Posts Tagged ‘pakistan affairs.’


The Power of Restraint : American Neutrality in Pakistan

December 21, 2009

American Neutrality is Boston Globe’s recommendation for U.S. policymakers as political uncertainty looms over Pakistan with last weeks repeal of the National Reconciliation Ordinance, effectively revoking Amnesty from corruption charges on thousands of government officials. Although political transition appears imminent in 2010 and comes as President Obama commits to an Af-Pak troop surge, effectively stepping up our engagement with Islamabad, the Boston Globe’s call for neutrality is wise given the current pool of potential leaders to choose from:

  • Nawaaz Sharif:
    • Reason We Should Remain Neutral – Quite simply:After two terms as prime minister, he’s remembered for rampant corruption, nuclear proliferation, and his penchant for cozying up to Islamist militants
  • Pervez Musharraf or Asif Zardari:
    • Reason We Should Remain Neutral – Well: “at the behest of Washington, General Pervez Musharraf, who was president at the time, arranged the amnesty that allowed Zardari and his wife, Benazir Bhutto, to return from exile so she could lead her Pakistan Peoples Party in elections. Bhutto was assassinated, and her husband became prime minister. Not without reason, many Pakistanis who are angry about Zardari’s corruption and ineffectiveness hold the United States responsible for imposing him on their country”
  • Pakistan Military:
    • Reason We Should Remain Neutral – Perpetuating rampant blame that one too many American backed military dictators have prevented democracy from ever taking root in Pakistan can’t help growing weariness of cooperation with our government.
      • Noteworthy example – Backing General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980’s with his leadership key to training the Mujahideen (now known as Al Qaeda) to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan. Not coincidentally, Zia’s regime is remembered as the time Pakistan shifted from being a socially progressive, and moderate Islamic state, to imposing severe, fundamentalist religious policy reforms.
  • Chief Justice Iftekhar Chaudhry:
    • Reason We Should Remain Neutral: Under a sugar-coated banner of “democracy”, the Chief Justice is too blatantly partisan for us to support. His recent decision to repeal the National Reconciliation Ordinance, which set wheels in motion for regime change is widely understood as nothing short of a ploy for power and done in the politics of retribution.

This leaves neutrality as not only our most wise option, but also perhaps our most ethical route. Restraint in supporting any particular regime could mean history points one less finger in our direction should anything go less than perfect as we deepen involvement in Af-Pak. Simultaneously, neutrality assures Pakistani masses who are increasingly skeptical of cooperation with the United States that they have 100% autonomy in political processes.

Well publicized neutrality on a looming regime change could be a valuable opportunity to demonstrate a genuine interest in Pakistan as they transform politically and we require their support in the War on Terror.



Politicking in Pakistan

December 17, 2009

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari

It’s untimely politicking in Pakistan as the Supreme Court turned overturned the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) that offered government officials Amnesty from corruption charges. Deeming the NRO unconstitutional today renders President Zardari the main target of reopening corruption cases against what will be thousands of top government officials including interior Minister Rehman Malik. Originally, the ordinance was put in effect in 2007 under Pervez Musharraf’s regime and intended to free Benazir Bhutto of corruption charges so that she could return and run for political office in Pakistan wherein power would likely have been shared with Pervez Musharraf after elections. The tragic death of Ms. Bhutto upset such endeavors, but ushered in Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari as the popular victor of elections that year.

Ironically, the National Reconciliation Ordinance that helped usher Zardari to power, might now signal his exit.

As head of state, he could cite Presidential immunity from corruption charges but the ruling still riles an increasingly discontented populace against Mr. Zardari. And however noble reopening corruption cases might seem, to a discerning eye, the Supreme Court is politicking with the overturning of NRO. The Foreign Policy Magazine astutely notes that this ruling is nothing short of an “opportunity to settle a long-standing political score with Zardari“. Plus it comes conveniently at a time when the air is ripe for a new regime, some say imminent even.

The Supreme Court eyes an opportunity to not only settle a political score, but sees an chance to construct obstacles for General Musharraff who some say eyes a very possible return as Zardari’s popularity wanes.

Having sacked the judiciary during his tenure, Mr. Musharraf is not favored for return amongst the Supreme Court, to put it lightly. So, unfortunately, justice itself might not be the main ambition in overturning NRO and reopening thousands of corruption cases at this time.

Pakistan is at a crossroads: stability and development should be of top priority. There’s no room for personal power politics between parties, and branches of government which ideally would not affect policymaking, and currently should at the least take a backseat to security issues.

Mis-focus of priorities and exploiting opportunities for political retaliation is a dishonorable excuse for governance and I hope that if political transitions transpire as a result of this ruling, they will have no adverse effect on security during such testing times in Pakistan.



Musharraf’s Solution – An Af-Pak Political Surge

December 7, 2009

As President Obama announced a troop surge in the Af-Pak war, former leader of Pakistan General Musharraff weighed in with specifics a solution would require.

In the Wall Street Journal this week, he explainedquitting is not an option”, and “time limits” should not drive our exit strategy. Rather, in tandem with additional troops, a “political” surge is key. With firsthand military and political experience in the Af-Pak region and War on Terror, Musharraf gives us substance with which to understand the situation. He explains that when the United States “liberated Afghanistan from the tyranny of Al Qaeda and Taliban, they had unequivocal support of the majority of Afghans.” What we didn’t do though, is establish a “truly representative national government” giving proportional representation to Pashtun’s who are the ethnic majority. He says:

The political instability and ethnic imbalance in Afghanistan after 9/11 marginalized the majority Pashtuns and pushed them into the Taliban fold, even though they were not ideological supporters of the Taliban.

As a result, despite Pakistani efforts during Musharraf’s tenure where “600 Al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban leaders, some of them of very high value” were captured in tandem with the establishment of “1000 border check posts”, the Afghan government never gained legitimacy, and ultimately, sufficient authority. He further attributes insufficient NATO forces and the distraction of invading Iraq as leading causes to the Taliban’s capacity to gain ground, and reassert its center of gravity toward northern Pakistan.

With a grand strategy to destabilize the whole region, the Taliban and al Qaeda established links with extremists in Pakistani society on the one hand and with Muslim fundamentalists in India on the other.

It’s a complex situation, but Musharraff’s recommendations are rooted in a wealth of experience and offer details on a practical solution.



Fareed Zakaria Interviews Musharraff

November 9, 2009

Pervez Musharraf was on Fareed Zakaria GPS this morning discussing the Af-Pak situation in two segments. The second segment focused on Pakistan where Zakaria prefaced Q&A by reminding viewers that General Musharraf is an “authentic representation of Pakistan’s military” and that his comments will reveal that the situation in Afghanistan is rooted in a 60 year geopolitical rivalry that we just walked in to, and its between between India and Pakistan“. Sounded like grand stuff.

And Zakaria jumped right in. He began with questions on whether the Pakistan military is as committed to eliminating terrorists in the north who launch cross border attacks as they are to obliterating terrorists in the South who are responsible for domestic assaults. He said the military “never seems to get around to attacking North Waziristan who attacks India or Afghanistan because they were supported in the past”. Musharraff made clear that during his tenure, he insisted on drone technology needed to obliterate terrorists from both regions, especially given Baitullah Mehsud who assassinated Bhutto and that terrorists were never supported by the military or any government policy. He mentioned that ISI “ingress” in terrorist groups is standard procedure practiced by all Intelligence operations, clarifying that “ingress” is not be equated to “support”, rather it’s standard maintenance of contacts with such groups for the states advantage.

When questioned about the widespread notion that Al Qaeda leader Mullah Umar is in Pakistan, Musharraf said it’s “200% wrong” explaining Umar would have no interest in leaving a safe haven in the northern areas where Taliban has de-facto control for Quetta where US and Pakistani intelligence/ military roam rampant. It was a reasonable response and Zakaria’s questions sounded increasingly implicative.

Zakaria probed the notion saying that the “Afghanistan government and intelligence say he’s in Pakistan” to which Musharraff firmly explained “don’t talk about the Afghan government and intelligence. By design, they mislead the world, they talk against Pakistan because they are entirely under the influence of Indian intelligence”.

Wow, he just said it. It’s often documented in Pakistani media that Indian intelligence is widely responsible for insurgencies in northern areas of Pakistan and the province of Balochistan by way of material support, but rarely is that view expressed in mainstream U.S. media. Former Foreign Minister Sharifuddin Pirzada recently explained to me that warming of relations between Delhi and Kabul come at a direct expense of Pakistan because of such subversive, Indian led dealings with Afghanistan. Similarly, Musharraf explained he has provided “documented evidence” of this activity in the past.

From the first question on Pakistan’s commitment to uprooting cross border terrorism, to the question on Mullah Umar, Zakaria elicited Musharraf into discussion of a supposed “geopolitical rivalry” between India and Pakistan wherein Afghanistan is used as a “client state” by either nation as a buffer against, if not to subvert one another. And although I can’t say that is entirely untrue, Zakaria approached today’s interview with this preconceived notion, and overstepped neutrality by implicating Pakistan in the process.



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.



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.



Defeating Terrorism with Development

September 25, 2009

kerry lugar

Senate unanimously passed a bill authorizingappropriations to promote an enhanced strategic partnership with Pakistan”. The legislation is likely to receive similar support in the House later this week before being sent to President Obama for final approval. Initial versions of legislation were presented as the Biden-Lugar bill last year led by democrats Joe Biden and Senator Kerry, and supported by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Currently, the bill is coauthored by Republican Senator Dick Lugar making it widely bipartisan which reflects our growing desire to engage Pakistan ensuring stability and ultimately our interests in the region.

The Legislation triples foreign aid to our major non NATO ally” allowing up to $1,500,000,000 for their cooperation in “counterterrorism/counterinsurgency describing Pakistan’s ongoing struggles and successes against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. It cites assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the Islamabad and Mumbai hotel attacks last fall among other suicide bombings in Pakistan and Afghanistan, some of which involved deaths of US citizens to underscore an immediate need to assist Pakistan at this critical time. As we face mounting deaths in the War on Terror, send additional troops to Afghanistan and President Obama works closely with generals to revamp our strategy there, the bill is meant to forge a new relationship with Pakistan.

It extends diplomatic rhetoric directly to the people of Pakistan by describing the daily plight of citizens who are “especially hard hit by rising food and commodity prices and severe energy shortages” with 2/3rds of the population living on less than 2.25 and 1/5 of the population living below the poverty line”.  It further mentions “Compatible goals of combating terrorism, radicalism and promoting economic development through building of infrastructure and promoting social and material well being for Pakistani citizens through development of public services”. And most interestingly, the bill cites Pew opinion polls finding:

Pakistan has historically viewed the relationship between the United States and Pakistan as a transactional one characterized by a heavy emphasis on security issues with little attention to other matters of great interest to citizens of Pakistan”.

Then referring to the current civilian government as an “opportunity to place relations on a new and more stable foundation”. The bill’s ‘statement of policy‘  identifies the following objectives:

  1. Support the consolidation of democracy, good governance & rule of law in Pakistan
  2. Support economic growth & development to promote stability/security
  3. To build a sustained, long term, multifaceted relationship with Pakistan
  4. Expanding bilateral engagement with Pakistan
  5. To work with Pakistan and bordering countries to facilitate peace (a possible reference to mediating the Kashmir issue. President Obama mentioned doing so during his campaign run for President)
  6. Expand people to people engagement between US and Pakistan through increased educational, technical and cultural exchanges (possibly in the form of more student/professional visas. Envoy Holbrooke mentioned this in visits to Karachi in July)
  7. Work with government of Pakistan to:
    • prevent Pakistani territory from being used as a base/conduit for terrorism in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India or elsewhere
    • Coordinate military, paramilitary & police action against terrorist terrorism
    • Help bring peace, stability and development
      • (this might entail counterinsurgency/counterterrorism assistance and cooperation through intelligence sharing, arms development/trade and training of Pakistani forces)

Pakistan is aptly described as a major non-NATO, long-standing ally. But cooperation has been dominated by security issues generally in the form of military dictators supported by the States in exchange for Pakistan’s military assistance throughout the Cold War and current War on Terror resulting in the Pakistani mindset of solely “transactional” relations. This bill is a fair attempt to shift that context to a more positive tone with the aforementioned objectives and diplomatic rhetoric.

However, certain specificities such as timetables and solid oversight must be transparently accessible to the Pakistani and American public to ensure more positive relations are achieved. Already experts are weighing in with concerns. Despite the commitment to development in addressing the plight of daily Pakistani’s, Foreign Policy Magazine mentions that the bill doesn’t say exactly how much of these funds are to be allocated toward military assistances. And although senator Kerry insists “Clear, tough minded accountability standards and metrics” are contained in the bill, Dawn News cites Rand Corporation expert Dr. Christine Fair raising the issue of “greater transparency” and wanting to ensure international accounting standards are applied in allocating these funds. Such concerns are equally felt in Pakistan, where past commitments of economic development have not always found their way to alleviating the plight of daily citizens for whom funding is supposedly intended.

For this reason a concerted conviction to improving the daily lives of Pakistani’s is required by Pakistani politicians who have ultimate control over how these funds are applied. I hope that President Asif Zardari along with Parliament works closely to ensure monies are responsibly allocated to a “sustainable” development the bill calls for.


%d bloggers like this: