Tag Archives: Washington Post

Rep. Todd Young: A trade-based strategy with Pakistan

Regarding Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s Oct. 2 op-ed, “Talk to, not at, Pakistan”:

Rep. Todd Young (R–Ind.)A bipartisan group in Congress would readily lend its support to a trade-based, rather than aid-based, Afghanistan-Pakistan economic strategy. Such a plan should explain how Afghanistan and Pakistan can develop the homegrown financial wherewithal to support themselves, and fend off violent extremists, with minimal American financial assistance. This might take the form of a bold effort such as the negotiation of free-trade agreements with Afghanistan and Pakistan, combined with a diplomatic offensive aimed at increasing trade between the two countries and India. Alternatively, the United States might advance a more modest approach, such as establishing the so-called Reconstruction Opportunity Zones mentioned by Mr. Zardari, which have been debated in recent Congresses.

Potential benefits to the United States include a reduced aid burden; a check on corrupt aid distribution; job creation to reduce recruitment of violent extremists and illegal poppy production; and enhanced credibility for civil authorities at the expense of Pakistani military leaders, the latter having demonstrated a penchant for giving aid and comfort to our enemies.

Todd Young, Washington

The writer, a Republican from Indiana, is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. This letter appeared in yesterday’s Washington Post.

Time For A New Approach to US-Pakistan Relations

Zalmay Khalilzad

A response to Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad’s op-ed in The Washington Post

US-Pakistan relations may not be broken, but they’re certainly strained. Events in recent months have reinforced fears on both sides, and leaders in both countries are under increasing pressure from their respective publics to abandon each other. It’s clear that a new approach to US-Pakistan relations is needed. Unfortunately, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad’s op-ed in The Washington Post reflects a mindset steeped in past thinking, and his recommendations represent an old and dis-proven approach

What drives Pakistan?

Amb. Khalilzad offers two theories for why Pakistan’s military might support militant groups: Either they are trying to prolong the Afghan war in order to extort US aid, or they are trying to conquer Central Asia. This represents not only a false dilemma, but a fundamentally silly one.

The Kerry-Lugar-Burman bill (KLB) provides for $1.5 billion in economic aid annually for five years. While this aid is valuable, it represents about 0.3 percent of the nation’s GDP. Moreover, in the first year of KLB, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that only $179.5 million was actually disbursed. Even if it were possible to buy Pakistan’s cooperation, this amount of foreign aid is simply insufficient to do so.

The alternate theory offered – that Islamabad has a secret “ambitious plan to consolidate regional hegemony in Central Asia” – is equally nonsensical. With China and India sitting on its doorstep, Pakistan’s strategic priority is not to expand its influence across Asia, it’s to defend its own sovereignty. If Pakistan seeks influence in Kabul, it is not as a means of expanding its influence to Tashkent, it’s as as means of preserving it’s control of Lahore which sits precariously on the border with India.

So why might some in Pakistan’s military support the Afghan Taliban and militant groups like the Haqqani network? The same reason that they – and the US – supported these groups in the 1980s: they keep other people out. During the Cold War, the US supported the Taliban as a way of fighting Soviet influence in Kabul. Similarly, some security strategists in Pakistan today see the Taliban as a way of fighting Indian influence and preventing the nation from being boxed in by hostile neighbors.

What drives Pakistan is neither banditry nor ambition – it’s a basic desire for self-preservation. While some individuals in Pakistan may have ideological or religious affinity for the Taliban, this does not represent an official position any more than the existence of radicals in the US represent any official positions on the part of the US.

This is why it is disappointing that Amb. Khalilzad continually references “Pakistani support” for militant groups. By suggesting there is some state policy in support of these groups, the Ambassador ignores the incredible sacrifices that Pakistanis have made in the fight against militancy and extremism including the lives of over 35,000 Pakistani citizens.

Carrots and Sticks, re-revisited

Ambassador Khalilzad proposes using aid along with the promise to facilitate trilateral talks between Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India. In other words, what we’re already doing. But if these carrots are not sufficient to change Pakistan’s strategic outlook now, why would they be tomorrow?

The fact is that Pakistan seeks to reduce its reliance on aid, not prolong or deepen its dependency on foreign donors. We know this because it has been stated repeatedly by Pakistan’s President, Asif Zardari, as well as Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani.

And the the Government of Pakistan has been doing more than just talking about improving its domestic economy. Pakistan announced this week that it has beat tax collection targets, bringing its tax-to-GDP ration to 9.2 percent, up from 8.9 percent a year ago. This demonstrates that the Government of Pakistan is making serious efforts to get its books in order, despite significant political obstacles – something Washington may want to eye with more sympathy as American lawmakers struggle to create consensus on their own economic policy.

Rather than continuing attempts to use economic and military aid as leverage, the US would be better advised to listen to Pakistan’s leadership and seriously discuss the possibility of improved trade deals such as Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZ), lower textile tariffs, and investment in energy production and delivery to improve capacity in Pakistan’s domestic industry.

Similarly, the “sticks” proposed by Amb. Khalilzad amount to little more than cutting aid to Pakistan – a strategy that will only further entrench anti-democratic forces in Pakistan and reinforce suspicions that the US is a less reliable ally than Taliban militants. Again, we don’t have to assume this to be the case. We can look to the outcome of America’s policy of disengagement in the 1990s as a response to Pakistan’s nuclear program – a nuclearized Pakistan suspicious of US motives and interests.

Strengthening Civil Society

Despite his other errors, Amb. Khalilzad gets one thing right: “Ultimately, only the Pakistani people and a new generation of civilian leadership can rein in the country’s military leaders.” Whatever US interests in South Asia, the future of Pakistan will be defined by Pakistanis themselves. If the US wants to see a free and prosperous Pakistan, the only way forward is to invest in the success of Pakistan’s civil society.

That means dealing with the civilian political leadership, even when it might seem more efficient to deal directly with the military; it means focusing aid and investment on sustainable ways of improving the lives of ordinary Pakistanis; and it means listening to Pakistanis about their own priorities, rather than trying to convince them to prioritize American interests. Above all, if we are going to see a peaceful and stable Pakistan, the US must move beyond the strategies of the past and engage Pakistan as a partner, not a patron.

Speculation, Not Facts, Are Driving Discussion of Pakistani Support

The day after Osama bin Laden was killed by US special forces, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrote that, “One of the mysteries is whether the Pakistani government knew all along who was hiding in Abbottabad.” Since President Obama addresses the nation about the success of the mission, this question has been a constant in media discussions – Was Pakistan providing support to Osama bin Laden? The question’s persistence, however, is supported by speculation, not facts.

National Security Advisor Tom Donilon was clear last Sunday that there is no evidence of Pakistani support for Osama bin Laden.

“I’ve not seen any evidence – at least to date – that the political, military or intelligence leadership of Pakistan knew about Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad, Pakistan,” Donilon said in an interview aired Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

An assertion David Ignatius brushes aside as “not quite the same as saying for certain that the Pakistanis didn’t know.” Without any evidence of Pakistani complicity, the Washington Post columnist rhetorically asks the NSA Donilon to prove a negative.

A week later, there is still no evidence of official Pakistani support for bin Laden, but David Ignatius is once again suggesting as much.

And what happens next, as the U.S. begins to exploit the “treasure trove” of information found in bin Laden’s compound? Among other things, that cache may reveal what, if anything, Pakistani officials knew, and when they knew it.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Mr. Ignatius’s latest column bears that titillating headline, “The Plot Thickens In Pakistan.” Georgetown University Professor and South Asia Expert Christine Fair says reporting on Pakistan’s role has descended to the muck of tabloid journalism.

First and foremost, all accounts and statements attesting to Pakistan’s official facilitation of bin Laden’s tenure are irresponsibly speculative. The United States had been monitoring the compound since August 2010 and had even erected a CIA house to do so. If there is credible evidence of such facilitation, the U.S. government should say so. In the absence of evidence, conjecture is reckless. I spent last week in Islamabad interviewing journalists working on their stories—several of them outright confessed that they had nothing of substance and were running with sheer conjecture. Some relied upon dubious and tentative accounts from children playing near the house, milkmen and paperboys as well as night watchmen. As one journalist conceded, “the standards go down” in situations like this. Unfortunately, these sloppy articles will form the contemporary and historical understanding of this momentous event. But let’s be clear: this is not reportage; rather, it is the substance of tabloid.

As lawmakers consider US-Pakistan cooperation going forward, it is important that their decisions be informed by facts, not speculation. Suggestions of official Pakistani support for Osama bin Laden threaten to unnecessarily deepen distrust between the US and Pakistan. And that will serve no one’s interests.

President Zardari Asks for Help, Patience in Fighting Extremism

President Obama speaking with President Zardari

In Sunday’s Washington Post, Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari asks for help and patience as his government fights extremists.

We in Pakistan know our challenges and seek the trust and confidence of our international allies, who sometimes lose patience and pile pressure on those of us who are already on the front lines of what is undeniably a long war. Our concern that we avoid steps that inadvertently help the fanatics is misinterpreted abroad as inaction or even cowardice. Instead of understanding the perilous situation in which we find ourselves, some well-meaning critics tend to forget the distinction between courage and foolhardiness. We are fighting terrorists for the soul of Pakistan and have paid a heavy price. Our desire to confront and deal with the menace in a manner that is effective in our context should not become the basis for questioning our commitment or ignoring our sacrifices.

Additionally, the Pakistani president asks that American officials not make counterproductive threats to cut aid and support for civilian development – threats that feed into extremist narratives about American duplicity.

Similarly counterproductive are threats to apply sanctions to Pakistan over the Davis affair by cutting off Kerry-Lugar development funds that were designed to build infrastructure, strengthen education and create jobs. It is a threat, written out of the playbook of America’s enemies, whose only result will be to undermine U.S. strategic interests in South and Central Asia. In an incendiary environment, hot rhetoric and dysfunctional warnings can start fires that will be difficult to extinguish.

Right-wing pundits in Pakistan have been pointing to threats to cut aid as evidence that “Washington is not interested in any long-term relations with Pakistan.” President Zardai insists that the democratic civilian government “will not be intimidated, nor will we retreat.” He points to the fact that Pakistan has “lost more soldiers in the war against terrorism than all of NATO combined” as proof of this resolve.

While the US evaluates the most effective way to support people fighting for democratic reform in the Arab world, we should not forget those who have already won a their freedom. No doubt the community of dictators and would-be tyrants throughout the world are watching Pakistan to see if American resolve in supporting emerging democracies matches its words, or if ours is a fickle relationship with people yearning to be free.

The Pakistani people have made a tremendous sacrifice in the fight against intolerance and extremism. As they fight on the front lines against the forces of terror and militancy, they are asking for our help and patience. We owe them this much not as a client or proxy state, but as a fellow member of the brotherhood of free nations.

Who’s Vexing Whom?

Gen. Kayani and Adm. MullenThis morning’s Washington Post features a front page story by Karin Brulliard and Karen DeYoung that claims “US courts Pakistan’s top general, with little result.” While writing that Pakistan’s top military commander, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, is hesitant to follow American timelines for battling militant groups, however, the article actually explains that a key obstacle to progress in the fight is America’s inability to view the conflict through a broad historical lens.

The US has approximately 1.5 million active duty personnel – fewer than 100,000 of whom (about 6 percent) are stationed in Afghanistan. By comparison, Pakistan’s active duty personnel number around 617,000 – 140,000 of whom (23 percent) are on the Western border with Afghanistan. Either way you cut it, actual numbers of troops or percentage of total military force, the fact is the Pakistan military actually has more boots on the ground dedicated to fighting terrorist groups.

But the real concern is not that Pakistan is not doing enough, its that Pakistan’s military is not moving against groups in the remote areas of North Waziristan on the timeline preferred by some in the Pentagon.

As I explained last week, this could be addressed in part by giving Pakistan the resources it needs to carry out clear and hold operations against militant groups in the remote tribal areas – namely, helicopters. But the deeper issue is one of trust between the two countries, particularly around the question of America’s “end game” in the region. Pakistan needs to be not only assured but convinced that the US is a long-term ally.

In fact, this morning’s Washington Post article even says as much.

Like the influential military establishment he represents, he views Afghanistan on a timeline stretching far beyond the U.S. withdrawal, which is slated to begin this summer. While the Obama administration sees the insurgents as an enemy force to be defeated as quickly and directly as possible, Pakistan has long regarded them as useful proxies in protecting its western flank from inroads by India, its historical adversary.

“Kayani wants to talk about the end state in South Asia,” said one of several Obama administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the sensitive relationship. U.S. generals, the official said, “want to talk about the next drone attacks.”

As I’ve argued before, Pakistan will not be able to change its strategic calculus vis-a-vis Afghanistan until it feels secure against conventional aggression by India. The Pakistani brass see two possible outcomes that they want to avoid facing following an American withdrawal: Fighting militant groups alone or bordering an Afghanistan with a government under the influence of India, effectively leaving them encircled by a historic enemy.

Like any responsible national security team, Pakistan’s strategists must weigh these potential outcomes against the risks of driving historically unaligned militant groups together – a threat that is already materializing, and losing what influence remains with the groups.

For Pakistan’s national security interests to become fully aligned with American interests regarding militant groups in the region, the unacceptable outcomes identified above must be perceived as unrealistic enough to justify the risks. We know this because Gen. Kayani and the Pakistani leadership continue to tell us as much.

Here at home, domestic concern in about the ongoing fight in Afghanistan continues to center on the “end game.” The American people want to know what victory in Afghanistan will look like, and what how long we’ll be in the region. The Pakistanis do to. Until the US can answer that question, it will be vexing Gen. Kayani as much as he’s vexing us.

Helicopters for Pakistan

Apache Helicopters

On Monday I wrote that the answer to whether or not the US can trust Pakistan can be found in the answer to a related question: Can Pakistan trust the US? Like an iterated prisoner’s dilemma, each side is searching for an equilibrium of cooperation despite a past of defections. The Tuesday New York Times article speculating that the US wants to expand raids over the Pakistani border didn’t help matters, instead seeming to confirm Pakistani fears of American duplicity. While the US immediately rejected the Times report, the US needs to give more than verbal assurances to our Pakistani allies. We need to give helicopters.

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Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws Institutionalize Injustice

Pakistanis protest the country's blasphemy laws

The case of Asia Bibi has commentators in Pakistan’s media speaking out against the nation’s blasphemy laws, archaic leftovers from Gen. Zia-u-Haq’s dictatorship in the 1980s – a relic more of Zia’s strategy to secure his grip on power than any personal religious zeal.

While no legal execution has occured under these laws, dozens of individuals are sitting on death row, and over a thousand people have been convicted of violating these laws. Worse, the laws are often used to justify violent acts of vigilantism. The threat of accusation, conviction and death hangs over the heads of Pakistan’s religious minorities.

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Pakistan's Activist Media

Geo TV: "Entertainment, News, Infotainment"Americans are well familiar with accusations of political bias in media. It’s become a standard complaint among politicians and their supporters that the reporting by certain journalists and news agencies reflects a particular political agenda, rather than unbiased facts. But, as recent weeks have demonstrated, the American media has nothing on Pakistan when it comes to political activism.
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Greater Threat Than Floods: Pakistan's Judiciary?

The historic flooding that has ravaged Pakistan was considered for a brief period to be a grave threat to the country’s stability. Analysts were unsure if the young democratic government would be able to provide relief and reconstruction services enough to satisfy a panicking public. As the waters subsided, though, the civilian government demonstrated that it could work with the military and the international community to provide services to the people. Today, however, the government faces a possibly greater challenge: continued attacks from the nation’s judiciary.

Pakistan’s judiciary has been threatening to topple the democratically elected government in what many are calling a “coup by other means”. While unprecedented challenges to elected officials have been going on for some time, the courts appear to be determined to continue their attacks.

Since its December judgment striking down an amnesty that shielded President Asif Ali Zardari and other officials from old criminal allegations, the top court has pressed the government on corruption, in particular a dated money-laundering case against Zardari. The stakes have risen as repeated government delays have stoked frustration within the army and the political opposition. Another showdown is scheduled for Wednesday, when the court could hold the prime minister in contempt or indicate that it will reconsider Zardari’s presidential immunity from prosecution.

The standoff has cemented the Supreme Court’s position as a central player in Pakistan’s nascent democracy. But it has also highlighted questions about the solidity of that system.

The Army has largely stayed out of the affair, though as Ahmed Rashid writes for BBC, they would stand to gain the most should the courts succeed in overthrowing the government.

It would be a constitutional rather than a military coup, so that Western donors helping Pakistan with flood relief would not be unduly put off, but the army would gain even more influence if it were to happen.

The courts, for their part, are attacking the government from two flanks – the Supreme Court is threatening to disqualify President Asif Zardari more than two years since his election, and the Lahore High Court – headed by Chief Justice Khawaja Sharif, an ardent supporter of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) – has reinstated an old corruption conviction against Interior Minister Rehman Malik, despite his having been pardoned in May.

According to a growing number of voices in the legal community, the politicization of Pakistan’s courts is a growing problem that threatens the stability of the government and the legitimacy of the nation’s judiciary.

“This judge and the court have embarked upon politics,” said lawyer Khurram Latif Khosa, whose father, also a lawyer, advises Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani. “The lawyers who were chanting slogans in their favor are now burning effigies of their idols.”

Mr. Khosa is not alone in his analysis. His statement echoes the sentiments of Supreme Court advocate and human rights activist Asma Jahangir who wrote in December of last year:

While, the NRO can never be defended even on the plea of keeping the system intact, the Supreme Court judgment has wider political implications. It may not, in the long run, uproot corruption from Pakistan but will make the apex court highly controversial.

Witch-hunts, rather than the impartial administration of justice, will keep the public amused. The norms of justice will be judged by the level of humiliation meted out to the wrongdoers, rather than strengthening institutions capable of protecting the rights of the people.

There is no doubt that impunity for corruption and violence under the cover of politics and religion has demoralised the people, fragmented society and taken several lives. It needs to be addressed but through consistency, without applying different standards, and by scrupulously respecting the dichotomy of powers within statecraft. In this respect the fine lines of the judgment do not bode well.

The lawyers’ movement and indeed the judiciary itself has often lamented that the theory of separation of powers between the judiciary, the legislature and the executive has not been respected. The NRO judgment has disturbed the equilibrium by creating an imbalance in favour of the judiciary.

A few months later, Ms. Jahangir’s tone turned decidedly more dire.

People will soon witness a judicial dictatorship in the country if the judiciary continuously moves ahead in its present direction and then we would forget military and political dictatorships, HRCP chairperson Asma Jahangir said on Wednesday.

By April, even opposition politicians the PML-N were raising concerns that the courts were over-stepping their constitutional role to topple the government.

Raising concerns about the conspiracy, PML-N spokesman and senior leader Ahsan Iqbal has said that a third force wants a clash between the judiciary and parliament.

Iqbal did not name the third force precisely in the same fashion, as Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has repeatedly done in recent months, The News reports.

According to another PML-N leader, the Army is trying to pitch the judiciary against parliament and for this purpose it is using certain elements in the media.

Recently, Pakistan’s Chief Justice issued a statement condemning those who are speaking out against perceived judicial overreach.

Ironically, the Chief Justice who is leading this assault on the government, Iftikhar Chaudhry, was himself the victim of extra-constitutional removal by then President and Chief of Army Staff Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Justice Chaudhry was released from detention by Pakistan’s newly elected government in 2008, and reinstated to the Supreme Court in 2009.

Some believe that during the year between Justice Chaudhry’s release from detention and his reinstatement, the judge grew to resent the new government and has taken it upon himself to bring a myriad of legal challenges to its authority. In fact, many of the cases before the court were not brought by any individual or official agency, but were taken up “suo moto” – by the choosing of the Chief Justice, himself.

Regardless of what is motivating the incessant attacks by members of Pakistan’s judiciary, the right to decide the nation’s leadership rests solely with the people of Pakistan. Military generals, religious clerics, and judicial appointees all have a role to play in the success of the nation. But each must work within the bounds of the constitution and the democratic process. Whether led by the military, the Taliban, or an army in black robes, a coup is a coup – and any coup will be devastating to Pakistan’s future.

Pakistan's Senate Passes Historic 18th Amendment, Sends Democratization Bill to President

Pakistan's National Assembly

Following the National Assembly’s passage of the 18th Amendment package of constitutional reforms, Pakistan’s upper house Senate approved the measure this morning, sending it to President Zardari for ratification. This historic event is culmination of unprecedented cooperation and consensus between Pakistan’s political parties.

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