Tag Archives: China

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.

Helicopter Tales

Wreckage of the stealth helicopter left in Osama bin Laden's compound

Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the the Center for a New American Security, asks, “Did Pakistan sell out America?“. What raises this question in Cronin’s mind is a report in the Financial Times over the weekend that alleges “Pakistan allowed Chinese military engineers to photograph and take samples from the top-secret stealth helicopter that US special forces left behind when they killed Osama bin Laden.” For its part, Pakistan’s military denies the Financial Times report, calling it “baseless and speculative.” American officials have not made public statements one way or the other, the issue being largely left to media speculation.

When the Financial Times story broke, it played into the suspicions and fears of those that believe Pakistan is an untrustworthy ally. After all, the US had told Pakistan that the helicopter technology was secret and that they should not share it with anyone. If Pakistan were a trustworthy ally, would they not have respected the American request? This one-sided perspective fails to take into account the possibility that Pakistan has its own security priorities that may not always align with American requests.

The operation inside Pakistani territory to eliminate Osama bin Laden was carried out unilaterally and without informing Pakistan ahead of time. This may very well have fueled impressions in Pakistan that it is the US who is untrustworthy. That doesn’t mean that the US should not have carried out the operation, it just means that a cost-benefit calculation was made and it was decided that the benefits of killing Osama bin Laden outweighed the cost of angering Pakistan. As American lawmakers debate additional conditions on military aid to Pakistan, Pakistani military leaders may determine that American aid comes with too high a cost in dignity when the Chinese offer military assistance with fewer strings attached. In either situation, decisions are made by leaders acting on what they believe are their own nation’s interests.

Cronin sees this latest dispute as reflective of a broader problem with the way the US attempts to engage Pakistan.

But rather than rush to condemn Pakistan on the basis of incomplete information, the Obama administration needs to rethink its broader approach to Pakistan.

The United States appears to be dashing quickly in opposite directions. Simultaneously, Washington is giving Pakistan $1.5 billion a year in development assistance and then reportedly withholding military aid unless Pakistan’s policy actions receive green lights on a secret scorecard. The former action treats Pakistan like a close ally in which we have a long-term investment; the latter condition presupposes Pakistani generals would cede strategic objectives for limited military hardware and support. The two are hard to reconcile.

Matthew Yglesias, a Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, expresses this rather succinctly. He observes that all this allegation suggests is that “Pakistan is an independent country with its own interests.”

Yglesias, by his own admission, is not a Pakistan expert, but this limitation appears to have allowed him to see the forest for the trees. Too often US-Pakistan security cooperation is framed by an underlying perception of Pakistan as a client state, not an independent nation. The US sees Pakistan as an ally, but it will not develop its national security strategy based on Pakistani security interests. Likewise, Pakistan sees the US as an ally, but maintains national security priorities of its own. Neither is this unique to the US and Pakistan – it’s the way independent nations work.

Whether or not Pakistan did grant China access to the wreckage, the outcome should be for US leaders to re-evaluate whether American expectations of Pakistan are realistic, and whether US security policy is based in American wishful thinking, or frank and transparent discussions with Pakistan to determine where the two countries’ priorities intersect. The latter can build bilateral confidence and strengthen cooperation; the former will only end in failure.

Is the WSJ being used as a proxy in internal Afghan debates?

Hamid Karzai, Barack Obama, and Asif Zardari

Matthew Rosenberg’s article in today’s Wall Street Journal claims that Pakistan is secretly urging the Karzai government in Afghanistan to sever ties with the US and change to a Chinese-Pakistani led alliance to secure the country. But reading the article, it quickly becomes apparent that the article more likely reflects a divide among Afghan officials who are using Pakistan as a foil and the US media as a proxy in internal debates.

According to Rosenberg, the source for this revelation is “Afghan officials.” If you read further, however, you’ll learn that Afghan officials have split into “pro- and anti-American factions at the presidential palace trying to sway” President Karzai. In fact, despite the claims of anonymous “Afghan officials,” Matthew Rosenberg quotes presidential spokesman Waheed Omar saying, “Pakistan would not make such demands.”

So what was said at the April 16th meeting between Pakistan and Afghan leaders? According to US officials, it was likely a discussion about how to proceed should the US pull out of the region – a legitimate security concern with target drawdown dates looming.

Some U.S. officials said they had heard details of the Kabul meeting, and presumed they were informed about Mr. Gilani’s entreaties in part, as one official put it, to “raise Afghanistan’s asking price” in the partnership talks. That asking price could include high levels of U.S. aid after 2014. The U.S. officials sought to play down the significance of the Pakistani proposal. Such overtures were to be expected at the start of any negotiations, they said; the idea of China taking a leading role in Afghanistan was fanciful at best, they noted.

Evaluated in the context of existing cooperation in the region, this read by US officials makes more sense than any suggestion that Pakistan is attempting to freeze the US out of Afghanistan. Reason notwithstanding, Wall Street Journal readers are likely to walk away with an unnecessarily sour feeling about the intentions of the Pakistani government. But is this fair?

Mr. Rosenberg’s sources – unnamed “Afghan officials” – are not even described as having been present for the conversations but simply “familiar with the meeting.” A spokesman for the president denies that Pakistan is pressuring Karzai to “to dump [the] U.S.” as the Wall Street Journal headline screams. And despite the Journal reporter’s rather hyperbolic claim that “no other party has been as direct, and as actively hostile to the planned U.S.-Afghan pact, as the Pakistanis,” such a characterization is belied by ongoing security cooperation between the two countries.

This is not to say that the US and Pakistan see eye-to-eye on everything. Each country has its own priorities for the region, and cooperation comes where those priorities overlap. Relations between Pakistan and the US have been described as tense over the past few months due to negotiations over the use of armed drones and interagency coordination on counterinsurgency operations. But negotiations over such operational details are standard in coalition forces, and Pakistan and the US continue to work together to protect shared security interests.

As an experienced South Asian correspondent, Matthew Rosenberg should recognize efforts to use his work as a proxy in internal government debates. Speaker John Boehner recently recognized Pakistan’s great sacrifice in the fight against militant extremists, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen praised cooperation between US and Pakistani troops working jointly against terrorist groups. The Wall Street Journal should not distort Pakistan’s record.

It's the Economy…

Textiles

Bill Clinton knew it. Hu Jintao certainly knows it. Barack Obama is learning it the hard way. And if we really want to ensure democracy and justice in Pakistan, Congress needs to figure this out, too: It’s the economy, stupid.

Pakistan’s democratic government continues to suffer incredible attacks from militant extremists. Just last week, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi – a terrorist group affiliated with Al Qaeda and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan – attacked a security compound in Karachi killing at least 18 and wounding over 100. And this was only the latest in a wave of deadly attacks that have plagued the city in recent months.

Karachi is financial heart of Pakistan. That may be one reason terrorist militants are so keen to destroy it. Undermining stability in Karachi has a direct impact on foreign investment in Pakistan; undermining the nation’s economy undermines support for the democratic government. It creates a feeling of hopelessness and frustration that militants use to recruit new foot soldiers.

Discussing the nation’s education system, Pakistani analyst Mosharraf Zaidi told PBS Frontline that a lack of economic opportunity can have dire consequences.

“You look at the consequences of these kids not going to school — and let’s set aside the fearmongering and the scare-mongering of saying, you know, ‘What if all these kids become terrorists?’ Setting that aside, the real problem is that, if you aren’t capable of participating in the global economy, you will be very, very poor. And desperate and extreme poverty has some diabolical consequences for societies and for individuals.”

Michael O’Hanlon, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, writes that one of the keys to creating peace and stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan is economic stimulus for the region through trade liberalization.

Struggling economically, Pakistan needs such a shot in the arm, and a trade deal could arguably do even more than aid at this point.

Over the weekend, the US and Pakistan agreed to cooperate on a new $375 million wind farm near Karachi to provide 150 megawatts of power. This is a good start. Projects of this nature go beyond mere aid and create sustainable infrastructure that can reduce Pakistan’s dependence on foreign energy supplies while also providing a much needed boost to employment.

This is a good start, but the US needs to do more if we’re going to continue to have a strong relationship with the South Asian power. Pakistan’s president Zardari is no American puppet, and he has been making successful overtures to Chinese investors keen to profit from Pakistan’s unrealized potential.

The President said that there existed a great potential between Pakistan and China to further expand their bilateral trade and Pakistan was keen to welcome greater Chinese investment in the country.

He said that Pakistan and China have established a Joint Investment Company (JIC) with the help of China Development Bank to assist joint ventures and signed the Free Trade Agreement on goods and services, which were helping integration of Pakistani and Chinese economies.

The President said that the Government has put in place policies directed towards rapid economic growth, employment generation, poverty alleviation and encouragement of the private sector.

And it’s not only the cash-flush Chinese who are looking – the UK is also beginning to see the potential of investment in Pakistan.

[British Deputy High Commissioner] Robert Gibson pointed out that British entrepreneurs working in Pakistan were having continued interest to work and safeguard their businesses and were looking forward to opportunities to further increase their operations by expanding existing projects and explore new avenues for investment.

The US can begin its program of economic investment by liberalizing trade, specifically through granting preferential market status to Pakistani textiles, a policy encouraged in a new report by the Council on Foreign Relations.

“To reinforce US-Pakistan ties and contribute to Pakistan’s economic stability in the aftermath of an overwhelming natural disaster, the Obama administration should prioritize and the Congress should enact agreement that would grant preferential market access to Pakistani textiles,” former deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage and former national security adviser Samuel R. Berger, stress in the report.

This agreement would help revive the Pakistani industry and all of the associated sectors of the economy, including Pakistan-grown cotton, the report adds.

Additionally, Congress should revisit legislation establishing Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZ), a bill first introduced by President Bush and passed by House Democrats in 2009.

Conventional wisdom says that American policy towards Pakistan should involve ‘carrots’ and ‘sticks.’ This thinking is misguided. Targeted aid packages like Kerry-Lugar and flood assistance are necessary, but not sufficient if the goal is to develop a strong and lasting partnership. Pakistan has demonstrated that it will not be a client state, nor should any such outcome be at the heart of American foreign policy. Only by developing economic partnerships that benefit both countries will lasting trust be established. Investment in Pakistan may involve certain risks at this time, but ignoring this opportunity poses greater risks still.