Tag Archives: diplomacy

Domestic Politics and Foreign Diplomacy

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is set to mark up a fiscal 2012 State Department and foreign assistance authorization bill, and there’s some concern that the committee has aid to Pakistan in its sights. But the statements and actions of the House Foreign Affairs Committee do not represent a shift in US policy to Pakistan, they represent American politicians playing domestic politics in anticipation of the coming election year.

In fact, it’s not just Pakistan that’s in the cross-hairs of House budget hawks. The same committee also voted to end funding for the Organization of American States, calling the 63-year-old DC-based institution, “an enemy of the U.S. and an enemy to the interests of freedom and security.”

Keep in mind that the House is also where we’re seeing a fight over whether or not to fund the US. Politico’s Mike Allen reported yesterday that Republicans are fracturing over the way some in their caucus are handling budget issues.

Establishment Republicans practically spit contempt for what they call “the default caucus” – the small number of House and Senate members who say they won’t vote to raise the debt ceiling under any circumstances.

With Republicans still without a clear leader going into 2012, House Republicans are playing to a very conservative base that has a strong isolationist strain. Some of this is being acted out with no shortage of theatrics. This does not mean that official policy towards Pakistan – or any other state – has changed. In fact, just recently State Department Spokesperson Victorian Nuland reiterated that, “with regard to U.S. civilian assistance to Pakistan, that continues unchanged.”

The often confusing and opaque world of foreign diplomacy is difficult enough when trying to navigate the standard obstacles of language and culture. We should be careful, though, not to mistake what are domestic political battles for shifts in official policy towards any nation. The House Foreign Affairs Committee is an important and influential body, but at the end of the day, it is only one part of an intricate and balanced political process.

Diplomatic Problems Require Diplomatic Solutions – Not Diplomatic Freezes

Raymond DavisTensions over the fate of Raymond Davis, a US consular official who allegedly shot two men in Pakistan last month, have grown to unconstructive proportions. As a satisfactory solution continues to elude negotiators, both sides should remember that diplomatic problems require diplomatic solutions – not diplomatic freezes.

The Wall Street Journal reported this morning that tensions threaten US–Pakistan meetings scheduled for later this month, and the foreign press has reported that the US broke off high-level contact with Pakistan over the issue, an assertion countered by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Philip J. Crowley on Twitter today.

Pakistani political commentator Dr. Moeed Pirzada, writing for English-language newspaper The Daily Times, advises both sides to come to the table prepared to work out a solution that satisfies both nations.

Let us not kid ourselves; this is not going to be settled inside the Vienna Convention. This needs to be resolved inside the bilateral relations. I wish the indefatigable Holbrooke were around today. Anyway, it is not a secret that Washington has much leverage in Islamabad, so a rough solution may be emerging within the next few days. But as both sides wriggle to get out of this, it is imperative that a small tactical victory should not be allowed to jeopardise the gains of diligent public diplomacy of the last few years.

Dr. Pirzada is right. The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations notwithstanding, Pakistan’s government has a very real need to demonstrate to its citizens that it is protecting their security, and the US needs to demonstrate that it is treating Pakistan with the same respect it would demand for itself.

American officials need to view the situation from the perspective of the Pakistanis. Imagine the political minefield that would result from a Pakistani security contractor shooting two men in Manhattan and then fleeing the scene. Regardless of the facts, cable talk shows and blogs would quickly create and atmosphere of fear and confusion and government officials would soon find themselves in the the position the Pakistanis are now – pressed between the norms and conventions of international relations and the political reality of a scared and angry public.

The US and Pakistan have found themselves at loggerheads in the past and have resorted to suspending cooperation rather than making the difficult decisions necessary to move forward. The results were predictably disastrous for both parties. The US insisting on a solution that humiliates Pakistan will be equally as Pyrrhic a victory as Pakistani intransigence.

While the US wants Raymond Davis returned to American custody, we must remember that Pakistanis have lost three of their own countrymen in this affair. Pakistan deserves a solution that demonstrates that the US values Pakistani lives. Both nations’ needs deserve respect and attention, and the only path to a solution that satisfies both nations is open and constructive dialogue.