Relations between the United States and Pakistan faced another hurdle recently with the November 3 declaration of a state of emergency in Pakistan. The political deterioration in Pakistan has U.S. policymakers and private citizens concerned over the United States’ relationship with the troubled country. President Bush perceives President Musharraf as a strong ally in fighting terrorist networks and thus has been hesitant to publicly denounce his crackdown on civil and political rights.
Musharraf’s recent resignation from the Army and announcement for parliamentary elections on January 8 may offer an opportunity for U.S. diplomacy and a return to democratic, civilian rule in Pakistan. At a Center for American Progress forum on Friday, November 30, Senior Fellow Lawrence Korb joined Sen. Tom Daschle, a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Center; Robert Grenier, former CIA Chief of Station at Islamabad; and Robert Hathaway, director of the Asia program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, to discuss the political situation in Pakistan, U.S. and Pakistani efforts to combat extremist elements in Pakistan, and the United States’ possible role in the region.
The state of emergency will end December 16, according to Musharraf. Musharraf has used the state of emergency to suspend Pakistan’s Constitution, detain leading opposition politicians, and jail thousands of protesting lawyers and human rights advocates since early November. Despite Musharraf’s claims that the state of emergency was necessary to battle extremists within Pakistan, Hathaway told forumn attendees that it became clear within a few days that the real target was civil society. Daschle added that without the legitimacy of a functioning Supreme Court and other institutional guarantees of civil liberties, there is doubt whether the upcoming elections will truly be able to restore democracy to the country.
“Everything has changed and there is no going back,” said Hathaway. He called Musharraf’s decision to fire a Supreme Court justice in March a turning point in the country’s history and a “monumental blunder.”
Musharraf has been largely weakened by his own actions, including his recent power grab. And now, as a civilian, he may soon lose a key source of support: the Army. Retired Army officers have called for the president to lift the state of emergency and vacate his post (he has now done the latter), signaling that similar dissent may be present within the active duty officers’ corps, said Hathaway.
Former players, such as previous Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, have been propelled into the international arena as both jockey for influence and a return to power. The Bush administration strongly prefers a deal between Bhutto and Musharraf. Yet public perception of a deal between the two has damaged Bhutto’s popularity by making her “Washington’s candidate” among a population that views the United States in a less-than-favorable light. Newly appointed Army Chief Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani represents a moderate and potential U.S. ally, though he too fears developing a largely pro-American reputation, said Hathaway.
Bhutto and Kiyani are considered leaders who will uphold a commitment to counterterrorism efforts by the Bush administration. Counterterrorism should be the main concern of the U.S. strategy in the country, said Grenier, noting that the U.S. Army has achieved significant success in capturing high-level Al Qaeda cadres and collaborating with U.S. intelligence. While efforts to extend a broad counterinsurgency operation in the rural northwest regions have been slow, Grenier believes this is understandable considering that the tribal areas are mainly populated by strongly religious Pashtun tribal people who are fundamentally hostile to the Pakistani state.
Counterterrorism efforts make Pakistan an important priority for U.S. foreign policy, according to Grenier. Many Al Qaeda forces and Afghan insurgents have taken shelter in the tribal regions where the Pakistani army fears to tread. Certain elements of the Pakistani military may be providing material and financial support to the Afghan insurgency. The government considers the Afghan insurgency a potential check to Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s power should the United States withdraw from the region, said Grenier.
Still, the administration’s diplomatic options are limited and can be counterproductive, as U.S. popularity in the state is at an historic low. Association with Washington may be undesirable for Pakistani politicians—Bhutto being a case in point. “Pakistani objectives and interests do not necessarily coincide with American objectives and interests,” and many Pakistanis feel betrayed by the United States, Hathaway said.
At the same time, because geopolitical location given the stakes that the U.S. has in the region, it is imperative that the United States make some statement on the current situation, said Daschle. The senator recommended an insistence on free and fair elections, a restoration of a legitimate Supreme Court, and the adoption of a neutral stance in the January elections as key policy moves for the coming months.
For more information on the event, see: