BreakPoint: With Friends Like This

Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Just War

Why is the U.S. giving a foreign adversary billions of dollars? And what does a Christian worldview have to say about it?

Chuck Colson

On the Friday after Thanksgiving, NATO air forces killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in what officials called a “tragic unintended incident.”

The apology did nothing to quell the anger of the Pakistani military or the Pakistani people, who took to the streets in protest.

It’s the latest chapter in our troubled relationship with Pakistan, which an Atlantic Monthly cover story calls the “Ally from Hell.”

The relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan has been strained since May when Navy Seals killed Osama bin Laden near Pakistan’s military headquarters. The source of the strain isn’t that our erstwhile ally, to whom we give billions of dollars in aid, was sheltering bin Laden. No, the strain arises from Pakistan’s hurt feelings: They saw the raid as a violation of their sovereignty.

If this sounds crazy to you, it’s par for the course in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. As the Atlantic article makes clear, Pakistan and the United States have conflicting, in some cases, diametrically opposed, interests and agendas.

While the U.S. is fighting Islamist terrorism, Pakistan sponsors it: not only was its intelligence service behind the attacks in Mumbai, India, in 2008, it’s likely that its clients where behind an attack on the American embassy in Kabul earlier this year.

Then there’s Afghanistan: The Taliban is a creation of Pakistan, which sees it as a tool in its war with India. The Taliban uses Pakistan as a safe haven from which to attack NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Then, of course, there’s the question of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons:  Pakistan is so interested in safe-guarding its nukes from the U.S. that it takes measures to hide them from us in ways that actually make them more vulnerable to terrorists.

Yet despite this sorry record, the Atlantic Monthly insists that our only course of action is more of the same: pretend that Pakistan is an ally, not an adversary, and keep sending them money.

Why? The most credible argument for that is that, as the Atlantic puts it, “the U.S. will simply not find a way out of Afghanistan if Pakistan becomes an open enemy.”

If there’s a better illustration of how wrong-headed American involvement in Afghanistan is, I can’t find one.

This is where we Christians have something to add to the discussion: the just war theory. As I have said before, Afghanistan has long passed the point where it can be justified in classic just war terms. Two key points in the doctrine are that for a war to be just, you have to have a just cause and have a reasonable chance of success. Ask a supporter of the war what constitutes victory in Afghanistan, and the likely answer will be something along the lines of nation-building, not defeating the Taliban.

Well, even if nation-building were a just cause, which it isn’t, it would still run afoul of just war teaching because our chances of turning Afghanistan into a western-style democracy are virtually nil.

Meantime, while we pretend that our adversary is really our ally, Americans – and Afghanis – will continue to die and we will continue to spend billions we don’t have.

The attack on Pakistani troops may have been a “tragic unintended incident,” but the word that best describes the policies that led to that “incident” is “folly.” Is it not time to bring our troops home and invest our resources in striking at the terrorists?


The Ally From Hell
Jeffrey Goldberg and Marc Ambinder | Atlantic Monthly | December 2011

War in Afghanistan is Unjust
Chuck Colson | Two-Minute Warning | September 29, 2010

A Fact Sheet on Just War Theory | September 25, 2006


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