Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly rebuked the Pakistani establishment, an unheard of thing in these times when Islamabad is being wooed by almost all global capitals for its primary position in the war on terror in Af-Pak. "Al-Qaida has had safe haven in Pakistan since 2002," she asserted, "I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn't get them if they really wanted to."
There were other issues as well such as taxation. "At the risk of sounding undiplomatic, Pakistan has to have internal investment in your public services and your business opportunities," Clinton said, referring to the large-scale tax evasion in the country. 'The percentage of taxes on GDP is among the lowest in the world... We (the United States) tax everything that moves and doesn’t move, and that’s not what we see in Pakistan."
Exasperated with lack of progress and the amount of efforts it is taking for the Pakistani Establishment and the government to act against the Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the US Secretary of State is possibly taking the harsh approach now. With 80 percent of the respondents opposing US assistance in Pakistan’s fight against terrorism – a 19 percent increase since March, Hillary Clinton had a tough job in any case to woo her Pakistani hosts.
Ms Hillary Clinton has highlighted concerns of the international community on the spread of influence of the Al Qaeda and the Pakistani establishment would do well to heed to the same particularly of the sanctuary provided to the terrorist grouping due to lack of government controls over large swathes of area. It is also important that the areas which have Al Qaeda presence as also that of the Afghan Taliban are addressed along with South Waziristan after these operations are brought to a conclusion.
This will increase the level of confidence between the Pakistani leadership and the ISAF/NATO forces fighting in Afghanistan. It is only US pressure which would work in this sphere as is also evident in relation to talks between India and Pakistan in the near future. Thus confidence building has to be related to the measures being taken on the ground by both sides to enhance trust thereby increasing the level of understanding which is essential for larger peace and stability in the region. But the important stake holder, the Pakistan army remains intransigent, thereby resulting in the current stand off.
The US policy in Pakistan has been shaped by the military and the Pentagon largely through their good network with the Pakistani military. To shift the balance to the foreign policy establishment now may be difficult but would have to be adopted given that the challenge of controlling proliferation of the Pakistani military in the political space seems to be increasing each day. The crux of the policy is for Pakistani forces to take action against militants operating against NATO in Afghanistan. So far this has only partially succeeded and therefore it appears that a carrot and stick approach is what is being now applied with Hillary the unusual stick of the US diplomacy.
As was anticipated the Kerry Lugar bill signed by the US President which promises aid and assistance to Pakistan linked to democratization and transfer of power from the military to the political parties has been converted into a major issue in Pakistan with rival camps divided. This has created a cleavage between the Army and the Zardari government.
The nature of Pakistani political space with domination of the military over even the parliament has been highlighted in the case of the Kerry Lugar Bill. While the parliament is still debating the issue, the military disapproved the same in the Corps Commanders conference held on 7 October raising security considerations and national sovereignty issues thereby putting the government and particularly the President who is seen as the main sponsor of the Bill on a back foot. This was followed up by the military with some back channel negotiations with the opposition PML N which is seen as best placed to replace the present government if there is an elections in the mid term but which is the sworn political enemy of the military with the Nawaz Sharif-Musharraf stand off in 1999 resulting in the latter seizing power in a coup and ousting Nawaz who has since returned to political life. Therefore it remains to be seen how the issue pans out in the parliament, with the Army having already given its, “verdict” the parliament may have to do a lot of jugglery to ensure that the so called fears of the military are assuaged.
There is a problem thus of the continuing role of the army in national politics in Pakistan which is leading to the current resistance to the Kerry Lugar bill being supported by the PPP led government. The accusing fingers are now being pointed at Mr Hussein Haqqani, Pakistan ambassador to the United States who is also a prominent journalist and author who is accused of not briefing the lobbyist hired by the government Mark A Siegel and Cassidy and Associates. If past experience is anything to go by, the only winner in Pakistani political games so far has been the Army. Thus it remains to be seen how the US government and the Pakistani political parties will play it out this time around.