Last night, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s (R-Calif) amendment to cut funding for Pakistan was soundly defeated 84-335. As with Rohrabacher’s bill supporting the balkanization of Pakistan, though, it was unlikely that this proposal would go anywhere to begin with.
After Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan last year, House members contemplated a number of measures that would have cut aid to Pakistan. Two amendments proposing to cut aid to Pakistan were defeated, however, as lawmakers decided that cutting aid would be in neither country’s interests.
Still, Pakistan and its representatives in the US did not take it for granted that Rohrabacher’s amendment would meet the same fate. Pakistan’s Ambassador, Sherry Rehman, was seen working the Hill late Thursday, explaining Pakistan’s position to Members of Congress. After 8pm, the Pakistani Ambassador Tweeted that she had been working the Hill until the vote was assured.
Writing for the blog “emptywheel”, Jim White makes an astute observation:
“…the Pakistani government is not a monolith that always acts with all of its participants working together for the same outcome. Rather than supporting those within Pakistan who will advance US interests, Rohrabacher wants to punish all of Pakistan because of those who work against US interests.
Using aid as part of a “carrots and sticks” approach to Pakistan has failed in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. It’s a strategy that fails because it feeds anti-American narratives at the expense of moderate, democratic forces in civil society. US lawmakers recognize this, as was demonstrated by Sen. McCain’s acknowledgement earlier this week that “one of the gravest mistakes in recent history was the so-called Pressler Amendment” which cut off aid to Pakistan in the 1990s, resulting in the “trust deficit” that continues to plague US-Pakistan relations.
Officials from both countries will travel to Chicago this weekend to continue critical discussions around bilateral cooperation on issues of national security. The defeat of Rep. Rohrabacher’s amendment ensures that these discussions will not be burdened by the repetition of past mistakes.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R–Calif.) caused a diplomatic mess recently when he held a hearing about human rights in Balochistan and then introduced a bill supporting independence for the Pakistani province. While Balochistan is plagued with questions of serious human rights abuses, Rep. Rohrabacher’s actions are not an effective way of addressing these questions. The inappropriateness of his actions notwithstanding, though, Pakistan should not see Rohrabacher’s bill for more than it is. Just as the US should not treat the statements of a single Pakistani parliamentarian as indicative of national policy, Pakistan should not mistake the actions of one Congressman with official policy of the United States government.
Every year, Americans of varying political persuasions work themselves into a frenzy over one or another bill introduced in the House of Representatives that portends the end of our democracy. But whether it is a bill to allow children to carry guns or to forbid women from buying birth control, none of these bills ever has a chance of becoming law. A 2009 Sunlight Foundation report found that in any two-year session of Congress, only about 4 percent of introduced bills actually become law. This may seem like a failure of democracy, but it’s actually a function of it.
Each of the 535 members of Congress can propose any kind of bill they want. They don’t need consent or support from anyone – they just drop a piece of legislation in a box, called “the hopper,” and congressional workers assign it an official bill number and file it away with all the others bills. The only test a proposal has to pass before becoming a bill in Congress is the judgment of the individual member of Congress who introduced it.
In fact, the government issued a rare comment on Rep. Rohrabacher’s bill clarifying that it does not represent the official policy of the United States.
The United States respects the territorial integrity of Pakistan. Members of Congress introduce legislation on numerous foreign affairs topics and these bills do not in any way imply U.S. government endorsement of any particular policy. The Department of State does not typically comment on pending legislation, but it is not the policy of the Administration to support independence for Balochistan.
While the US and Pakistan are in the process of redefining the terms of bilateral relations, they don’t need unnecessary distractions. Though the US government has publicly distanced itself from Rep. Rohrabacher’s bill, it remains in the headlines of Pakistan’s media. Rep. Rohrabacher’s act has wasted the time of government officials in both countries, interfering with serious issues like improving trade. But let’s be realistic – the US is not going to support any policy that does not respect the territorial integrity of Pakistan.