IN THE NEWS: WASHINGTON ALSO ADORES PAKISTAN’S GENERALS (JUNE 8, 2018)

Written by admin on Friday, June 8th, 2018

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Washington also adores Pakistan’s Generals
SOURCE: Daily Times
Friday, June 8, 2018
By ADAM WEINSTEIN

*One of the many dysfunctions in the US-Pakistan relationship is not only that Washington prioritises dialogue with the military over the civilian establishment, but it does not respect the concerns of either

Discussions about the excesses of Pakistan’s military at home and abroad are as popular in Washington as narratives about US betrayal are in Islamabad. Excluded from the conversation is Washington’s role in undermining Pakistan’s democracy through its adoration of charismatic generals, Islamophobic presumption that “whiskey drinking” officers are more moderate than the general population, ignorance about the country’s internal politics, and a dismissal of the very idea that US actions impact domestic political narratives.

Last week, former Dawn editor Abbas Nasir wrote an article in the New York Times entitled The Generals and the Art of Undermining Democracy in Pakistan. He offered persuasive criticism of alleged interference by Pakistan’s military into upcoming elections and a harsh crackdown on freedom of the press. It was widely shared on social media in the US including by New York Times columnist Wajahat Ali, renowned professor and Dean Vali Nasr, and even the former US ambassador to Afghanistan during the Bush administration, Zalmay Khalilzad.

The subject of the op-ed and its warm reception in the West earned its author no shortage of scorn at home.

The op-ed raises many valid concerns, but Washington should resist the temptation to proclaim itself a hero in the story of Pakistan’s democratic woes. Khalilzad tweeted out the article and added in all caps “Undermining democracy at home and exporting extremism and terror abroad are the key two pillars of the policies of the security establishment. Pakistanis deserve better.”

US mission in Pakistan is not about changing perceptions, building roads, or reinforcing democracy — it is about security

One cannot help but wonder whether a small part of him reflected on how the administration he served contributed to stunting the growth of democracy in Pakistan?

It was the Bush administration that closely courted Pervez Musharraf during his era of military rule and showered him with unconditional military aid. It was also the Bush administration’s choice to ignore the Pakistan army’s warning not to completely alienate the resilient Taliban from Afghanistan’s political process lest an uncontainable insurgency emerge.

The era of violence that followed has not only destabilized Afghanistan but contributed to a wave of bloodshed in Pakistan’s cities. One of the many dysfunctions in the US-Pakistan relationship is not only that Washington prioritizes dialogue with the military over the civilian establishment, but it does not respect the concerns of either.

Washington’s preoccupation with Pakistan’s security is limited to transnational terrorism, the war in Afghanistan, and Islamabad’s nuclear arsenal. Outside of government, these concerns have sometimes been intertwined in unsubstantiated hyperbole.

In 2011, Jeffrey Goldberg and Marc Ambinder wrote in the Atlantic that “Pakistan would be an obvious place for a jihadist organization to seek a nuclear weapon or fissile material” and characterized Islamabad as an “ally from hell.”

They largely based this claim on the presence of extremists within Pakistan’s officer cadre but failed to distinguish between religious fundamentalists who hold social views that could be characterized as extreme with those who violently reject the very legitimacy of the Pakistani state. Yet their understanding of Pakistan is still more nuanced than the well-documented US government adage that if a Pakistani official drinks alcohol then they are less prone to sympathize with groups that are unfriendly to American interests.

Amidst this environment of hysteria, democracy is the furthest thing from Washington’s priorities for Pakistan and Pakistanis know this. Washington’s direct efforts to promote democracy and ingratiate itself with the people of Pakistan reek of a sterile bureaucratic initiative, in a dust-covered corner of Islamabad’s diplomatic enclave.

Non-military aid is funnelled into the country by the billions of dollars but is too often mismanaged by NGOs in the hands of individuals who directly benefit from the country’s inequality. This stigma is then used to delegitimize the NGOs that are doing necessary work.

On the other hand, German Ambassador to Pakistan Martin Kobler has seemingly generated more goodwill among Pakistanis with a Twitter account featuring photos of him wearing a Chitral cap and using a bucket to conserve water as he washes his car. All the while, China continues to invest in Pakistan from building infrastructure to buying online retailers like Daraz.

Is Chinese investment into Pakistan altruistic or concerned with democratic institutions? Absolutely not. Nevertheless, a side-effect of China’s business-minded approach to the region is that it is building roads and power plants in the most disenfranchised corners of Pakistan.

But the US mission in Pakistan is not about changing perceptions, building roads, or reinforcing democracy — it is about security.

If Pakistan’s civilian leadership wishes to receive Washington’s genuine support, then it will have to prove that it is the most capable caretaker of the country’s stability. And, if Washington wants to retain its troubled yet strategic partnership with Pakistan in the long-term then it will have to abandon its bipolar approach of throwing money and making threats and instead focus on areas of common ground.

 

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