Emma Nelson
November 2016.

Is Pakistan a Western ally, or a potential Islamist theocracy?

1 answer

Pakistan is not an Islamist theocracy like Iran. It is ultimately a democracy where governments are elected. It of course has a long history of military rule, but I would separate Pakistan from Iran and how it should be treated by the West. 

 I think Iran is far more complicated, with issues that trace back to its revolution in 1979 . That plays into difficulties with Saudi Arabia and the U.S and the politics of the Middle East. Pakistan, on the other hand, is an ally to the West for many reasons. It is a country that the U.S. relied on to help force the Soviets out of Afghanistan;  something that ultimately led to the collapse of Soviet Union. 

Pakistan is used by the U.S. and indeed other western allies to restrain India - a country which has shown phenomenal growth over the years. China also views Pakistan as geographically important. China has recently opened seaports in Balochistan province and it's spending billions of dollars to create an economic corridor from China all the way through Pakistan to the Arabian Sea. 

“The West really has no choice in its reliance on Pakistan, because of where it sits in the world.”

But when it comes to the West and its reliance on Pakistan as an ally, the West really has no choice because of where it sits in the world; also because of Iran and its return to the global stage after the nuclear agreement. Pakistan is useful to the U.S, to the UK, but it's also useful to countries like China. 

We mustn’t forget that Pakistan does act as a negative force, especially in countries like Afghanistan. That relationship  has proven to be very problematic especially for the U.S. The U.S. spent extraordinary amounts of blood and treasure in Afghanistan but the results of that effort is falling apart. Afghans and many quarters in the U.S. blame Pakistan for this because of Pakistan's support for groups including the Taliban. 

Pakistan has paid a high price for this double game. On the one hand, it’s supporting the West.  On the other hand it’s supporting armed groups.  These groups have ultimately turned on Pakistan and  in the last seven or eight years Pakistan has seen extraordinary violence inflicted on its own civilian population. Strong tactics by the current outgoing military chief General Sharif have subdued this somewhat. So while Pakistan has tried to play its own game and assert its own muscle, regionally that has blown back on them. But I think the West still needs Pakistan as an ally for lots of reasons. 

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