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February 1, 2009

MacArthur should return

Issue 23 - Jan 2009
Nitin Pai

The focus on the war in Afghanistan has rendered the United States blind to the strategic reality that ‘surges’ and reconstruction efforts are bound to fail unless the Pakistani military-jihadi complex is completely dismantled. What Pakistan needs is the kind of transformation that General Douglas MacArthur brought about in Japan. There too was a militarised state that had recently invaded a neighbour for ‘strategic depth’. There too was the use of extremist religious ideology as an excuse for irredentism and territorial ambition. There too was an education system that was brainwashing young minds. There too was a feudal elite controlling the levers of the economy. And there too were suicide bombers. 

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While the majority of the occupying troops (around 110,000 at their peak) were American and General MacArthur personally exercised tremendous authority as their commander, the occupation itself was the result of a resolution among the great powers of the day. And the allied occupation consisted of international troops, mainly from the British Commonwealth (30,000 at one point), and, included Indian troops and airmen up to October 1947. And in just over six years, General MacArthur had substantially achieved what he had set out to achieve. And the cost to the United States treasury? Roughly US$15.2 billion (in 2005 dollars) of which the Japanese government repaid US$490 million. 

Robert Kagan, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment, skirted around this idea when he suggested that parts of Pakistan be placed under “international receivership”. “[Rather] than simply begging the Indians to show restraint, a better option could be to internationalise the response” and “have the international community declare that parts of Pakistan have become ungovernable and a menace to international security. Establish an international force to work with the Pakistanis to root out terrorist camps in Kashmir as well as in the tribal areas.”  Dr Kagan felt that China and Russia might block such an intervention—yet, Beijing and Moscow cannot entirely believe that they have nothing to worry about those ‘non-state’ actors from Pakistan.

Just as General MacArthur operated under the aegis of Emperor Hirohito to defuse popular resistance, it might be necessary for the international receivership to act on behalf of a popular Pakistani leader. Finding one popular enough, admittedly, is a problem. 

But the conditions for an international intervention might be close at hand—the Taliban have defeated the Pakistani army in Swat are knocking on the doors of Peshawar. The use of fighter aircraft and armour for counterinsurgency have displaced hundreds of thousands and are breeding resentment. Meanwhile, a fresh political crisis is brewing with Nawaz Sharif’s party all but withdrawing support for Mr Zardari’s government. Given the circumstances, General Ashfaq Kayani is unlikely to want to directly mount a coup. In the crisis lies an opportunity for the international community, led by the United States, to work towards a lasting remedy to the ‘international migraine’. 

The original MacArthur plan was preceded by a nuclear explosion. The new one must not wait for such a tragedy to occur.


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