Murphy's Law: Bribing Pakistan

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July 29, 2008: The U.S. has agreed to play by local rules in Pakistan, in order to get the government to take stronger measures to prevent al Qaeda from setting up bases in the Afghan border areas. This involves a large bribe, in the form of allowing the Pakistanis to shift over $200 million from American aid for counter-terror operations, to a program for updating Pakistani F-16 fighters. The reasoning behind this is actually quite simple. While many (up to a third) of Pakistanis back Islamic radicals (like the Taliban and al Qaeda), nearly all Pakistanis fear an attack from India. There is good reason for this fear, as India has more than six times as many people, an even larger economy and 3-4 times the military power of Pakistan. But most importantly, the Pakistani government has been, for nearly three decades, been supporting Islamic terrorist groups that make attacks against Indians. This angers the Indians quite a bit, and most Pakistanis know it.

The Pushtun tribes (at least some of them) along the Afghan border are supporting the Taliban and al Qaeda. The Pakistani government is very reluctant to take military action against these Islamic radicals. It's an ancient problem. Put simply, the Pushtun tribes (15 percent of the population, in the north and east, along the Afghan border) and the Baluchi tribes (four percent, in the southwest) do not get along with the majority Punjabis (45 percent of the population) or Sindhis (14 percent) in the eastern lowlands. The resulting violence has been going for over a thousand years.

This is particularly important when it comes to getting the Pakistani army to take down the Taliban. The Pushtun tribesmen, who run the Taliban and contribute most of the manpower, are, well, feared by the lowlanders. For thousands of years, the tribes periodically came out of the hills to raid the wealthier and more numerous lowlanders. The larger population meant that the Punjabis and Sindhis would eventually chase the tribesmen back into the hills. But the lowlanders also found, time and again, that the tribal warriors were even more formidable, and nastier, when you fought them in their own element.

Today, there's another factor. The warlike tribesmen like to make the military their career. They make great soldiers, and over 20 percent of the troops are Pushtun or Baluchi. That creates loyalty and reliability problems when you order the army to break up the Taliban. Most tribal soldiers don't agree with the Taliban, but they are reluctant to make war on their own tribes.

The army has already had some reliability problems, which it keeps as quiet as possible. To encourage reluctant officers (at all levels) to get behind a crackdown on the pro-Taliban tribes, the $200 million for F-16s does the trick by appealing to their well-founded fear of India (which has won every war the two nations have been involved in.)

 


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