Our Washington Problem

Sartaj Aziz John Kerry
After months and years of negotiating, the verdict is in. America will sell us more F-16s, but they won’t just give them to us. Earlier this year, the American Congress considered blocking the sale completely. When this was defeated, our Ambassador to the US Jalil Abbas Jilani praised the US congress and said the vote was a “demonstration of strength of Pak-U.S relationship”. America will sell us the planes, however they are now saying that they will not help to fund the sale as it was expected. This has once again reversed the earlier good feelings and now Sartaj Aziz has declared that “Pakistan will buy F-16s from some other country if funding [from US] is not arranged”.
This issue is being discussed from the familiar views about American betrayal and Pakistani utility in a purely transactional relationship. But the one problem that is not being discussed is the rapid decline in our ability to negotiate with the Americans.
First let us look at the recent past.
F-16 2009
In 2009, America held a rolling out ceremony for F-16s being delivered to Pakistan. Present at the ceremony was our own former Ambassador Husain Haqqani. Today we find Khawaja Asif accusing Haqqani of lobbying against a F-16 sale, but the question hasn’t been asked whether Haqqani has even been enrolled to lobby for our side, or at least to advise on how to improve relations with the American Congress.
Instead, what we see are increasingly strong media statements from Tariq Fatemi and Sartaj Aziz talking tough about F-16s that help heal our wounded pride, but they do nothing to actually help our cause. We seem to have become so obsessed with the success of Gen Bajwa-era information operations that we have forgotten that PR is only one
Today we badly misread American politics and find ourselves crowing about being beaten by Indian lobby at every stage, blaming our own former ambassador instead of enrolling him to help make our case, and even firing our own lobbyists. We thought that our role in Afghanistan would be enough to make us indispensable, or maybe we thought that Gen Raheel would charm the Americans like he charmed us…but it didn’t work…and we had no ‘Plan B’.
The first step to recovering is not actually to hire our own lobbyists, but to face the fact that we have a policy problem, not a PR problem. We need to stop blaming everything as anti-Pakistan conspiracy and start understanding how the rest of the world sees us and why. Instead of only thinking of new ways to make our case, we also need to rethink why our case stopped convincing anyone.

Responding to Rohrabacher

dana rohrabacher

American Congressman Dana Rohrabacher sent sparks flying when he touched the live wire of Balochistan by tabling a bill in the US Congress supporting Baloch separatism. The entire government displayed a showing of unity by responding strongly to the tabling of a bill in the US Congress supporting Balochistan separatists. PM Gilani slammed the bill, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar termed it a violation of UN charter, and the Embassy in Washington issued a strongly worded statement. By responding strongly, is the government turning a blind eye to the situation in Balochistan? Actually, I think it might not be the government that is acting blindly.

Some have questioned whether the government should have responded so strongly when clearly there are problems in Balochistan that need to be addressed. But let me offer another way of looking at it – the government has to respond to the perception of American interference if the issues of Baloch rights can be properly addressed.

Pakistan is not a monolithic country. Just as we have a diversity of languages, ethnicities and religions, we also have a very diverse political makeup. While some are complaining that the government has responded too harshly, there are others who think that the only way to deal with Balochistan is to pretend like there are no legitimate complaints and that it is all part of a Hindu-Zionist conspiracy to destabilise the country and therefore should be dealt with through sheer force and intimidation. This is the same attitude that pushed the Bengalis past the point of no return in 1971, and it is a mistake that should not be repeated.

If the issues of Baloch rights is going to be settled properly and senseless bloodshed finally ended, it will have to be done through the democratic political process. In order for that to happen, parliamentarians and government officials must have the political space required to enact necessary reforms. Dana Rohrabacher reduced that space and in doing so actually hurt the cause for justice in Balochistan.

We don’t live in the world as we might wish it to be, we live in the world as it is. And in the wold as it is, actions of the US are seen as very suspect. This goes back to the 1953 CIA sponsored coup in Iran that overthrew a democratic government and has been reinforced by American foreign policy mistakes many times since. That isn’t anti-Americanism, it’s history. There’s a lot of good that America has done, too – so just as we should not be reduced to our own policy mistakes, neither should the Americans.

But in the world as it is, it is also a fact of life that when an American Congressman tables a resolution supporting Baloch separatism, many very loud and influential voices will point to this as evidence of a foreign conspiracy to break up Pakistan. They will use it to marginalise legitimate Baloch leaders and to dismiss legitimate complaints. The iron fist will be hardened, and the political space required for a political solution will shrink.

And it’s not only Pakistani politics that should be considered here.

Is Dana Rohrabacher really unable to sleep because of the situation in Balochistan? Maybe. Watching the hearing online, though, I couldn’t help but notice that the Congressman didn’t even know how to pronounce the name of the province that he was so concerned about. I also noticed that much of the conversation centered not on actual Baloch rights, but whether this was a good excuse to cut all aid to Pakistan.

With our own political circus in fine form, it is easy to forget that other countries also play politics for a domestic gallery also. I have been informed that Mr Rohrabacher is not being challenged for his seat and that the Congressman Brad Sherman is a Democrat, therefore they cannot be playing politics. But this is silly. As a Republican, Rohrabacher is going to want to make President Obama look like he is not being hard enough on Pakistan. As a Democrat, Brad Sherman is going to want to act tough against Pakistan.

Of course, maybe the Congressmen have heard about atrocities in Balochistan (there’s no denying that there have been some) and were troubled by what they heard. Again, given the benefit of doubt that the Congressmen are truly troubled by the situation in Balochistan (as we all are) we have to ask how this bill could possibly serve to advance Baloch rights. As I have shown, it actually does the opposite.

Dana Rohrabacher can table as many bills in the US Congress as he wants to, but they will not pave a path to peace and justice in Balochistan. That path only exists in Majlis-e-Shura, and in order to move down that path, the elected representatives of the people must have the political space to enact reforms. Unfortunately, thanks to Dana Rohrabacher, that space just got smaller.

US Congress Requests Revoking Visas For Qadri Supporters

In a letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday four American Members of Congress requested the US government to revoke visas to anyone supporting Mumtaz Qadri.

A copy of the letter which has been received by email terms the assassination of Salmaan Taseer “an unspeakable tragedy” and “heinous crime”.

We have now become aware that some of the most prominent clerics, journalists and lawyers who have praised Taseer’s death and have demonstrated support of his murderer, are people who frequently travel to the United States and hold American visas. We urge you to identify those Pakistani citizens that have shown demonstrable support of the assassination of Governor Taseer. We further request that visas not be issued to such people and that applications for new visas from those who have endorsed this heinous crime be denied.

The letter states that “it is imperative that we show our dedication to peace and not further violence” and requests the US State Department to increase diplomatic efforts and investment to support growth of democracy and tolerance in Pakistan.

The letter is signed by two Republicans and two Democrats in the US Congress: Steve Israel, Gary Ackerman, Peter King and Michael McCaul.