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.