Pakistan: An Unforeseen Problem for the U.S.

The Asian nation—with its big military, nuclear weapons, and ongoing conflict with India—has been a "dangerous state" for the U.S. for some time. We're only now starting to realize how urgent its situation is.
  • Transcript


Question: What big trends have you missed during your 18-year tenure at Foreign Affairs?

Jim Hoge:
I had a number of people in Washington and the State Department and elsewhere telling me very early on, all the way back 18 years ago, "Put the focus on Pakistan.  Pakistan is going to be the most dangerous state for all of us."  And that was the head of policy planning at the time, a man named Sam Lewis who said that to me and I said, “Well is that the number one item for policy planning, long term planning for the century?”  He said, “You bet it is.”  Well it still is and it’s more urgent now than it was then.  We did pay attention to them.  We’ve done a number of pieces on not just Pakistan, but the dynamics of that region and how easily they come unraveled, but this was long before 9/11 and long before Afghanistan was viewed as anything but a backwater after the Soviet invasion was over, so I still remember that neither the State Department nor Foreign Affairs really grasped at that time just what a problem Pakistan could end up to be. 

Now why do I call it a big problem now?  Pakistan is a major state.  It’s not like Afghanistan, a backwater state.  It has a big population, a lot of big military, nuclear weapons and one of the great nation to nation conflicts that still goes on.  If there is going to be another big nation to nation war it’s more likely to be between India and Pakistan than almost anybody else.  We have been completely unsuccessful, not that we haven’t tried, when I say we I mean the United States, in getting Pakistan and India to finally resolve the problems over Kashmir and get back into more normal state to state relationship putting the emphasis on their economic developments.  In that period of time, those 18 years or so since that first warning Pakistan has gone through a great discombobulation, civil governments that didn’t work, military coups that didn’t work, the rise in fundamentalism there.  Meanwhile, across the border India has gone from being a relatively huge, poverty-ridden country with very few prospects for economic development into this raging new first rate power, which is where they’re headed, with a very dynamic economy and so you have this contest between a fading Pakistan if you will and a rising India and that of course is the grounds for even more tensions and possible miscalculations.

How would such a war affect the U.S.?

Jim Hoge: Well one has to assume that if there really was another all out Indian/Pakistani war that nuclear weapons would be used and what the specific ramifications would be it’s hard to say, but a nuclear war, there has only been one use of nuclear weapons ever, is an incalculable risk with unintended consequences.  We are both an ally of Pakistan and we are an ally of India.  What would we do if the two of them ended up in a war?  What would we do if one started using nuclear weapons?  I don’t know, but it is a cataclysm to be avoided at all costs.

Recorded May 28, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman