Joe Biden’s Biggest “Concern”

February 13, 2010

Joe Biden Says Pakistan is a BIgger Concern than Afghanistan

Joe Biden Says Pakistan is a BIgger Concern than Afghanistan

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 underdeveloped region, 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.



One comment

  1. Salaam

    Yes- as your closing statement says, it sure does compliment what Obama had long said – about a focus of attention more on Pakistan.

    There has been more drone attacks on Pakistan with the Obama administration and more to come – most of the fatalities of course being civilian.

    From a realist point of view, in this anarchic international order – USA is watching their own back – and requires Pakistan to act in the interests of the United States and her objectives in the region.

    This means a focus on the Pashtun tribal regions and in particular the Pakistani Taliban. However not only does this go against the Pakistani ISI strategy of initially supporting the Pashtuns/Taliban (for their own security interests on their border, which of course later had a ‘blow-back’ impact with the outbreak of the Afghanistan war in 2001) – It also meant Pakistan had to divert its attention and resources to an internal enemy, rather than to their traditional nemesis India over the unresolved issue of Kashmir along with terrorist supporting allegations made by New Delhi against Islamabad.

    The Pakistani military was not structured to figh against fellow Pakistanits or counter-insurgency operations but primarily to combat India, so these outbreaks of near constant terrorist attacks in Pakistan is relatively new to Pakistan.

    Unfortunately, Pakistan in my opinion is a weak state – not yet failing or failed of course – but I mean the government clearly has no legitimacy in many parts of Pakistan’s NW frontier as well as resentment in Balochistan.

    Further to the charge of lack of legitimacy – the government has thus far proven inadequate in providing security for its citizens, it also cannot seem to deter or at least decrease the constant breaches and disrespect of Pakistani sovereign territory by the US drones.

    Moreoever, a government of a nation-state must have monopoly over violence to prevent challenges to their authority – which clearly the Pakistani military doesn’t possess – and this is a trait in many parts of the Islamic world- Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Yemen come to my mind in particular.

    I rememeber reading that the Pakistani army said it will no longer carry out operations against the tribal regions – which U.S are counting on, until further notice. They also made it clear they would shoot down drones if they see them, which I agree with.

    But it isn’t as if Pakistan’s instability should come as a surprise – Pakistan was created under an unfortunate shadow of violence and bloodshed during the partition of Panjab with India – further political turmoil with the East Pakistanis (who now constitute Bangladesh) and then a series of military coups and corrupt politicians, etc.

    India on the other hand seems to have been doing well for itself – though it has its own issues, political, social, etc but their economy is healthy and promising. Moreover there doesn’t seem to be the same extent of radicalisation among India’s epic number of Muslims, but that claim is too easy to make of course without hard facts and evidence.

    A good post, thanks for sharing.



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