You Go to Proxy War With the Pakistani State Institutions You Have

I have to say that I’m increasingly concerned not just about the situation in Pakistan, but about the trajectory of American policy in Pakistan. I don’t like to just throw around Vietnam analogies, so to make a focused point the concern I have is that insofar as the deterioration of the situation in Pakistan is caused by Pakistani malgovernment, I don’t see you how improve the situation by throwing more resources at the malgovernors. I read today that Richard Holbrooke and Jack Lew “spent much of yesterday meeting with members of Congress to build support for the plan to quickly and significantly increase development and military assistance to Pakistan, and to reassure them the administration is on top of the fast-moving situation.”

But whatever resource constraints the Pakistan military is operating under, surely the issue isn’t that they’re being outspent by the Taliban. Michael Crowley says the key question is “Is General Kiyani up to the challenge?” But I think Malou Innocent is closer to the truth when she says the key question is whether or not the broad swathe of Pakistani security elites are prepared to undertake “a comprehensive shift in Pakistan’s strategic priorities.”

And I don’t see any evidence that they are. Instead, I’m reading Ahmed Rashid saying that “even though most Pakistanis agree that the Pakistani Taleban and their extremist allies now pose the biggest threat to the Pakistani state since its creation, both the army and the government appear to be in denial of reality and the facts.”

Realistically, the potential collapse of the Pakistani state is a bigger problem for Pakistanis than it is for Americans. We can’t make Pakistani institutions more effective than the people running them want to be. And in candor, when you talk to Americans with experience in the region, you never hear them say that the Pakistan security services are run by really competent, honest, trustworthy, well-intentioned people who deserve our help. You hear scare stories about how bad things might get if things go totally south there. But I’m a lot more comfortable with policies grounded in plausible stories about how we’re going to succeed than with policies grounded in plausible stories about how failure would be undesirable.