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Dan Markey discusses U.S.-Pakistani relations

Published: Thursday, November 7, 2013

Updated: Thursday, November 7, 2013 02:11

Daniel Markey, senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia for the Council on Foreign Relations, spoke in Barnum Hall yesterday as part of the Frank C. Colcord Lecture Series, hosted by the Department of Political Science.

During the discussion, Markey discussed his new book, “No Exit: America’s Tortured Relationship With Islamabad.” He explained that the book’s namesake, “No Exit” by Jean-Paul Sartre, served as an effective analogy for the current phase of U.S.-Pakistani relations. He remarked that the plot of the 1944 existentialist play centers on three characters who are trapped in hell, forever tormented by each other’s company.

“I found this all too reminiscent of our relationship with Pakistan,” Markey said. “We are well-suited to torturing one another, and we have done so in many ways over the decades since Pakistan was founded in 1947.”

Markey understood the enormous pressure for the United States to exit Pakistan, given many Americans’ belief that the billions of dollars spent within the region has yielded little to no benefit. He argued that, in spite of such opposition, remaining in Pakistan is important for the United States’ long-term interests in Asia, particularly in terms of countering terrorism, violent extremism and expansion of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

“Pakistan is vulnerable in the world, and [for] the U.S., given how powerful of a nation it is, [Pakistan] cannot be avoided,” Markey said. “We have a challenge in Pakistan that’s likely to last for a very long time. So, there is no exit.”

Markey said that it was important to keep Pakistan well-monitored during such a precarious period. Though Pakistan is already a densely-populated country with nearly 200 million inhabitants, its population is expected to grow by 85 million over the next two decades. Markey predicted that the nation will not be able to deliver the education, jobs, infrastructure and industry necessary to properly accommodate such a dramatic increase in population.

“If Pakistan can’t come to terms with its educational and infrastructural deficits, then this youth bulge will be very dangerous,” he said. “Right now, it doesn’t look like they will.”

Markey described the Pakistani military as the most organized, capable and well-supplied institute of the nation, causing citizens to oftentimes turn to the army in times of need. As a result, the military has now gained overwhelming control of the nation and turned Pakistan into something of a garrison state.

“It is often said that countries have militaries,” Markey said. “Pakistan is a military that has a country.”

Markey stated that a culture of violent extremism and terrorism has developed in some regions of the nation. He noted that many of al-Qaeda’s most prominent figures, both past and present, have had ties to the nation. These include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, whose parents were both Pakistani, and Osama bin Laden, who was harbored in Pakistan during the final years of his life. 

“Pakistan is not just an incidental place where bin Laden might have been found,” he said. “Al-Qaeda’s roots in Pakistan run very deep.”

Markey stated that that many young Pakistanis are still holding out hope for a positive future. “Youthful idealists,” as he described them, have often displayed great energy and reform-minded ambition in leading campaigns for change within their society.

“Young Pakistanis have called for change,” Markey said. “Not radical or revolutionary change, necessarily, but for reform.”

There are many obstacles which have oftentime prevented productive U.S.-Pakistani agreements, Markey acknowledged. Some Americans have considered immoral to negotiate with previous military dictators of Pakistan. On the other hand, Pakistanis feel abandoned by an American government that has pursued its own national interests within the region at the expense of Pakistani democracy.

Still, he expressed hope that the two nations will eventually be able to overcome their  considerable differences.

“We share the world, and the world has gotten too small for us to escape from each other,” Markey said.

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