Tag Archives: domestic politics

Prior Convictions and Pakistan’s President

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari

In the last few weeks, news reports have appeared in the US which mischaracterize the history of allegations against Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari. The publication “KGS Nightwatch,” a nightly national security newsletter, reported that  Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari “was disqualified from the start to ever serve in any public office because of his prior graft convictions and ongoing criminal investigations in Switzerland.” An NPR story reported that “the government of Switzerland opened an investigation into Zardari’s financial dealings, but the case was closed with no action taken.” These reports are factually incorrect.

Here are the facts: Asif Zardari was first convicted in 1999 by the Lahore High Court on corruption charges. In 2001, Pakistani intelligence documents including recording of phone conversations leaked to The Sunday Times (UK) showed that the presiding judge, Justice Malik Muhammad Qayyum, had been secretly colluding on the case with PML-N officials including then Chief Minister of Punjab Shahbaz Sharif. Pakistan’s Supreme Court overturned the conviction in 2001.

In 1998, then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also initiated a case on the same allegations against Asif Zardari in Switzerland (not the Swiss authorities themselves). A Swiss magistrate convicted Zardari in absentia in 2003, but later that same year, a Swiss tribunal overturned the conviction on appeal. While it is true that opposition politicians continued to press the cases in Switzerland, they had not been able to secure a conviction by the time the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) was promulgated four years later. Daniel Zappelli, Geneva’s chief prosecutor, told Reuters in 2008 that “In the SGS/Cotecna case, no funds belonging to Benazir Bhutto were found,” and that he did not have sufficient evidence to bring Zardari to trial.

In short, neither conviction was able to withstand scrutiny.

Both convictions must be viewed in the historical and political contexts in which they were carried out. The Lahore High Court was proven to be pursuing the original case against in collaboration with government officials. Additionally, during the 1990s, the ISI was carrying out a secret program to defeat PPP candidates. Nawaz Sharif has also reported admitted that the Ehtesab (Accountability) Bureau initiated political cases against PPP leaders.

Nowhere does Pakistan’s constitution prohibit the subject of ongoing investigations or the victim of political attacks from holding public office. In contrast to recent news reports, Asif Zardari was and is eligible to serve as President of Pakistan. Reports that suggest otherwise erroneously and unhelpfully undermine the credibility Pakistan’s burgeoning democratic system.

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.