Is Pakistan Preparing for War?

Letter From Karachi

Courtesy Reuters

If Pakistani news channels can be taken at face value these days, the country is preparing for war. Retired generals, ambassadors, and professors weigh in on the likelihood of U.S. attack with an unrelenting intensity. The anchor of "Capital Talk," one of the most widely watched news programs on the popular channel Geo, recently asked guests what Pakistan should do when the impending attack occurs. A couple of his guests said that Pakistan should mobilize its forces and respond with full force. Officials have been more circumspect, but have issued the constant refrain that Pakistan's sovereignty must not be compromised.

On Facebook, meanwhile, new groups rally Pakistanis to the defense of the homeland. Just a few hours before sitting down to write this article, I received a text message with a similar call to action from a professional acquaintance. The rambling screed read, "Let them taunt us as an economically failed state, for they know not how thousands of Pakistani workers are currently working in the Middle East, Western Europe, and North America... Let them call us a technologically backward state, for they know not how we are the sole Muslim state with nuclear capability."

In the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden, such propaganda is everywhere. I have never seen it so virulent. But, in fact, Pakistan can ill afford any war, much less one against the sole remaining superpower. Sure, thousands of Pakistanis work abroad and send home billions of dollars in remittances every year. But many of those workers left precisely because Pakistan did not have jobs for them or because the economy was failing to properly reward their academic and professional achievements. And, of those employed within the country, the vast majority pay no taxes at all; Pakistan has among the lowest tax-to-GDP ratios in the world. The country's collection agency, the state-run Federal Board of Revenue, is infamously corrupt.

Defense budgets being virtually untouchable because of the military's outsized domestic power, the civilian

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