Posts Tagged ‘pakistani political affairs’

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Welcoming the War – Drones in Pakistan — Part 3

February 11, 2010
Are the Drones Worth the Cost of Compromising Cooperation ?

Are the Drones Worth the Cost of Cooperation ?

Read Part 1 – Reconciling CIA Drones In Pakistan

Read Part 2  – Concessions & Collateral Damage

The most provocative piece I’ve seen on drones in Pakistan was published last week. Not the most detailed, well researched article (the New Yorker takes the cake so far) but certainly the most confrontational. Farhat Taj writes in the Daily Times that International media, including American and Pakistani reports critical of drone use are totally unfounded. Vehemently, Taj writes:

The people of Waziristan are suffering a brutal kind of occupation under the Taliban and al Qaeda. It is in this context that they would welcome anyone, Americans, Israelis, Indians or even the devil, to rid them of the Taliban and al Qaeda”

It’s a grand, almost inconceivable statement given that Anti Americanism is on a rapid rise and India / Pakistan are widely considered notorious Arch Nemesis in international relations today.  Taj says inhabitants of Waziristan actually “welcome” drone attacks and dismisses all accusations of civilian casualties as Taliban propaganda. Basing this on the idea that almost no media are allowed in the area, she concludes there is no verifiable evidence, and therefore no reason for concern of civilian casualties. But mere logic would indicate otherwise. Although surgical, drones are not so precise to as to obliterate one individual at a time. When they strike, the range of damage inflicted by any drone is bound to cause peripheral damage, destroying more than just a singular terrorist.

Taj also too vehemently dismisses the concern that drones infringe on Pakistan’s sovereignty. She says greater Pakistan is oblivious to the more pressing priority of wiping out Taliban. And while I agree the Taliban is inflicting profound, perpetual and grave damage on Waziristan, greater Pakistan’s perceptions are important and not to be overlooked so easily.

Waziristan is but a fraction of Pakistan. If the majority of Pakistani’s see drones as an infringement of sovereignty, future cooperation with strategically poised Pakistan can become difficult. The alliance is already waning and one of politics’ golden rules is: perceptions matter. Whether or not there are exact numbers of civilian casualties, Pakistani’s are strongly against unmanned aircraft dropping bombs in their territory. Regardless of circumstances, the perception of an alliance with America, and our War on Terror is endangered by the drones. Hence arguments that drones are counter productive.

At what cost are we using drones to wipe out a few key leaders from militant and extremist groups? Might we accomplish the same success in hunting down terrorists by employing Pakistani forces to take these guys out themeslves using close cooperation with our counter terrorism, intelligence and military operations?

Some already argue that Islamabad tacitly works with the United States on drones in the north, however, the official and public stance of the Pakistani government is of staunch disapproval of drones. It’s a fair argument because without Islamabad’s approval, the United States would be in violation of international law, and protocol in using drones in Waziristan minus Pakistsan’s approval. So I buy the argument that Islamabad works closely in using drones in the north. But the fact that the government goes to the extent of constantly assuring its public that they disapprove of drones on record, is testimony to how offensive the use of unmanned aircrafts are in Pakistan.

So while our heightened use of drones might be effective in obliterating key leaders from the Taliban ranks for success in the immediate term, the consequences of drones entail potentially riling further anti Americanism which could compromise our interests in the future.

Cooperation is key, and I’m not convinced increased use of drones will help us engage Pakistan in the future.

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The Hawk Some Didn’t See Coming : Obama’s Pakistan Policy

January 26, 2010

Bush & Obama : Identical Policies to Pakistan?

Bush & Obama : Identical Policies to Pakistan?

Similar to his ratings drop at home, abroad President Obama is being accused of not living up to expectations. In DAWN news this week there’s an article entitled: “Obama’s Changing Tone” suggesting our President is reverting to foreign policy reminiscent of the Bush administration on Pakistan, and to an extent, the greater Muslim World. The idea is that Obama’s planned troop surge in tandem with ever toughening rhetoric post the Fort Hood Massacre and the Christmas Bomber, reflects leadership that’s not much different than former President Bush’s.

But on the contrary, our escalating presence in Pakistan is exactly what Obama promised. During the campaign trail, he made clear that his main focus was Al Qaeda and  destroying terrorists in Pakistan (militants having spilled over from Afghanistan into Pakistan). The rhetoric was so hawkish, it actually became a sticking point before the primaries that Republicans and Democrats like Hillary criticized. Also, the media publicized his staunch rhetoric at length, so

Obama really has not changed tone on Pakistan: an intensified war matches his rhetoric from the start.

Plus is it fair to expect something radically different than the previous administration in the first place? Let’s not forget that it is often the political system and circumstances that drive leadership, and not vice versa. The fact is, America was already deeply engaged in two very problematic wars at the inception of Obama’s Presidency. He inherited an intensely worsening situation in Afghanistan that rapidly spilled across the border into Pakistan. President Obama anticipated this and is thus living up to campaign promises: a more hawkish foreign policy to Pakistan.

Which of course then raises the question: is hawkishness the right approach to Pakistan at this time? Pakistani’s certainly don’t think so.  CIA drones have the entire country in an uproar, while Islamabad isn’t taking well to DC’s tacit encouragement of rapidly increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan, and even billions in aid from America is frowned upon with unprecedented magnitude. And it’s not that the Obama administration isn’t aware of skepticism. Rather, toughening policies are a matter of practicality.

My guess is that the President is thinking: we’re already in Afghanistan, the war is deteriorating into Pakistan, what’s the best way to mitigate the situation, secure the region just enough to exit in the next couple years while leaving behind more cooperative players in the region so as to ensure our energy and geopolitical interests in South/Central Asia.

Phew. Now there’s a dilemma. And when looked at from his possible perspective, the Pakistan quagmire is revealed as tremendously complex. It’s such a multifaceted, sweeping, consequential and changing situation that involves so many players who work within the confines of political systems that only history should be the best judge of whether Obama’s stance on Pakistan is constructive or progressive. And that itself is relative. So let’s not be surprised at his hawkishness. It was naive of anyone to expect otherwise in the case of Pakistan.

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Who “Meddles” in Pakistan ?

December 28, 2009

“Before we begin to upbraid the world for “meddling in our internal affairs,” it is vital for us to put our own house in order.”

Says a writer for Dawn News (Pakistan’s premier Newspaper). It’s an increasingly heard argument as cooperation between the United States and Pakistan deepens. In fact, it seems many Pakistani’s either fall into the category of calling for less meddling if not suggesting a total end to the alliance.

But shouldn’t we clarify what exactly “meddling” is? Does the author mean to encompass everything from drones, the Kerry Lugar Bill, Obama’s Troop Surge, and Secretary Clinton’s Pakistani media rounds / policy recommendations are equivalent to meddling?

Because the inherent problem with referring to any of those issues as “meddling” is that they all require the compliance of Pakistans government. Without the concession of Pakistani politicians, American interventions, assistance or policies could not be implemented.

Of course one might suggest realist theories on international relations wherein leaders, and ultimately states are subject to an international system actually dictate policymaking. In the case of current U.S. Pakistani relations some say cooperation, at any cost, is inevitable given American hegemony. It’s an argument echoing former President Musharraff’s description of why Pakistan didn’t remain neutral post 9/11:

‘Be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age’,” is the threat Musharraf said Pakistan received if it didn’t cooperate in Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001’s invasion of Afghanistan.

So why wasn’t neutrality an option? One might look back in history and cite an unremitting reliance on international assistance as the main cause of why Pakistani politics might seem inevitably subject to foreign interference.

During the Cold War, while countries like India declared themselves Non Aligned, Pakistan bandwagoned with the United States forming an alliance in desire to expand militarily. I won’t argue whether that military expansion was necessary or not, because there are fair arguments on either side. But military cooperation during the Cold War, and then the Soviet Afghan War set the stage for inevitable cooperation in today’s War on Terror.

Never forming viable democratic social and political infrastructure from the ground up may have fated Pakistan to rely on foreign assistance, or what some consider “meddling” for the sake of basic security and development.

The author is then correct to some extent: before whining about foreign interferences, Pakistan might consider constructing it’s own security first.

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Transactional Ties: U.S. Foreign Policy to Pakistan

December 22, 2009
U.S. Pakistan Cooperation

U.S. Pakistan Cooperation

One difference between valuable information and balderdash is that the balderdash is sometimes louder than the valuable information. Case in point are two articles criticizing our dealings with Pakistan. The first article offers valuable insight on why it’s imperative we revamp foreign policy to the country since it’s likely becoming the “most dangerous place in the world”. The article outlines offers 5 well- founded reasons for this and is authored by Dr. Larry Goodson of the U.S. Army World college and published by the Strategic Studies Institute. The other article is written in the online magazine Slate.com by Chris Hitchens author of God is not Great: how Religion Poisons Everything. His piece entitled “Why does Pakistan hate the United States” like Dr. Goodman’s, criticizes our foreign policy but inaccurately attributes Anti-Americanism to a sliver of Pakistani elites who irrationally and diametrically oppose the United States. Let’s compare both assessments:

Hitchens says the:

“Pakistani elite hates the United States because “it is dependent on it and is still being bought by it. It is a dislike that is also a form of self-hatred of the sort that often develops between client states and their paymasters. (You can often sense the same resentment in the Egyptian establishment, and sometimes among Israeli right-wingers, as well.) By way of overcompensation for their abject status as recipients of the American dole, such groups often make a big deal of flourishing their few remaining rags of pride. The safest outlet for this in the Pakistani case is an official culture that makes pious noises about Islamic solidarity while keeping the other hand extended for the next subsidy.This is, and always was, a sick relationship, and it is now becoming dangerously diseased. It’s not possible to found a working, trusting, fighting alliance”

Conversely, Dr. Goodson explains:

“The United States is Pakistan’s far away, fair weather friend, locked in a decades long transactional relationship that satisfied neither partners desires. Pakistan is the dark side of the moon to the average American who cannot tell you one salient fact about the country, its people, their customs or history. So we use Pakistan as a bulwark against whatever goes boo in the night in that part of the world, paying their price of the moment and then walking away when the crisis is resolved”

Both authors describe what former Pakistan to United States Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi called a “transactional” relationship between the countries, but differ in their assessment of that situation. Hitchens concludes U.S. Foreign Policy is doomed for failure, ultimately insisting a complete severing of cooperation is imperative. It’s a wild recommendation that assumes various security, and economic interests can just be overlooked. His suggestions are simplistic and recommendations reckless. Severing ties with a long-standing, highly strategic ally like Pakistan is absurd. Balancing relations in South Asia is in our interest and requires maintaining an alliance with both Inda and Pakistan, not one for the other. In fact, Hitchen’s doesn’t even address the crux of the issue :U.S. Foreign Policy is problematic in that it’s viewed as merely “transactional”. Instead, he jumps to an implausible conclusion that cooperation is doomed for failure.

To contrast, Goodman suggests understanding Pakistan’s complex demographic, history and then engaging them for the long haul, especially with the Chinese sitting in Pakistan’s backyard eager to replace an American absence. His piece addresses such ground realities and offers a plausible prescription for change in what’s increasingly seen as “transactional ties”.

So although Hitchens is loud and published mainstream, he’s unfortunately inaccurate. Dr. Goodson’s work is more obscure, but it’s pragmatic with a well spelled out assessment and recommendation. his article concludes with detailed recommendations for long term engagement for development in Pakistan while Hitchens outlook puts a damper on an already dire Af-Pak situation.

Presenting problems isn’t enough. Elucidating complex situations, offering accurate insights and practical solutions separate valuable information, from journalistic balderdash. Kudos to Dr. Goodson for a well written assessment of U.S. Foreign Policy to Pakistan.

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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.

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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.

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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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