New York Times and Pakistan’s Double Game

New York Times editorials are usually a reliable guide to ruling class opinion in the United States. They don’t always echo government pronouncements and there is often disagreement with official government policies. They eagerly suggest alternatives to pursue while pointing out the ramifications current policies may have. Propaganda is of course at its most effective when it is subtle and seems iconoclastic. Such is the nature of New York Times editorials: even as they disagree with official government policies they demarcate the boundaries of what is acceptable and what isn’t.

A recent editorial in the newspaper of record concerns US aid to Pakistan. ” Since 9/11,” it reads, “the United States has provided Pakistan with billions of dollars, mostly in military aid, to help fight extremists.” The editorial board, however, has “doubts about the investment,” which they explain as follows: “Doubts about the aid center on Pakistan’s army, which has long played a double game, accepting America’s money while enabling some militant groups, including members of the Afghan Taliban who have been battling American and Afghan troops in Afghanistan.”

It is remarkable how stale this narrative of “double game” has remained for so long. Here, for example, is a New York Times editorial from five years ago, imaginatively titled Pakistan’s Double Game:

[T]he most alarming of the reports [from Wikileaks] were the ones that described the cynical collusion between Pakistan’s military intelligence service and the Taliban. Despite the billions of dollars the United States has sent in aid to Pakistan since Sept. 11, they offer powerful new evidence that crucial elements of Islamabad’s power structure have been actively helping to direct and support the forces attacking the American-led military coalition.

This sorry tale of betrayal has dominated discussions of US-Pakistan relationship for some years. It’s constantly brought up by US policy makers, mainstream media outlets, and much of Pakistan’s liberal intelligentsia. As I wrote in early 2013:

What undergirds accusations of this double game is the fanciful imperial assumption that Pakistan’s policies should be strictly aligned with US objectives in the region, without contemplating the consequences of such an alignment for Pakistan. Also absent from these grievance-laden narratives is a proper accounting of the already close alignment of Pakistani policies with US interests, despite overwhelming domestic opposition.

Post-9/11 US “investment” in Pakistan led directly to the consolidation of several militant groups with quite diverse aims and unified them against the Pakistani state (I briefly sketched this out in this 2013 article). Much of the violence Pakistan has suffered can be squarely blamed on the attention bestowed upon Pakistani elites by the United States. Then there is the awkward matter of what the aid has actually accomplished. Here is what I wrote last month:

A report by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs revealed that by the end of 2007 “the United States was paying for roughly a quarter of Pakistan’s military budget.” Pakistani political economist Akbar Zaidi detailed the consequences of this aid in a 2011 report: “[w]ith military aid much higher than economic aid, U.S. assistance has strengthened the hand of Pakistan’s military in the country’s political economy and failed to support the civilian government and democratic institutions.” In the tribal areas, 96% of the funds allocated by the United States were “directed toward military operation[s]” and only 1% “toward development.”

During his recent visit to Pakistan, Secretary of State John Kerry lauded the current US-subsidized military operation in North Waziristan and promised to boost “security and intelligence cooperation with Pakistan to step up its offensive against militants.” Despite the media blackout imposed on North Waziristan by the Pakistani military, by now there is considerable evidence of widespread death and suffering as a direct result of the military operation. Perhaps instead of asking if Pakistan is “worth” US investment the New York Times should ask if Pakistan can survive it.

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