The United States has long complained that Pakistan's military and intelligence services are playing a double game when it comes to terrorism and extremism: publicly promising cooperation-and indeed delivering some-while privately supporting America's enemies. They point to Pakistan's apparent reluctance to take on groups like the Haqqaani network, a Taliban affiliate that launches attacks on American soldiers in Afghanistan, and the Quetta Shura, Taliban leaders based in Baluchistan. In the eyes of the United States, the Pakistan army has not been the most dependable international ally, a sentiment that is reciprocated by the Pakistanis. And now, many American officials are hoping that the raid that killed Osama bin Laden will give them the leverage to force the Pakistani security establishment to choose sides once and for all.
If only it were that simple.
Killing bin Laden has indeed succeeded at putting pressure on the Pakistani army, but not to the effect that Washington may have wished. The truth is that Pakistanis are angrier about the United States' ability to launch a special-operations raid right under their noses than they are that bin Laden was found on their soil-and the military is bearing the brunt of the criticism inside Pakistan. Text-message jokes about the army are making the rounds, parliament is angrily voicing embarrassing questions about the military's lack of preparedness, and the chattering classes are tossing ceaseless insults. But it's the United States that now has the most to lose. The Pakistani military is destined to remain an important institution in Pakistan's otherwise dysfunctional polity, and Washington has more to gain by reforming it cooperatively than by casting it aside.
Pakistan's history and geography has always dictated the need for a large military. It is surrounded by multiple major powers and conflict zones: Afghanistan to the west, rising India to the east, and China to the north, making Pakistan a key locus of super power interests and rivalries. It is necessarily wary about its own security. And the army has always seen itself as the national institution par excellence, an organization explicitly of the people and for the people. Indeed, recruitment patterns show that the army is increasingly representative of the country as a whole: in an otherwise fractured country, that is reason enough to justify its outsized presence on the national stage.
For the most part, the Pakistani military has earned its reputation as an effective military force. But it also overreached in trying to take over civil administration under general-cum-president Pervez Musharraf. And it has been poor at political engineering. The army under Musharraf had penetrated the ranks of the civilian bureaucracy, taking over education and training institutions and essentially running certain ministries. After assuming command as army chief, Kayani ordered all army officers serving in government to either resign from the military or to return to it full time.