The election of Imran Khan as Pakistan’s new president further underscores America’s futile military strategy in the region, argues Graham Fuller.
By Graham Fuller
A bold new political face has come to power in the recent Pakistani elections, possibly offering the US a new opportunity in that country. Sadly the opportunity will likely be squandered—again. There’s something about Pakistani and US interests that seem doomed to collision course—mainly because Pakistan’s national interests are rarely what the US thinks they should be.
Pakistanis themselves can be pleased the country has just experienced for only the second time in its history a democratic electoral transition from one political party to another. Over long decades democratically-elected governments have been routinely dethroned by the all-powerful Pakistani military-dominated intelligence service ISI.
A key problem is that American interests in Pakistan have had little to do with Pakistan itself, but have been the function of other American interests—China, fighting the Soviet Union, al-Qaeda, and trying to win an ongoing—and losing—17-year US war in Afghanistan. Once about eliminating al-Qaeda, Washington today hopes the war in Afghanistan will eliminate the often violent fundamentalist Pashtun movement (Taliban) and enable the US to impose its strategic agenda upon Afghanistan. And over decades the US has alternately cajoled, but mostly threatened Pakistan to do US bidding in Afghanistan. (A former Deputy Secretary of the Pentagon, in the months after 9/11, threatened to “bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age” if it didn’t fully get on board and support the new US invasion of Afghanistan.)
In an earlier decade, after the USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to prop up a failing Afghan communist regime, the US had recruited the Pakistani government to take the lead in organizing a new anti-Soviet “jihad” through supporting new mujahedin groups in Afghanistan. It was a fateful moment: this anti-Soviet jihad represented the first time that Islamist warriors, recruited from around the world in a joint US-Saudi-Pakistani strategy, became a powerful…