America’s Short-Lived Love Affair With Pakistani Democracy

General David Peraeus seems to be dreaming of a coup to put General Ashfaq Kayani in charge of Pakistan. Spencer Ackerman remarks:

It would be naive to think that the Pakistani military, which ruled Pakistan for the past ten years until Pervez Musharraf resigned from the Army in November 2007 and formally relinquished power last August, doesn’t believe it could do a better job of governing than Asif Ali Zardari. And it would also be naive to think that the Obama administration is closed off to the prospect, whatever it might say about democracy. Andrew Exum wonders why the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has a “weird man crush” on Kayani. He might merely be prepared to bet on what he considers the stronger horse — not a strong horse, as the Pakistani army has been repeatedly beaten by the Pakistani Taliban and its allies, but a stronger one. It might also explain why Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy objects to making aid to Pakistan receivable to “civilian authorities of a government of Pakistan constituted through a free and fair election,” among other provisions of conditionalized funding.

I think it’s worth at least considering the possibility that part of the reason the Pakistani military has been performing so poorly against the Taliban is that they’re hoping the United States will react this way and start welcoming a coup to replace the “ineffective” civilian government. After all, United States pressure played an important role in easing the military out of power recently. But the American security establishment seems to have hit upon the slightly bizarre notion that the appropriate response to the Pakistan military’s unwillingness or inability to effectively provide security for the country is that we should welcome them taking over all government responsibilities. Call me skeptical.

Whatever you think of that, recall that our relationship with Pakistan is shot through with paradoxes. Rising Islamic radicalism helped convince Americans that we should keep Pervez Musharraf in power. The more the territory the Taliban seizes, the more money we give to the Pakistan government. And the background context is that there are many more Pakistani elites who speak English than there are American elites who speak Urdu or Punjabi; and many more Pakistani elites who have western educations than there are American elites who went to school in Pakistan. The United States is rich and strong, Pakistan is poor and weak. But Pakistani officials have a much greater ability to manipulate American officials than vice versa.