Monthly Archives: May 2012

Obama, Zardari meet at NATO summit in Chicago

President Obama meets with Pakistani President Asif Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Chicago

Counter to numerous media reports that President Obama “snubbed” or “shunned” Pakistani President Zardari, the two met twice during the NATO summit in Chicago, including a brief one-on-one conversation according to media reports – and the White House itself.

The two presidents did not have a formal bilateral meeting in Chicago, but this was likely a function of the fact that, despite Pakistan’s central role in resolving the Afghan conflict, neither side wanted ongoing US-Pakistan negotiations to overshadow the broader issues related to stabilizing Afghanistan and transferring control of that nation’s security to domestic forces.

When Presidents Obama and Zardari did meet, they each conveyed the priorities of their constituencies: President Obama reportedly “emphasised to Zardari that Pakistan “has to be part of the solution in Afghanistan,” while President Zardari told Obama “that unless drone attacks were brought to an immediate halt, things would not return to normal.”

Meanwhile, the White House expressing confidence that US-Pakistan negotiations are on a positive trajectory, and a solution that satisfies the concerns of both sides is near.

84-335: Congress Votes Against Repeating Past Mistakes

US Congress

Last night, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s (R-Calif) amendment to cut funding for Pakistan was soundly defeated 84-335. As with Rohrabacher’s bill supporting the balkanization of Pakistan, though, it was unlikely that this proposal would go anywhere to begin with.

After Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan last year, House members contemplated a number of measures that would have cut aid to Pakistan. Two amendments proposing to cut aid to Pakistan were defeated, however, as lawmakers decided that cutting aid would be in neither country’s interests.

Still, Pakistan and its representatives in the US did not take it for granted that Rohrabacher’s amendment would meet the same fate. Pakistan’s Ambassador, Sherry Rehman, was seen working the Hill late Thursday, explaining Pakistan’s position to Members of Congress. After 8pm, the Pakistani Ambassador Tweeted that she had been working the Hill until the vote was assured.

Writing for the blog “emptywheel”, Jim White makes an astute observation:

“…the Pakistani government is not a monolith that always acts with all of its participants working together for the same outcome. Rather than supporting those within Pakistan who will advance US interests, Rohrabacher wants to punish all of Pakistan because of those who work against US interests.

Using aid as part of a “carrots and sticks” approach to Pakistan has failed in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. It’s a strategy that fails because it feeds anti-American narratives at the expense of moderate, democratic forces in civil society. US lawmakers recognize this, as was demonstrated by Sen. McCain’s acknowledgement earlier this week that “one of the gravest mistakes in recent history was the so-called Pressler Amendment” which cut off aid to Pakistan in the 1990s, resulting in the “trust deficit” that continues to plague US-Pakistan relations.

Officials from both countries will travel to Chicago this weekend to continue critical discussions around bilateral cooperation on issues of national security. The defeat of Rep. Rohrabacher’s amendment ensures that these discussions will not be burdened by the repetition of past mistakes.

Pentagon Reiterates Deep Regret, Does Not Rule Out Apology for November Attack

Pentagon spokesman George Little

During a press briefing yesterday, Pentagon spokesman George Little did not rule out a formal apology for an attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November. Responding to a direct question about whether the US has ruled out an apology in this case, the Mr. Little expressed “deep regret” over the incident without rejecting the possibility that a formal apology will be forthcoming.

MR. LITTLE:  We’ve expressed — you mean, for the border incident that took place in November?  Well, I would reiterate what we said in December, and that is that we’ve expressed deep regret and extended our condolences to the Pakistani people, to the Pakistani government, and of course to the families of the loved ones who were lost and of course those who were injured in the incident as well.  So we have been clear about expressing regret for that incident, and the goal now is to press ahead, move forward, and reinvigorate the relationship with our Pakistani partners.

Domestic politics, especially during the heat of a presidential campaign, may make the delivery of a more formal apology to Pakistan difficult. The fact that the Pentagon continues to express deep regret and sincere condolences to Pakistan for the tragic incident, however, suggests that the possibility remains open that one will be coming in the future when domestic political conditions allow for it.


Sen. McCain discusses US-Pakistan relations at CSIS

Q: Thank you, Senator McCain. I’m a former World Bank official and former senator from Pakistan. I — Pakistan is a key ally to United States and, in fact, only non-NATO ally. Next week is Chicago Summit. What do you see the role of Pakistan? Thank you.

SEN. MCCAIN: Pakistan is vital to United States national security interests for a broad variety of reasons, including the nuclear inventory that Pakistan has, including the fact that Pakistan’s role in the region is vital, not to mention relations with India.

But we have to operate in our relations with Pakistan with the realization that the ISI has close relations with the Haqqani network, and they are carrying out activities that kill Americans. Now, that’s just an assessment that cannot be refuted by the facts, and it saddens me.

We were talking earlier, just before this — (inaudible) — one of the gravest mistakes in recent history was the so-called Pressler Amendment, which basically cut off our military-to military relations, and we are paying, still paying a very heavy price for.

I think there are some who would argue that Pakistan is a failed state. I don’t argue that, but I do — could argue plausibly that the politics in Pakistan are very, very unsettled, to say the least.

And it is in our interest to have good relations with Pakistan. It is in our interest to aid Pakistan and try to assist them to a better democracy and a lessening of corruption and a severing of relations between the ISI and the Haqqani network. But we cannot force it. If there is any lesson we should have to learn over and over again, we can’t force the Pakistani government and people to change their ways unless they want to.

And it’s so disheartening sometimes to see the lack of progress towards a meaningful democracy and rule of law and all the things that we would hope that the Pakistanis might achieve. But whether we are successful in persuading them or not, Pakistan will remain a country that is vital to United States national security interests. I don’t have to draw for you the various scenarios of a breakdown in their government.

What the contempt conviction means, and what it doesn’t

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani leaving court

I have refrained from writing about the recent conviction of Pakistan’s Prime Minister on contempt of court charges because the case, from my perspective – as well as many whom I’ve talked with – is a bit confusing. Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped much of the mainstream media from publishing alarming reports that could easily misguide people into thinking that the case means more than it does.

The day the Court announced its decision, CBS News declared that, Pakistan’s government “was thrown in turmoil…after Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was convicted on a contempt-of-court charge by the country’s Supreme Court,” and went on to quote anonymous western diplomats in Islamabad predicting that, “early elections are a very real possibility because of this turmoil.”

A few days later, however, both houses of Pakistan’s parliament passed resolutions voicing “complete confidence” in the embattled Prime Minister. Opposition politicians continue to try to make hay of the Prime Minister’s conviction, but the election of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) candidate Usman Bhatti to a seat deep in the constituency of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) suggests that Pakistani voters do not see the case as particularly damning.

Other news reports exaggerate not the fallout from, but the nature of the conviction. Foreign Policy magazine published an otherwise informative analysis by AEI’s Reza Nasim Jan with the glaringly misleading headline, “Pakistan’s Federal Felon”.

While the Supreme Court’s case has created confusion even among Pakistani legal experts, there is significant reason to believe that the case is not as severe as opposition politicians may be trying to make it out to be.

In its order, the Supreme Court did not invoke Section 6 of the Contempt of Court Ordinance 2003 which specifically defines the requirements for criminal contempt. In fact, reading Section 6, it’s pretty clear why – it doesn’t appear to apply to the Prime Minister’s case.

The Prime Minister was charged with a violation of Article 204(2) of the Constitution read with Section 3 of the Contempt of Court Ordinance 2003. Together, these broadly-worded laws basically define ‘Contempt of Court’ as anything that a Judge deems contemptuous – political cartoonists beware. The Prime Minister was punished under Section 5 of the Contempt of Court Ordinance 2003, which provides for a fine and jail time. His actual sentence was about 30-seconds.

Additionally, prior to the Supreme Court announcing its decision, Pakistani media reported that the Prime Minister had been charged with civil contempt:

The bench of the Supreme Court had charged the prime minister with civil contempt, instead of judicial or criminal contempt. The absence of the latter two, according to legal experts, meant that the provisions of Article 63(1 g or h) of the Constitution may not apply and hence the prime minister would not be disqualified from being a parliamentarian if convicted.

It is also noteworthy that, in the Supreme Court’s order, the justices wrote that “the findings and the conviction for contempt of court recorded above are likely to1 entail some serious consequences in terms of Article 63(1)(g) of the Constitution…” As legal analyst Waris Husain noted in Dawn,

The Court used the language “likely to entail” because the right to terminate parliamentarians’ tenure is constitutionally vested in the Speaker of the National Assembly and the Election Commission. Under Article 63 (2), once the Speaker has received notice of a parliamentarian’s conviction, he/she may forward the issue to the Election Board within 30 days which must make a decision within 90 days. This process is the exclusive duty of the legislative department, rather than the Court. Therefore, the process to disqualify the prime minister has only just begun.

Without doubt, the conviction was a blow to the Prime Minister and an unwanted distraction for the governing coalition – especially as negotiations with the US continue. But, as pointed out by the State Department, “this as an internal domestic issue…and is being addressed in a legitimate and democratic fashion by the Pakistani judicial system.”

Sensational and misleading media reports not only add to confusion about the issue in the US, they can add to confusion in Pakistan as well, unnecessarily calling into doubt the independence of Pakistani institutions and indirectly interfering with the democratic process.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court rendered its decision in the Prime Minister’s case, and it chose not to remove him from office. The Prime Minister has the right to appeal, and the decision of whether he will remain Prime Minister rests with the democratically elected representatives of the people of Pakistan. The process may seem noisy and confusing to us in the US, but – so far – it appears to be working.

1 Emphasis added