Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 20:58 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 20:58 | SYDNEY

Pakistan, the next Afghanistan


Hugh White

6 March 2009 15:16

Like Sam, I think the current problems in Pakistan provide some important perspectives on Australia’s current choices about Afghanistan (which are also neatly explored by Graeme). But unlike Sam, I am deeply sceptical that there is anything much we outsiders can do to help. The West has found it hard to do anything much to help 30 million Iraqis or 32 million Afghans. Why should we expect to be able to do much in a country of 170 million?

It’s a big country. How exactly could we help? Certainly not by applying force; we can dismiss out of hand the idea that a Western coalition could apply sufficient force to compel a settlement of Pakistan’s endemic problems and impose peace and stability. Nor by applying money: there is no evidence that peace and stability is there to be bought. That leaves ideas: the seductive suggestion that the West can offer expertise which, if learned and applied by the Pakistanis, would allow them to sort the mess out themselves.

I think this is an illusion. Outsiders have nothing to teach Pakistanis about Pakistan’s politics and the best way to manage the endless balancing between ethnic, regional and socio-economic groupings. Nor do I believe we have anything to teach Pakistanis about how to conduct tribal warfare. What exactly do we think we know that they do not?

Well-meaning people say we must do something. But that is not true: we should not do anything that does not have at least a modest chance of success. There is no law that says there has to be a solution to every problem. I suspect that our only option for Pakistan is to find ways to manage the consequences of a breakdown which we are in all probability powerless to avert. That means, first and foremost, keeping an eye on those nuclear weapons.

So unlike Sam, when I look at Pakistan I do not think that maybe we should be sending troops there rather than to Afghanistan. Instead it reinforces my doubts about what we are trying to do in Afghanistan as well. Even if we were to succeed in Afghanistan (which I do not for a moment expect), it would make little difference to our long-term security, because Afghanistan is not the real problem. The hard reality is that there is in all probability nothing we can do to prevent dire problems in either place.  So we need to learn to live with them.

Photo by Flickr user takebackPakistan, used under a Creative Commons license.