed up?

Our martial activities in South Asia do not breed happy feelings in Pakistan. On the contrary, they provoke suspicion, resentment and rage in the populace, to the benefit of militants.

Not only that, but our money usually gets used for bad purposes. Wright says the army and the intelligence service "created and nurtured the very groups—such as the Taliban—that have turned against the Pakistani state. And the money used to fund these radical organizations came largely from American taxpayers."

So maybe American taxpayers should do something less harmful with their money, like place it in a box, wrap it up with a big red bow and set it on fire. The United States has an interest in the direction taken by Pakistan. But we have a better chance of good results if we pull back than if we remain actively engaged, locked in endless conflict with a government whose goals are at odds with our own.

One big reason for our involvement with the Pakistani government is the Afghanistan war. Without its cooperation, the U.S. military would have trouble supplying its troops and going after Taliban allies in Pakistan. But we wouldn't need to supply troops if we acknowledged the futility of persisting in Afghanistan.

If our purpose is to wipe out enemies and create friends, we're going about it exactly the wrong way. The longer we stay, and the more troops we deploy, the more animosity we create, and the less secure we are.

The dangers we foment are not just on the other side of the planet. After a Pakistani-American man tried to detonate a bomb in Times Square last year, he told police he was motivated by anger over American drone attacks.

It's often argued that the U.S. has to provide aid to keep the country's nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of radicals. But Pakistan's rulers already have ample incentive to secure their stockpile—if only to keep it from being seized by the U.S. or India.

A more plausible danger is that Islamist extremists will gain access to the nukes by gaining power in Islamabad. But our activities in the region only magnify that risk. We're the irritant they need to flourish.

During the war on terror, Washington has spent great sums to bolster a regime that is corrupt, duplicitous and often hostile. Yet U.S. officials, gazing on the fruits of our Pakistan policy, warn that any sharp change will lead to disaster. Disaster is what we've already got.