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Complexities of Pak-US relations —Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi

askariAs long as the political circles in both countries recognise that some differences in policy orientation and implementation are natural and they can cooperate on the basis of the shared agenda while respecting their differences, there are prospects for a stable and mutually rewarding relationship

Foreign policy making and implementation is a complex process, inextricably linked with political competition and bargaining among the key political interests in the domestic context. The overall foreign policy profile of a country is influenced greatly by its internal strengths and weaknesses, especially the nature of consensus among the key political players and the economic conditions.

At times, foreign policy is shaped more by immediate domestic contestation rather than a dispassionate analysis of international realities. Similarly, global and regional dynamics may restrict the policy options of a state for addressing a number of domestic issues and mould domestic and security priorities.

Periodic strains in the Pakistan-US relations, especially the controversy on the Enhanced Partnership Act 2009 (Kerry-Lugar Act), reflect the divergent interests and worldviews of key domestic players in the two countries. This disharmony appears to have made them somewhat ignorant of each other’s political sensitivities.

The negative reaction to the Enhanced Partnership Act was caused mainly because some of its provisions have gone into unnecessary details in total disregard to Pakistan’s internal political sensitivities. One can argue that most conditions for certification for military assistance and monitoring for economic assistance were applicable to the US assistance to Pakistan in the past. For example, the US has been demanding direct access to Dr AQ Khan since 2003 but Pakistan has rejected these demands and will continue to do so in the future.

However, there is a major difference between the Enhanced Partnership Act and earlier arrangements for US economic and military assistance to Pakistan. No previous arrangements went into the minute details of how the US should evaluate the conduct of important institutions of the Pakistani state regarding terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation and civilian primacy. Though none of these formulations are binding on Pakistan, these provided good ammunition to the opposition in Pakistan to target the government. The Islamist and ultra-nationalists who are opposed to closer Pakistan-U.S. relations described the Act as an insult to Pakistan. This provided them with an easy handle to further stir anti-US sentiments.

On top of all this, the army high command issued a public statement, taking strong exception to the contentious provisions of the Act, ostensibly to put their weight on the side of those who opposed the Act. This encouraged political leaders, especially those of the PMLN, to take a tough position.

While drafting the Act, the US administration did not appear to pay attention to the implications of the language of the contentious provisions for Pakistan’s domestic politics, which continues to be polarised on the US role in the region, the war on terrorism, the military’s political clout and the faltering credibility the PPP-led coalition government.

Pakistani diplomats and the political leaders interacting with the US administration were divorced from political realities and did not visualise the implications of these provisions. They were also oblivious to the fact that the opposition parties and groups were looking for an opportunity to take on the government in order to weaken it and force mid-term elections.

The disclosure of the details of the Act synchronised with the controversies in Pakistan about the stepped up presence of US marines and private security personnel in Islamabad and Peshawar. This was in addition to the reports about the plans for the expansion of the US embassy and the renting of over 200 houses in Islamabad. The ministries of interior and foreign affairs could not address these issues, generating rumours about the purpose of increased US presence in Pakistan.

This political environment was bound to make it easy for the opposition to interpret the Act as yet another attempt to overwhelm Pakistan. The negative public response to these issues was a major embarrassment to the government in the domestic context as well as in its interaction with the US.

The army high command viewed this as a deliberate attempt by Pakistan’s presidency to embarrass the military and the intelligence agencies through the insertion of certification and monitoring clauses. They were especially disturbed by section 203(15) which suggested monitoring of their internal organisational affairs.

Traditionally, the military has always objected to civilian interference in their organisational affairs, including promotions and posting and disbursement of defence expenditure. They thought that Pakistan’s president and his allies were attempting to use the US backdoor to interfere with the military’s affairs.

The PMLN launched a major political offensive against the Act, describing it as an attempt to turn Pakistan into a US colony. This posture was meant to cash on widespread anti-US sentiments in Pakistan in order to pursue their domestic agenda of undermining the credibility of the government and forcing mid-term elections.

If Pakistan’s domestic political dynamics was the major factor determining the response of the political forces to the Act, US domestic politics and concerns have played an important role in shaping the contents of the Act.

In the US, most people associated with official military and civilian circles, think tanks and media express mixed views about Pakistan’s role in combating terrorism, viewing Pakistan both as a key to the solution and a part of the problem as well. They do not appear to be convinced that various Pakistani state institutions, especially the intelligence agencies, are fully committed to eliminating terrorist groups altogether. It is a common practice to talk of some “rogue” elements in Pakistan’s security and intelligence agencies supporting some selected terrorists groups.

They have repeatedly talked of parts of the tribal areas as being a refuge for some Al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban leaders and activists. Other reasons for distrust pertain to alleged diversion of military and economic assistance from the designated purposes to other unspecified goals. The reimbursements from the Coalition Support Fund to the Pakistan government have been a major issue in the US with reference to non-transparency in their utilisation.

These concerns have led the US administration, and especially the Congress, to enforce more elaborate stipulations for aid utilisation and monitoring of institutions that matter for counter-terrorism. They were so occupied with their perception of Pakistan’s role in countering terrorism that they did not recognise the sensitivities of Pakistan’s politics and society on these issues. Consequently, their decision to go for a detailed checklist for certification and monitoring has created additional problems in Pakistan-US relations and threatened Pakistan’s internal stability.

The recent visit of Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, to Islamabad and Lahore was a successful ‘damage control’ exercise after the fiasco caused by the contentious and non-diplomatic formulation of some provisions of the Act. Her down-to-earth engagement with various groups is expected to help reduce the current anxieties about the US agenda for Pakistan. Much depends how far and how quickly the committed assistance for social and economic development helps to improve the quality of life for ordinary people. Some opposition by the PMLN and the Islamists would continue because it relates to the current exigencies of Pakistan’s domestic politics.

As long as the political circles in both countries recognise that some differences in policy orientation and implementation are natural and they can cooperate on the basis of the shared agenda while respecting their differences, there are prospects for a stable and mutually rewarding relationship between Pakistan and the US.

Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst

Article published I Daily Times, reproduced by permission of DT.\11\01\story_1-11-2009_pg3_2

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