Vice President Biden was on Larry King this week slating Pakistan as America’s larger concern than Afghanistan. He explained“Pakistan is a big country…has nuclear weapons that are able to be deployed and has a real significant minority of radicalized population and a not complete functional democracy in the sense we think about it” . Which sounds tremendously pressing and makes for catchy prime time television, but let’s delve into his rationale one by one, and assess his concerns.
Pakistan is certainly “a big country” with a “real significant minority of radicalized population” and the Vice President is dead on with this issue. Among the top ten largest countries in the world, Pakistan is still developing in a relatively underdevelopedregion, and houses one of the largest refugee problems on earth. So even a minority of radicalized militants is enough to wreck havok on Pakistan, as it has been. And likewise, that minority population single handedly deters our fight in fighting the war on Terror.
And this truly defines the Pakistan quagmire: dealing with extremist militants in an underdeveloped, politically volatile war zone.
Biden also said Pakistan “is not a completely functional democracy in the sense we think about it”, which is a statement of fact. However it’s a misplaced concern because it’s not necessarily a hindrance to our interests at this time. In our alliance with Pakistan Democrats have historically sided with civilian governments, while Republicans have preferred to deal with military regimes in Islamabad. So Biden’s issue with Pakistan’s brand democracy is an inherent tension that has existed in this alliance for decades.
It’s a cause of tension over the years because we’ve effectively dealt with Military regimes in the past, and other international players such as China, and India have also found it effective to deal with military led Pakistan. So Democrats like Vice President Biden insisting on American style democracy is not always necessary.
In a perfect world, our allies would have fully functioning democracies akin to ours, but the reality is our brand of governance is not easily applied in places like Pakistan.
Plus there’s a perceived arrogance that comes along with our leaders being critical of governments that function differently than ours. I think the Vice Presidents suggestion makes for a nice talking point on democracy for tv viewers, but offers no practical insight let alone a solution to Pakistan as our foremost concern.
Finally, the Vice President cited “vulnerabilities” regarding the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Nuclear non proliferation is a bipartisan, and to a large extent, global cause of anxiety that few will argue against. But how realistic is a notion of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal being vulnerable to non military or non state actors? It’s a nightmarish scenario that catapults Pakistan atop our immediate Foreign Policy agenda because the mere sliver of possibility proliferation could happen entails catastrophically high risks that no one is willing to take. But such alarming rhetoric doesn’t inform us of the likelihood of this happening. It just frieghtens us, deters diplomacy and ultimately undermines the U.S. Pakistani alliance. Such rhetoric, minus substantial evidence should be shared amongst policymakers and government officials pertinent to the situation. Otherwise, the rhetoric can be counter-productive in engaging allies like Pakistan.
Overall, the Vice President’s comments were consistent with the Obama Administration’s promises of an increasingly narrow focus on our Foreign Policy to Pakistan.