Pakistan’s increasing isolation

Imran Khan leads protest

The Lahore High Court this week tightened restrictions on screening foreign films – a move clearly targeted at India’s prolific Bollywood industry. This follows a campaign by some in Pakistan’s TV industry last year to secure a ban on foreign content. The provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa officially banned a 12-year-old academic book by Suranjan Das, the Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University in India. No rationale for the ban was given, and the Government of Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province, recently banned the teaching of comparative religion. YouTube remains inaccessible in Pakistan, and earlier this week access to IMDb was temporarily blocked, with a Pakistan Telecommunications Authority describing the site as, “anti-state, anti-religion, and anti-social.”

But cutting itself off from foreign media is not the only isolationism that is gaining popularity in Pakistan. In the wake of a drone strike that killed senior members of the Haqqani Network, a group designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States, Pakistan’s Interior Minister publicly questioned how Pakistan could continue to regard the US as a friendly nation. Populist politician Imran Khan took the rhetoric a step further, declaring the strike to be “a declaration of war” between Pakistan and the United States and announced that he would organize a permanent blockade of NATO supply routes beginning today. Protests led by Imran Khan have begun, but it’s unclear whether they will actually be able to sustain an effective blockade of NATO supplies. What is clear is that, while Taliban militants continue to attack Pakistan, Imran Khan and other populist leaders are focused on casting the US as the real enemy, fostering sympathy for terrorists.

While Pakistan may be looking to replace American patronage by more closely aligning with China, it is unlikely that this would relieve Pakistan from pressure to tackle extremism. US and Chinese interests increasingly align in Pakistan, and earlier this year Pakistan was forced to take action against three militant groups due to pressure from China. The legality and efficacy of the US drone program can be debated, but it does not alleviate Pakistan of the responsibility to ensure that it is not becoming a safe haven for terrorists, as desired by al Qaeda.

Pakistan is facing a number of difficult challenges. Closing itself off from the rest of the world is not the solution.

Ambassador Husain Haqqani speaks on the ‘magnificent delusions’ that plague US-Pakistan relations

Husain Haqqani, who served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. from 2008 to 2011, has spent many years researching and writing about his country’s complex political history. His new book Magnificent Delusions explores how, despite over 60 years of being “most allied allies,” the US and Pakistan have never really understood each other. Ambassador Haqqani’s first-hand experience in US-Pakistan relations notwithstanding, Magnificent Delusions is not a memoir, but a case study. Neither is the book a polemic against the US or Pakistan. From Secretary of State Dulles overlooking the eerily prescient observations of Ambassador Langley in the late 1950s to Pakistan’s misunderstanding of the limits of US obligations in bilateral security agreements, Haqqani details a history in which both countries have developed foreign policy around a set of wishful assumptions rather than contextual analysis.

The US has failed to fully understand the India-centric narrative that has defined Pakistan’s national identity and served as a myopic focal point of Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies as well as the role of anti-Americanism and fundamentalist religious groups in serving as leverage in bilateral negotiations. Ambassador Haqqani offers an equally incisive analysis of the failure of Pakistan’s political and military elite to understand their position relative to US regional and global interests, taking an outsized view of both their strategic importance and the limits of US .

Magnificent Delusions serves as a important point of reorientation for US-Pakistan relations, and is recommended to anyone who wants a keen understanding of not only how US-Pakistan relations got where they are, but how to forge a more productive relationship for the future.

Ambassador Olson’s Eid al-Adha Message

Ambassador Richard Olson

On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I extend best wishes to all Muslims in Pakistan on the occasion of Eid al-Adha. I also congratulate the nearly three million pilgrims, including thousands of American Muslims, who are performing the Hajj this year. This great peaceful gathering breaks down barriers of race, class, and culture, and reflects the true image of a global community.

Those making the Hajj are a reminder of the powerful role that faith plays in lifting individuals and communities to a higher standard.

As Muslims unite to embrace the virtues extolled during the Hajj – those of sacrifice, benevolence, and brotherhood – I wish peace and strength to the people of Pakistan.

Eid Mubarak!

Address by H.E. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif Before the UN General Assembly

Address by

H.E. Mr. Muhammad Nawaz Sharif

Prime-Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan

The General Debate of the Sixty-eighth Session The United Nations General Assembly

New York, 27 September 2013

Mr. President, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I congratulate you on your election as the President of the United Nations General Assembly. It is a fitting recognition of your distinguished career.

I also commend Mr. Vuk Jeremic, for his outstanding leadership of the General Assembly in the past one year.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has led the organization ably and wisely. We were glad to receive him in Pakistan in mid-August, as our honored guest on the anniversary of the Independence Day of Pakistan.

Mr. President,

I stand here today before this Assembly, soon after my country has seen a new dawn.

I come before this house in all humility, as the elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, for the third time. I feel exonerated, as my supporters and I stood firm in our commitment to democracy in the long years of exile, exclusion and state oppression,

I am happy to inform the distinguished delegates that we now have a strong Parliament, an independent judiciary, a free media and a vibrant civil society.

But there is no room for complacency. We cannot lower our guard. Democracy needs constant vigilance and strong institutions. It needs careful nurturing. Most importantly, it is not promises, but good governance that sustains democracy.

My Government has put people at the centre. We will work to give them peace and security, an environment of growth and development. I am pursuing an inclusive approach for the entire nation.

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Pakistan’s Activist Judiciary Doing More Harm Than Good

Chief Justice Iftikhar ChaudhryOver the past five years, Pakistan’s courts were widely criticized for pushing the boundaries of reasonable judicial oversight and taking an aggressively adversarial role against the previous Pakistani government. Many observers assumed that the judiciary’s behavior was the result of a personal dislike for former President Asif Zardari on the part of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and other judges. Whether or not that was the case, the judiciary’s activism did not end with the Zardari government earlier this year – something that does not bode well for Pakistan’s democracy.

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New Film Documents a Decade of Women’s Empowerment in a Punjabi Village

In 1999, no girl was permitted to receive an education in Thathi Bhanguan, a village in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Today, that has changed.

Decade, a new film by Atif Ahmad Qureshi and Muhammad Iqbal Akram, chronicles ten years of cultural and political development in Thathi Bhanguan, as attitudes and perceptions towards women evolved through the persuasive efforts of the village women themselves.

The Fourth Option For US-Pakistan Relations

Joe Biden, Nawaz Sharif, John Kerry, ShahbazSharif

As 2014, and the eventual withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan that will come with it, rapidly approaches, analysts in Washington are working to influence the direction of US policy in the region. Unfortunately, much of what is being bandied about as a new direction looks an awful lot like the well-worn path that brought us where we are today. With the recent handover of power between two democratic governments, it’s time to try something new with Pakistan.

In response to a question about the key constructs of the US engagement with Pakistan post-2014, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations Dan Markey recently outlined three options for the US:

  • The United States would devote the bulk of its efforts to protecting itself from Pakistan-based threats (terrorism, nuclear weapons, and general instability) by relying on coercion, deterrence, and closer military cooperation with neighboring India and Afghanistan.
  • The United States would focus on cultivating a businesslike negotiating relationship with Pakistan’s military—still Pakistan’s most powerful institution—in order to advance specific U.S. counterterrorism and nuclear goals.
  • The United States would work with and provide support to Pakistan’s military and civilian leadership as well as civil society in ways that would, over time, tip the scales in favor of greater stability in Pakistan and more peaceful relations between Pakistan and its neighbors, Afghanistan, Iran, India, and China.

At the end of his piece, Markey recommends a combination of all three strategies. But this is exactly the strategy that the US has been pursuing, and to little success. There are several reasons why this policy cannot work. First of all, partnering with India in a policy of coercion is mutually exclusive to developing a productive relationship with Pakistan. More importantly, though, Markey’s recommendations place too much emphasis on continuing to focus on relations with Pakistan’s powerful military at the expense of the democratically elected civilian government. And it is the democratically elected civilian government that is key to ending Pakistan’s problem with militancy.

Nawaz Sharif, having already experienced the consequences of military adventurism during his previous time as Prime Minister, has demonstrated a willingness to confront Pakistan’s military about its alleged involvement with extremist militants. Following the discover of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif was one of the few politicians to demand answers from the military about how the world’s most wanted man could live undetected for years just outside the Kakul Military Academy. And his pursuit of treason charges against former military dictator Pervez Musharraf has united civilian politicians across party lines despite the concerns of some former military officers.

Since being elected Prime Minister earlier this year, Nawaz Sharif has also pursued improved relations with India, including continuing the policy of improving bilateral trade and economic cooperation begun under the previous government.

Dan Markey’s approach would threaten the progress that is currently being made by breathing new life into military dominance just as the civilians are starting to get a strong foothold, and driving a wedge into Pakistan-India relations just as they are on the brink of a breakthrough.

Rather than reprise past policies, the US should take the fourth option: Treating the democratically elected civilian government as the legitimate policy-making authority; providing significant support for civil society by investing in domestic capacity building for key areas including education, energy, and law enforcement; and using its growing influence to reassure India that continuing to work towards improved trade and economic relations are the most effective path towards boosting Pakistan’s national security perception and eliminating its reliance on militant groups as part of their national security strategy.

For decades, the US has pursued a relationship that overemphasizes the military’s power, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy in which the military is “still Pakistan’s most powerful institution” at the expense of democratic progress, civil development, and regional security. It’s time to try something new.