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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.

Public Oversight Protects Institutional Reputations

Pakistan parliament

Since being freed from its shackles in 2002, the growth of Pakistan’s private media industry has been lauded as an important (if imperfect) check on political power. By exposing official corruption, Pakistan’s media is acting on the famous maxim of US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” While Pakistan’s politicians increasingly find themselves under the media microscope, the same principle does not apply equally to all of Pakistan’s institutions.

Earlier this month, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for audit reports related to the allotment of residential plots to three existing and twelve retired judges of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court refused to provide any information to the PAC, referring to Article 68 of the Constitution which says that “No discussion shall take place in [Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament)] with respect to the conduct of any Judge of the Supreme Court or of a High Court in the discharge of his duties.”

It is hard to conceive how the discharge of the duties of a Supreme Court or High Court judge would involve receiving expensive residential plots. Nevertheless, the judiciary appears to be uninterested in exposing its own members to the same type of oversight considered essential for elected officials.

In one way, though the PAC got off easy. When real estate tycoon Malik Riaz accused Pakistan’s Chief Justice of corruption, he found himself facing jail time for contempt of court. Contempt charges have also been leveled against the former Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, former Law Minister, Babar Awan, Mian the owner of a private TV channel and two TV talk show hosts.

None of the defendants may not have much recourse. Article 204 of Pakistan’s Constitution allows the Supreme Court to punish any person who “scandalizes the Court or otherwise does anything which tends to bring the Court or a Judge of the Court into hatred, ridicule or contempt.” Regardless of whether or not a judge is involved in any crime or malfeasance, it may be illegal to say so.

Pakistan’s judiciary is not the only institution that would prefer to remain off limits to criticism. A defense committee in Pakistan’s Senate on Monday recommended that media criticism of Pakistan’s military should be stopped. The meeting, chaired by Mushahid Hussain Syed (PML-Q), concluded that criticism of Pakistan’s armed forces is “irresponsible behavior” that is harming the military’s reputation abroad.

Tahir Hussain Mashhadi (MQM) reportedly said that “no country criticizes its own armed forces and sensitive institutions but in Pakistan, the so-called analysts do so arguing unnecessarily about the excess of national defence budget,” a statement that must have amused Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and others in the US military establishment.

Like Pakistan’s judiciary, the military too enjoys extraordinary protection from criticism. Article 63(1)(g) of Pakistan’s constitution – the article recently used to remove a democratically elected Prime Minister – disqualifies from membership in parliament anyone who,

“has been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction for propagating any opinion, or acting in any manner, prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan, or the sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan, or morality, or the maintenance of public order, or the integrity or independence of the judiciary of Pakistan, or which defames or brings into ridicule the judiciary or the Armed Forces of Pakistan.”

If Justice Brandeis’s maxim about sunlight being the best disinfectant is true, it should apply to all institutions equally. Only by opening national institutions to public oversight can governments limit abuse and scandal. By placing the judiciary and the military outside the realm of criticism, Pakistan is facilitating the very outcomes that it hopes to prevent – scandals and suspicions that threaten the reputation of critical national institutions.

Apology Accepted

A statement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton marked the beginning of a new chapter in US-Pakistan relations on Tuesday. During a phone call with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Secretary Clinton uttered the words Pakistan had been longing to hear: “We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military. We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again.” Pakistan accepted the apology, and it seems everyone finally got what they wanted. Well, almost.

The US got what it wanted – a reopening of the Ground Lines of Communication (GLOCs) into Afghanistan. Alternate routes were secured, proving that the Pakistani routes are not essential, but they are much more efficient. Reopening transit routes through Pakistan will save the US billions of dollars.

Access to the trans-Pakistan routes will also help facilitate the process of drawing down troops from Afghanistan, something desired by both US lawmakers and, presumably, the Taliban.

The Pakistani Military also gets what they wanted – namely, $1.1 billion from the Coalition Support Fund. And while the agreement does prohibit the transportation of lethal cargo, there is an exception for supplies for the Afghan military, which will help equip the Afghans to take over responsibility for their own security as NATO forces leave.

Opposing the agreement are the Taliban, the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) – a coalition of militant groups and religious political parties, and Imran Khan who reiterated his opposition to Pakistani support for the war on terrorism and told Pakistani talk show host Hamid Mir on Tuesday night that he does not accept the apology and suggested the CIA was responsibility for sectarian killings in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Ambassador the US, Sherry Rehman, expressed confidence that US-Pakistan cooperation will improve going forward, and Senator John Kerry issued a statement saying that “mutual issues of interest and concern should be our focus going forward despite our differences.”

Unfortunately, while civilian officials are actively working to bridge differences and get bilateral relations back on track, military officials are more withdrawn. US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta issued a short statement repeating his commitment “to improving our partnership with Pakistan and to working closely together as our two nations confront common security challenges in the region.” Though Gen. Allen welcomed the decision and paid tribute to the sacrifices of Pakistan’s military. Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff said he appreciated Gen. Allen’s apology for last November’s attack, but considered it “insufficient.” And despite the presence of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and three other service chiefs on the Defence Committee of the Cabinet that decided to reopen the GLOCs, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) – the military’s official press channel – has not issued a statement in support of the decision, leaving civilian politicians to bear the brunt of public backlash.

This is, perhaps, the worrisome part of the deal. Pakistan’s military was clearly a party to the agreement to reopen NATO supply routes, but they appear to be taking a back seat in explaining to the Pakistani people why the decision was in the country’s best interest. Such decisions are well within the purview of democratically elected civilians, but the military’s silence could undermine the authority of the civilian government if anti-democratic groups like the DPC exploit the situation to convince the people that the civilians are acting against the recommendations of the military. To prevent such a scenario, Gen. Kayani Gen. Zaheerul Islam (Director General of the ISI) should issue public statements supporting the decision of the DCC.

Nixon vs. Zardari: Presidential Gates Abound

Waris HusainMany Americans can recall the political turmoil that came with the Watergate Scandal in 1972, but few understand its correlation to events currently unfolding in Pakistan. Just as Richard Nixon was brought down from the highest seat of power through allegations of corruption, President Asif Ali Zardari is facing threats from political opposition and the Supreme Court over his involvement in Memogate. However, the major difference between the travails of Nixon and Zardari is the Pakistani military, which has historically stood as an unchecked political force willing to sabotage democratic regimes. Thus, before the U.S. turns away from Pakistan completely, Americans should understand differences between Memogate and Watergate, in order to understand the ramifications of the current controversy embroiling the nation.

The Memogate controversy has its origins in the aftermath of the Osama Bin Ladin raid, where accusations were lodged by the U.S. against the Pakistani Army and its intelligence agency, the ISI, for harboring Bin Ladin. Fearing that the military’s culpability in hiding Bin Ladin would be revealed, the military leadership purportedly asked for permission from various Arab monarchies to perform a coup.

Asif Ali Zardari purportedly concluded that the military had decided to remove him from power, and it is alleged that he had conversations with Pakistan’s Ambassador to the U.S., Hussain Haqqani. These conversations allegedly resulted in a memo being written and sent to the U.S. government asking for help in stopping a potential military coup. In exchange for the American support, the memo promised that Pakistan’s civilian government would work more aggressively to pursue a wide range of American interests.

Soon, the memo, its contents, and its source were revealed by Manzoor Ijaz, who allegedly acted as a liaison between the U.S. and Pakistan government. Hussan Haqqani resigned from his post and returned to Pakistan, and the Pakistani Parliament took notice of the issue. Concurrently, the Supreme Court of Pakistan took notice, asking petitioners to explain their claims and under what basis the court had jurisdiction. While direct allegations against Zardari or Haqqani have not been leveled by the Court, the Court’s order did note possible charges of treason for guilty parties, and Haqqani has been placed on the Exit Control List, prohibiting him from leaving the country.

“If the facts were the same in Watergate, and Nixon was caught trying to stave off a coup by the CIA, he would be lauded as a national hero...”Though the Pakistani Supreme Court has drawn on the case of Nixon v. U.S. as legal precedence for launching an inquiry on the role of the President in this controversy, one should step back and compare the acts of Zardari and Nixon. In Watergate, President Nixon and his aides hired burglars to break into a political rival’s headquarters and illegally wiretap them. Nixon and his associates thereafter tried to cover up their involvement in the scandal and paid “hush money” to the individuals arrested.

On the other hand, Zardari, an elected president, was attempting to stop an unconstitutional military coup from taking place. Rather than holding the military officers who conspired against the civilian government responsible, the media and courts seem to blame Zadari for continually attempting to ‘sell-out’ to the Americans. If the facts were the same in Watergate, and Nixon was caught trying to stave off a coup by the CIA, he would be lauded as a national hero, rather than face treason charges, as is the former Ambassador Haqqani and possibly President Zardari.

However, politics and law in Pakistan is always subject to manipulation by the Army and ISI, and Zardari knows this. This is one of the many reasons why the President refused to answer the court’s request, claiming absolute sovereign immunity. Under Article 248 of Pakistan’s Constitution, a sitting head of state is immune from criminal prosecution. Though President Nixon did not enjoy the same constitutional guarantee of immunity, the U.S. Supreme Court had granted sovereign immunity to Presidents so long as they acted within the scope of their job in good faith. The only way to punish the wrongdoing of a President, either in Pakistan or the U.S., is through impeachment by the legislative branch.

Anticipating the sovereign immunity defense, the Pakistani Supreme Court cited to U.S. v. Nixon in its Memogate order, because, in that case, the U.S. court rejected President Nixon’s blanket claim of immunity. However, it is important to note that the U.S. Supreme Court was not contemplating a criminal prosecution for President Nixon. Prosecutors had already determined that Nixon would enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution while sitting as president, but they were continuing with a case against his aides and required evidence from him. Nixon took the case to the Supreme Court, where he argued that absolute immunity protected him from being forced to produce evidence before the court, which the justices rejected.

In the end, Nixon capitulated to the court, but his resignation came in order to avoid impeachment by Congress, not because of a potential criminal prosecution. However, in Pakistan, it is not clear what the Supreme Court has envisioned for its end-game. The petitioners in the case have justified jurisdiction under Article 5 and 6, which speak to loyalty and treason. The question that must be asked: if the Supreme Court finds that Zardari is guilty of treason, what action can they take?

The American Supreme Court never considered deposing the president or putting him in jail for corruption, as the Constitution assigned this duty to the legislative branch. The same goes for Pakistan, where the Parliament enjoys the exclusive constitutional right to impeach the president, a power which the Supreme Court does not possess.

“Pakistan’s military has always been a looming shadow willing to stunt the growth of democratic governance and snatch up power.”Finally, the consequences of any destabilization of Pakistan’s civilian government are far graver than in America, even in the chaos of the 1970s. Unlike the U.S., Pakistan’s military has always been a looming shadow willing to stunt the growth of democratic governance and snatch up power. There is certainly no love-loss between Zardari’s Administration and the military, especially considering last weeks’ statements by Prime Minister Gilani rejecting the Army’s status as a “state within a state.” Therefore, while the chorus of disapproval for Zardari from political opponents and the Court resembles the sound of democracy, they are all playing the military’s tune. And the Army stands in the wings ready to enjoy the rewards of toppling another civilian government.

In the meanwhile, the United States has halted most of its aid to Pakistan, as trust for the nation is wearing thin from the White House to Capitol Hill. However, before turning a cold shoulder to the nation as a whole, it is imperative to note that it is not democratic institutions which control foreign policy in Pakistan, but the military. Most of what the U.S. bemoans about Pakistan being duplicitous or sabotaging American attempts to reconcile with the Taliban emanate as strategies from the military.

Political analysts have not found a common interest shared by the U.S. and Pakistan because they have failed to delineate the civilian from the military power structures. If one realizes that the U.S. and the civilian government are both being sabotaged by the military, then abandoning the nation completely as an ally seems impractical. It is through comparisons like Watergate and Memogate that one understands the benefit of a having democracy free from the will of an unelected army. But more importantly, it should bolster America’s resolve to contribute civilian aid to a government in crisis, not because it is the most capable or most transparent government in history, but because the other option has been tried before and is so much worse.

The writer holds a Juris Doctorate in the US and is a researcher on comparative law and international law issues.

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.

US Should Focus on Pakistan’s Civilian Leadership

Asif Zardari meeting with Barack Obama

This week’s visit to Pakistan by Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen and the resulting public statements about cooperation in the fight against militant groups along Pakistan’s Western border has once again highlighted the extent to which US-Pakistan relations continue to focus on military-to-military dialogue. While close military cooperation against extremist groups requires military-to-military dialogue, the US must be careful not to weaken the authority of Pakistan’s civilian government by ignoring Pakistan’s civilian leadership.

An essay by Aqil Shah in the May/June 2011 issue of Foreign Affairs, “Getting the Military Out of Pakistani Politics” makes a strong case that the US should make a concerted effort to further shift its negotiations with Pakistan from a military-to-military model to one that focuses on strengthening the authority of the civilian government.

Pakistan is unlikely to collapse, but the imbalance of power between its civilian and military branches needs to be addressed if it is to become a normal modern state that is capable of effectively governing its territory. For its part, the United States must resist using the generals as shortcuts to stability, demonstrate patience with Pakistan’s civilian authorities, and help them consolidate their hold on power.

Where too many analysts express frustration with a perceived slow pace of reforms being implemented Pakistan’s civilian government, Aqil Shah prescribes patience.

If the “third wave” of democratization in the 1970s and 1980s had any lesson, it is that democracy does not necessarily require natural-born democrats or a mythically selfless political leadership. In fact, a strong democratic system can mitigate the baser instincts of politicians. If anything, the experience of countries such as Chile, the Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand in the last few decades shows that the strength and quality of democracy may be linked to the stability of the party system. This is good news for Pakistan.

The author even takes the counterintuitive, but plausible position that the family dominance of Pakistan’s major political parties may actually be a positive.

It is true that Pakistan’s civilian politics is dominated by a few families, namely the Bhuttos, who control the PPP, and the Sharifs, who control the PML-N. In a perverse way, however, the hold of the Bhuttos and the Sharifs on their parties may be one of the main reasons that these parties have survived the military’s divide-and-rule repression and may consolidate democracy in the future.

While political parties should aspire to increased internal democratization, US analysts should consider the role powerful families have played in strengthening our own party system. Pakistan’s politics may be dominated by Bhuttos and Sharifs, but America too has seen its share of Adamses, Roosevelts, Kennedys, and Bushes and, arguably, grown stronger for them.

The notion that military interventions weaken the country’s democratic institutions has even been put forth by Pakistan’s famously adversarial judiciary. Recently, Pakistan’s Chief Justice addressed the long-term effects of military intervention on democratic development.

“When there are political crises, we have witnessed military intervention followed by military rule. Thus, there emerged a vicious circle of brief political dispensation followed by prolonged military rule. This state of affairs brought many setbacks and hampered the process of evolution of constitutionalism and democratic system of governance.”

In spite of the myriad obstacles thrown into Pakistan’s path to democratic modernization – coups, wars, poverty, natural disasters, and terrorism – the Pakistani people have consistently demanded to choose their own leaders and decide their own future. Though the democratically elected civilian government faces a number of challenges both internal and external, it remains resilient.

Today the government continues to work with opposition parties to strengthen the democratic process and address important issues by building coalitions across political parties and working towards consensus solutions. The US should encourage this resilience by acknowledging the centrality of Pakistan’s civilian government in its government-to-government negotiations and providing the space necessary for democratization to firmly take root.