In just a month and half, Pakistan has suffered four deadly Taliban attacks against Shia Muslims by Sunni Muslim extremists. But it is not just the Taliban that are trying to eliminate Shia from country. Local extremist groups like the Saudi-funded Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat openly advocate an anti-Shia ideology and are believed to be recruiting anti-Shia militants. With recent reports of an alliance between the Pakistani Taliban and the Islamic State group, the Shiite community could face even more bloodshed. (via France 24)
According to information contained in diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, several countries have been working behind the scenes to influence the direction of Pakistan by undermining the democratic government. While the nature of international diplomacy involves influence and persuasion, these nations have been carrying out covert programs intended to destabilize and, in one case, determine the government of Pakistan. The US must support the right of the Pakistani people to choose their own government, and use its international influence to convince other nations to do the same.
According to the leaked diplomatic cables, Pakistan’s then Director General of Military Operations, Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, presented evidence to members of Pakistan’s parliament that he had evidence Russia, India and the United Arab Emirates were directly involved providing support to Baloch separatist groups. Other cables reveal that these three countries are not the only ones attempting to interfere with Paksitan’s sovereignty.
Perhaps the most disturbing example is a cable that reveals that Saudi Arabia has attempted not only to influence the Pakistani government, but to overthrow it, the Saudi ambassador to the US, Adel al-Jubeir, saying in 2007 that “We in Saudi Arabia are not observers in Pakistan, we are participants.”
According to Guardian reporter Declan Walsh, the Saudi’s prime motivator appears to be ethnic and sectarian bias.
The anti-Zardari bias appears to have a sectarian tinge. Pakistan’s ambassador to Riyadh, Umar Khan Alisherzai, says the Saudis, who are Sunni, distrust Zardari, a Shia. Last year the United Arab Emirates’ foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, told Hillary Clinton that Saudi suspicions of Zardari’s Shia background were “creating Saudi concern of a Shia triangle in the region between Iran, the Maliki government in Iraq, and Pakistan under Zardari”.
Whatever the excuse, neither the Saudis nor anyone else but the Pakistanis themselves have a right to determine their government. This, of course, includes the United States ourselves. As a far more cooperative relationship between the US and Pakistan than is often thought.
Pakistani columnist Cyril Almeida writes that once you move beyond the rhetoric and “the myth of American influence in Pakistan,” the real issue is that Pakistan’s democratic government is new and fragile.
Various power centres with differing interests competing for power, some centres more powerful than others, but none so powerful as to always dictate the course of history — that, more than a great puppet master at home or abroad choreographing the dance of chaos, is what best describes power politics in Pakistan.
This is where the US can play an important role in protecting Pakistani sovereignty. The United States should use its influence to stop India, Russia, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and any other nation that attempts to influence Pakistan’s internal affairs. Pakistan is a sovereign, democratic nation and the people of Pakistan must be allowed to decide their own future without undue influence from foreign interests.
What the Pakistani government needs is not influence from the outside, it needs space to work and grow on its own. By using our influence in the global community to help provide that space, the US can help ensure the people of Pakistan are masters of their own fate. In the long run, doing so will protect not only Pakistan’s security, but our own.
Simon Tisdall is an intelligent journalist, so I was a bit surprised to read his analysis of the diplomatic cables made public by Wikileaks — an analysis that involves a rather simplistic misunderstanding of US-Pakistan relations for such a sophisticated observer.
According to Tisdall, US policy towards Pakistan is reminiscent of Imperial Britain during the Raj. Simon Tisdall should know better. Where the British exploited ethnic differences to maintain control over the population, the US has championed minority rights and supported democratic reforms. Where the British siphoned capital out of South Asia, the US has been investing heavily in the region. Most tellingly, the Obama administration has been vocally supportive of the democratically elected government – an obvious about-face from previous policies of supporting military dictatorships and a preference for a false sense of stability over democratic rule.