US-Pakistan negotiations leave out Pakistani people

America is pursuing its goals in Pakistan by engaging in a Strategic Dialogue with a military dictator who uses terrorism to fuel conflict with India. But unlike the Pakistani and Pashtun people, you have a voice in this Strategic Dialogue.

On Monday, we discussed some of the recent negotiations happening in Afghanistan between President Karzai and representatives of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami militia. But these aren’t the only negotiations on the AfPak war taking place this week. In Washington, Pakistan and the US are meeting for a strategic dialogue. NPR reports:

Senior U.S. and Pakistani officials meet Thursday in Washington for the second round of a so-called strategic dialogue aimed at a better long-term relationship.

Few people expected any big breakthroughs in the first round of talks between the two sides Wednesday. The nations’ complicated relationship has been marked by a deep sense of mutual distrust for many years. Still, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is hosting the two-day event, said some headway was made — especially on security.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi is meeting with Secretary Clinton, but he’s not the one really leading the Pakistani delegation. Sue Pleming tells us who is:

Pakistan’s foreign minister heads his country’s delegation to Washington this week for high-level talks, but there was no mistaking who was the star at a reception at the Pakistani Embassy on Tuesday night: Army General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

Guests crowded around Kayani at the annual Pakistani National Day party at the embassy, posing for photos and jostling for the military leader’s ear. Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, also drew those eager for photographic souvenirs of the occasion, but not such a feeding frenzy as that around Kayani.

U.S. senators and Obama administration officials lined up to speak to the slim and dapper general, who Pakistani media say rules the roost back home but is also central to U.S. relations with Islamabad.

Our elected representatives are swooning over the Chief of the Pakistani Army, who supposedly “rules the roost back home.” Great, another US-backed military dictator in Pakistan. What about the civilian leaders though, didn’t Pakistan just have an election in 2008? Our last pet general in Islamabad, Pervez Musharraf, was forced to resign and the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League (N) were swept into power by popular vote. The PPP and PML-N formed a coalition government, with Yosaf Gillani as Prime Minister and Asif Ali Zardari as President. What happened to those guys?

As it turns out, they got to stay home and read the transcripts. UPI reports:

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said in Islamabad Thursday that he was confident about the outcome of strategic talks with U.S. officials in Washington.

He said he would address the nation to highlight the developments after the end of the dialogue, Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reports.

Poor guy, he’s got an electoral mandate and still all he gets to do is report back to the voters on what their own military leaders are up to in a foreign country. But let’s give Kayani the benefit of the doubt, maybe he’s also looking out for Pakistani citizens. Mosharraf Zaidi explains for us:

Pakistan wants $400 million for Munda Dam, it wants $40 million for Gomal Zam Dam, it wants $70 million for the Natural Gas Production & Efficiency Project, it wants $10 million for Satpara Dam, it wants $27 million for the Wind Energy Project in Sindh, it wants $65 million to rehabilitate Mangla Dam, and it wants $35 million to upgrade Warsak Dam. Total cost of this dam wish-list? $647 million.

Wow, $650 million for water and energy projects, that Kayani sure seems like he’s looking out for the Pakistani little guy. Only General Kayani wants more than just dams. Zaidi continues:

At roughly $40 million a pop, the still-pending delivery of 18 F-16 aircraft (from 2006) is a deal worth about $720 million. Instead of actually delivering these aircraft in June this year, as it plans to, the US government could tell the Pakistani government that it can choose. Either it can have a bunch of dams that will resolve the energy crisis, and save many hundreds, maybe thousands of lives in hospitals and clinics around the country. Or it can have a bunch of airplanes that are designed to kill people rather indiscriminately (meaning that not all of the victims of Pakistan’s F-16s will be terrorists that have been tried and convicted in a court of law).

As a Pakistani, my vote is for the dams. I suspect I wouldn’t be alone. But of course, the people of Pakistan don’t have very much say in the direction that Pakistan’s strategic dialogue takes in Washington DC.

Kayani wants dams and jets, but the people apparently just want the dams. Only the people aren’t represented at the talks. That wouldn’t be so bad if Pakistan actually did get both the energy projects and the military weapons. But they won’t be getting both. Amazingly, General Kayani, head of the Pakistani Army, will only get the military weapons, and probably not much on the civilian, infrastructure side. Remember Secretary Clinton’s statement above emphasized progress in security (that means things like drones and fighter jets) but cautioned against too much optimism on anything else.

See, General Kayani has a bit of a problem with militarism. Even when the Pakistani people overwhelmingly support representatives like Zardari and Gillani who seek peace, Kayani can’t stop thinking about war, war, war. Praveen Swami writes:

“India,” Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari famously said in an October 2008 interview, “has never been a threat to Pakistan.” In his first major interview, given just a month after taking office, he described jihadists in Jammu and Kashmir as “terrorists.” He imagined “Pakistani cement factories being constructed to provide for India’s huge infrastructure needs, Pakistani textile mills meeting Indian demand for blue jeans, Pakistani ports being used to relieve the congestion at Indian ones.”

Early last month, Pakistan’s army chief, General Pervez Ashfaq Kayani, outlined a rather different vision. In a presentation to the media, he asserted that the Pakistan army was an “India-centric institution,” adding this “reality will not change in any significant way until the Kashmir issue and water disputes are resolved.” His words were not dissimilar in substance from the language used by jihadists such as Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed in recent speeches.

It’s no surprise that Kayani and Lashkar-e-Taiba sound the same, the LeT are supported by the Pakistani Army and the ISI. The US supports Kayani who supports the LeT, because both Kayani and the LeT are batshit crazy for war with India. We know this already. Even Congress knows it, since Ashley J. Tellis just explained it to them a few weeks ago:

While it is, therefore, tempting to treat LeT as the cause of the current crisis in Indo-Pakistani relations—particularly in the aftermath of the Bombay attacks—it should instead be understood as a manifestation. The real cause of the problems in Indo-Pakistani relations remains those political forces within Pakistan that profit from continued hostility with India, namely the Pakistani Army, …the ISI, and their narrow bases of support among the general population. The civilian government in Pakistan… has a very different view of the bilateral relationship… Cognizant of the fact that Pakistan will never be able to favorably resolve its disputes with India through force, Zardari has sought a non-confrontational affiliation with New Delhi that would set aside existing disputes, if not resolve them, while increasing economic opportunities…

Unfortunately… Zardari and his civilian cohort do not make national security policy in Islamabad. All such matters… remain very much the provenance of the Pakistani Army… [T]he necessity of sapping India’s strength through multiple kinds of warfare—economic closure, terrorist attacks, and nuclear competition—remains deeply entrenched in the Pakistani military psyche.

Echoing the cliche that the US hasn’t picked a winning side since Churchill, America is pursuing its goals of economic cooperation, encouraging democracy, and counter-terrorism in Pakistan by supporting the military dictator who uses terrorists to fuel conflict with his neighbors. Great plan!

But now we’re lost on some tangent about Lashkar-e-Taiba and F-16’s. Let’s not forget what this is all about: the US war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. ISAF and the Pakistani military are daily blasting away at Pashtun insurgents, Taliban elements in both Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan, from the Northwest Frontier Province all the way down to Balochistan. This is the so-called “Pashtun belt.” Surely any Strategic Dialogue on this conflict must include the Pashtun themselves. Nope. Shahid Ilyas writes:

Talking is not a bad thing, but when it is done without the participation of those who are the subject of such talks, it will most likely result in a disaster. The Pakhtun and the turmoil on their lands — supposedly the theme of the dialogue — are reportedly not being represented in the upcoming Pak-US strategic dialogue. The delegation heading for the US does not include either the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP) led by Mahmud Khan Achakzai or the Awami National Party (ANP) led by Asfandyar Wali. These are the mainstream political parties of Pakhtunkhwa having a deep bearing on the events of their ethnic constituency. These parties represent the most influential and educated class of Pakhtun society. What benefit can a dialogue bring without the participation of the Pakhtun leadership and intelligentsia?

If indeed the purpose of the dialogue is the ongoing terrorism-related turmoil in Pakhtunkhwa, it can only be counterproductive without the participation of the Pakhtuns. Already, the prevailing thinking among them is that they are being ruled like a colony by the Punjab-dominated establishment in Rawalpindi-Islamabad. The Pakhtuns are increasingly complaining that the American opinion of them is formed by the establishment in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. They argue that under a well thought-out strategy, they are being presented to the world as terrorists through the media. The planned strategic dialogue without them will only reinforce their belief in their (perceived or real) exploitation by the bigger province. An added factor now will be that they will consider the US a co-culprit, responsible for their sufferings.

So, let’s add this all up.

  • The people of Pakistan, who support peace, are not represented at the Strategic Dialogue.
  • The Pashtun people, with whom the US and Pakistani military are engaged in violent conflict, are not represented at the Strategic Dialogue.
  • The US instead deals with General Kayani, un-elected warmonger obsessed with fighting India.
  • The US earnestly gives in to Kayani’s demands for more military weapons, but wavers on support for civilian water and energy projects.
  • In addition to the Taliban and other militant groups, Kayani’s military supports LeT, the al-Qa’eda affiliated group who carried out the Mumbai commando attacks, among countless other terrorist attacks against Indian and Pakistani citizens.

The whole Strategic Dialogue is a farce. We’re not accomplishing any of our national security goals in the region, we’re actually making our problems worse! But what are you supposed to do about this? Well, that’s the good news: Unlike the Pakistani people, You actually are represented at this strategic dialogue. Let’s go back to Tuesday’s embassy party:

U.S. senators and Obama administration officials lined up to speak to the slim and dapper general, who Pakistani media say rules the roost back home but is also central to U.S. relations with Islamabad.

Senators and administration officials? Those are your elected representatives! You have a voice in this Strategic Dialogue. You can tell them how they need to be conducting this dialogue, and who they need to be conducting it with.

Tell them that celebrity they’re snapping photos of with their cellphone is actually a terror-supporting thug, and they can read about it in their own congressional record. Tell them you want to talk to the actual leaders of the Pakistani people, the democratically elected government of Pakistan, as well as the Pashtun people. We can talk about water and energy projects, but not military weapons to be used against India and the Pakistanis themselves.

Don’t forfeit your own opportunity to have a voice in this strategic dialogue. Congress, in particular has the power to stipulate how funds can be distributed in Pakistan, as we saw with the Kerry-Lugar bill last year. Contact your representatives, by e-mail, phone, Twitter, however you want. Show them that even if Pakistan is ruled by the military, democracy is alive and well in the US. Demand that the US engages in strategic dialogue with the peace makers and legitimate leaders in Pakistan. The current dialogue, as it stands, is totally unacceptable.

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan.

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