Tag Archives: Wall Street Journal

US, UK Leaders Call For Greater Support For Democratic Forces In Pakistan

 

Speaker Boehner

US and UK leaders are calling on their respective governments to expand engagement with Pakistan following the successful US mission against Osama bin Laden earlier this week. While media reports continue to create confusion about Pakistan’s role in the operation, top leaders are warning against rash decisions and calling for greater support for pro-democracy forces.

The Wall Street Journal reports today that Pakistan has been a crucial partner in the fight against terrorism, and that statements by Pakistani officials expressing concern about the US operation are intended to address domestic public opinion that is largely suspicious of American motives.

“Pakistan is a partner—a key partner—in the fight against al Qaeda and terrorism,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters. “They have been extremely helpful, and we look forward to cooperating in the future”

In private, a number of senior U.S. officials urged caution in casting blame on Pakistan’s government or President Asif Ali Zardari. “If multiple people at any level [knew], I think we would have found out by virtue of the amount of information gathering we do” in Pakistan, a senior U.S. official said. He suggested officials are going back to review their intelligence and see if they missed any signs.

In a joint statement Tuesday afternoon, U.S. and Pakistani militaries said the raid “underscores the importance of cooperation” in antiterrorism efforts. “Both sides affirmed their mutual commitment to their strong defense relations,” the statement said.

Pakistan’s rebuke of the raid appeared aimed at quieting mounting discontent among middle-class Pakistanis, many of whom are virulently anti-American, for what they have seen as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereign space.

Speaker Boehner expressed to reporters the importance of expanding cooperation with Pakistan.

Brushing aside much of the criticism heaped on the Pakistanis after the killing of Osama bin Laden, Boehner said Pakistan was a critical ally.

“We both benefit from having a strong bilateral relationship. This is not a time to back away from Pakistan,” Boehner said. “We need more engagement, not less.”

Speaker Boehner’s sentiments were also expressed by Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday.

“Pakistan’s political leadership…are staunch in the fight against extremism and terror, and they’ve done huge amounts in their own country to try and combat it.

“Pakistan has suffered more at the hands of terrorism than virtually any other country on Earth.

“It’s in our interests to back those democratic forces within Pakistan, and the stronger that democracy can be the more the whole country will work together to deal with terrorism.”

Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir revealed that Pakistan alerted the US to suspicions about the compound in Abbotabad in 2009. Osama bin Laden is believed to have been hiding there for several years before then, but that was under military dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf. It was not until the present government came to power that the compound was brought to the attention of the US.

As American and British leaders have clearly stated, now is the time to increase engagement with Pakistan, not turn it away. By strengthening democratic forces within Pakistan’s government and security services, the US can help provide the political space Pakistan needs to disentangle itself from the web of militant sympathizers that spread under the supervision of past dictators, protecting American and Pakistan’s shared interest in a safe, secure, and terror free world.

Is the WSJ being used as a proxy in internal Afghan debates?

Hamid Karzai, Barack Obama, and Asif Zardari

Matthew Rosenberg’s article in today’s Wall Street Journal claims that Pakistan is secretly urging the Karzai government in Afghanistan to sever ties with the US and change to a Chinese-Pakistani led alliance to secure the country. But reading the article, it quickly becomes apparent that the article more likely reflects a divide among Afghan officials who are using Pakistan as a foil and the US media as a proxy in internal debates.

According to Rosenberg, the source for this revelation is “Afghan officials.” If you read further, however, you’ll learn that Afghan officials have split into “pro- and anti-American factions at the presidential palace trying to sway” President Karzai. In fact, despite the claims of anonymous “Afghan officials,” Matthew Rosenberg quotes presidential spokesman Waheed Omar saying, “Pakistan would not make such demands.”

So what was said at the April 16th meeting between Pakistan and Afghan leaders? According to US officials, it was likely a discussion about how to proceed should the US pull out of the region – a legitimate security concern with target drawdown dates looming.

Some U.S. officials said they had heard details of the Kabul meeting, and presumed they were informed about Mr. Gilani’s entreaties in part, as one official put it, to “raise Afghanistan’s asking price” in the partnership talks. That asking price could include high levels of U.S. aid after 2014. The U.S. officials sought to play down the significance of the Pakistani proposal. Such overtures were to be expected at the start of any negotiations, they said; the idea of China taking a leading role in Afghanistan was fanciful at best, they noted.

Evaluated in the context of existing cooperation in the region, this read by US officials makes more sense than any suggestion that Pakistan is attempting to freeze the US out of Afghanistan. Reason notwithstanding, Wall Street Journal readers are likely to walk away with an unnecessarily sour feeling about the intentions of the Pakistani government. But is this fair?

Mr. Rosenberg’s sources – unnamed “Afghan officials” – are not even described as having been present for the conversations but simply “familiar with the meeting.” A spokesman for the president denies that Pakistan is pressuring Karzai to “to dump [the] U.S.” as the Wall Street Journal headline screams. And despite the Journal reporter’s rather hyperbolic claim that “no other party has been as direct, and as actively hostile to the planned U.S.-Afghan pact, as the Pakistanis,” such a characterization is belied by ongoing security cooperation between the two countries.

This is not to say that the US and Pakistan see eye-to-eye on everything. Each country has its own priorities for the region, and cooperation comes where those priorities overlap. Relations between Pakistan and the US have been described as tense over the past few months due to negotiations over the use of armed drones and interagency coordination on counterinsurgency operations. But negotiations over such operational details are standard in coalition forces, and Pakistan and the US continue to work together to protect shared security interests.

As an experienced South Asian correspondent, Matthew Rosenberg should recognize efforts to use his work as a proxy in internal government debates. Speaker John Boehner recently recognized Pakistan’s great sacrifice in the fight against militant extremists, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen praised cooperation between US and Pakistani troops working jointly against terrorist groups. The Wall Street Journal should not distort Pakistan’s record.

Quality of US Reporting on Pakistan is Lacking

The quality of US reporting on Pakistan is lacking. This is increasingly evident from the number of reports filed by respected, award-winning journalists at mainstream media outlets that end up proven inaccurate. While some of the confusion may be due to the generally complex nature of US-Pakistan relations,  producers and journalists need to re-examine their processes for vetting sources and confirming information before it is released. With the stakes as they are, we simply cannot afford to keep making mistakes.

TV CameraIn the most recent example, ABC News reporters Matthew Cole and Nick Schifrin reported yesterday that National Security Advisor Tom Donilon threatened to send Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani back to Islamabad if Raymond Davis is not released. This report was immediately denied by the Pakistani Ambassador via Twitter, “Read my tweet: No US official has conveyed any personal threats 2 me or spoken of escalating tensions.”

When ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper responded, “That’s not a denial,” the Pakistani Ambassador reiterated his denial: “This is: Read my tweets: No US official, incl the NSA, has conveyed any personal threats 2 me or spoken of extreme measures.”

What is curious about the report by Cole and Schifrin is that they didn’t seem to ask the Pakistani Ambassador who, as demonstrated by his Twitter feed, is quite accessible to journalists. Instead, they cited “two Pakistani officials involved in negotiations about Davis” and “a senior U.S. official, who was not authorized to speak on the record.”

Ambassador Haqqani noted that the Pakistani officials Cole and Schifrin spoke to could not have known what was said in the meeting with NSA Donilon as he was the only Pakistani present. As for the senior U.S. official who confirmed the report, we would be wise to remember that senior government officials have been known to feed high profile journalists statements designed not to inform, but to influence public opinion. Examples of this behavior were well documented in Bob Woodward’s most recent book, Obama’s Wars1.

Following the ABC News report, Pakistani English-language daily Dawn spoke with the US Embassy in Islamabad which described the ABC News report as “not true”, a position confirmed by an official press release from the Embassy early this morning which describes the story as “simply inaccurate.”

But ABC News is not the only major media outlet that’s come under fire for its reporting on Pakistan recently. We have observed in the past that The New York Times has occasionally published problematic coverage of Pakistan, and Pakistani blogger Syed Yahya Hussainy earlier this week criticized The New York Times for relying on the same individuals for comment on issues despite evidence that they may not be neutral observers.

Additionally, as we noted on Wednesday, news reports have suggested that tensions over the fate of Raymond Davis threatened trilateral meetings scheduled for later this month, but this assertion too has been denied by the US government.

Beale also said that there was no change of plan in President Asif Ali Zardari’s trip to the US, and nor was President Obama planning to cancel his trip to Pakistan. The spokesperson said that the US embassy and consulates will continue work as per usual in Pakistan.

We wrote on Wednesday that “Both nations’ needs deserve respect and attention, and the only path to a solution that satisfies both nations is open and constructive dialogue.” In order to facilitate such a dialogue, we need the press to cut through the rumor and speculation that clouds public perception about international relations.


1 See: Woodward, Bob. Obama’s Wars. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010. 157-159.