U.S., Pakistan 'Mutually Exploited' Their Relationship

In the two weeks since Osama Bin Laden was killed in a town 35 miles from the capital, Islamabad, relations between the U.S. and Pakistan have plummeted. Anatol Lieven, author of Pakistan: A Hard Country, talks to Steve Inskeep and what he sees for Pakistan in a post-Osama bin Laden world.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We're going to hear next from a man who's working to understand Pakistan. That country often baffles outsiders, and it's even more true after the discovery of Osama bin Laden near Pakistan's military academy.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

For more than 20 years before bin Laden was killed, Anatol Lieven studied Pakistan as a journalist and a scholar. He's spoken with everyone from soldiers to spies to people on the street. His new book "Pakistan: A Hard Country" is, in many ways, a sympathetic view, although Lieven, too, is not sure how the Pakistani military failed to find bin Laden.

Mr. ANATOL LIEVEN (Journalist, Scholar, Author): There is the possibility that their failing to catch him was due to incompetence. But what made me particular suspicious was not that they would be looking for him in the vicinity of a military base, but you see, so many Pakistani military establishments have been attacked by Pakistani terrorists, that this, it seems to me, was an absolutely obvious place for the military to search. And, I mean, one of the worst aspects of this whole affair, from Pakistan's point of view, is that it does make it more difficult for us to trust Pakistan.

INSKEEP: There's a line in your book that seems particularly appropriate for the moment. You describe the relationship between Pakistan and the United States is a relationship of mutual exploitation heavily flavored with mutual suspicion. What do you mean by that?

Mr. LIEVEN: Well, both sides have benefitted from the other very considerably in the past. And the Pakistani military, it's true, has got a great deal of money from the U.S. over the years. On occasions, America has got a great deal out of Pakistan. In the 1980s, it was, of course, the critical base to destroy the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. And since 9/11, it supplies most of its needs in Afghanistan via convoys through Pakistan, and the Pakistanis have been instrumental in arresting a considerable number of international terrorists.

INSKEEP: Do we not really understand the country very well, not just when we talk about national security, but questions like corruption? Are we thinking about Pakistan the wrong way?

Mr. LIEVEN: To some extent. We're not wrong to see corruption as a huge problem in Pakistan. What I think we perhaps don't understand is the degree to which corruption also maintains the stability of the system. Some of it, of course, comes straight back to bank accounts in London or New York. But a very large part of it is actually plowed back into Pakistani society to buy political support. Of course, this does contribute to the stability of the existing political system.

INSEEP: Maybe what I'm thinking here as you talk is old-style political machines in cities in the United States a hundred years ago, where it was said that the political machine was terribly corrupt and raked money off the top and bought votes. But the people who sold their votes needed the money, and they also expected services, and they might have even gotten services, in some cases.

Mr. LIEVEN: Well, that's just it. I mean, Pakistan, I think, is more corrupt than America at its worse. But it wasn't even a hundred years ago that people in Chicago said of Mayor Daley he dunks, but he splashes. And that is very much the attitude in Pakistan. Of course they take money for themselves, but they of also splash a certain amount in our direction.

INSKEEP: There has got to be some impulse in the United States at this moment to just be so disgusted with this relationship, to want to walk away. Do you have any such impulse?

Mr. LIEVEN: I think everybody who has ever dealt with Pakistan has had such impulses, sometimes several times a day. The problem is, however, the United States does depend on Pakistan for supply routes to Afghanistan. If we didn't have those, we'd have to be a lot nicer, not just to the Russians, but to some very nasty regimes in Central Asia, which would lead us into a whole different set of problems, which might be just as bad as those of Pakistan. We do need Pakistani intelligence to go on pursuing international plots against the United States, and speaking as a Brit, of course, against Britain.

INSKEEP: The American journalist Lawrence Wright, writing in the New Yorker the other day, reviewed the history of U.S. aid to Pakistan, and essentially raised the question as to whether we had the incentives all wrong, because when there's a crisis, the U.S. shoves billions of dollars toward Pakistan. As soon as the crisis is over, we walk away. And he raised the question as to whether Pakistan then had a motivation to allow the problem with terrorism to go on and on and on, because that's how they get the money.

Mr. LIEVEN: One does need to remember that at the last count, the Pakistanis had lost 3,500 soldiers and police in the fight against their own extremists. And they've lost more than 30,000 ordinary people - on both sides, admittedly. This includes militants and militant's families, but still. So I don't think that Pakistan has an interest in keeping this crisis going.

On that score, they have lost considerably more in economic damage due to the, you know, the developing insurgency and terrorism than they've gained in aid from the United States. My view is that we need a consistent approach to the economic development of Pakistan, where I do think we can ensure to bring pressure of our aid is in aid to the Pakistani military.

INSKEEP: Well, let's clarify this. There have been billions of dollars in U.S. aid to the Pakistan military in the last decade or so. There is beginning to be a flow that is supposed to eventually amount to billions of dollars in civilian assistance. It sounds like you'd like to continue the civilian assistance, but take another look at the military assistance.

Mr. LIEVEN: That's precisely it. Unfortunately, it seems that America is heading in the opposite direction, because, of course, the civilian assistance is controlled by Congress, and Congress is very angry with Pakistan. I mean, it's put in a whole set of conditionalities, which mean, in my view, that most will never be distributed.

Of course, military aid is in the hands of the executive, and so that's how they go on essentially bribing Pakistan to cooperate. There is just one thing to be said, though, on this score, which is that perhaps Pakistan has an alternative. The Chinese have been making statements which suggest that if the U.S. does cut back severely on aid, China might step up to the plate and replace the United States.

INSKEEP: We've been asking about Western frustration with Pakistan. You get a sense of massive Pakistani frustration with the West. Do you think that Pakistanis would like to walk away from that relationship if they could?

Mr. LIEVEN: Yes, I think they would - at least the masses in Pakistan would. With the elites, of course, it is complicated - and actually not just the elites, quite a lot of society. Because on the one hand, you know, as all the opinion polls show, and I can certainly testify, you know, levels of anti-Americanism are among the highest in the entire Muslim world. On the other hand, of course, the Pakistani political elites have houses and apartments in London. So it is a curiously split relationship there.

INSKEEP: Anatol Lieven is author of the book "Pakistan: A Hard Country." Thank you very much.

Mr. LIEVEN: Thank you. It was a pleasure.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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