Pakistan's Complicity

Pakistan's Complicity

By Alvaro Vargas Llosa - May 4, 2011

WASHINGTON -- That Osama bin Laden chose as a refuge a scenic summer resort in Pakistan, a country where he knew the United States had pretty much a free hand against al-Qaeda, says it all. We need not question the Pentagon or any other Western military establishment when they tell us that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate is in cahoots with terrorism: All we need to do is understand that the most wanted man in the world trusted Pakistan enough to stay there in a highly visible compound, near a military academy, 35 miles from Islamabad.

Cynics will be tempted to think that Pakistan's highest authorities, perhaps even President Asif Ali Zardari, gave al-Qaeda's boss safe haven, or at least failed to act on information that must have crossed their path. But they will be wrong. If Pakistan's complicity with al-Qaeda had been a policy implemented from the top, it would have been easily neutralized long ago and Pakistan would be a very different political animal than it is. No, this was never the problem -- either with dictator Pervez Musharraf during most of the last decade or with his democratically elected successor. The fundamental flaw is that, unlike in the Arab world, where the military and Muslim fundamentalists have long been bitter enemies, in Pakistan the two have been intertwined since the times of dictator Mohammed Zia ul-Haq in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. The profound interconnection has become a permanent feature of Pakistan even as the top leadership of the country has come and gone.

The army used fundamentalism to legitimize its authoritarian rule just as it used the development of nuclear weapons to bolster national pride. The context of the Cold War, during which Pakistan's militant Islam was directed against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, fueled the growth of religious fanaticism sanctified by government policy. The emergence of the Pakistan Muslim League, one of the more powerful civilian movements in the country, under military encouragement consolidated the marriage between fundamentalism and official institutions.

I have mentioned in past columns how obvious this was to anyone who spent a bit of time in Pakistan in the 1990s, as I did, after the Soviets had left neighboring Afghanistan. In Arab countries, the top leaders usually rely on the army to contain violent religious groups. In Pakistan, the civilian leadership, notably that of Benazir Bhutto, was essentially constrained by both the military establishment and Muslim fundamentalists. In times of military dictatorship, the guy at the top, willingly or unwillingly, worked within those parameters too. No force was able to dissolve this diabolic structure -- not even the $20 billion the United States has poured into that country for counterterrorism purposes since 9/11.

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Alvaro Vargas Llosa is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute and the editor of "Lessons from the Poor." His e-mail address is AVLlosa(at)

Copyright 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

Alvaro Vargas Llosa

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