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Pakistan Exploits ‘Failed State’ Image, Says U.S. Scholar

Christine Fair
Christine Fair

Christine Fair, a security affairs professor at Washington's Georgetown University, has written extensively on Pakistan's powerful army. Her new book, "Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War," analyzes the ideological culture of the country’s security establishment.

In an interview with RFE/RL correspondent Malali Bashir, Fair said Pakistan’s army exploits its image of a failing nuclear state to attract sustained international aid.

RFE/RL: Tell us, what exactly is the Pakistan army’s way of war?

Christine Fair: The Pakistan army is more like an international insurgent. It doesn’t have to defeat India, it only has to prevent India from being able to exert its will on the subcontinent. When I would read articles from Pakistan’s defense literature, they would talk about Pakistan as the only country that can resist India’s rise. Pakistan’s army has a belief that it’s not only supposed to protect Pakistan’s physical and geographical boundaries, but also its ideological boundaries.

RFE/RL: Pakistan is often described as a failed state. Why then would its powerful military interfere in Afghanistan and compete with India?

Fair: Pakistan is not a failed state. It is not a failing state, and it’s not a state that will fail. Pakistan is actually very stable. Pakistan’s military takes basically all the resources that it wants and needs, and invests those resources into the security competition with India. And that’s how it is able to draw in the international community--because India and Pakistan both possess nuclear weapons, and the international community is very afraid that whenever there is any conflict that it might escalate, either deliberately or inadvertently, into nuclear use.

So, this constantly creates the belief that this is an area of the world that the international community cannot abandon. The army also exploits its internal security problems to draw in international aid and international effort by basically threatening to fail. And the international community feels that Pakistan is too dangerous to fail. So by cultivating this insecurity, the military is able to ensure a near-incessant lifeline, as funds from the international community keep the rest of the state literally on life support.

RFE/RL: Pakistan has expressed concerns over India’s strengthening relationship with Afghanistan. Do you think these concerns are legitimate?

Fair: I don’t believe that India is as innocent as it says it is, nor is it as culpable as the Pakistanis say it is. The Indians have enduring interests in Afghanistan. Pakistan has used Afghanistan to train and nurture Islamic militants who not only operate in Afghanistan but also operate in India. So, it’s not the case that India does not have interests in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s fears are more historical and psychological. Afghanistan, even with Indian involvement, can never pose a genuine existential threat to Pakistan. And if there is any Indian involvement in fomenting domestic insurgency [in Pakistan], it’s nothing compared to what the Pakistanis do in India.

RFE/RL: Do you believe Pakistan’s military is waging a sincere fight against all militant networks operating on its soil?

Fair: The military is leading its own war on terror against those militant groups that oppose the Pakistani state. On the other hand, Pakistan is supporting militants like the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban. They are actively trying to get commanders from the Pakistani Taliban to stop fighting Pakistan and join the fight in Afghanistan. So, these are actually two different conflicts.

Most of the people in uniform that are dying are not actually from the army. They are actually from the Frontier Corps. This paramilitary organization is exclusively recruited in the enlisting ranks from the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas], with officers from the army. So, the loss of life from the Frontier Corps is not nearly as important to the army. And that's a really important distinction to see.

Pakistan has inherited from the British a lot of racist concepts about the Pashtuns. In other words, for many of Pakistan's strategic elites, the Pashtuns in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, including those in uniform from the Frontier Corps, are really disposable. They are not as important to the state as the Punjabs are.

RFE/RL: If the militants fighting Pakistan’s army are not a threat to the United States, then why is Washington still giving Islamabad billions of dollars?

Fair: This is really frustrating for me as a taxpayer. Pakistan fosters this idea that it is too dangerous to fail, and the Americans generally believe this. So they generally want to have a program where they can have a big embassy with lots of eyes on the ground. But most importantly, we want to have eyes and ears on Pakistan's nuclear program. Americans are very worried about there being a breach in the army's security, and about terrorist organizations acquiring military materiel and know-how.

Whenever there is any discussion about cutting Pakistan off from aid, these are the arguments that are developed. After the international forces withdraw from Afghanistan, I would like us to scale back and not have an overgrown relationship with a country that actually encourages its worse behavior. But I anticipate that the Americans are going to continue funding this disaster.

RFE/RL: Do you think Pakistan’s current military offensive in North Waziristan, dubbed “Zarb-e Azb,” will yield any results if it fails to go after key terrorist groups like the Haqqani network?

Fair: Absolutely not. I call this operation Zarb-e Bakwas [“rubbish”]. For five months they warned the militant groups that they were going to be doing this operation. The whole point of this operation was to drive militant groups and their commanders to Afghanistan to continue killing Afghans and to continue killing the Americans and to destabilize the election process.

The Haqqani network had long relocated before this offensive started. Jalaluddin Haqqani and his key leadership cadre don’t live in Waziristan, they live in Islamabad. So the idea that this is going to have any sort of battlefield effect is quite silly.