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Would Imran Khan call Ron Paul to Bat?

January 9, 2012
American Congressman Ron Paul

Ron Paul speaks during the Republican Leadership Conference: 2011

Is it just me, or are seemingly incessant GOP debates the past few months allowing President Obama’s lack of public exposure to seem more and more like solid leadership? The Republican lineups simplistic, square and reactionary focus on “Anti-Obama” rhetoric especially on foreign policy has highlighted a resoundingly hawkish stance on Iran with little attention to our current engagements in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And while it may be expedient amongst a certain political base to try and one-up each other in aggressive foreign policy talk, only Ron Paul challenges the party line on Americas role in the world.

When it comes to Pakistan, compared to Democrats Republicans have a consistent history of preferring to work closely with the military establishment in Islamabad. While there is a level of bipartisanship post 9/11, (case in point is Obama’s continuation of Bush era drone use with little debate), Republicans have through the Cold War and beyond preferred dealing with the military establishment rather than focusing on democratic, or liberal institution building. Which is not necessarily an entirely erroneous  policy; part of the rationale is that state building is expensive in blood, toil, time and treasure and rarely feasible. Further, there are an endless number of constraints and uncertainties that profoundly hinder institution, or democratic state building in a place like Pakistan, rendering Republican policies simply pragmatic.

Which brings us to current policy: the bipartisan endorsed “Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act” (S. 1707)  enacted in 2009 has yet to bear tangible fruit. Granted the aforementioned that institution building is time exhaustive, the fact remains that Pakistan has deteriorated politically, in the realm of security and economically. And having watched everyone from Gov. Romney, Sen. Santorun, Gov. Perry, Rep. Bachmann and yes even the soft spoken Gov. Huntsman, reiterates hawkish foreign policy while refusing to acknowledge a need for meaningful improvement. In the Republican camp only Rep. Ron Paul’s extreme calls for an isolationist posture offer some semblance of change. And because his prescriptions have yet to be tried, the utility of his ideas have yet to be tested. And now may be a time to consider his stance since they call for exactly what the Pakistani public wants right now.

Referring to our policies to Pakistan as nothing short of “Bombs for Bribes” Ron Paul acknowledges the nobility, yet inherent futility in calling for democratic institutions in places of strategic engagement. He understands that we are already engaged in “130 countries” with “700 bases around the world” and in this speech against the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act, he bluntly explains:

the way we treat our fellow countries around the world is we tell them what to do and if they do it, we give them money. If they don’t we bomb them. Under this condition we are doing both. We are currently dropping bombs in Pakistan and innocent people get killed. If you want to promote our good values and democratic processes, you can’t antagonize the people”

He goes on to suggest dialogue and trade as alternatives to current policy. And although his statement is simplistic and was made in 2009, it highlights Ron Paul’s isolationist, more economically focused prescriptions on foreign policy that seek to reduce our military footprint abroad based on pragmatic constraints, like military and fiscal overstretch. And these calls seem more reasonable than before, especially when it comes to Pakistan and the fact that our aid has yet to yield satisfactory results. So while the Obama administration continues engagement and GOP candidates refuse to acknowledge much concern over current policy to Pakistan, can Ron Paul really be the only alternative available?

Someone once considered completely out of left, excuse me, right field, could be the reminder we need to moderate our engagement with countries of interest. Because what is interesting is that current rhetoric in Pakistan is very much in line with Ron Paul’s ideas. Ron Paul isn’t touting conspiracy theories, nor does he echo far left foreign policy thinkers like Noam Chomsky. Rather, his past statements on our engagement in Pakistan as “inadvertently causing chaos” and “violating security and sovereignty” are exactly what the average Pakistani seems to feel and hears about in their mainstream TV, and print media. Takeaway for us means, it’s a perception the is realistic; perhaps more so than current policy reflects.

In fact, legendary cricket star turned politician Imran Khan’s recent surge in popularity is in large part due to his highly critical foreign policy rhetoric that vociferously calls for D.C. to adopt a more isolationist stance so Pakistan might reclaim lost autonomy. Imran Khan steadily built support for his party on the continued observation that America’s “War on Terror” has intensified insecurity and his subsequent promises to curtail American involvement is a first step in alleviating Pakistan’s problems.

He underscores Ron Paul’s sentiment that perceptions urgently matter in a climate where American intervention is increasingly received hostilely.  Both politicians insistence on winnings hearts and minds renders Ron Paul’s foreign policy prescriptions worthy of consideration. Imran Khan’s recent ascendency and Governor Paul’s gradually increasing support marks a convergence in shifting to a direction of a less militarized approach to Pakistan. Two men once considered out of the realm of politician viability now increasingly resonate in their respective publics; policymakers ought to take note.

 

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED @ THE FOREIGN POLICY ASSOCIATION

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“Terrorism Anywhere is Terrorism Everywhere”

October 18, 2009

With Democrats weary of our engagement in the Af-Pak region becoming a Vietnam-esque quagmire, Republican’s remain hesitant to cut and run but public support is dwindling at just 40% for what Obama once said was our “war of necessity”. Apparently the “necessity” of this war is now shifted to the Pakistan front. BBC has a brief, but powerful article on how critical this war is to Pakistan by documenting thoughts of everyday citizens on the military’s recent offensive against terrorists. The piece reveals young men and women resoundingly support militarily obliterating insurgents who have spilled over from Afghanistan. But what is most pressing is the human element the article brings as we learn the unity with which each citizen describes the “fear” and “stresses” that have crept into their daily lives. Terrorism has brought a dangerous anxiety to Pakistan that didn’t exist prior to 9/11.

I was in Karachi on 9/11 and stayed for a few weeks before coming back to California. I remember President Musharraff coining the notion “Pehla Pakistan” (Pakistan First) and explaining the country would support the United States in fighting terrorism in Afghanistan because that was the right thing to do for Pakistan. But mostly I recall feeling sad, gripped: I stayed up all night on 9/11 watching footage and listening to news, not completely understanding what was happening. I was deeply saddened, yet not immediately scared. Sadness resounded minus physical fear because I was immediately safe. Pakistan was for the most part safe from terrorist activity. The Daniel Pearl incident was frightening, but it was well known that Al Qaeda had no significant presence or intent to attack within Pakistan. The BBC article today reveals a much different, severely deteriorated Pakistan.

News stories have kept me abreast of countless suicide attacks against civilians, but this particular article leaves me stunned. Again, I’m not immediately scared because I’m physically away from terrorists, but realizing that our efforts after 9/11 have not thwarted terrorists from attacking again is still saddening. Instead, terrorists continue to grip the daily lives of innocent civilians 8 years later. Secretary Clinton said “terrorism anywhere is terrorism everywhere” and that’s difficult to argue with today.

Looking beyond the fact that Pakistan is strategically poised to serve our geopolitical energy interests through Central Asia and is a good ally to have in the face of an ascending China, there’s a profound humanitarian reason to aid Pakistan in this situation.

Secretary Clinton’s remarks are reminiscent of her husbands policies. Former President Clinton’s doctrine can partially be defined as American intervention in even the most remote, far away regions for the sake of humanity which ultimately serves greater international interest (think American intervention in Bosnia). In a similar way, citizens living in constant fear beseeches us to address a perpetually devastated Afghanistan and an increasingly crippled Pakistan with a long term strategy of ensuring that terrorism is not just obliterated, but uprooted.

The difference between obliterating and uprooting terrorism is one of time. Obliterating a few thousand Taliban/Al Qaeda might be accomplished swiftly with a major Pakistan & US military offensive, through the heightened use of drones, and a stepped up counterinsurgency. But that runs a risk of tremendous collateral damage which can impoverish and ultimately isolate moderates against Pakistani and US forces. The situation is already being described as a “civil war” and a short term, merely military strategy runs the costly risk of hurting our long term plan of engaging Pakistan diplomatically (we have plans of creating massive embassies in the north). Uprooting terrorism on the other hand requires a longer term engagement because it involves  ‘winning hearts and minds“.

Winning hearts and minds can be achieved through sustainable economic development that tangibly alleviates pain for people in Afghanistan and Pakistan. An American hand in such development ultimately eliminates reasons for people to join terrorists who harbor anti-American ambitions.

The Kerry Lugar bill is a fair attempt at  addressing this issue, but fails to realize that in Pakistan, the military has historically and relative to civilian governments, been fairly efficient at achieving development in tandem with security. So while Democrats and Republicans debate the time frame for our engagement in the Af-Pak war, I think Obama’s administration should begin a U.S. strategy from the premise of uprooting terrorism. It’s no longer just about retributive justice of  “smoking them out” as Former President Bush put it. This war is expanding internationally at the expense of innocent civilians who increasingly fear, rather than welcome American assistance . Our strategy should aim to remove terrorists for the long haul, ensuring allies like Pakistan are securely comprised 0f  prosperous, welcoming citizens.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED @

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Pakistan’s Domestic Agenda: Battling Terrorism

October 13, 2009

Pakistani forces are in full offensive mode today, bombing northern areas of South Waziristan. Although planned months in advance, this comes immediately following a siege at military headquarters, and a number of suicide attacks for which Taliban have claimed responsibility. Simultaneously, the Kerry-Lugar Bill elicits concern that contingencies on funding potentially violate sovereignty, US controlled drone attacks continue and the economy has yet to pick up. Needless to say, the War on Terror have been tough times for Pakistan, and I hope the military succeeds in securing northern areas swiftly.

But an interesting perspective that is perhaps overshadowed by statistics, strategies, and tangible costs/benefits of our engagement in Operation Enduring Freedom, are the multifaceted issues of Pakistan’s agenda, which should describe handling security breaches at the forefront of their interests.

The Christian Science Monitor has a piece  entitled Pakistan Taliban Bombing Spree Could spur Backlashreporting on today’s military offensive, but the thrust is that the Taliban siege at military headquarters “spurs” Pakistani forces to fight harder, and stronger against the Taliban. By attributing an increased fight to the  “backlash” of this weekends attacks, the article rests on an implied assumption that Pakistan would otherwise have made suboptimal efforts at obliterating terrorists. At the end of the article an alternative view is offered by a security analyst at the INternational Institute for Strategic Studies in London explaining:

“I don’t think any serious military is baited in that way. It will certainly annoy the military intensely and strengthen resolve, but the South Waziristan operation – which will inevitably occur at some point – isn’t going to be accelerated just because of this.”

But this is an external analysts view and the article is preceded by a statement from a Pakistani professor:

“By launching these attacks on the very citadel and symbol of the Pakistani Army they have just crossed a red line, and there is no turning back as far as the Pakistani Army is concerned. I think they will be made to pay for it.”

Certainly, a brazen attack on military headquarters will rile a staunch response. But the articles title still suggests that the siege fuels the military offensive rather than an inherent interest in combatting terrorism.

This idea is an extension of what is now a widespread misperception that Pakistan is not entirely interested in combating terrorism, when on the contrary, this weeks offensive reaffirms Pakistan’s struggle for security. And I wonder if the skeptical lens with which reports question Pakistan’s effort stem from a stage set for discourse back in 2001 when former President George Bush decided countries were simply “either with us, or against us”.

The effectiveness of that strategy is debatable, but 8 years later it doesn’t offer sufficient explanations for allies like Pakistan who work “with us”, yet face persistent accusations of not doing enough. Because this weekend’s siege on military headquarters indicates Pakistan’s inherent interest in uprooting terrorism, but without a comprehensive reading into the situation it’s easy to have only a “with or against us” understanding. The northern areas where Afghani militants have spilled over is an autonomous region, historically beyond the realm of federal authority. Yet its inhabitants share with greater Pakistan a similar culture, ascribe to the same religion (although interpretations vary), and even share a physical resemblance making it a very sensitive area where any state would use force only as a final resort. Militarily obliterating such an area is unpalatable to the general Pakistani public and therefore a difficult issue to deal with for policymakers. In addition, Pakistan’s forces are only 60+ years old and trained predominantly in conventional warfare to face a potential Indian threat.

Thus, there are extremely sensitive considerations and multiple dimensions in the Pakistani approach to dealing with terrorism that since 2001, is an increasingly domestic battle. Just militarily obliterating this kind of demographic is not only potentially destabilizing for Pakistan, but is impractical without additional funding, training, and intelligence sharing with our forces. So Pakistan’s cooperation with the United States is not a black or white, “with us or against us” situation. The Obama administration understands this as if applies General McChrystal’s recommendations to differentiate Taliban from Al Qaeda as targets in the War on Terror. Such practicality takes into considerations long term realities and sensitivities of the region as cooperation in our War on Terror looks increasingly domestic for Pakistan.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED @

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Enhanced Cooperation Meets Enhanced Concern

October 12, 2009

At the heels of Pakistan’s offensive against militants in South Waziristan, terrorists brazenly staged an attack on military headquarters this weekend. Commandos responded swiftly, taking out 9 of the militants, capturing their ring leader and freeing 39 hostages. Despite success in ending the siege, the incident demonstrates a worsening Af-Pak situation and beseeches a new strategy.

Our administrations new strategy is defined by an increase in troops to Afghanistan, focusing military efforts squarely on Al Qaeda (less focus on Taliban) and expanded funding to Pakistan by way of the Kerry Lugar bill. And while the troop surge and emphasis on Al Qaeda are debated at length in D.C., the Pakistani media is abuzz on the Kerry Lugar bill. There are calls by The Awami League Party (representing the NWFP regions & a predominantly Pashtun population) that the bill allow for an “uninterrupted flow of non military assistance” while other politicians vouch against the legislation altogether. Tehrik-e-Insaaf chairman Imran Khan  said the bill “enslaves” Pakistan and can only benefit the top echelons of government referring to past corruption allegations on senior government officials. Similarly, pundits were all over Pakistani television in the past week, echoing concerns about corruption, lack of support to the military, too many strings attached to funding, and how the bill threatens sovereignty. This morning Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi flew to D.C. to discuss theseconcerns just as rumours that Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States is losing his post becayse of not entirely positive comments regarding the Kerry-Lugar legislation. Suffice to say, the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Actmeant to  extend a new strategic hand of cooperation to Islamabad is not off to the positive start intend

In fact, Senator Kerry’s office directly responded to popular skepticism in a recent report.

  • Addressing concerns that the bill would invade state soveriegnty: Senator Kerry explains the bill funds “schools, roads, energy infrastructure and medical clinics” and that “those seeking to undermine” a US/Pakistan in that endeavor are doing so to “advance narrow partisan or institutional agendas“.
  • Regarding the idea that the legislation comes with too many strings attached, Kerry emphasizes that the $7.5 billion annual pledge is for “unconditioned non military aid” and comes with “strict measures of financial accountability” referring specifically to Executive Branch oversight on the use of these funds.

This is contentious to Pakistan because it’s maybe the first time external oversight is imposed on assistance from the United States. And while the bill does a great job of outlining funds for social infrastructure intended to find it’s way to everyday citizens, on the issue of sovereigty, the real sticking point is regarding a potential subversion of the Pakistani military. Senator Kerry insists that the bill’s:

  • focus is on nonmilitary assistance to the people of Pakistan” and military aid is contingent to “cooperation on nonproliferation“. However, the bills funding is rooted in “significant efforts towards combating terrorist groups” and the “Pakistani military not subverting the political or judicial process” to ensure “common goals” of “security and democracy“.

This irks Pakistani’s for a number of reasons. Firstly, there’s ambiguous wording. “Cooperation on nonproliferation” is vague enough to translate as potentially linking funds to Pakistan giving up their right to maintain armaments comparable to neighboring India. Similarly, “significant efforts toward combating terrorism” gives no reference for how this will be measured.

On the Pakistan side, the worry is that  “significant efforts”, according to their definition might not match a U.S. definition of success. Plus there might continue to be a disagreement on the idea of “combating terrorism”. It’s a contention we’ve seen play out as D.C. repeatedly called for heightened efforts on combating the Taliban, quitely but surely opposing Pakistan’s attempts at negotiating with those groups rather than employing just a military offensive, (a policy we’re now reverting).

Also, delinking assistance from the military is unprecedented and freightening to some because while it is necessary to develop schools, and social, democratic infrastructure for long term development, in the immediate term there are widespread security breaches with weekly suicide attacks, an ever growing incursion from Afghan militants on the northern border and drone attacks that result in collateral damage.

So Pakistans concerns echo a need for both immediate security and long term development, but not at the expense of one another.

Keep in mind, the widely held, and all but true notion that Pakistan is perhaps the only place where the military controls a country, and not vice versa. That idea is rooted in that their military is historically the strongest, most stable and legitimately accepted institution. Let me emphasize that last part: it’s historically the most legitimately accepted institution in Pakistan in an absence of stable democratic institutions never having developed. Meaning, in times of economic, social and political uncertainty, the military has historically responded most efficiently in alleviating situations since 1947. Whether one accepts the idea that the military creates a perpetual cycle of uncertainty within which to assume power periodically, or the military responds to the shortcomings of civilian governments in the absence of democratic instiuttions (chicken & egg argument), either way, the military’s been relatively effective in handling crises in Pakistan in comparison to civlian regimes. So given the current enviornment of insecurity, people are weary of a hopeful promise for “long term” moves toward “democracy” that might comes at the expense of insufficient assistance to their military who has a capacity to alleviate immediate security concerns.

I think democracy is the ultimate route to security for Pakistan, but despite Executive branch oversight and our “long term” commitment defined by only 5 years of funding, Pakistan’s concerns are understandable. Given a long history of cooperation, Pakistan is more used to US assistance through bilateral relations with a Republican government in DC (think General Zia/Raegan, General Musharraf/Bush, Ayub Khan/Eisenhower, Yahya/Nixon) and the Kerry Lugar bill is a staunch reverasal of our foreign policy with Islamabad. Perhaps finding value in previously crafted policies to Pakistan in combination with our current legislative proposals is an optimal solution to quelling the enahanced concern of our enhanced cooperation.

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