President Obama Emphasizes Importance of Relationship with Pakistan

President Obama has spent the past several weeks conceptualizing a strategic partnership with Pakistan.


Pakistan is being watched closely by the entire world, as the issues and concerns it faces affect the entire region and the world’s security. The government of Pakistan, with the full support of the people, is working to improve the quality of life for all Pakistanis while simultaneously confronting the extremism.


This fact has not gone unnoticed. In her recent visit, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed the incredible importance of having a sustained friendship with Pakistan, acknowledging that mistakes have been made in the past.


And as the newspapers today are reporting, President Obama wrote a two-page letter to President Zardari, delivered by National Security Advisor James Jones. According to the Washington Post, the letter assured President Zardari the US would remain committed to stability and security within Pakistan. It also detailed ways to improve economic and military relations.


This is another example of goodwill, and we must now do our part. Though we improve our country for our country’s sake, we must also be willing to acknowledge a friend’s assistance.

Pakistan and Geopolitical Reality

As we prepare for American President Barack Obama’s announcement about changes to the US policy in Afghanistan, Mr. Shaan Akbar, international businessman and analyst, wrote a must-read post on blog The Insider Brief about the geopolitical realities that Pakistan faces. While his post is sure to be controversial in some quarters, it certainly merits reading and discussion.

For the last several months, we’ve witnessed Pakistan tread down the path of implosion. The country finds itself in a recession and is relying once again on the IMF for budgetary support. The military campaign in South Waziristan may have merely displaced militants who continue to carry out retaliatory bombings and assassinations in Pakistan proper. The nation’s allies (even the Chinese) are growing increasingly weary with a nation that can’t get its affairs in order. Encirclement by regimes hostile to Pakistan grows closer to reality.

It’s a grim picture that, at first, reaffirmed for me the need for consensus among the country’s elite. At the Insider Brief, we have long called for a single cohesive and comprehensive agenda agreed to by the military, politicians, bureaucracy, business interests, and the media to undo the crisis in governance and set the country back on the path to socio-economic development.

However, the more I’ve thought about it, the more the problem presents itself as one that is rooted in perspective – Pakistan’s elite appear to be out of touch with geopolitical reality. After all, when the situation is so dire, why is the military-bureaucratic complex hacking away at the PPP-led government? Why does the media remain mired in conspiracy theories? Why are the country’s political parties locked in a cycle of political opportunism? The behavior isn’t rational.

The disconnect with reality appears to stem from two core flaws in the Pakistani perspective:

1. Failure to understand the limitation of national resources/capabilities.

  • Pakistan cannot go it alone. Pakistan’s geography makes the nation strategic, but its geography also acts as an inhibitor. Pakistan does not have the resources to achieve self-sufficiency; Pakistan must trade and seek external investment not just to flourish, but also to survive. That’s why it’s vital that Pakistan not alienate its key sponsors (the U.S., China, Saudi Arabia, etc.) or its regional neighbors (Iran, Afghanistan, etc.).
    • The Kerry-Lugar Bill: When the U.S. tripled non-military aid to Pakistan through the Kerry-Lugar Bill, the Pakistani military did exactly what it shouldn’t have done – it voiced massive opposition to the bill and alienated the U.S. The military’s opposition is rooted in language tying the aid to civilian control over the military. The military blames President Asif Zardari for the wording and is out for blood. (Zardari’s handover of command of the National Command Authority to the Prime Minister was a means of trying to alleviate pressure from the military on his office.) Being the single most powerful institution in Pakistan and after governing the Pakistan for over half its existence, the Pakistani military must be acting out of sheer pride if it feels that the wording in the Kerry-Lugar Bill will undermine its pre-eminent status in Pakistan overnight. (People who sought to have that wording placed in the Kerry-Lugar Bill should have also taken this rationale into account. It was a tactical misstep to think that conditional U.S. aid would work to strengthen democratic institutions in Pakistan. The best way to strengthen democracy is to garner overwhelming public support through capable leadership and socio-economic progress.)
  • Pakistan cannot seek parity with India – military or otherwise. Since its inception, Pakistan has viewed itself as a strategic equal of India – and to disastrous ends. India is far too large and developing at far too quick a pace for Pakistan to be its peer. Though it has far to go, India is on the road to becoming a global power. Pakistan is a regional power at best. Militarily, Pakistan has achieved a minimum deterrence through its nuclear capability. It should reduce the size of its standing military and focus on becoming smaller, more mobile, and technologically advanced. Rely on force multipliers and redirect funds towards development.
  • Pakistan cannot win Kashmir from India. Three wars over the disputed state (Kargil included) have demonstrated that Pakistan cannot wrest Kashmir from India’s control – India’s military is far too superior in terms of quality and quantity. The best Pakistan can hope for is recognition of the status quo or a Musharrafian solution (joint governance of Kashmir). Again, focus on effectively governing existing Pakistani territory and create a model that demonstrates why Kashmir is better in Pakistani hands.

2. Failure to understand that the state’s actions have consequences.

  • Militant groups, sponsored by Pakistan’s military, have turned on the state. These militant groups are no longer national security assets to leverage against India or to attain “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. They are not the product of a conspiracy hatched by any combination of Indians, Israelis or Americans. The only conspirators here are those who nurtured these groups and now do not want to shoulder the responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of innocent Pakistani civilians.
  • Ineffective and inequitable governance results in a loss of sovereignty. Poor and inequitable governance spawned an insurgency in East Pakistan, providing India the opening for the 1971 war and Pakistan’s subsequent dismemberment. Once again, poor and inequitable governance has spawned not one, but two insurgencies in Pakistan’s west (i.e., Balochistan and the NWFP/FATA).
  • Irresponsible behavior with nuclear technology is the biggest threat to your arsenal. Many Pakistanis believe that the U.S. is out to denuclearize Pakistan. The Pakistani government views it as unfair that the Indians have a civil nuclear deal with the U.S. and it doesn’t. However, none of this should come as a surprise after Pakistan, through Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, proliferated nuclear technology to the likes of Libya, North Korea, and Iran. Pakistan must demonstrate responsibility and maturity in handling its nuclear capability if it wants cooperation from western powers.

The greater question then becomes: how do we go about changing mindsets? How do we go about awakening a nation from its daze?

The answer? We talk about it.

Educate. Encourage mature discourse. Repeat (as many times as necessary).

Zardari: 17th Amendment Will Be Repealed In December

Continuing to work towards his promises of increasing democracy, President Zardari stated that the 17th Amendment will be repealed in December, reports Dawn.

President Asif Ali Zardari has said the 17th Amendment will be repealed next month. ‘We always wanted to do away with the 17th Amendment, but we wanted to do it through a unanimous decision because the 1973 Constitution was also approved unanimously,’ the president said in an interview with a private TV channel.

This announcement comes on the heels of Zardari’s transfer of nuclear powers to Prime Minister Gilani, and demonstrates significant steps towards eliminating the concentration of powers under Musharraf, and improving democracy in the government.

President divests himself of powers of Chairman NCA

ISLAMABAD, Nov 27 (APP): President Asif Ali Zardari Friday night divested himself of the powers of Chairman National Command Authority and transferred the powers of Chairman to the elected Prime Minister. The shedding of powers of Chairman National Command Authority was effected through re-promulgation of National Command Authority Ordinance, 2009 and amending it also, Spokesperson to the President former Senator Farhatullah Babar said in a statement today.

He said that the National Command Authority Ordinance, 2009 is among the Ordinances that were promulgated before November 03, 2007 and which had to be placed before the Parliament within 120 days with effect from 31.7.2009 in accordance with the Supreme Court Judgment of that date.

He said that President on Friday night also re-promulgated 27 other Ordinances which were promulgated before November 3, 2007 and which had to be placed before the Parliament within 120 days w.e.f 31.7.2009.

The other Ordinances re-promulgated tonight included among others the Competition Ordinance, 2009, The Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority Ordinance 2009, Federal Public Service Commission (Amendment) Ordinance, 2009, Trade Originations Ordinance, 2009 and the Defence Housing Authority Islamabad Ordinance, 2009, he said. 

The Ordinances were re-promulgated on the advice of the Prime Minister as the bills could not got passed from both the Houses within the deadline i.e. November 28, 2009 set by the Supreme Court, he said. 

He said that according to the re-promulgated Ordinance the Prime Minister will be the Chairman of the National Command Authority instead of the President as before.

Other members of the Authority include Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister for Defence, Minister for Finance, Minister for Interior, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Naval Staff and Chief of Air Staff, he said. 

Transferring of Chairmanship of National Command Authority to the Prime Minister is a giant leap forward to empower the elected Parliament and the Prime Minister, he said.

He said in the original Ordinance, the then President had made himself the Chairman of NCA

Farhatullah Babar said that the President had already urged the Parliament twice in his address to the Joint Session to rid the Constitution of all anti democracy clauses with a view to making it truly federal and parliamentary in character.

After his address to the Parliament the President also addressed a letter to the Prime Minister urging him to speed up the process of Constitutional Reforms through the Parliament in accordance with the commitment made by him and the party.

A Parliamentary Committee has already been set up under the Chairmanship of PPP Senator Mian Raza Rabbani which is undertaking the task of democratizing the constitution in consultation with all political parties, he said. 

Farhatullah Babar also recalled that the President in his public address to the party workers in Karachi had reiterated commitment to restore the 1973 Constitution and hoped that the task will be completed soon. 

He said that after the amendment in National Command Authority Ordinance all powers and functions shall rest with the National Command Authority on whose behalf the Prime Minister will exercise these powers and functions. 

Farhatullah Babar said that President is also keenly awaiting for reforms in the Constitution through the Constitution Committee and the Parliament to make it truly democratic and vesting powers in the Parliament.

Military and Civilian Domains Should Stay Separate

Recently, well known columnist Kamran Shafi (incidentally, not a PPP supporter) suggested in Dawn that the ISI have a civilian head. As evidence, Mr. Shafi points out that the world’s most powerful intelligence agencies are all civilian run. Also, though, there was the notion that democratic countries are headed by civilian, not military leaders. A strong national defense is vital to protecting a democracy, but the final rule must lie with the people. Now, another well respected columnist and government critic writes that there is a growing involvement of military in traditionally civilian domains.

On Tuesday, a front-page headline in Dawn proclaimed: ‘Intelligence agencies looking into oil, gas deals’. The accompanying article goes on to report: ‘According to sources, a team of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) has collected record of the proposed transactions and interviewed the managing director of the Pakistan State Oil (PSO) and some senior officials of the petroleum ministry.’

Who authorised agencies run by the military to investigate commercial affairs? To whom is the ISI/MI team going to present its findings? To what purpose will the findings be applied? None of these questions have appeared to worry many here.

Fixated as the media and the public are on the corruption allegations that are churning the political waters at the moment, it seems to matter little who is probing corruption and why — just as long as someone is, there’s hope that the ‘dirty’ politicians can be drained from the swamp. It’s a simple, visceral reaction in a messy place where there are few good options: corruption, bad; those fighting corruption, good.

But bad as corruption may be, the revelation of the ISI/MI probe is, or ought to be, equally, if not more, unsettling. It is yet another piece of evidence that the transition to democracy, already shaky because of the political sins of the politicians, is headed in the wrong direction, and that the military is perhaps quietly working to nudge it in that wrong direction.

Vital to our national defense is a strong military, but also an independent civilian government that can work to secure strong diplomatic ties with other nations. Just as it would be inefficient for the military to run the business sector, so it would harm our national interests to move away from a civilian democracy that represents the people back towards military dictatorship.

By strengthening both domains and building the bonds that help them work together, Paksitan will be stronger and more resilient in these troublesome times. By cutting off one leg, though, we will only topple ourselves.