Posts Tagged ‘foreign policy to pakistan’

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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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America the Resilient

May 2, 2011
President Obama & CIA Director Leon Panetta
President Obama & CIA Director Leon Panetta

9/11 changed the face of US hegemony and after 10 years of what began as a sweeping War on Terror, that face changes again tonight as America prevails proud, resilient and rejuvenated. President Obama’s address confirms Osama bin Laden has been killed and his body is in U.S. custody.

Special forces brought bin Laden to justice and our President thanked those who served us in the military, in counterterrorism and intelligence officials who had been watching the compound and gathering actionable intelligence that ultimately took out enemy number one in a firefight.

It’s a proud day for America, but questions already abound regarding relations with Pakistan: “Osama bin Laden was not in a cave, he was in a city in Pakistan” as one analyst on ABC news reported which had Christian Amanpour then raise the question “whose been protecting him?”

But before entirely implicating Pakistan for harboring the worlds most wanted man, it’s important to recall Obama’s increased intelligence operations in Pakistan since he took office. As the war shifted to Pakistan, so did ISI CIA collaborative operations. With closer collaboration came butting of heads where U.S. intelligence speculated if Pakistani intelligence was doing enough and such rifts peaked last week when Admiral Mike Mullen voiced harsh criticism of the ISI.

But the President’s comments and ongoing reporting indicates that today’s victory that comes after 10 long years of war, struggle and sacrifice, was a joint operation with Pakistan on the ground. GEO News in Pakistan confirms most of the information we’re hearing here, save some reporting that 1 American helicopter was shot down. Nonetheless, Peter Bergen on CNN says Elite Black Ops and Paramilitary CIA who were the likely heroes, operated with cooperation of the Pakistani government. Yet this success does not negate or allow us to ignore the concern of who, or at worst, what elements of the Pakistani government knew of Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts.

Today prompts us to reassess and revamp relations with Pakistan, who once again has proven itself as an effective ally at wartime. This victory is an opportunity to foster a fresh relationship that can be something more than transactional and more transparent. Skepticism of one another in both states is beyond a misalignment of interests, it’s a misalignment ofconceptions of one another. Perceptions matter and it is no secret that anti Americanism can be formidable fuel to our enemies abroad. U.S. Intelligence amidst constant rhetoric of “Blowback” is redeemed today; the Intelligence agencies are heroes to Americans everywhere, and in this instance, even for Pakistani’s who suffered tremendously since 9/11. With an ever crippling economy, and a seemingly endless barrage of violent onslaughts from Al Qaeda suicide bombers in the past 10 years, Pakistani’s along with American’s should rejoice at today’s victory while policymakers in both countries take time to capitalize on this game changer and move forward anew.

Step 1, halt the drones.

ORIGINALLY POSTED @ THE FOREIGN POLICY ASSOCIATION

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When Martial Law = Democracy

October 15, 2009

What happens when a majority of one country’s citizens opt for martial law but the democratically elected government in power including judicial, executive and legislative branches are against a military takeover? It’s quite the political conundrum because either side offers legitimate democratic authority, but they’re diametrically opposed. A rational answer is to let the democratically elected government fulfill it’s term and allow citizens to elect politicians to office who will support martial law in the next term. That might work in a fully functional democracy backed by institutions that can uphold legitimacy and granted the state is sufficiently secure. However, in light of decreasing security, severe economic downturns and age old skepticism of U.S. actions in Pakistan, ever so gradually the country shifts it’s gaze toward the military.

Decreasing Security :: To offer partial explanation in a nutshell: Since 2001, terrorists fleeing Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, spilled over into Pakistan at the nebulous northern border areas which are historically autonomous from federal regulation. The fact that Pakistan already housed one of the worlds largest refugee populations allowed this spillover a massive and destitute demographic from which to exploit support. As a result, we now see unprecedented terrorism in Pakistan where Al Qaeda and the Taliban had no significant presence prior to 9/11.

Skepticism of U.S.’s Role in Pakistan :: Since the inception of Pakistan in 1947, bilateral realations with the United States have been defined by cooperation wherein Pakistan served as a proxy for U.S. Containment throughout the Cold War (i.e. security pacts like SEATO, CENTCOM, then aiding our Afghan led defense against Soviet incursions in the 1980’s). In exchange, Pakistan’s military with U.S. support, bolstered itself as the strongest, most efficient and stable institution in Pakistan. Some argue civilian governments and democratic institutions were thus never given an opportunity to compete with such a well funded, strongly backed military. And therein we find multifaceted dimensions that help explain the controversy over current U.S. support of Pakistan. Former Pakistan to U.S. ambassador Maleeha Lodhi describes the Kerry Lugar bill:

“the offending part of the legislation sets up the country as hired help and puts the military in the dock, presumed guilty on many counts and having to prove its innocence to Washington”

Pakistan is “hired help”, that’s the crux of  skepticism on the Kerry-Lugar bill. Concern is rooted in a long history of cooperation with the United States that some argue  created a behemoth military institution costing them a fair chance at democracy. In attempt to address that very concern, the Kerry Lugar bill mentions no military aid in exchange for cooperation on the War on Terror, unlike previous assistance packages from the Cold War. Ironically, bleak affairs in Pakistan now which are partially a result of pervious cooperation, particularly during the Soviet Afhgan war, prompt arguments that the military is exactly what needs support right now. Thus, the Lugar Bill receives not only skepticism from Pakistan’s strongest institution, but increasingly the public.

Although Secretary Clinton and Senators Kerry and Lugar have made no indication of altering the bill, to avoid  future skepticism and potential resentment of U.S. involvement in Pakistan it could be wise to make changes so as to not sideline the military at this critical period in our War on Terror. Unlike previous Republican presidencies, the Obama administration is committed to dealing with civilian governments in Pakistan. It’s a noble idea and even though i don’t suspect that as the military gains legitimacy the civilian government will collapse soon, we should think twice before riling such concern over a bill that has just a 5 year life span. Central and South Asia are critical regions for our interests and we may need to engage strategically positioned Pakistan in more years to come. So a backlash by the most powerful institution in that country is something we should anticipate, and work actively against.

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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Tolerating the Taliban

October 9, 2009

After months of consideration on how to deal with our escalating engagement in the AF-Pak region, Obama’s administration has decided:

“the Taliban cannot be eliminated as a political or military movement”

An article in the Washington Post today cites the administrations re-vamped goal of mitigating a Taliban capacity to interfere in the establishment of a stable Afghan government while assuring us that Al Qaeda is the primary threat, and our strategy will focus squarely on eradicating them.

It seemed news on Pakistan in the past year revolved around Islamabad not doing enough to eradicate the Taliban; equating the group to Al Qaeda in terms of importance in the War on Terror. But today marks a clear departure from such criticism. Distinguishing Al Qaeda from the Taliban is a huge step forward for the United States. Because connecting our goals to eliminate both immediate security threats and major elements of Afghan society that are unpalatable to our values, has proven counter productive. Having lived in Pakistan to experience the ill effects of hyper conservative religious factions, I know we mean well in trying to uproot extremism, but it just hasn’t worked in tandem with our military offensive. And I’ve mentioned the importance of a distinction between these groups previously:

The Taliban is historically distinct from militant groups like Al Qaeda. Unlike the Taliban, Al Qaeda is directly responsible for 9/11. Simply put, the Taliban was an ideologically fundamental group, while Al Qaeda is a militant, terrorist group. Both are dangerous as such, but the Taliban has national interests in controlling Afghanistan under strict ideological rules while Al Qaeda is a militant organization with international ambitions.

It’s not a novel contention, but only just being reflected in policy, and I think it has potential for success. As an ideological force, the Taliban foster an ultra conservative brand of Islam, but are not necessarily a threat to our security interests. Plus, if General McChrystal’s goal is defined as establishing a sustainable, democratic Afghan government, in order for it to be considered legitimate, it must be rooted in Afghan values and according to Afghan preferences. Such preferences might seem backward, or entirely unpleasant to us, but so long as our interests are being protected, impressing our brand of democratic values should take a back seat for the time being. I think the Obama administration has taken a wise step in revamping the Af-Pak strategy and hope it yields lasting success.

ORIGINALLY POSTED @

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Back Channel Diplomacy for India & Pakistan?

September 26, 2009

Riaz Mohammad Khan is being considered for the position of Pakistan’s Special Envoy to India says Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. Attempting to resume talks that are stalled since the Mumbai atrocities, Minister Qureshi suggests using “backchannel diplomacy” through informal talks and in parallel with a formal peace process to achieve a warming of relations and overall progress in relations. In a recent statement to Indian TV networks, Qureshi clearly states he is “instructed by the President to move on. We want to normalize with India”. Such top level recommendations reflect Islamabad’s growing desire for more progressive relations with their neighbor, as consistently pursued by the Zardari administration.

Attributing initial moves toward back channel diplomacy to Musharraf era policies in resolving the Kashmir issue with India, Qureshi stresses that progress can only be made if both “front and back channel (diplomacy) move in tandem”. It’s a reasonable assessment given relations have been held up despite three high level meetings between leaders at the sidelines of international summits since June. Back Channel diplomacy, being secret and inherently less formal can eliminate domestic political concerns policymakers face that might stifle open, progressive discussion.

With a climate of mistrust exacerbated by the Mumbai atrocities and on the Pakistan side, claims that India is constantly funding militant separatists in Baluchistan, back channel diplomacy can mitigate both states political need to formally construct ever toughening stances against one another.

The Baluchistan and Mumbai issues are highly sensitive to citizens in both countries and assuaging those concerns is rightfully a priority for politicians on all ends. As a result, official talks between India and Pakistan wind up inherently staunch  as they are subject to international media portrayals and reactionary sensitivities of masses in either country. This has done little to advance peace talks in any tangible way. And because the United States has a stake in ensuring stability in Pakistan given increased investment in the form of the Kerry Lugar bill and additional troops to Afghanistan, perhaps special envoy Holbrooke, or another appointed official on behalf of Washington might serve to mediate initial attempts at back channel diplomacy.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED @

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