Question: Why is the future of Pakistan so closely tied to our success or failure in Afghanistan?
Wesley Clark: Well, Afghanistan is really a theater for proxy war between India and Pakistan. And these two major states; India with well over a billion people, Pakistan with 175 million people, they’ve been at odds really since a million people died, or so, in the process of India securing its independence and the Pakistani state was created. They fought again, and again, and again. There was an East Pakistan which is now Bangladesh. Lots of people have died in the process. And Pakistan, more so than India, because a warrior state.
In the 1950’s, Pakistan allied with the United States in something called the Central Treaty Organization, we were lined up with, at that time, Iran, ruled by the Shah, and Pakistan and Turkey as a southward shield against Soviet expansion toward the warm waters of the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. It was part of the containment strategy.
India, of course, looking at Pakistan being with the United States, India then said, “Well, where can I get military assistance?” And they went to the Russians. So the Indian Armed Forces became more dependent at that time, they were freed of their colonial entanglements with Britain and they became more dependent on the Soviets. And so in the 1970s, under Richard Nixon, we had a famous tilt toward Pakistan. All of that is just to say that those issues have never been resolved. There was active fighting on a glacier at 21,000 feet, still is. Troops fight each other up there, they freeze to death, artillery goes back and forth, a few people die every year. It’s never totally been resolved between India and Pakistan.
China invaded India and there was a war between India and China in some of the disputed terrain in 1962 and India got hurt by that. Pakistan, of course, had alliances, or informal alliances with China. So there’s a whole lot of still-unresolved issues, the most important of which, I guess would be Kashmir, which has a number of Muslims. Pakistan would like to have that province; it actually was claimed by India. There’s a dispute on how that’s going to be resolved. All of that is in a sort of tense standoff. And the standoff has spilled over into Afghanistan.
Pakistanis believe that Afghanistan is their, “strategic depth,” against India, and India says, “Well if the Pakistanis get that strategic depth there will be even more intractable in dealing with issues like Kashmir and other issues that affect India." And so the largest Indian embassy in the world, I’m told, is in Kabul. Afghanistan is a country that apparently, according to the reports that I’ve received, has 13 Indian consulates. And where did Hamid Karzai live when he wasn’t in Afghanistan? It wasn’t in Pakistan, it was in India. And so you can see the basic outlines of a conflict.
And so from the Pakistani perspective, they were betrayed by the United States by something called a Pressler Amendment in 1990. They were developing a nuclear weapon, we knew about it, they were developing it for defensive purposes, they say, against India, which was developing it for its own reasons, its own nuclear weapons. We cut off our military assistance to Pakistan. We hadn't been giving military assistance to India.
So we cut off military assistance, broke the ties. Prior to that, in the 1980’s, we had a very good military-to-military relationship dating back into the ‘50s, with the Pakistani military. And we’d done the work together to fight the... used the Mujahideen to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. All that ended with the so-called "Pressler Amendment." Americans don’t even remember this Amendment, but it’s a huge deal in the minds of the Pakistanis. It’s a sign that even if Washington is your friend today, they could be against you tomorrow.
Then the Indians took off economically, we have a lot of Indian-Americans in the United States, we are very proud of their work, they’re wonderful technologists. At one point we were getting like 90% of the graduates of the Indian Institute of Technology to the United States. Now only 50% come, and it’s one of the premiere technical schools in the world.
So it’s easy to understand how the Pakistanis would look at this and say, "Oh, those Americans, you know, they’re going to betray us again. And so we better, we better really be careful with this." Well, they way they’re being careful with it is, they have the Taliban. The Taliban are there, hosted on... it’s a carryover really from the struggle against the Soviets, but they’re hosted in the frontier provinces along the Afghanistan border and they are either deliberately or inadvertently the arm and the reach into Afghanistan to enforce Pakistan’s efforts to secure its strategic base.
And so on the other side of it, India has a big interest then in working against the Taliban. Well, so we’re caught in the middle of this, we armed the Taliban in the 1980’s, we know many of the people, of the top leaders or the young people who were associated with the top leaders from those days, and now we are against them. And, in one way or another, most of them have continued to fight us.
So we’re caught in this. And, just like Iraq, it’s not purely a military struggle. In fact, you could argue that this is even less of a military struggle than the struggle in Iraq was. No matter what we’re doing, we call it counter-insurgency; we’re really going after the Al Qaeda terrorists who were also embedded in the Northwestern frontier provinces in Pakistan. And the concern is that somewhere in side Pakistan, there is some really smart, wily, sly, Pakistani intelligence group that says, “You know, these Americans, if they ever get Osama Bin Laden they won't need to work with Pakistan any more. They won’t give us billions of dollars a year to fix our madrasas and to rearm the Pakistani military. Instead, they’ll go to India and work with India because Americans like India, and India’s a big democracy. You know, we’re Pakistanis, we’re not as well-respected in the United States, people don’t know us."
And they have this sense about America. I don’t know if they’re right or wrong about it, but I do know they have that sense. And it’s one of the issues in the relationship. So, we’re working very hard with the Pakistani government, we’re trying to work with their armed forces, we’re trying to convince them it’s in their interest to completely shut down the Taliban, build an independent state that’s a non-warrior state in Afghanistan, and end the struggle that way. I’m not sure that we’ve succeeded in changing their mindset at the deepest levels, and so the struggle continues.
Recorded September 23, 2010
Interviewed by Andrew Dermont