Monthly Archives: September 2011

Path to stabilizing US-Pakistan relations: Trade

Dr. Abdul Hafeez Shaikh

As US-Pakistan relations continue to focus on difficult and controversial security negotiations, a path to more productive relations was laid out by Pakistan’s Finance Minister, Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, at the Atlantic Council on Monday. To build a foundation of trust and cooperation relations should be founded in an interest both countries share – improving the economy.

Speaking to a packed room of academics, policy experts and government officials, Dr. Hafeez Shaikh noted that for the first time in decades, Pakistan’s civilian institutions are beginning to operate in an autonomous, independent manner. While there are still reforms and improvements needed, much has improved – courts are functioning independently, coalition and opposition parties are engaged in dialogue and consensus building, and President Zardari has voluntarily ceded powers accumulated under past rulers making parliament supreme in its position to decide policy.

As the discussion turned to the impact of international relations on economic growth, Dr. Hafeez Shaikh said that it is imperative for Pakistan to improve its economic ties with other countries as these can serve as the bedrock of strong and lasting international relations. Governments come and go, he observed, but economic relations are evergreen.

While US lawmakers debate whether aid to Pakistan is an effective tool, they should look at how India is changing the paradigm in Indo-Pak relations by liberalizing trade and normalizing business relations between the two rivals.

Commerce ministers from both countries met in New Delhi on Wednesday and decided to liberalise terms for issuing business visas soon by allowing multiple entry to more than one city. The two also decided to work on allowing investments from each other’s countries and encouraging joint ventures. “We engaged in a frank, open and constructive manner and our discussions will define the future roadmap of our engagement,” commerce minister Anand Sharma told reporters after the bilateral meeting, adding that the visit of a commerce minister from Pakistan after 35 years reaffirmed growing understanding between the two countries.

Since transitioning to democracy in 2008, Pakistan’s civilian leadership has consistently repeated that “trade, not aid” is key to growing Pakistan’s economy. It could be the key to stabilizing US-Pakistan relations as well.

Don’t let security issues overshadow humanitarian need

US-Pakistan relations faces some of its toughest days ahead following testimony by Admiral Mike Mullen that Pakistan’s premier spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) provides support to the Haqqani Network of militants on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. As the American and Pakistani militaries sort out their differences and doubts about one another’s intentions in the war in Afghanistan, it is critical that the Pakistani people not suffer due to disagreements between militaries.

While American and Pakistani officials negotiate security strategy, the people of Pakistan’s southern Sindh province are suffering devastating flooding that has left two million sick, and is threatening lives and livlihoods as businesses are swept away by the waters.

At the same time, Pakistanis in the northern province of Punjab are suffering from a catastrophic outbreak of dengue which has already claimed 73 lives.

Pakistan is home to 180 million people. Even if half a million of them have some connection to militant groups, that leaves 179.5 million who only want to go about their daily lives in peace. We should not let the actions of the very few threaten the well being of the many.

The Pakistani people deserve our support, not because they are an ally in the war on terrorism, but because they are our brothers in humanity. Show the people of Pakistan that America cares. It’s the right thing to do.

Is Pakistan at war with the United States?

That’s the alarming headline of a blog post by Walter Russell Mead, James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College and Editor-at-Large of The American Interest. The impetus for Mead’s question is the recent allegation that links exist between Pakistan’s government and the Haqqani network of militants in North Waziristan that is believed to be responsible for attacks on American soliders in Afghanistan. But Mead’s concerns are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the way Pakistan’s government operates, and his conclusion, founded in this misunderstanding, recommends a self-defeating policy for anyone that wants to promote democracy and justice in Pakistan.

US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter said over the weekend that “There is evidence linking the Haqqani network to the Pakistani government.” But we must take care when discussing “the Pakistani government” not to fall into the trap of mirror-imaging, assuming the Pakistani “government” operates in the same cohesive manner that the US government does.

Ambassador Munter’s statements alleging official support for the Haqqani network refer to evidence against the ISI – not the civilian leadership.

[Admiral] Mullen believes that “elements” of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, known as the ISI, “directly support” the Haqqani network, Kirby said.

The Haqqani network is aligned with the Taliban and al Qaeda and is considered one the most significant threats to stability in Afghanistan. U.S. officials believe Haqqani operatives are moving unfettered across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and are responsible for several recent high-profile attacks in Kabul, including this week’s assault.

In late April, Mullen said on Pakistan’s Geo TV that the ISI has a “long-standing relationship” with the Haqqani network.

Confusion arises because Americans tend to think of intelligence agencies as working at the behest and under the oversight of their respective governments, as if all nations operate in a post-Church Committee environment. But the relationship between Pakistan’s civilian government and its ISI is quite different. In fact, in many ways the ISI operates not just independently of civilian oversight, but often in opposition to it.

The most recent example of the ISI operating outside the oversight of the civilian government could be seen on the pages of the Wall Street Journal this past 9/11. A half-page ad asked, “Which country can do more for your peace?” and included statistics about the losses Pakistan has suffered in the war on terrorism. While the bottom of the ad said, “Government of Pakistan,” the Journal’s South Asia reporter, Tom Wright, found that the ad was not approved through the regular government channels.

Pakistani media blog Cafe Pyala called their own sources and found evidence that the ad was a politically tone-deaf attempt by the ISI to influence American opinion.

Well, our sources inform us that the problem about the source of the ad arose because neither the Pakistan Embassy in Washington nor the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) nor the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MoI&B) were the sources of the ad. In fact, our sources confirm that none of these three Pakistani government entities was even consulted about the ad. In fact, the ad, designed by the Pakistani advertising agency Midas, was placed directly from the Prime Minister’s Secretariat.

Why, you might ask, would the Prime Minister’s Secretariat bypass its own subordinate media departments and its representatives who are specifically tasked with international relations work? Could it be, as our sources indicate, that the advertisement was the first instance of the country’s premier intelligence agency directly placing an advertisement in a foreign publication?

Nor is this the first time that the ISI has made an end run around the civilian leadership in Pakistan. Shortly after Pakistan’s civilian government took power in 2008, Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani announced that control of the ISI would be shifted to the portfolio of the civilian Interior Ministry. It was only a matter of hours before Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told the media that no such change would occur. The civilians promptly retracted the announcement.

The government’s backtracking has prompted plenty of comment among politicians and in the Pakistan media.

An ex-army officer and defence analyst, Ikram Sehgal, told the Dawn News TV channel that the government retracted its decision when the army “showed its teeth”.

Formally, the ISI currently reports to the prime minister. But many observers believe it is answerable to no one.

This split between the democratically-elected civilian government and Pakistan’s spy agency was shown in stark relief during the Raymond Davis fiasco. Writing for the English-language newspaper Dawn, Pakistani analyst Cyril Almeida noted that when push comes to shove, it’s not the civilians who hold the upper hand in matters that concern the ISI.

When the interior minister, the ex-foreign minister and the all-powerful spy chief met to decide the fate of Raymond Davis, two of those gents were of the opinion that Davis doesn’t enjoy ‘full immunity’.

One of those two has now been fired by Zardari. The other, well, if Zardari tried to fire him, the president might find himself out of a job first.

Walter Read says he supports a continued US-Pakistan relationship, “but in our view the US has to be ready to walk away for the relationship to have a chance.” We suggest that walking away is the wrong prescription.

The Pakistani government is fighting multiple wars, but none is against the United States. The primary war, the one that has claimed the lives of 30,000 Pakistanis, is against Taliban militants who will go so far as to attack a bus filled with school children. The other war is for Pakistan’s soul, and is being waged quietly behind the scenes as democratically oriented civilian leaders struggle to wrest control of the nation from undemocratic forces leftover from previous dictatorships. Walking away from the democratic civilian leaders will only strengthen the undemocratic forces in Pakistan. It’s a mistake the US has made in the past, and one that it should be careful not to repeat.

It may seem counterintuitive to speak of Pakistan’s government and intelligence agencies as separate institutions, but the distinction matters. Pakistan’s civilian leadership – though weak – is trying to implement democratic reforms; and those efforts are often held back by unaccountable military and intelligence officials who are loath to cede their power to civilians. Rather than paint all institutions with the same broad brush, US officials should seek to strengthen civilian democratic institutions so that they can effectively reign in those parts of the military and intelligence services that are acting outside of civilian oversight.

President Zardari reiterates resolve to strengthen democracy in Pakistan

President Asif Zardari visiting flood victims in Sindh

ISLAMABAD, Sep 15 (APP): President Asif Ali Zardari has said that the greatest threat to democracy emanated from a militant mindset and called for defeating militancy and extremism and advance democratic values. “The greatest threat to democracy is from the extremists and militants who want to foist their political agenda on the people by bullet rather than ballot and also from intolerance to dissent and disagreement.”

“Let us on this day pledge to fight the dark forces of militancy and extremism and allow the blossoming of democratic culture in the country”, the President said in a message on the occasion of International Democracy Day being observed throughout the world on September 15 (Thursday) under the auspices of the United Nations.

The President congratulated the democratic forces in the world in general and in Pakistan in particular on the International Day of Democracy, and said “It is a day to re-affirm its commitment for democracy and democratic ideals around the world and in Pakistan.”

“On this occasion I wish to compliment all democracies of the world and also reiterate our firm resolve to further strengthen democracy in Pakistan,” he added.

The President said the people of Pakistan are resolute in safeguarding their democratic rights and moving forward on path of democracy against all odds and what the machinations against it.

“It is a attribute to the democratic genius of our people that despite setbacks to democracy our people have not allowed dictatorship to take roots in the country,” he added.

The President said the ethos of the people of Pakistan is democratic, adding, last year, their chosen representatives unanimously adopted changes in the Constitution to restore its pristine democratic credentials.

“I am confident the elected Parliament in keeping with democratic traditions ensure that the democratic Constitution is not subverted by any one,” he added.

The President said, “Our march on the road to democracy continues. During the year 2011 democracy took yet another stride forward in Pakistan when the people of tribal areas were given their democratic rights with consensus.”

“The Amendments in the FCR and Extension of the Political Parties Order 2002 has been designed to release the people of tribal areas in accordance with their wishes from the over a century old system of bondage and undemocratic dispensation,” he added.

The President said democracy will be strengthened by meeting the basic needs of the people and freeing them from the clutches of poverty and deprivation.
The devastation caused by incessant rains and floods in Sindh and other parts of the country has adversely impacted on the efforts aimed at poverty alleviation and meeting the needs of the people, he added.

“On this occasion therefore I also urge the people of Pakistan and the international community to step forward and help rehabilitate the lives that have been devastated by floods”, he added.

“It is hoped that the observance of the International Democracy Day will lend strength to the pro-democracy forces throughout the world and discourage potential dictators from curbing the aspirations of the people through political adventurism,” the President maintained.

Misdirected aid facilitates anti-Americanism, undermines democracy

In today’s New York Times, Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid examines the causes of rising anti-Americanism in Pakistan, and notes that American aid has largely been unproductive in improving relations because it’s been targeted to boosting the military, rather than improving civilian infrastructure and institutions.

And in Pakistan, people see no lasting economic benefit from the $20 billion Washington has spent there since 2001. It has bought a lot of military equipment, but no dam or university or electric power plant…

…American attempts to change this course with either carrots or sticks are rebuffed, while the civilian government cowers in the background, not wanting to get trampled by the two bull elephants of American and Pakistani military will. Meanwhile the voices of extremism translate anti-Americanism into denunciations of Americans’ own treasured ideals: democracy, liberalism, tolerance and women’s rights. These days, all are pronounced Western or American concepts, and dismissed.

The solution, then, is not to break ties or cut aid to Pakistan, but to reorient US aid policy towards strengthening the civilian government so that it is no longer the weaker player in the struggle to define policy and guide public opinion. Investing in the Diamer Bhasha dam project is one example of how US aid could be targeted to specific projects that would improve long term development and, as a result, stability.

The underlying goals for any US aid investment should be to improve the lives of ordinary Pakistanis. As Ahmed Rashid points out, during the 1980s and the early 2000s, American administrations preferred to deal with military dictators who used American short-term security goals as a way to consolidate their own power by playing the US and extremist militants against each other. It’s time to try something different.

In identifying aid recipients, the US should always work directly with the democratically elected civilian government so that it can stand up to the “bull elephant” of the Pakistani military and perform its role as the proper and legitimate authority for determining and implementing official policy. By strengthening democratic civilian institutions, the US will then meet its primary aid goal – improving the lives of all Pakistanis. And with that, public perception will improve naturally.

“Saathi”

Diamer Bhasha DamYesterday’s post about the successful Pakistani operation that captured three top al Qaeda figures with the help of American intelligence was meant to highlight how, working together, US and Pakistan are more effective in fighting terrorists than trying working alone. Mosharraf Zaidi, a Pakistani columnist and policy adviser, responded with one word: “Saathi”.

“Saathi” is an Urdu word which means “partners” or “friends.” It also happens to be the name of Pakistan’s most popular brand of condoms. Zaidi’s comment was more than clever wordplay, though – it was a warning that American officials would do well to heed.

There’s a popular saying that the US treats Pakistani like a condom (in more polite recitations, Kleenex is substituted) – use it when you need it, then throw it away. The most commonly cited evidence is America’s withdrawal from engagement with Pakistan after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in the 1980s. Pakistan expected the US to continue its policy of looking the other way on their nuclear program and providing aid and assistance to repair damage done during the Afghan war. Instead, in 1990, the US cut aid to Pakistan citing the 1985 Pressler Amendment which required the president to certify that Pakistan did not have a nuclear weapon.

Today, Pakistan is believed to control the world’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal. The Pressler Amendment, for all its intentions, did nothing to prevent this reality. What it did do was convince many Pakistani officials that the US is an unreliable partner. With troop drawdowns in Afghanistan scheduled over the next few years, many Pakistani officials are having a feeling of ‘deja vu all over again.’

American officials including Ambassadors Marc Grossman and Cameron Munter have met with the Pakistani leadership to convey their assurance that past mistakes will not be repeated, and that the US will not abandon Pakistan to fight against militant groups alone. But more can, and should be done to assure Pakistan of American intentions.

One way the US can provide this assurance is through making long term investments in Pakistan’s civilian infrastructure. A recent report in The Guardian (UK), notes that the US is considering providing financial support for the $12 billion Diamer Bhasha dam, which would provide 4,500MW of additional green energy, and go far to solving Pakistan’s crippling energy crisis. Mosharraf Zaidi told The Guardian that this is just the type of project the US should be investing in.

“Diamer Bhasha would be tremendously good for Pakistan and would show that the US is invested in a long-term relationship with Pakistan, no matter how bad things look today.”

Improving Pakistan’s energy capacity is about more than just keeping the lights on. According to the LA Times, Pakistan’s chronic electricity shortages are bleeding the country of economic opportunities. In a nation of 180 million where half the population is under 22 and and a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line, diminishing economic opportunities fuel political frustration and, in turn, instability – something no amount of military aid can fix, but one hydroelectric dam can.

This week’s statement by Pakistan’s military is an olive branch extended, once again, to their American counterparts. It’s an opportunity US officials should be loath to pass up. Significant financial support for the Diamer Bhasha dam would not only go far towards repairing America’s reputation in Pakistan, it would do so the right way – by demonstrating a sincere desire to help Pakistanis improve their own situation. Saathi. Partners, not patrons.

Working together, US & Pakistan Are Effective

Pakistan security forces arrested three senior al Qaeda operatives yesterday, dealing a major blow to the terrorist organization’s capacity and interrupting plans to attack targets in the US and other Western countries. Following the arrests, Pakistan’s military issued a statement that the operation was able to succeed thanks to the joint efforts of US and Pakistani intelligence agencies.

“This operation was planned and conducted with technical assistance of United States intelligence agencies with whom Inter-Services Intelligence has a strong, historic intelligence relationship,” the Pakistan’s military said in a statement, referring to Pakistan’s top military spy agency. “Both Pakistan and United States intelligence agencies continue to work closely together to enhance security of their respective nations.”

Pakistan’s Ambassador the the US, Husain Haqqani, reiterated this point when he told NPR that the arrest, “reflects how Pakistan and the United States working together can deal an effective blow to the terrorists.”

This most recent blow to terrorist organizations demonstrates the efficacy of cooperation over unilateralism. It was this cooperation that President Obama said “helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding,” and it is this cooperation that will continue to improve both bilateral relations and the safety and security of both Americans and Pakistanis.