Bill Keller, formed Executive Editor of The New York Times, has a must-read piece about US-Pakistan relations in this coming Sunday’s New York Times magazine. There’s quite a bit worth mulling over, but one item in particular drew our attention.
In late October, Hillary Clinton arrived in Islamabad, leading a delegation that included Petraeus, recently confirmed as C.I.A. director, and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, Mullen’s successor as chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Petraeus used to refer to Holbrooke as “my diplomatic wingman,” a bit of condescension he apparently intended as a tribute. This time, the security contingent served as diplomacy’s wingmen.
The trip was intended as a show of unity and resolve by an administration that has spoken with conflicting voices when it has focused on Pakistan at all. For more than four hours, the Americans and a potent lineup of Pakistani counterparts talked over a dinner table.
Perhaps the most revealing thing about the dinner was the guest list. The nine participants included Kayani and Pasha, but not President Zardari or Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who provided the dining room at his own residence and made himself scarce. The only representative of the civilian government was Clinton’s counterpart, the new foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, a 34-year-old rising star with the dark-haired beauty of a Bollywood leading lady, a degree in hospitality management from the University of Massachusetts and, most important, close ties to the Pakistani military.
Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar has proven to be an able and effective representative for Pakistan, and she was appointed by the Prime Minister in accordance with constitutional requirements. Whether she has close ties to the Pakistani military, we are not in any position to know, but regardless, she is one official who should properly attend such a dinner. Unfortunately, so are President Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, and the fact that they were left out speaks volumes about why democratic governments continue to be viewed as weak even within Pakistani society. If American officials believe that decisions realistically require the input of Pakistan’s military leadership, they should also require the input on Pakistan’s civilian leadership.
Talking about supporting Pakistani democracy is one thing, but it takes actually demonstrating respect for the civilian leadership to facilitate it.