THE REVOLUTIONS in the Arab streets, whatever their individual outcomes,
have already overturned the dominant assumption of global geopolitics —
that hundreds of millions of impoverished people will uncomplainingly
accept their assignment to the antechamber of hell. The United States,
meanwhile, has been faced with the radical obsolescence of its Cold
War-rooted preference of strong-man “stability’’ over basic principles
of justice. In 1979, with Iran’s popular overthrow of the shah, America
was given a chance to re-examine its regional assumptions, but the
Carter Doctrine militarized them by threatening war for the sake of oil.
In 1989, when people power dismantled the Soviet empire, Washington
declared its own empire, and replaced the Communist devil with an
Islamic one. But what if the devil has a point?
The Obama administration’s initial
ambivalence toward the popular Arab uprisings resulted less from
uncertain political instincts than from the iron grip of a half-century
old paradigm, the core principle of which, in the Mideast, is that oil
matters more than human life. That paradigm is broken now, and
Washington is chastened by the clear manifestation that its policies
have been self-serving, callous, and even immoral. It is impossible to
behold such developments without asking: What next? And to ask that
question is to follow an automatic shift of the gaze toward Pakistan.
United States has been preoccupied, as ever, more with the power elite
of Pakistan than with the plight of its people, which makes it as wrong
in its strategy toward that pivotal nation as toward the others. For the
usual reasons of realpolitik, Washington has cozied up to one Pakistani
dictator after another; ignored their corruptions; downplayed their
mortal complicity in the most dangerous nuclear proliferation on the
planet; turned a half-blind eye to the Pakistani military’s double game
in Afghanistan. All the while, the same pressures that have blown the
tops off half a dozen Arab states have been building there, too.
is a country of 170 million people, 60 percent of whom live on less
than $2 a day. Nearly that many are illiterate. In the last three years,
unemployment has almost tripled to 14 percent, with the same increases
in the cost of basic necessities that sparked unrest elsewhere. But
Pakistan has also been staggered by last summer’s floods, which
directly affected more than 20 million, and so devastated the nation’s
agricultural infrastructure that by autumn the World Food Program was
warning that 70 percent of the population lacked adequate access to
nutrition. As if these “normal’’ pressures of natural disaster and
economic inequity are not destabilizing enough, a massive Islamist
insurgency, building on the primacy of tribal loyalties, increasingly
threatens the Islamabad government. Early this month, as protests
mounted to his west, the Pakistani prime minister made the by-then
mandatory show of reform by dissolving his cabinet.
the context for all of this in Pakistan is unique, for the more
insecure Islamabad has felt, the more it has embraced the
American-spawned fantasy of nuclear weapons as a source of all-trumping
transcendent power. Since President Obama gave his historic speech in
Prague two years ago, declaring a world purpose of nuclear elimination,
Pakistan has been adding to its nuclear arsenal at a feverish clip,
growing it from about 70 weapons to perhaps more than 100. The stated
rationale for this is the threat from India, which is engaged in its own
escalations, with highly touted military support from the United States
— including a recent offer of dozens of prized F-35 stealth fighters.
Nothing better demonstrates the stuck-in-amber obsolescence of US policy
than this self-defeating — and profit-driven — fueling of the South
Asia arms race. A balance of terror is no balance. So last week,
Pakistan test-fired its nuclear-capable Babur cruise missile — a bow
shot as much at Washington as at New Delhi.
speaking of last week, what were those frenzied crowds in Pakistani
streets calling for if not the lynching of Raymond Davis, the CIA
operative who faces a murder trial in Lahore for his January killing of
two Pakistanis? That Davis is tied to havoc-wreaking CIA drone strikes
is enough to enrage a population, shackling his nation, once again, to
the wrong side of history.