Pakistan and the Myth of “Too Dangerous to Fail”

Could Trump’s “Madman” Approach Work on Islamabad?

Rawalpindi, Pakistan, December 31, 2017. Faisal Mahmood / Reuters

On January 1, U.S. President Donald Trump sent out a tweet accusing Pakistan of “lies and deceit” and then threatened to cut off all assistance that was in the pipeline. After some backtracking, saying it would slash only some funds, the administration returned to its initial position, announcing that it would in fact suspend all security-related assistance, including the Coalition Support Fund program, a very lucrative cash cow that has accounted for close to half of the $34 billion lavished on Pakistan since 2002.

This is not the first time, of course, that U.S. officials have called Pakistan out for its perfidy despite American generosity. Former President Barack Obama did so, albeit with more finesse, and even acted militarily against Pakistan in May 2011 when he ordered in U.S. Navy SEALs to kill Osama bin Laden, who was hiding in a safe house less than a mile from the premier military academy where Pakistani officers are trained. But Washington rarely followed through with its threats.

This time, the situation is different. The mere fact that the Trump regime is now on the verge of making good on its threat should cause some concern within the corridors of power in Rawalpindi, the headquarters of the overweening Pakistani military establishment.


In the past, Pakistan weathered the United States’ storms of displeasure with the confidence that as long as the Americans were in Afghanistan, they needed Pakistan’s air and ground routes for resupply. Islamabad also believed that it had pretty much convinced Washington to stay engaged no matter what because its country’s fleet of terrorists and its fast-growing nuclear arsenal made it “too dangerous to fail.” In fact, Pakistan encouraged Americans to fear the worst outcome: a rupture in the state security apparatus that would allow terrorists to get their hands on Pakistani nuclear know-how, fissile materials, or weapons—even as Pakistan used U.S. funds to invest in such assets along the way. 

These two factors—logistical dependence and

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