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There are few places in the world where the truth is so shrouded in mystery that lies become publicly accepted truths, and the truth brushed aside as a lie; where there are no known knowns, or even known unknowns — but simply, unknown unknowns. Pakistan is such a place. So disconnected with reality — or is reality that’s so disjointed — are the manufactured narratives of the establishment (read, the Pakistani Army) that no one, not even the people in charge, seems to know what’s going on. Were the attackers who besieged the naval base recently jihadis, American/Indian spies, defected Pakistani soldiers? Who knows.

Cyril Almeida writes:

A combination of denial and exaggeration, that self-constructed narrative — subtly and not-so-subtly foisted off on the public via the media and other channels of manipulation — acts as a buffer against any meaningful inspection of the army’s track record.

The propagators of this dizzying confusion continue unabated, taking their charade to comedic heights.

On June 9, the satirical magazine, The Onion, had a funny story pointedly mocking Pakistan’s double-dealing with the US. It begins:

ISLAMABAD—Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency restated Thursday its commitment to the fight against terrorism, pledging full cooperation with U.S. forces during the upcoming strike on an al-Qaeda safe house on June 12 at 5:23 a.m. near the small town of Razmani in the remote tribal region of North Waziristan.

There’s a picture of a Pakistani official pointing out exactly where the Americans will hit, in addition to the exact time. The piece quotes the ISI Chief saying that “Pakistan stands shoulder to shoulder with our American allies in hunting down those who threaten our national security”, while in the same piece the head of the intelligence agency tips off militants:

“I know if I were a member of al-Qaeda, I’d want to cover my tracks very carefully,” Pasha said. “Because any evidence that hasn’t been carted away through the back alley near the market will be turned over to U.S. special forces, who will arrive approximately one hour later and will have full access to the site.”

“And what I definitely wouldn’t do is try to escape to one of the other safe houses in town, since the Americans already have them under surveillance, and have been watching them for quite some time,” he added.

Now that’s funny.

But imagine my surprise when I read this in the Washington Post:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Twice in recent weeks, the United States provided Pakistan with the specific locations of insurgent bomb-making factories, only to see the militants learn their cover had been blown and vacate the sites before military action could be taken, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials.

U.S. officials say they do not know how the operation was compromised. But they are concerned that either the information was inadvertently leaked inside Pakistan or insurgents were warned directly by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, or ISI.

So there it is. Reality imitates satire in Pakistan. Hah?

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“When you send people who have the wrong tools into those situations … they don’t (know) anything else really to do other than use force.” This aptly describes what unfolded at the Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Park in Karachi yesterday, when a Pakistani Ranger – a paramilitary soldier – fired upon an accused thief as he pleaded for his life. As a video of the incident shows, 25-year-old Sarfaraz Shah used no force as a Ranger pointed his rifle towards him. Shah seemed to be pleading, and placed his hand on the rifle in a non-threatening manner. But the Ranger, seemingly threatened, fired and killed him. Four other Rangers stood by and watched, and by some accounts, encouraged the Ranger to shoot.

Yet, the blame for this manslaughter in broad daylight cannot exclusively fall on the Ranger and his companions. The quote above belongs isn’t related to this incident. It’s from an article about an altercation in Montreal, Canada on Tuesday that left a homeless man, who the police were trying to arrest, and an innocent bystander dead. And even though the two tragedies were literally worlds apart, the lesson is the same: when law enforcers do not have the proper training to deal with certain situations, the results are deadly.

Quite obviously lacking proper training, the other Rangers simply stood aside as Shah pleaded. They should have rushed to overpower and arrest him instead of behaving as casual onlookers. That would’ve been the common sense approach for any set of police officers with a modicum of training. It is apparent that the Rangers were not properly trained in dealing with unarmed suspects; that, or they acted with malice towards a civilian. The bigger issue, however, is the presence of a paramilitary force in a park that families frequent.

The Pakistan Rangers have been given extensive policing powers in the past decade to quell the law and order situation in the metropolis of Karachi. In January 2010, their mandate to detain and arrest suspects was extended to allow them to tackle the increasing incidence of targeted killings. They are on the frontlines against terrorists and the violent gangs, for which they have paid dearly and courageously for their lives.

But they are not a policing force. They simply had no place patrolling a civilian park, which should reasonably fall under the mandate of the Sindh Police, not paramilitary forces. It is amply clear from the numerous reports of “encounters” – where suspects and bystander alike are killed – that Rangers lack the training and tact required for community policing.

For far too long, the Sindh government has outsourced its policing responsibilities to the Rangers in its search for quick and easy solutions to the dearth of well trained provincial police officers. The consequence of that shortsightedness is the slaughter of young Sarfaraz Shah and many, many other undocumented encounters. Should the government’s policing strategy continue and should it eschew a community-centred, civilian response to policing, the ultimate victim will be the (already precarious) faith in the state’s institutions.

I was fortunate enough to spend the past month shadowing one of Pakistan’s leading constitutional lawyers (For privacy’s sake, I will omit his name). A talented jurist, he would roll into court with reams of case law, a thick folder – containing the petition, affidavits, counter-affidavits, rejoinders, what have you – and an excellent memory. He would dazzle some judges and piss off others with his often novel theories about why such and such law was ultra vires or unconstitutional. As I sat there in the hot and stuffy court rooms of the High Court, I noticed that the majority of his cases and those of other prominent lawyers were about taxes. The clients had been taxed too much, or the clients simply didn’t want to pay some taxes, so they went to lawyers to figure out ways to avoid paying them. Given the poor drafting, implementation and execution of laws, it goes without saying that the lawyers didn’t have too much trouble striking down seemingly valid taxes.

What’s happening in the courts is just the tip of the iceberg. These are some of the bigger players in the Pakistani economy, and they can’t easily escape the scrutiny of the Federal Board of Revenue, the national tax collector. They, at the least, are seeking a legal way of avoiding taxes. While there are about three million registered taxpayers in Pakistan, only about two million – about 1.1 percent of the entire population – file tax returns. That number excludes the fact that most of those taxpayers do not declare significant parts of their income by way of complex legal maneuvering, tax code loopholes, or simple misrepresentation. If a tax investigator starts asking questions, a bribe can usually make him look the other way.

Nobody anywhere likes paying taxes. There’s a saying, attributed to American Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, that encapsulates this universal antipathy: Nothing is certain but death and taxes. But in Pakistan, the former is almost always assured and the latter is rarely certain.

The scope of the Pakistani tax problem has recently amplified, as the country experiences historically high inflation (14.5%, according to official figures. The true figure is perhaps a few percentage points higher). Pakistan relies on foreign aid for a large chunk of its budget at a time when it’s struggling to reassert its sovereignty and to forge an independent foreign policy. And as long as it continues to rely on American aid to prop up its institutions, the Pakistani government cannot reasonably assert any sovereignty. This has lead members of the Pakistani media to demand the political leadership to increase the tax base. Almost daily now, a news talkshow host will decry the the woeful neglect of the taxation system. The problem, however, isn’t a lack of a well developed taxation bureaucracy. Pakistan’s FBR is descended from the British Empire’s Indian Civil Service’s efficient structure, and today is a modern, functioning organization. The problem, as Emma Duncan identified in her book Breaking the Curfew, published in 1989, is that Pakistanis simply don’t want to pay taxes. She noted that a study of the country’s tax system found no shortcomings in the bureaucracy’s management or its structure. So then we’re left to ask: why don’t Pakistanis want to pay taxes?

During a major tax case involving billions of rupees and hundreds of businesses in the province of Sindh, the judge interrupted the businesses’ lawyers as they presented their initial oral arguments. He went on a tirade about how prominent lawyers come into his court room everyday to challenge the validity of tax laws. He then pointed out the stark contrast between Pakistan and India’s tax revenue to GDP ratio. India’s is a modest 18%, but Pakistan’s lags at an inadequate 9%, he said. The two countries inherited the same tax bureaucracy structure, and yet the difference is significant.

Mosharraf Zaidi, of The News, has authored an insightful op-ed, offering an explanation for the high rate of tax avoidance in Pakistan. He argues that the disconnect stems from the lack of a social contract:

Pakistan is a state and society operating without a modern social contract. The state exists and persists without a linear fiscal relationship with the people. In plain English, the state is unaccountable to the people of Pakistan because the people of Pakistan do not pay taxes. The state doesn’t “owe” the people any services, or answers, and the people don’t feel that they owe the state any money.

It’s the chicken and the egg conundrum. Pakistanis do not pay taxes because the state is not accountable. And the state does not feel accountable to the citizenry because they do not foot its bill. There is no social contract to bind the two. It’s a compelling argument, and anecdotally, it’s constantly affirmed when you ask Pakistanis why they don’t pay taxes. The common response invokes corruption: if we pay, then it goes to the pockets of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, so why bother. But I’m not entirely convinced that corruption alone is the problem. Take, for example, India, a state that’s equally corrupt. Yet, India manages to recuperate almost twice the percentage of tax in relation to GDP.

Above, I mapped out the tax revenue to GDP ratio figures (courtesy: Heritage Foundation) of about 167 countries against Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. I found a Pearson correlation coefficient of around 0.497, indicating a positive correlation between tax revenue to GDP and corruption. This reflects a medium strength of association. Of course, this test should be taken with a grain of salt. It doesn’t, for instance, account for the real figure we should be measuring: the tax gap, that is, the estimated difference between the tax owed and the tax paid per jurisdiction. Tax revenue to GDP is but a rough measure of the tax gap; it assumes that there is a general positive relationship between tax owed and tax paid, and that this gap is universal. And it isn’t. But what this graph does show us is that there is some relation between the perceived corruption in a country and its citizens’ willingness to pay tax.

And this supports Mosharraf’s original contention. The social contract is not just about corruption, however. It creates that abstract link of faith between the government and its citizens that if the citizens pay taxes, then the government will deliver. I concur that Pakistanis lack that abstract faith in government. Despite the roaring popular nationalism that floods airwaves and television screens, Pakistanis, like anyone group of people, ultimately vote with their wallets. And this aversion to paying taxes is about more than corruption. It’s reflective of a state in taters and a people with no confidence their leaders. We are then to conclude with a twist on an old adage: without taxation, there can be no representation.

Washington, D.C. – In a major reversal of administration policy, the Pentagon announced today its intention to extend the Afghan mission to 3014, citing the date as a more realistic date for withdrawal. The announcement follows the conclusion of an extensive internal review ordered by President Obama earlier this year. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell explained that the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces in 2014 would “be way too soon” and would jeopardize any hopes of stability in Afghanistan and the region.

The authors of the Pentagon report argued that a thousand year postponement would allow the Afghan National Army to build up sufficient capacity to defend itself and would be–perhaps–enough time for the Afghans to develop a stable political system. Andrew Exum, chairman of the review committee, said the committee considered the situation in Afghanistan analogous to that of 11th century England. The Norman Conquest of England, Exum said, offers an excellent example of how occupation can result in a prosperous democracy. “Look, it took approximately a thousand years–from the Battle of Hastings in 1066, to the Magna Carta in 1215, to the industrial revolution–for the parliamentary system to entrench itself in English political life,” said Exum. “It’s only fair we allow our Afghan allies that much time too,” he elaborated.

In this morning’s Toronto Star, Liberal Party foreign policy critic Bob Rae has an op-ed calling for Canada’s continued engagement in Afghanistan–albeit at a political, not military, level. “Our political effort, with the needed appointment of a peace envoy to the region, should increase, and our aid should continue,” writes Rae.

Today, Dutch troops announced their formal departure after four years of combat in Afghanistan. And Canadian troops are scheduled to leave the country next year. After committing many of their young and billions in aid, NATO members are withdrawing, one country at a time. The largest troop contributor, the United States, is leaning towards the exit as well. According to the New York Times, President Obama seems committed to his “self-imposed” withdrawal deadline for July 2011.

So, it must be naturally asked, what does Canada do next in Afghanistan–the country’s largest foreign combat mission since the Korean War, and its largest recipient of bilateral foreign aid?

I admire Bob Rae greatly, both as a thinker and as a politician. And I respect him even more for broaching the morally contentious, politically divisive subject of a post-American/NATO Afghanistan. But his recommendations–that Canada appoint a peace envoy and increase aid–strike me as facile. Frankly, a post-American Afghanistan will be one of Pakistan’s making, with the Taliban back at the helm. The West’s ability to influence Afghan policies, which dwindles by the day, will be nil as soon as American troops part, leaving the free Taliban to impose their draconian laws once again.

Sending a peace envoy to a government that roundly despises you–and that will for years exploit NATO’s occupation for the purposes of propaganda–is rather naive. More naive is the suggestion that Canada not only continue giving aid to Afghanistan, but increase its aid. While humanitarian aid will always prove important in ill-governed Afghanistan, Rae imagines that our aid would “build schools to counter the madrassas, to allow women to take their place as equals.” It’s an admirable notion, but history tells us that the Taliban won’t allow these schools to stand and they won’t allow women to take their place as equals. Without a continued Western military presence–something I’m opposed to–we won’t be able to assure that any of our aid will reach the Afghan people, and we won’t be able to assure minority and women’s rights.

That sounds awfully tragic, but as Rae himself puts it, “real statecraft is understanding the limits of power and the real difficulties of exporting democracy.” Afghanistan is a crude lesson in learning that our power to control the destinies of those continents away from us, no matter how noble our intentions, are limited.

On a cold day in January 2009, in the tribal area of South Waziristan, Taliban and (possibly) Al-Qaida militants met to plot a response to a CIA drone attack on a senior Taliban commander. Huddled among them was “an older man and a very important person from ISI,” according to a field report from the U.S. Army’s Task Force Castle engineering group. That gentleman was a 72-year-old boisterous, mustached Hamid Gul, a retired Lieutenant General from the Pakistani army, who had served as the ISI’s head between 1987-1989.

In the West, Gul is cast as a dreary figure with “laser black eyes,” whose audacious pronouncements against the U.S.-led War on Terror and public support for the Taliban have led to attempts to label him an international terrorist. The attempt ultimately failed–due in part to scant definitive evidence, and in part to China’s interjection on Pakistan’s behalf. But, despite the looming threat to place him on a list of international terrorists, Gul continues to bluster in support of the Taliban.

“The Americans are defeated,” he told Al Jazeera English in an interview earlier this year. He went on, “[t]here is fatigue now…There is no way that the Americans can hold on to Afghanistan.” Gul should know: he helped orchestrate–with CIA funding and arms–the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan over two decades ago. It was during that time that he developed close relations with the mujahideen, who would later form the core of the Taliban, and with many of the Arab fighters, some of whom later joined extremist Islamist groups, including Al-Qaida.

His sympathy, and that of many of his ISI colleagues, for the Taliban stems from the years they spent in the rugged terrain of Afghanistan together, helping the Taliban create their Islamic Emirate, and at the same time, helping Pakistan gain “strategic depth”–which is Pakistani military lexicon for a friendly government in Afghanistan that would, during a war with India, allow Pakistan to regroup on Afghan soil.

The loquacious and hardened former ISI chief is to be found on nightly Pakistani political talk shows, decrying the government’s acquiescence to CIA drone strikes on Pakistani soil or its support for the U.S. war in Afghanistan. He is no stranger to foreign media either. Just after the Wikileaks story broke, accusing the ISI of “[guiding] the Afghan insurgency with a hidden hand,” Gul jumped to the agency’s support. He denied ever meeting with the Taliban, and termed as “flawed” the intelligence briefs suggesting that Pakistan’s ISI was working against NATO and the U.S. in Afghanistan. To the BBC, he dismissed Wikileaks as “pure fiction which is being sold as intelligence.”

It is hard to believe that, on the one hand, Gul and the ISI sympathize with the Taliban and its goals, but, on the other, that they provide it no material support–even harder to believe, when considering that Pakistan’s intelligence apparatus is extremely active in the region and abroad. The ISI’s support for the Taliban is an open secret in Pakistan. When pushed on the topic of ISI-Taliban links, some well-informed Pakistanis will wryly admit it, and will follow up with a “so what?”, articulating the same argument put forth by Gul: the Americans will tire of war, and Pakistan will be left to deal with the mess. Isn’t it better, they say, that Pakistan hedge its bets now and support a pro-Pakistan Taliban insurgency?

Even in Washington and other Western capitals, the Wikileaks revelations–that the ISI provides support to the Taliban–are not treated as revelations at all. One blogger described the allegations akin to discovering that LeBron James was going to play for the Miami Heat. (He will, it’s old news.) Twitter was awash with sarcastic comments too, including one by the Washington Post‘s twitter handle, which purposefully placed quotation marks around the word “revelations.” Former State Department speechwriter, Michael Cohen, notes that the White House shrugged at the news as well: “National Security Advisor Jim Jones congratulates the Pakistani military for going after Taliban forces that killed hundreds of Pakistani civilians, but fails to mention the protection provided by Pakistan for the insurgent forces that are killing Afghan civilians and, of course, US troops.” Jones’ apparent mental trapeze act–flipping what should be grounds for condemnation into a statement congratulating Pakistan’s military–is evidence of Washington’s willful blind-eye to, even acceptance of, the ISI’s activities in Afghanistan. The revelations should have at least elicited a sharp rebuke, a statement that Pakistan should shape up–but it didn’t.

That it didn’t is perhaps indicative of an emerging consensus that an active military mission in Afghanistan will no longer serve the interests of the U.S. and NATO. Already, Britain, the Netherlands, and Canada have announced their intention to withdraw, sooner rather than later, from Afghanistan. And the Atlantic‘s Andrew Sullivan, a conservative, is now calling the war in Afghanistan, “The Unwinnable War.” The hawkish American commentator Ann Coulter—notable for her desire to “invade their [Muslim] countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity“—agreed with GOP Chairman Michael Steele’s assessment that the war in Afghanistan may prove difficult to win. Over 1000 casualties, $300 billion, and nine years later, Americans of all stripes are bound to ask if the war is still worth it.

And that fatigue and aversion to prolonged conflict in distant lands is something Hamid Gul and his ilk in the ISI understood far better than American politicians did. They grasped, early on in the war, that America would once again leave—as it abandoned them after the Soviet-Afghan war, and then later slapped a series of sanctions on the country. Whether their prescience is owed to sophisticated analysis or to mere ideological bias, in retrospect, they made the better bet. They knew better than the Bush administration that a diverse, rugged Afghanistan would not become the paragon of democracy the neocons imagined. They knew, also, that public support in America would wane, noting that the cost and the deaths of American lives was too cumbersome.

A war that was once touted as a just war–the right war, unlike Iraq–is today openly called a “morally ambiguous” one. And as the war grows unpopular by the day, questions arise about the United States’ commitment to Afghanistan. Will the Obama administration withdraw on schedule, and by doing so, cede ground to Pakistan and the Taliban? Or will it continue the fight, and risk alienating an already fatigued public?

Foreign Policy‘s David Rothkopf beat me to it with his latest blog post, “A Tea Party Made in Heaven,” which argues that if Tea Baggers want no taxes, unhindered gun rights, and theocratic government, then Pakistan should be their next stop.

I couldn’t agree more. One of the first things I told my brother upon arriving in Karachi–as I remarked at the complete chaos, manifested in the way people drive–was that Pakistan is such a libertarian society. You can do pretty much anything you want, and not just on the roads.

You can tote your AK-47 around in public.

You also apparently don’t have to pay taxes, according to the New York Times‘ Sabrina Tavernise. She reports that out of a population of 170 million (and I’d venture to say that the population is probably 180 million) less than 2 percent actually bother paying taxes. And there’s no doubt that most of the 2 percent aren’t even fully declaring their income.

In her insightful book, “Breaking the Curfew: A Political Journey through Pakistan,” Emma Duncan recounts that a study by the IMF revealed that there wasn’t anything wrong with Pakistan’s tax collecting system. It was, after all, established by the British Raj. The problem was that–much like the Tea Baggers–Pakistanis simply didn’t want to pay taxes. Of course, the reluctance of Pakistanis to not pay taxes does have some merit. Their government for the past 60 years has been anything but representative, and, as the American colonists said, “no tax without representation.”

Pakistan is the Tea Bagger’s paradise for yet another reason: it’s a state whose laws are inspired by a “divine” book. Just as Sarah Palin imagines that the Founding Fathers based the United States Constitution on the Bible and the Ten Commandments, Pakistan’s leaders think their country’s laws should be based on God’s other book, the Koran. And like Palin, Pakistanis don’t know jack squat about the actual secular roots of the country’s founding. Jinnah famously said: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples… You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state”–now that’s a pretty unambiguous declaration of secularism. Period.

And Tea Baggers also happen to share the same socially conservative values as Pakistanis: homophobia, pro-life, virginity, and a whole gamut of stupid values. So yeah, Palin et al., come to Pakistan. I’ll show you around.

Stowed away in a drawer beneath a pile of ties is my Pakistani passport. Green with fading gold ink, it’s a passport I take out once a year for reluctant pilgrimages back to Karachi. Yesterday, I ruffled through my drawer to confirm that my passport was still valid–that the Islamic Republic would indeed allow me back in. For now, I’m safe: it expires at the end of July. But its fast approaching expiration forces me to think about the next time I have to apply for a Pakistani passport, and the morally unconscionable statement I will be required to sign in order to get it.

Since the rule of Islamist-generalismo Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistanis have had to declare their religions on their passports. And for 95 percent of Pakistan’s Muslims that means signing the following statement:

1. I am a Muslim and believe in the absolute and unqualified finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad the last of the Prophets.
2. I do not recognize any one who claims to be a prophet in any sense of the word or any description whatsoever, after Prophet Muhammad or recognize such a claimant as a prophet or a religious reformer as Muslim.
3. I consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani to be an impostor prophet and an infidel and also consider his followers whether belonging to the Lahori, Qadiani or Mirzai groups, to be non-Muslims.

Notwithstanding the absurd declaration itself–who gets to define what makes a Muslim anyway?–I have serious problems with the Government of Pakistan requiring me to declare my religion. As the country’s founder very clearly told the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, “I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal [of equal citizenship] and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.” That was an unambiguous plea for a secular Pakistan, where the equality of all citizens would be recognized. And if in the “political sense” we should “cease to be Hindus and Muslims,” then why the draconian passport rule?

Of course, those who hold dearly to Pakistan’s Islamic identity would argue that the declaration of religion is necessary because, in Pakistan, for the full functioning of Sharia law, one’s religion needs to be clearly stated. Well, let me pick apart that straw man with a simple fact: the country’s ID cards (the much-beloved shinakti cards) don’t state our religion. I’m not even going to delve into the multitudinous reasons why Sharia law–as it currently exists in Pakistan–is a wholly unjust enterprise. If the various provincial and federal bureaucracies have no use for our religion, then why does the passport authority require it?

The bearded Mullahs would now retort: our passports must declare our religions, because how else would our patrons, the Saudis, know who is a Muslim and who is not for Hajj (Islamic pilgrimage) visas? Ah yes, we have the silly rule in place for the convenience of the Saudi government. Lovely. Except, there are hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world whose passports don’t call them Muslims, and yet they still find their way to Mecca.

If the government doesn’t require our religion to be stated, and if foreign governments don’t require our religion to be declared either, then for what purpose does the infamous religion column exist? To make life easier for U.S. immigration officials at JFK? At present, U.S. authorities don’t need to think too hard about who goes in for a “secondary-screening.” The Government of Pakistan has already done most of the work by blatantly stating our religion. I’m in favour of screwing with them a bit and removing the religion column.

Pakistan is about to pass a set of constitutional amendments that attempt to strengthen the country’s democratic institutions. No one said it could be done–but there you have it folks, the so-called incompetent politicians achieved something for the greater good.

The most interesting part of the proposal is that it will make Pakistan’s prorogation procedures–the procedures that determine when and how a Parliament can be dismissed–more democratic than Canada’s. Only the National Assembly will have the power to dismiss itself (before its five-term limit is over) or to prorogue, whereas in arcane Canada, the Governor-General possesses that power de jure. In practice, it’s even more autocratic because the prime minister ultimately decides when to prorogue because the Governor-General defers to the judgment of the elected head of government.

General Ashfaq Kayani, Chief of the Pakistani Army, and a delegation of Pakistani ministers are in Washington, D.C. this week to begin a “strategic dialogue” with the U.S. Although he holds no civilian office, Kayani is the head of Pakistan’s strongest political institution, its military, and so has the credibility to negotiate on the behalf of the Government of Pakistan. The president, Asif Ali Zardari, has been sidelined, and Pakistan’s foreign policy is now blatantly in military hands. The Pakistani delegation brought with it a 56-page document–a wish list that includes demands for new and cool helicopters, drones, and U.S. financial assistance. Considering the fact that Pakistan has spent so much blood and treasure in the fight against the Taliban along its Afghan border, the aid and weaponry are in many respects overdue. Yes, the country has received billions since 9/11, but what is currently at stake–peace and stability in Afghanistan–has required Islamabad to alter its strategic orientation, which was primarily focused on its eastern neighbour, India. And for this, Washington should be grateful and generous.

But Pakistan has more than money on its mind: it is seeking recognition as a legitimate nuclear power and a civilian nuclear energy deal on par with the deal the Bush administration gave to India in 2008. Some have argued that Pakistan deserves such a deal. That suggestion is, however, irresponsible and ignores fundamental realities in Pakistan.

There are three main concerns about the prospects of such a deal. Firstly, as the Washington trip this week demonstrates, Pakistan’s civilian government has little to no control over the country’s defence and foreign policies. It was the country’s chief general who headed the Pakistani delegation, not its President. Pakistan’s political system is also notoriously unstable, swinging from democracy to dictatorship at a whim. Entrusting Pakistan with a nuclear deal would hand over precious fuel and technology to an unstable government, where the possibility of an unfriendly Islamist government coming to power is always plausible.

Secondly, Pakistan’s nuclear program makes no distinction between the military and the civilian sector. The military reigns supreme and manages the country’s nuclear energy needs. A civilian nuclear agreement would be one only in name. A nuclear deal for Pakistan would mean handing over fuel and technology to the Pakistani military, which would obviously divert away resources towards its nuclear weapons program. Some suggest that oversight over Pakistan’s nuclear facilities would allay such concerns. India famously refused American oversight over its nuclear facilities, and Pakistan–far more paranoid of American regional ambitions–would outright deny any access to its facilities.

Pakistan’s record of nuclear proliferation offers the most convincing argument against any attempts to recognize the country’s legitimacy as a nuclear power. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the former head of Pakistan’s nuclear program, admittedly transferred nuclear weapons technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. And he did so with few repercussions: he faced no trial and continues to reside in Islamabad, albeit under house arrest.

Pakistan’s political instability, its military’s enmeshment with the country’s politics and civilian institutions, and its record of nuclear proliferation should disqualify it from receiving recognition as a nuclear power and any assistance from the U.S. The Obama administration would be right to scoff at Pakistan’s suggestions that it deserves to be legitimate nuclear power.

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