Nations have grievances. Look at the Balkans, always fighting over some mid-fourteenth century slight. But most leaders have the good sense to recognize that the rest of the world might find their problems slightly ridiculous. Asif Zardari, widower of Benazir Bhutto and possessor of big enough balls to become famously corrupt in Pakistan – reflect, for a moment, on how corrupt you have to be in Pakistan for it even to be noticed – decides to take his issues to the Times.
But consider the history as seen by Pakistanis. Twice in recent history America abandoned its democratic values to support dictators and manipulate and exploit us. In the 1980s, the United States supported Gen. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq’s iron rule against the Pakistani people while using Pakistan as a surrogate in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. That decade turned our peaceful nation into a “Kalashnikov and heroin” society — a nation defined by guns and drugs.
Did he say “peaceful”?
Muhammad Zia ul-Haq was a vicious thug, but his accession to office in 1977 marked no great change for Pakistan. Perhaps it was not a banner day for the Bhutto family – he did, after all, execute his predecessor, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto – but consider Pakistan’s peaceful history to date:
- 1947. Unable to separate peacefully from India, Pakistan and India launch a blood-curdling war. Particularly bizarre as this fight began with the same person – Claude Auchinleck – in charge of both the Pakistani and Indian militaries.
- 1965. Having resolved nothing the first time around, India and Pakistan decide to fight again. And resolve nothing.
- 1971. Third time lucky. The people of East Pakistan, fed up with being separated from West Pakistan by all of India and more than a little annoyed about being ruled by a clique of Punjabi officers. decide to separate. Pakistan intervenes, India intervenes, everyone fights, Bengalis are killed in droves, and at the end, East Pakistan is called Bangladesh.
Without battlefield success, the suddenly half-sized Pakistan then decided to pursue Islamic fundamentalism – the better to inspire irregular warriors – and get itself a nuclear weapon. Charming.
And what does this peaceful nation want today? Kashmir.
I know it is the conventional wisdom in Washington that my nation is obsessed with India. But even to those of us who are striving toward accommodation and peace, the long history and the unresolved situation in Kashmir give Pakistanis reason to be concerned about our neighbor to the east. Just as the Israeli-Palestinian dispute cannot be resolved without accommodating the Palestinian people, there cannot be permanent regional peace in South Asia without addressing Kashmir.
The history of Kashmir is sad. A majority-Muslim princely state ruled by a Hindu, there was no natural home for it at Partition. It might have hoped to remain independent, but neither India nor Pakistan seemed remotely interested in allowing this to happen. The ruler refused to decide, Pakistan invaded, he called for Indian help, the land was divided.
And that is in the past. There is nothing lost by accepting the Line of Control as the international border and getting on with life. The government of Pakistan has dedicated itself to the premise that it, and it alone, can return all of Kashmir. It is a fool’s errand. India is five times the size of Pakistan; there are more Muslims in India than in Pakistan. Pakistan is not going to be able to dislodge India by force. By setting the return of Kashmir as the litmus test for government performance, successive Pakistani governments only encourage the cycle of coups that stems from discovering that yet another set of leaders cannot deliver.
Mature nations get over their territorial issues. The US claimed a northern border of the Oregon Territory at 54°40′, a latitude that would give us British Columbia and great heli-skiing and marijuana. We compromised on 49° in 1846 so we could focus on fighting our southern neighbors instead.
The intervening years have been good for our conventional forces. John Candy movies notwithstanding, it is likely that our military could seize British Columbia. But even our worst presidents have managed to avoid the temptation.
Oceans of blood have been shed trying to fly flags over Alsace and Lorraine, but today the border is quiet. Both France and Germany accept the current border.
If Pakistan wants to be recognized as a part of the community of nations, it should find the courage to settle its border issues and stand down. As long as it doesn’t, we should see it for what it is: a nuclear-armed mafia with some loose control over territory to the west of India.