British Socialist Idealism and Pakistan’s Road to Ruin
You can blame the mess that is Pakistan on an excess of liberal idealism in London after World War II. When the Labor Party under Clement Atlee trounced Churchill’s Conservatives, it came into power with an agenda of idealistic socialism that was to have consequences down through the decades.
At home this socialist administration planned for national insurance in health and pensions, which Churchill supported, and for an almost immediate British withdrawal from India, which he vehemently opposed.
India was already far along toward some kind of independence by the outbreak of World War II. The manner of Britain’s going was more the issue than that it would happen. The speed and the nature of the withdrawal are debated to this day, as is the rough partition of British India into India and West and East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.
In the end the withdrawal was swift, ill thought out, and led to enormous loss of life: an immediate slaughter of more than a million people in religious violence. If you add the deaths in the 1965 and 1971 wars, the toll rises by more millions, especially when you count in the endless violence over the disputed territory of Kashmir.
There were many weaknesses in the British withdrawal, including the absurd idea of two Pakistans separated by India. Pakistan was an idea supported by Muslim leaders going back to the 19th century, but the creation of a modern country based solely on religion had yet to be tested.
Where the socialist idealists in Britain failed was in realizing that the industrial and entrepreneurial heart of British India (The Raj) lay not in the poor Muslim areas but in the more sophisticated cities of India, with its diversity of languages and religions–even though Hinduism dominated.
What is now Pakistan was poor, feudal, corrupt and torn between the two sects of Islam, Sunni and Shia.
Pakistan might have been left to stew, if it had not been for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, coupled with the Indian championing of regimes hostile to the United States. Through this support of the unaligned movement (a bunch of troublemakers like Cuba and Tanzania), India thought it could play the United States against the Soviet Union. All it did was to accelerate the U.S. tilt to its unstable neighbor, Pakistan.
The Soviet incursion into Afghanistan lured the United States deeply into the region. Pakistan became our ally and we willfully overlooked its feudalism and corruption and, most importantly, the spread of a potent Islamic militancy, through its religious schools (madrassas). We heavily favored Pakistan, even though we knew the country was trying to build a bomb.
In the mid-1980s, I interviewed Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s strong man. He denied Pakistan was working on a weapon, but his own detailed knowledge of bomb construction gave the lie to his protestations. I left Pakistan convinced that a nuclear weapon was in the works. What one did not know was the willingness of the rogue scientist, A.Q. Khan, to sell the technology to all comers, like North Korea and Iran.
This week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came to the White House briefing room to announce that the United States was committing $100 million to refugee aid in Pakistan, on top of the $60 million already committed. She also asked people to use their cell phones to dial more dollars for refugees.
There is irony here. It was American food aid that supported Afghan refugees and their Pakistani supporters from the tribal areas during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. I stood outside Peshawar and watched convoys of trucks with sacks of American grain heading to the refugee camps where the Taliban was incubating. When I went to those camps, beneficiaries of our food complained that it was not accompanied by enough cooking oil. American policy and food have nurtured the Taliban.
While India’s economy strengthens and the country celebrates 60 years of democracy, Pakistan is in chaos, fed by the ancient evils of religion and corruption.
In a further irony, Britain’s ill-planned withdrawal from India, in a frenzy of liberal idealism, had no effect in Britain beyond opening the door to floods of poor immigrants from Pakistan: immigrants who have vastly complicated Britain’s response to terrorism. –For North Star Writers Group
The Long Shadows of the British Empire
Corruption in Kenya? Blame it on the British and the psychological damage of colonialism. The partition of Cyprus? Step forward the social engineers in London, who underestimated the depth of feeling in the Turkish minority when the British were finally forced out.
When it comes to the Middle East, one can really get exercised about “Perfidious Albion.” The British had their fingers in every territorial dispute: They created whole countries and, with the help of the French, imposed borders from Morocco to China.
Trouble with Iran? Even before the CIA started meddling there in 1953, it was Winston Churchill who, as First Sea Lord in 1913, decided the Royal Navy would move faster, cleaner and have greater range if it switched from coal to oil. So he partially nationalized the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, the forerunner of BP, to exploit the newly discovered oil fields in Iran. Later, this led to a surge in Iranian nationalism and the CIA plot to restore the Shah.
On to Pakistan and the British legacy in the autonomous tribal lands, now home to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Put the British colonial administration of the 18th to 20th centuries in the dock. Yes, three centuries of British commission and omission.
The British interest in Afghanistan, which they failed to subdue in a series of wars, was largely as a buffer between British India and the growing territorial interests of the Russian Empire. It was here that The Great Game was played: the romanticized espionage that flourished in the region. The British divided the traditional Pashtun lands with the Durand Treaty of 1893, creating a northwestern border for British India, and later Pakistan. It amounted to a land grab. However, the British did recognize the separateness of the people in the Northwest Territories and left them to their tribal and religious ways.
With independence and the partition of India in 1947, the incoming Pakistani government had enough problems without encouraging ethnic strife between the largely Punjabi Pakistanis and their difficult Pashtun brothers in the territories. So the government in Islamabad continued the British policy of benign indifference to the Pashtuns, with whom they were more closely linked by religion than ethnicity or politics.
Yet, the border dispute smoldered and periodically erupted. Kabul and Islamabad do not agree, both blaming the border drawn by the British.
What neither the British nor the Pakistanis wanted was a strong movement for a Pashtun state that would carve out territory from Afghanistan, as well as the tribal territories in Pakistan. There was a failed attempt to bring this about in 1949. Segments of the Pakistani army and the intelligentsia have feared this ever since. They are haunted by another stateless people living on both sides of a border: the Kurds who straddle the border between Iraq, a largely British creation, and Turkey and Iraq and Iran.
The message is that simply being Muslim does not wipe out tribal and ethnic identity any more than borders drawn by others create a new identity. If it were so, Cyprus would not be divided; Yugoslavia would have held together, as would have Czechoslovakia; and Britain would not be considering the possibility of an independent Scotland–after 300 years of union.
The current hostilities in the Pakistani tribal areas, U.S. drone strikes on suspected Taliban strongholds and renewed determination from the Pakistani army to crush extremists in the region could renew a sense of nationhood among the Pashtuns, and a movement toward the creation of Pashtunistan across the British-drawn border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In the long reaches of the night President Obama’s special envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke, may wish one of the following had happened in the days of the British Raj: 1. the British had stayed home; 2. the British had insisted the Pashtuns submit to central authority; 3. the British had created a new country, Pashtunistan; or 4. the British had never created that troublesome border.
One way or the other, he can blame the Brits.
Needed: A New Approach to Nuclear Proliferation
The trouble with the diplomatic argument against nuclear proliferation is that it is patronizing. Simplified, it is the nuclear weapons state saying to any nuclear aspirant, “Trust us, because we do not trust you.” This unpleasant message is often amplified by race and religion. After all, the primary force in containing proliferation is the United States, backed up by its western European allies. Sure there are blandishments that can tip the scale, as happened with Libya. But by and large, proliferation is a national goal for many countries.
The surprising thing about proliferation is how slowly it has spread. For awhile, it even looked as though it was in retreat, when Argentina, Brazil and South Africa quit the race.
To understand the pressure to proliferate, we need to look at each potential proliferator and its aspirations separately.
Small countries, with a high respect for their history and a deep commitment to the well-being of their people, tend to eschew proliferation. Britain got into the club very early, but it is not likely that any British government in recent time would have elected for Britain to seek the nuclear deterrent. At times, it was hard enough to keep it. Bertrand Russell´s Committee for Nuclear Disarmament was a powerful force in British politics throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
Proliferators generally need a large land mass for concealment and testing, a defined sense of threat from outsiders, and a desire for regional dominance. Classically, Iran meets these criteria. North Korea´s motivation is more bizarre, but so is its leadership. It already has conventional weapons superiority over South Korea, but it cannot hope to be a dominant player in Asia.
Security alarmists constantly pose the proposition that a non-governmental organization, like al-Qaeda, could build a weapon in secret and introduce it into the Middle East, Europe or the United States. This is the worst of all scenarios, but it is also the least likely. Building a nuclear weapon is a huge industrial undertaking, requiring secrecy, specialized materials, skilled scientists and engineers, and an open money spigot.
True, it has gotten a little easier since it has become clear that plutonium from civilian nuclear reactors can be diverted to weapons. It is also clear that centrifuge now offers the potential for a highly enriched uranium bomb–something that was not really available with the World War II enrichment technology.
The bad news on nuclear proliferation and the intractable problems of proliferation by Iran and North Korea have come at a time when the world clearly needs an enormous increase in the amounts of civilian nuclear power deployed. Countries that have been reluctant to build new nuclear power plants are going ahead. In Europe, this has been stimulated by the growing fear of dependence on fossil fuels from Russia. In many countries, this is heading towards 50 percent of their electric generation; and when the new Baltic pipeline starts deliveries into Germany, it could be as much as 70 percent dependent on Russian gas. Super-green Finland is building a fifth reactor. And the green-leaning Labor government in Britain has sanctioned more nuclear.
In Europe, new reactors raise few hackles on the proliferation front. But what to say about King Abdullah of Jordan’s desire to build a nuclear plant? He is a firm friend of the West and a stabilizing influence in the Middle East. The question is how long will his monarchy survive? It was the United States that urged a nuclear future in Iran, and reactor construction was happily under way when the Shah was deposed by the Islamic Revolution.
Diplomacy works in 10-year cycles or less. Nuclear reactors are designed to last 30 to 50 years. Neither friends nor foes can be identified over that time horizon. Ergo, a new proliferation strategy may be needed.
The United States had the makings of a strategy before Jimmy Carter was elected president. Simply, it was that the United States would dominate all facets of the nuclear fuel cycle and encourage nuclear club members to do the same thing. When Carter suspended the reprocessing of nuclear fuel in the United States, the possibility of controlling the fuel cycle for “clients” ended.
Subsequently the policy has been diplomatic persuasion, followed by sanctions, followed by a plea for multinational talks. It may or may not be working with North Korea; and so far it has produced no results with Iran.
In the Cold War, the United States assisted the Soviets with making their weapons safer by sharing aspects of fail-safe technology and giving them the technology for insensitive high explosives. The fear was accidental detonation, and the collaboration on preventing it was impressive.
Primitive nuclear weapons are dangerous; so much so that Little Boy and Fat Man, dropped on Japan, were partially assembled on the aircraft that was delivering them. Their designers were terrified that they would blow up unintentionally.
In a world in which there are more dangerous weapons in the hands of more dangerous people, there is not much hope that ambitious states can be deterred. But by working with them on safety, the old-time nuclear states, led by the United States, might establish new diplomatic channels and get a better idea of what they have got. Candidate One for safety collaboration might be Pakistan.