Committed but Incapable?
The outgoing U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Ryan Crocker, has attempted to
resolve the apparent contradiction between Washington’s view of General
Pervez Musharraf as a critical ally in the war against terrorism and
intelligence about terrorists still operating out of Pakistan. “Pakistan has
been fighting terrorists for several years and its commitment to
counterterrorism remains firm,” Mr. Crocker told the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee at the hearing on his nomination as U.S. ambassador to
Iraq. The challenge faced by Pakistan in coming to terms with Taliban
fighters along its border with Afghanistan, he explained, lies in a lack of
As suicide bombings and general lawlessness illustrate the insecurity of millions of Pakistanis, Pakistan’s self-congratulating elite can now sit in the comfort of its drawing rooms and debate a new issue. What is worse, being doubted for lack of commitment as an American ally or being recognized as an incapable one? Clearly, from the U.S. point of view the task expected of Pakistan is not being accomplished. One implication of Mr. Crocker’s assessment is that Pakistan must now brace itself for pressure in improving its capacity. Alternatively, it would have to allow other U.S. allies, possibly NATO, to complete the task to which General Musharraf is committed but which Pakistan’s military and law enforcement machinery are unable to do.
Official Pakistan is often tempted to read much more into words of praise offered by U.S. officials than is intended by those who utter these words. One can imagine Musharraf’s staff highlighting the word “commitment” in Mr. Crocker’s statement and then suggesting that Musharraf’s Pakistani critics should be reprimanded for ever doubting the general, now that the outgoing U.S. ambassador has asserted the absence of qualms on that score. But praise for an ally on a given day is hardly an assurance that pressure is not round the corner. Instead of focusing only on the praise, and the aid that accompanies it, Pakistan’s rulers must think beyond diplomatic exchanges to deal with the underlying issues inside Pakistan. Even if Mr. Crocker did not speak of it, the diminishing capacity of the Pakistani state should be of concern to Pakistan’s leaders and they should strive to improve that capacity through national consensus.
Sometimes it is not easy to prepare for the storm on a clear day. On December 7, 1982, President Ronald Reagan hosted a State dinner for General Muhammad Ziaul Haq at the White House, where he said, “Mr. President, our talks this morning underlined again the strong links between our countries. We find ourselves even more frequently in agreement on our goals and objectives. And we, for example, applaud your deep commitment to peaceful progress in the Middle East and South Asia, a resolve which bolsters our hopes and the hopes of millions.”
In case there were any doubts about President Reagan’s esteem for General Ziaul Haq and for Pakistan as a U.S. ally, the U.S. President further said, “ In the last few years, in particular, your country has come to the forefront of the struggle to construct a framework for peace in your region, an undertaking which includes your strenuous efforts to bring peaceful resolution to the crisis in Afghanistan -- a resolution which will enable the millions of refugees currently seeking shelter in Pakistan to go home in peace and honor. Further, you've worked to ensure that progress continues toward improving the relationship between Pakistan and India. And in all these efforts the United States has supported your objectives and will applaud your success.”
Pakistan enjoyed almost a decade of U.S. “applause” under General Ziaul Haq and President Reagan but the relationship ran out its course. By 1990, Pakistan was under U.S. sanctions, which lasted another decade until the 9/11 attacks led to a new phase in relations between the erstwhile allies.
There is an underlying message in Mr. Crocker’s faint praise for Pakistan that must not go unheeded. Mr. Crocker is an old-school diplomat who wants to deal with the world as it exists. He opposed the Iraq war, rejecting the idea of some neoconservatives that instability can somehow be constructive. Traditional, “realist” diplomacy hinges on preserving the status quo in the interest of the United States.
Finding friendly rulers and then bolstering their capacity to fulfil strategic objectives has been the mainstay of U.S. foreign policy in the greater Middle East for years. For this policy to work, U.S. diplomats must gloss over the flaws and weaknesses of allies and ensure a constant flow of military and economic assistance. The aid, and the dependence that results from it, is supposed to buy the U.S. influence. Concerns about democracy and human rights must be played down and critics must be assured that “slow but sure reform” is on its way. The economic growth that results from injection of large doses of aid, coupled with stage-managed elections and some diversity in a semi-controlled media, are useful instruments of convincing skeptics that the glass is half full.
Many smart people would argue that this model of U.S. policy has by and large worked. They argue that U.S. support of the region’s rulers, capable or incapable, has prevented the entire region from going up in flames. But others argue, quite effectively on the basis of the existing record, that the capacity of America’s allies from Morocco to Indonesia to live up to Washington’s expectations, especially in the war against terrorism, is diminishing. Sooner or later, a happy medium will have to be found between the “constructive instability” paradigm, which causes U.S. intervention on the scale of Iraq with attending consequences, and the “island of stability” exemplar that led the U.S. to ignore the turbulence brewing under the Shah’s rule in Iran.
Austro-Hungarian ruler Francis I is said to have adopted the maxim “Rule and Change Nothing” and advocates of the stability school in U.S. foreign policy would do well to remember the result of that grand strategy. Francis and his successors did succeed in ruling without changing their outlook for many decades but while they did not change, things around them did. Eventually the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed and the clever diplomacy of its many smart statesmen, including Prince Metternich, failed to save the day.
Ambassador Crocker has conducted himself successfully in Pakistan, retaining General Musharraf’s confidence and helping the general preserve his lifeline to Washington. The only thing the realists in the United States seek from Pakistan is full cooperation in tracking down Al-Qaeda operatives and shutting down the Taliban who have become a serious threat to stability in Afghanistan. As he leaves Pakistan to deal with the mess in Iraq, Ambassador Crocker has communicated a subtle message to the military regime in Islamabad, which he has done much to save from the wrath of America’s “constructive instability” visionaries.
General Musharraf and his colleagues need to redefine their priorities and rebuild the capacity of the Pakistani state in the areas where it is lacking –counter-terrorism, law enforcement, limiting non-state armed groups. The Pakistani state has become weak as its functionaries have expanded their role to include being the manipulators of domestic politics and dealers in urban real estate. Pakistan must become an effective state run under its constitution and the rule of law. Otherwise, it will continue to be a victim of terrorism as well as an alleged safe haven for terrorists.
(Husain Haqqani is Director of Boston University's Center for International Relations, and Co-Chair of the Islam and Democracy Project at Hudson Institute, Washington D.C. He is author of the book 'Pakistan between Mosque and Military'.)
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