Domestic Politics Interfere With Negotiations

April 28, 2012

Munter-Grossman-Gilani

Domestic politics appears to be interfering with ongoing negotiations between US and Pakistani officials. President Obama’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, spent the past week in Pakistan holding high-level meetings with the Prime Minister and members of his cabinet. Hopes were that an agreement would be reached that would result in the re-opening of NATO supply lines and the resumption of military aid. As Grossman boarded a plane back to Washington on Friday, however, no agreement had been reached.

At issue, is seems, is less disagreement about issues of foreign policy than the realities of domestic politics.

[T]here was an undeniable sense of wariness, driven by the pressures of domestic politics, with Mr. Obama facing re-election this year and Pakistan due for elections in the coming 12 months. Pakistanis’ rage has been rising since a shooting in Lahore in January 2011 that involved a C.I.A. employee and fueled common fantasies about being overrun by rogue spies. The American operation to kill Osama bin Laden a few months later was taken as a stunning breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty.

An American apology is also problematic given Republican pressures weighing on Mr. Obama and the hostility of a Congress with little patience for Pakistan. “The politics of election year in both countries are slowing down the resolution of admittedly vexed issues in an environment of persistent mistrust,” said Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington.

President Obama is loathe to hand his Republican opponents the political ammunition of a public apology just a few months before national elections. Pakistan, too, has general elections looming, and President Zardari faces public outcry by the ‘Defense of Pakistan Council’, a coalition of retired military officers, militant groups and right-wing religious parties aligned with Imran Khan’s political party, the PTI.

Negotiations on key issues will continue, but a mutually-acceptable outcome may be harder to reach than it would in an election off-year. That’s not because the US and Pakistan do not share a number of mutual interests, but because they also share a democratic political system that makes reaching bi-lateral agreements significantly harder.

The dawning of a new era?

April 20, 2012

Pakistan-India-Trip-2012

This month has seen significant developments in the hope for peace and stability in South Asia. President Zardari traveled to Delhi for one-on-one talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Both sides reported that the meeting went very well, and Prime Minister Singh has accepted an invitation from the Pakistani president to visit Pakistan soon.

The bilateral meeting preceded an unrelated trade fair in New Delhi where Pakistani businesses showed off their products to Indian buyers and investors, and India opening up to foreign investment from Pakistan “to deepen our economic engagement.”

But it isn’t just economic ties that have improved recently. President Zardari’s trip almost didn’t happen after an avalanche buried over 100 Pakistani soldiers stationed on the remote Siachen glacier a few days prior.

The tragedy at Siachen served as a stark reminder of the decades-long military standoff that has dominated security concerns in the region, diverting vast resources to defense budgets in both Pakistan and India. From Delhi, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari Tweeted, “It is such a shame tht 2 countries w/ such large segments of our population live in desperate poverty must spend so much on weapons” – a sentiment soon echoed by Pakistan’s military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

“Peaceful coexistence between the two neighbours is very important so that everybody can concentrate on the well-being of the people,” he told reporters…“We in the army understand very well that there should be a very good balance between defence and development. You cannot be spending on defence alone and forgetting about development,” he said.

“Ultimately the security of a country is not only that you secure boundaries and borders but it is when people that live in the country feel happy, their needs are being met. Only in that case will a country be truly safe.” He said national security should be a comprehensive concept.

In a further sign of progress, India’s Defense Minister, M.M. Pallam Raju, welcomed Gen. Kayani’s remarks.

With general elections expected in Pakistan next year and the year after in India, either government could change hands. Fortunately, the political environment appears to have changed to such an extent that even President Zardari’s biggest rival, Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) President Nawaz Sharif praised Zardari’s visit to Delhi and encouraged further efforts to improve bilateral relations.

Looking back over the past four years of democratic rule, Pakistanis are asking themselves what democracy has delivered. With the economy and internal security situation suffering from the effects of terrorism, it is a complicated question for many. A breakthrough on resolving longstanding differences with India, however, could lay the foundation for a new era of peace and prosperity in the region. That’s a success many long believed unachievable.

Domestic Politics, International Effects

April 12, 2012

On Tuesday, Pakistani journalist Zahid Hussain spoke at the Wilson Center on the topic of Pakistan-US relations. During the course of his speech, Mr. Hussain touched on several important issues including blowback from increased drone strikes, differences in priorities vis-a-vis Afghanistan, and the burden of perceived historical rebuffs. One issue in particular, though, stood out – the effect of domestic politics on foreign policy.

Domestic politics is a reality that affects foreign policy not only in Pakistan, but in all countries. Recently, President Obama was overheard telling Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he will have “more flexibility” after this year’s elections are over. The situation in Pakistan is no different.

Earlier this year, by elections and Senate elections in Pakistan boosted the Pakistani People’s Party’s (PPP) representation in parliament. But general elections for the National Assembly scheduled for next year puts the majority of seats in play. As a result, politicians are under intense scrutiny not only by the public, but by their opponents as well.

It is through this lens that we should view debates about redefining terms of engagement with the US taking place in Pakistan’s Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS). Recommendations from the PCNS were expected weeks ago, but the process has been slow due to both boycotts by opposition parties and a general cautiousness about tackling sensitive issues such as drones and re-opening NATO supply lines with elections looming.

Despite taking longer than anticipated, however, the committee appears to have achieved a breakthrough as the PPP and opposition parties have managed to find consensus on tough issues. Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, Sherry Rehman, remarked at the beginning of the process that the parliamentary review of US-Pakistan relations was “a success for democracy,” and it appears she was right. Democracy has never been fast moving, but by building consensus among political parties, it is the only way to develop sustainable policies.

Not all foreign policy decisions can be made through pure consensus, though, and it is in this area where political leadership is put to the test. In 2009, President Barack Obama demonstrated took the extraordinary step of addressing the Muslim world from Cairo, seeking “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition.”

Obama’s speech drew sharp criticism from many American conservatives, including Mitt Romney, for “apologizing” for past American mistakes.

Similarly, Pakistan’s President Zardari transcended historic mistrust last weekend when he became the first Pakistani head of state to visit India in almost a decade. Right wing organizations in Pakistan vocally opposed the president’s trip. Zardari made the trip anyway, and a few days later India’s Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai told The Wall Street Journal that his country is willing to open a new dialogue with Pakistan about resolving issues over the disputed area of Kashmir.

In the modern world, domestic politics is rarely confined to domestic issues. Complex issues of international relations are widely reported and discussed among local populations, and political leaders must make decisions based not only on what the believe is in the best interests of their country, but within a range of policies that can receive domestic support.

In mature democracies, this means that foreign policy is informed by consensus derived from the people’s elected representatives, and executed by the country’s leadership. The people of Pakistan have long cried out for change in relations with both the US and India. Recent events give reason to believe their democracy has matured to a stage that can deliver it.

Sec. Panetta: Pakistan’s Government Not Aware of Osama’s Whereabouts

April 3, 2012

Sec. Leon Panetta

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says there is no evidence that any Pakistani government official knew about Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts prior to his death last May. Speaking to Peter Mansbridge with CBC Television, Sec. Panetta said none of the material collected in the raid on bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad has suggested any official Pakistani support.

MR. MANSBRIDGE: Now you mention how – you took a lot of material out of that compound and you’ve now had almost a year to go through it all. Have you been able to determine, in what you’ve seen, any direct connection with Pakistan for his ability to live and operate within a stone’s throw of Pakistan’s – one of its most important military installations?

SEC. PANETTA: I have not. And you know, there’s been a lot of material. They’ve gone through a lot of material. We haven’t had access to, obviously, all of the analysis that’s been done, but I have not heard any kind of evidence that involved a direct connection to the Pakistanis. Obviously the concern has always been how could a compound like this, how could bin Laden be in an area where there were military establishments, where we could see the military operating and not have them know.

MR. MANSBRIDGE: And how could it? How could it operate there without their knowledge?

SEC. PANETTA: Well, you know, these situations sometimes, you know, the leadership within Pakistan [sic] is obviously not aware of certain things and yet people lower down in the military establishment find it very well, they’ve been aware of it. But bottom line is that we have not had evidence that provides that direct link.

Sec. Panetta is not the first US official to come to this conclusion. Last fall, former CIA station chief in Islamabad, Robert Grenier, told Express News that there is no evidence Pakistani officials had any knowledge of bin Laden’s whereabouts.

This does not, however, mean that Osama bin Laden had no support network in Pakistan. This week, the US government announced a $10 million bounty for Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the founder of terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba which is suspected of having ties to al Qaeda. And the US is not the only country that wants Hafiz Saeed. Pakistan’s own government has arrested Hafiz Saeed in the past, only to see their attempts to bring him to justice thwarted by the country’s Supreme Court who ordered the militant leader freed.

Hafiz Saeed at a Difa-e-Pakistan rally

While there is no evidence that Hafiz Saeed and his Lashkar-e-Taibi militant group facilitated bin Laden’s living in Pakistan, the way that militant leaders like Hafiz Saeed play “cat and mouse” games with Pakistani law enforcement suggests that unofficial support networks for militant extremists do exist and are hard to penetrate. If Pakistan’s different militant groups are operating synergistically, it could make connections between militant leaders like Osama bin Laden and Hafiz Saeed difficult to substantiate.

The US and Pakistan have a shared goal in ending the scourge of terrorism and bringing militant leaders to justice. Successfully ending militant violence requires cooperation between both countries. That begins with recognizing who are friends are.