When one looks across the Arab world today at the stunning spontaneous democracy uprisings, it is impossible to not ask: What are we doing spending $110 billion this year supporting corrupt and unpopular regimes in Afghanistan and Pakistan
that are almost identical to the governments we’re applauding the Arab people for overthrowing?
Ever since 9/11, the West has hoped for a war of ideas within the Muslim world that would feature an internal challenge to the violent radical Islamic ideology of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. That contest, though, never really materialized because the regimes we counted on to promote it found violent Muslim extremism a convenient foil, so they allowed it to persist. Moreover, these corrupt, crony capitalist Arab regimes were hardly the ideal carriers for an alternative to bin Ladenism. To the contrary, it was their abusive behavior and vicious suffocation of any kind of independent moderate centrist parties that fueled the extremism even more.
And that brings me back to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Last October, Transparency International rated the regime of President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan as the second most corrupt in the world after Somalia’s.
That is the Afghan regime we will spend more than $110 billion in 2011 to support.
And tell me that Pakistan’s intelligence service, ISI, which dominates Pakistani politics, isn’t the twin of Hosni Mubarak’s security service. Pakistan’s military leaders play the same game Mubarak played with us for years. First, they whisper in our ears: “Psst, without us, the radical Islamists will rule. So we may not be perfect, but we’re the only thing standing in the way of the devil.” In reality, though, they are nurturing the devil. The ISI is long alleged to have been fostering anti-Indian radical Muslim groups and masterminding the Afghan Taliban.
Apart from radical Islam, the other pretext the Pakistani military uses for its inordinate grip on power is the external enemy. Just as Arab regimes used the conflict with Israel for years to keep their people distracted and to justify huge military budgets, Pakistan’s ISI tells itself, the Pakistani people and us that it can’t stop sponsoring proxies in Afghanistan because of the “threat” from India.
Here’s a secret: India is not going to invade Pakistan. It is an utterly bogus argument. India wants to focus on its own development, not owning Pakistan’s problems. India has the second-largest Muslim population on the planet, more even than Pakistan. And while Indian Muslims are not without their economic and political grievances, they are, on the whole, integrated into India’s democracy because it is a democracy. There are no Indian Muslims in Guantánamo Bay.