JUDGING what Pakistanis really think about current affairs can be tricky. Do you ask the English-speaking chattering classes in the cities for their views on the death of Osama bin Laden, or try to find some way to hear what less-educated, rural folk conclude? Aside from venturing to places like Abbottabad, or specially- planned trips to see flood victims or assess life nearer the border of Afghanistan, many journalists, especially foreigners, are likely to end up hearing more from the better-off, English-speaking Pakistanis who live not far from their hotels. So a new poll on the aftermath of Osama bin Laden’s death, by Gallup in Pakistan, makes for interesting reading. Researched between May 7 th and 10 th, it was run in both towns and rural areas, among a decent-sized sample of 2 ,530 people of various linguistic, educational and class backgrounds. The interviews were done in person, not over the phone, which means it reaches a wide range of people. It turns out that Pakistanis, as ever, believe in conspiracies. Although two- thirds, roughly, reckon that America trampled on Pakistani sovereignty in the Navy Seals’ raid to kill bin Laden on May 2 nd (perhaps surprisingly, as many as 23 % concluded that sovereignty was not infringed), nearly half (49 %) thought that the whole incident was actually staged for some reason or other. Only 26 % thought the al-Qaeda chief was really killed on the night in question. As for how Pakistanis sum up bin Laden himself: 44 % concluded he was a “martyr”, while 26% preferred to call him a “criminal”. The Pakistani fondness for conspiracies seems to have two causes. First, the conspiracy theory often turns out to be right: those who have seen the army’s hand in politics, or who reckon that spies, spooks and terrorists are meddling across their country, trying to shape developments, are proven correct more often in Pakistan than almost anywhere else. Banyan said as much , in reference to the arrest of an American CIA contractor, Raymond Davis, in February. A second reason for the popularity of conspiracy theories, however, is that ordinary people feel powerless. They feel that the powerful make their decisions out of sight, with little public scrutiny. Public funds, whether raised by taxes or aid, are spent with little scrutiny. There’s a lively press, noisy television shows, great exchanges of opinion and rage among politicians, commentators, lawyers and activists. But getting people to agree on facts is difficult. One Pakistani former ambassador to America put it nicely over a cup of tea last week, suggesting that “we love conspiracies because wherever there is a lack of information then rumours thrive”. This chimes with other findings in the Gallup poll. The one institution that Pakistanis have generally reckoned is reliable, the army, has taken a battering over the bin Laden affair. Nearly half of those polled (48 %) think that the army “connived” in the American raid on Abbottabad at the start of the month, representing a widespread and unusual criticism of the institution (considering so many of the respondents disapproved of the attack). Still, there is a consolation for the men in uniform: the civilian leaders are even less well liked, as 57 % of respondents saw complicity by their elected leaders.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
PAKISTAN’S ambassador to Beijing, Masood Kahn, was this week fully armed with metaphors to describe the robust friendship between the two countries. “We say it is higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, stronger than steel, dearer than eyesight, sweeter than honey, and so on.” The relationship is indeed a geopolitical keystone for both countries. Pakistan serves as China’s closest friend both in South Asia and among Islamic countries. So close, indeed, that many suspect China has asked Pakistan for the valuable remains of the American stealth helicopter abandoned during the bin Laden raid. Meanwhile, China can help counterbalance Pakistan’s arch-rival, India, including in Afghanistan. Pakistan seems keen to foster the impression that new tensions with America might nudge it even closer towards China. In his blustery speech to parliament on May 9 th Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani struck out on an odd tangent to praise China as an “all- weather friend”, providing Pakistan with strength and inspiration. Not to be outdone, President Asif Zardari issued an effusive statement of his own about a friendship “not matched by any other relationship between two sovereign countries”. But if Islamabad is worried about falling out with Washington and hopes to get more out of Beijing, it may be in for disappointment. According to Zhu Feng of Peking University, such calculations based on “the traditional mentality of power politics” are misplaced. China’s robust, longstanding ties with Pakistan stand on their own merits, he says, and owe nothing to America’s standing in Pakistan. Both China and America want a stable Pakistan. For all that, China’s dealings with Pakistan have always been conducted with one eye on India. Last year Beijing chose to supply Pakistan with two new civilian nuclear reactors, even though the deal appeared to violate Chinese non-proliferation commitments. It was a boon not only for Pakistan’s energy- starved economy. It was, as Mr Zhu points out, also a way for China to counterbalance a controversial nuclear deal reached earlier between America and India. China and Pakistan have a lustily growing trade relationship, worth almost $9 billion last year. China provides military gear, including fighter jets and frigates. Some Chinese infrastructure projects in Pakistan have strategic implications. They include ports on the Arabian Sea and a proposed rail project which has yet to be approved, but which would arouse controversy, and Indian ire, by running through contested territory in Kashmir. Still, China’s commitment to Pakistan has its limits. After devastating floods last year, America gave Pakistan $690 m, 28 % of all international aid. China’s contribution was a mere $18m. According to Andrew Small of the German Marshall Fund, an American policy institute, Pakistan may be “ talking up the ‘China option’ beyond where the Chinese are willing to go.” China, he reckons, will be reluctant to tilt too far towards what might look like an anti-India alliance”. Despite border disagreements, China wants to keep its relations with India in reasonable order. What is more, Pakistan’s chronic instability and its failure, whether by design or incompetence, to suppress extremism make Pakistan as hard a partner for China to trust as for America. “Sweeter than honey” may be plenty sweet enough.
SINCE the 9 /11 attacks, Pakistan has behaved toward US as both friend and adversary--and gotten away with it. The latest evidence of its duplicity is the revelation that Osama bin Laden lived for years in a house near Pakistan's national military academy and a local branch of its intelligence service without any evident interference. Even before the American raid last week on bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan had a huge credibility problem. It provides arms and safe haven for Afghan insurgent groups and pays their commanders to carry out attacks, but denies doing so. In the broader war on terrorism, Pakistan says it is completely on our side. In fact, its record is very uneven. It has been helpful in arresting some high-value Qaeda operatives and has allowed US to wage Predator drone attacks. But it has refused to move decisively against groups that Washington regards as terrorists and has put limits on American unilateral operations. It is not surprising, then, that no one took Pakistan's protestations of innocence after the discovery of bin Laden seriously. The killing of bin Laden only 60 miles from Islamabad, its capital, has put Pakistan on the defensive, and the nature of our strike capability is not lost on Pakistani leaders and their terrorist and insurgent clients. With American influence now at its peak and our troops still at full strength in Afghanistan, we have the leverage to force Pakistan to reconsider. US should pursue a two-stage strategy. First, we should formally present any information about Pakistani complicity in shielding bin Laden to Pakistan's leaders. Then we should follow up with demands that Pakistan break the backbone of al-Qaeda in Pakistan by moving against figures like bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri; remove limits on the Predator drone campaign; uproot insurgent sanctuaries and shut down factories that produce bombs for use against American and Afghan soldiers; and support a reasonable political settlement in Afghanistan. Such a settlement would ensure that Afghanistan does not become a haven for terrorists again, allay Pakistan's legitimate security concerns and provide amnesty-- and allow political participation-- for insurgents who lay down their arms and accept the Afghan constitution. In pursuing these goals, US should undertake a major diplomatic campaign, involving regional players like China and Saudi Arabia. If Pakistan fulfills these demands, US should reward it with long-term commitments of assistance, through trade benefits, programmes run by the World Bank and US Agency for International Development and similar efforts to promote development and education. But if Pakistan refuses to cooperate, US must put an end to its duplicity. First, US should reduce its dependence on supply lines running through Pakistan to Afghanistan. We should expand alternative supply routes through Azerbaijan and other countries in Central Asia. Also, as we draw down forces in Afghanistan, our logistical requirements will diminish; this will give US more leeway to consider unilateral attacks against terrorists and insurgents in Pakistan. Second, US should stay on the course set by Obama to build, train and support Afghan security forces and reduce our own military presence while retaining the capacity to provide air support, intelligence collection and other capabilities that the Afghans currently lack. Such a posture can strengthen Afghanistan against Pakistani interference and help persuade Pakistan to embrace a settlement. Third, US should conclude a longer- term agreement with Afghanistan to maintain a small, enduring military presence that would give us the capability to conduct counterterrorism operations and respond to possibilities--like Pakistani nuclear weapons falling into the hands-- of extremists. Fourth, US could consider seeking a UN Security Council resolution to authorise an investigation into how bin Laden managed to hide in plain view. The inquiry should examine the presence of al-Qaeda and other terrorist organisations in Pakistan. This strategy requires an improvement in the troubled relationship between US and Afghanistan. The impending arrivals of a new American ambassador, Ryan C. Crocker, and commander, Lt. Gen. John R. Allen of the Marine Corps, provide an opportunity to make progress. The challenge for the Afghan leadership and the new team is to achieve a partnership in which US sustains its commitment at much lower cost over time, while Afghanistan does its part by improving governance and the rule of law. It is in neither America's interest nor Pakistan's for relations to become more adversarial. But Pakistan's strategy of being both a friend and an adversary is no longer acceptable. While the killing of bin Laden was an important success, a greater achievement would be to transform US-Pak relations into a true partnership that fights terrorism, advances a reasonable Afghan settlement and helps stabilise the region. The writer is a counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, was Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration.