By Hassan Abbas
I conducted an interview on December 10 with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington, DC about Pakistan and the United States' relations with the Muslim world, originally published on my blog Watandost.
HASSAN ABBAS: During your recent visit to Pakistan, you won the hearts of many through your courageous outreach -- visiting Badshahi mosque, participating in television talk shows, interacting with students at country's premier educational institution Government College Lahore, and most importantly going to the mausoleum of Mohammad Iqbal, the poet-philosopher who gave the idea of Pakistan. Even those who are critical of the U.S. policy were appreciative of these gestures and it served an important message to those Pakistani politicians also who are not in touch with masses.
What were the signs of hope that you gauged during this visit?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, the resilience and the courage of the Pakistani people. Everywhere I went, I met people who are speaking out and standing up and working hard, and that was extremely moving to me. I also felt like both the civilian government and the military leadership understood that the threat they faced had to be addressed.
And I thought that was very promising, because the terrorist threat to Pakistanis growing and it's intense and it can only be defeated by the Pakistani people coming together and rejecting it, in the first instance, trying to present a different narrative than the one that the terrorists are putting forth, using military force where they must, but mostly by developing the democratic institutions, by developing the country, clearly demonstrating that Pakistan has no room for those who want to tear down, because the Pakistan people want to build.
HASSAN ABBAS: During the said trip you also visited police offices in Islamabad to pay tribute to the sacrifices rendered by police officials in the fight against extremism. You are the first and so far the only foreign leader visiting Pakistan who thought of this. It is becoming clear in Pakistan that the country will not be able to win this battle especially in areas like Punjab and Karachi unless its law enforcement and police forces are reformed and upgraded. I must confess that this topic is of special interest to me as before my academic career in the U.S., I was a police official in Pakistan. Also Pakistan army cannot be expected to fight everywhere in the country. In this context, will the U.S. be supporting police and law enforcement reform agenda in Pakistan?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we would be honored to do so, because I agree with you that the police truly are on the front lines. They often have to deal with the rush of violence that comes in cities or towns and they don't have the support they need, they don't often have the equipment that they need. And as you say, I met a number of police officers, both in Lahore and in Islamabad, who are very committed, but under-resourced. And I am more than happy to consider any request from the Pakistani Government to help the police force, because I agree completely that they're the front line of defense.
HASSAN ABBAS: Thank you very much. I am sure this would make a headline in Pakistan. I have been in touch with many of my former colleagues in the country and during my research on the subject, I found that Pakistan police is one of the very few organizations in the country where there is an internal institutional effort for reform. I hope your message of support in this sphere will be welcomed and appreciated in Pakistan.
My next question is about U.S. relations with the Muslim world. This U.S. administration has certainly set a new tone of dialogue, reconciliation and respect in this realm. President Obama's speeches in Turkey and Cairo were absolutely great and gave the right message to the Muslim audiences around the world. What is the follow-up on that? What are the next stages of that relationship?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it's a great question because we've been working very hard on follow-up, and I recently attended a conference in Marrakesh, Morocco where we announced a number of follow-up actions. The one that was just embraced wholeheartedly was the idea of science envoys. I said at the time that much of the science that we take for granted today was really discovered and refined in prior times by Islamic scholars and scientists. And from astronomy to algebra, there's so much that we owe to the Muslim world, and there needs now to be a renewed emphasis on science, which is not incompatible with religion, and therefore, we're going to be sending Nobel science prize winners, former heads of the National Academy of Sciences, and so many others to visit universities and governments to try to rekindle that with our help.
We're also investing in more English language education programs. We're investing in more business programs, entrepreneurship programs. We're going to start a series of interfaith dialogues. There will be a lot of follow-up to Cairo because we have had such demand and we're going to try to meet it.
HASSAN ABBAS: You are known for your cordial relationship with Pakistani diaspora in the U.S. There is a large Muslim diaspora in the U.S. which I believe can act as a bridge between the U.S. and the Muslim world. Which are the other Muslim diaspora groups in the U.S. that you feel encouraged about and which can play a positive role?
SECRETARY CLINTON: That's a great question. Well, I do believe that the Palestinian diaspora has been galvanized around economic development. A number of my Palestinian American friends are making investments in the West Bank because the security has improved so much, thanks to the good work of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad. So there is a rather dramatic increase in the economic activity in the West Bank which many American Palestinians are investing in.
There are a number of Indian Muslims who are very involved in interfaith and other outreach activities. I do a lot of work with the Bangladeshi community, which is not as involved as the Pakistani community has been in academia or in professional activity, but is really at the grassroots in a lot of countries -- or a lot of cities in our country. So I think those are some examples of what we're working on.
HASSAN ABBAS: My last question is about India-Pakistan relations. The United States has said many times that it would like to facilitate better India-Pakistan relations and I think there's no doubt about the sincerity of that purpose. But of course, U.S. has its limitations in terms of how much it can do to bring both parties on the table and perhaps India is not very comfortable with the idea of third party mediation because of its stature, and reasons of history. However, President Obama made an interesting statement on the subject during his recent visit to China. European Union also is interested in playing a role in this arena.
Do you think there might be some possibility in future that E.U., China, and United States altogether can take an initiative to bring Pakistan and India together and help them resolve their differences. We continuously hear that peace in the Af-Pak region is considered the most critical issue for the global security concerns. A global approach hence can be relevant. Do you think such an international effort can work?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think it could be a guarantor or it could be a positive force for implementation. But I think that the impetus must come from the two countries themselves. And at some point, both countries might say we've gotten as far as we can get; therefore we need some support, we need some new energy. But we have to start with the two countries and with their commitment to pursuing this dialogue first.
Commentary. I was pleasantly surprised when out of the blue I received a message from the State Department inviting me to interview Secretary Clinton for my blog. I was also provided the opportunity to sit in during the interviews she gave to Riz Khan of Al Jazeera and a Pakistani news channel. Riz Khan's unending series of jokes were hilarious that kept us in good spirits while we all waited for the Secretary in a small and cozy room at the State Department. His fun performance was as spectacular as it was dramatic. However, I only came to know the next day that he was testing his jokes on us -- as I heard him repeat all those jokes in his role as the master of ceremony in the inaugural event of the American Pakistan Foundation (APF) in New York. Secretary Clinton was the chief guest at the event and she made a splendid speech warming the hearts of a largely Pakistani-American audience.
Hilary Clinton's passion for Pakistan was palpable during the conversations I witnessed. She also referred to a special feeling that President Obama has for Pakistan and earnestly hoped that the U.S.-Pakistan relations would benefit from this supporting factor. She admired the way "Pakistan has pulled together to go after those elements of the Taliban that are directly threatening them." What she left unsaid in this regard also says a lot about how U.S. is viewing the situation in Pakistan-Afghanistan border region.
Her views about U.S. role in Afghanistan and globally were also insightful. There is a growing perception that U.S. is giving up the state-building goal in Afghanistan while focusing entirely on military 'surge.' She dispelled this impression effectively when in response to a question from Riz Khan she argued that, "military effort is essential to providing security, but long-term stability, peace and prosperity can only come through political reconciliation, through development, through the enhancement of the capacity of Afghan institutions, expanding the education system -- the kind of nuts and bolts that really build and sustain society" and emphasized that she is working hard for these objectives. The people of Afghanistan deserve this and U.S. owe it to them but the fact remains that U.S. cannot manage this alone. She acknowledged this limitation while responding to a different question: "There's not a problem in the world that the United States can solve alone, but I would quickly add there is not a problem in the world that can be solved without the United States." While the second part of this notion is a debatable proposition, it is also surprising why U.S. has not involved regional players to stabilize Afghanistan. India, Iran, Turkey, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and China besides Pakistan, all have stakes in Afghanistan and without a regional settlement U.S. will find it very difficult to turn the tables on growing insurgency in Afghanistan. Accommodating legitimate interests of Afghanistan's neighbors will help.
Hillary Clinton's heartfelt concern for women rights in the Muslim world and highlighting a dire need for interfaith dialogue and harmony impressed me greatly. President Obama is lucky to have her on his side at a time when U.S. is aspiring to rebuild its image globally and looking for partners to ‘give peace a chance.' Her vision and guidance will surely prove to be a valuable asset for this administration.
Hassan Abbas is a Bernard Schwartz fellow at the Asia Society in New York and a senior advisor at the Belfer Center, Harvard Kennedy School.
Riz Khan of Al Jazeera
By Hassan Abbas
Before Pakistan could start recovering from a suicide bombing at a U.N. office in Islamabad and a massive bomb blast in a Peshawar market last week, the brazen October 10 attack targeting Pakistan's most secure military complex -- Army Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi, just a few miles from the capital of Islamabad -- jolted it further. This latest attack dragged on for 18 hours as around 40 officials were held hostage by terrorists in a building that belongs to a very important military department. During initial gun battle, the Army lost a brigadier and a lieutenant colonel. This episode concluded with the arrest of the commander of the operation Aqeel, alias Dr. Usman, and the killing of his some seven associates who wore army fatigues and had coordinated their attack on GHQ from at least two directions.
This was neither the first attack on an army structure in the country nor the most deadly -- but it is unprecedented given the extent of the breach of the GHQ security, the confusion that it created in its initial stage (raising concerns about the safety of army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani), and its timing vis-à-vis the planned launch of a ground military operation in South Waziristan. It could be a transformational event for the army -- cementing its resolve against local militants, bridging internal divisions and forcing a review of its intelligence estimates. However, jumping to conclusions without a thorough investigation and reacting rashly based on preconceived notions would be highly counterproductive. Additionally, though Pakistan's nuclear installations are not in the immediate vicinity of GHQ, the nature of the attack raises questions about how security agencies would react if a future attack targets any of the nuclear weapons facilities.
Before attempting to analyze the attack further, let's look at the facts that have come to light so far. The Crime Investigation Department of Punjab -- a civilian law enforcement body -- recently shared its assessment with relevant government departments maintaining that "terrorists belonging to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), in collaboration with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), were planning to attack GHQ in Rawalpindi." It even warned that terrorists clad in military uniforms were planning to attack GHQ while riding in military vehicles. Pakistan's leading newspaper group -- the Jang group of publishers -- both in its English and Urdu publications disclosed this on October 5. This information was partly based on interrogations of suspects involved in the attack on Sri Lankan cricket team in March this year. Poor coordination between civilian law enforcement and the military is obvious.
Secondly, a profile of Aqeel, the only terrorist arrested at the scene at GHQ, is quite instructive. Hailing from Kahuta in Punjab province, Aqeel was an employee of Army Medical Stores before he joined local militant groups (first Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and then Jaish-e-Mohammad). Later he became a member of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and remained a close associate of Ilyas Kashmiri, al Qaeda's chief of paramilitary operations in Pakistan who was recently killed in a drone strike in South Waziristan. Punjabi police were looking for him in connection with a number of recent terrorist attacks in Punjab, and he is suspected of involvement with the Sri Lankan cricket team attack.
Thirdly, the TTP's Amjad Farooqi group claimed responsibility for the attack shortly after it became public. An old Harkatul Mujahideen fighter, Amjad Farooqi's links with al Qaeda are well established. And lastly, some Pakistani media analysts known for their hawkish views openly speculated on Pakistani television about Indian intelligence agencies' possible role in the attack -- especially in the context of a growing India-Pakistan rivalry inside Afghanistan, but there is no proof of Indian involvement in this attack. In fact, these terrorists' links to indigenous militant groups in Waziristan have already been acknowledged by the army and police.
To understand how the Pakistani Army will view this developing situation, three other factors are also very relevant. Effective military operations in Swat have taught the army that 'a stitch in time saves nine' and that without public support no military campaign can succeed. Additionally, Indian allegations about the Pakistani Army's direct involvement in every attack on its personnel and interests in Afghanistan help those extremist elements in Pakistan who see India and Pakistan clashing on every path. And finally, the divergence in the civil-military perspectives about the intent and content of the Kerry-Lugar bill has generated a major debate in Pakistan about the nature of the U.S.-Pakistan relations. A trust deficit is unfortunately growing on both sides despite regular interaction between leaders of the two countries and public cooperation in counterterrorism field.
The complexity of the challenge at hand for both Pakistan and the U.S. is vividly apparent in this context. Despite this setback, Pakistan cannot afford to delay the ground operation in South Waziristan, as that will only provide TTP with more time to resolve its leadership crisis, reorganize, and acquire more armor and weaponry. For the TTP and its associates, the GHQ attack will be deemed a successful operation, useful for attracting more recruits. But on the flip side, Pakistani public support for more effective counterterrorism measures will also increase. As most polls and surveys indicate, Pakistani support for effective action against TTP and other militant groups increased after the rise of violence in the Swat Valley area. So, the time is ripe to cleanse the FATA as well as parts of South Punjab where extremism is brewing. For this to happen, intelligence sharing between Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the civilian law enforcement agencies, especially the competently led Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and newly constituted National Counterterrorism Authority (NACTA), will be critically valuable.
Indian political leadership, despite its reservations about the 2008 Mumbai attack investigation in Pakistan, can also help by fully reviving the peace process with Pakistan and by restraining itself from accusing Pakistan of blame for everything that negatively affects India. The Obama administration can lend a hand by convincing the U.S. Congress to reframe the few provisions of the recently passed aid bill that have become controversial in Pakistan. Pakistan's politicians on their part can help the army's counterterrorism resolve by standing together and developing consensus on major policy issues confronting the state.
The Pakistani Army's track record is not enviable. Its disastrous interferences in political affairs and pursuance of illegitimate foreign policy goals through non-state actors cannot be justified on any grounds. Still, Pakistan needs a disciplined, cohesive and efficient army today more than ever before. Anything less than a full-on counterterrorism effort from the Pakistani military will attract more serious challenges tomorrow than those it confronted yesterday.
Hassan Abbas is a Bernard Schwartz fellow at the Asia Society and senior advisor at the Belfer Center, Harvard Kennedy School. He is also the author of Pakistan's Drift into Extremism.FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images
By Hassan Abbas
The draft metrics devised by the Obama administration to evaluate progress in the AfPak theater, while providing a useful list of issues to follow, analyze and gauge the developing situation in Afghanistan, leaves much to be desired in its treatment of the Pakistan side of things. The informed and constructive analysis of said metrics by Steve Coll and Katherine Tiedemann in this forum are must reads to understand the context of this discussion. I almost entirely agree with their assessments but believe that a few additional lacunas in the document must be addressed. Of course, not having access to the ‘classified annex' (regarding Objective 1: disruption and degradation of terrorist networks and their capability in Afghanistan and Pakistan) limits one's ability to grade the overall effort (if you may)!
It is quite striking that framers of the metrics have avoided the merest mention of Pakistan-India relations as a factor in understanding which way the wind is blowing in Pakistan's security environment. While the Obama administration has every right to wish that Pakistan delink its rivalry with India in the Kashmir region from its policy towards Afghanistan (and consequently in Federally Administered Tribal Areas), one cannot ignore the prevailing ground realities. Rather than continuing to evade the relevance of the India factor to AfPak theater, the Obama administration must energetically facilitate and monitor the India-Pakistan peace process (which is lately showing some signs of life courtesy resumption of back channel diplomacy).
The second omission (less glaring than the above) relates to the reform and capacity building of Pakistan's law enforcement and police. This issue is mentioned in the metrics in general, I must admit, but it is lumped together with the ‘effectiveness' of intelligence and military counterinsurgency operations, which amounts to minimizing the critical nature of the issue. The Bush-era policy of overwhelming emphasis on ‘military action' reduced the importance of devising ‘law enforcement' strategies. Indeed, for Pakistan, the success of this spring's military campaign against the Taliban and al Qaeda in the FATA and the Swat Valley should not be underestimated, but the country's investment in police reform and the overhaul of the criminal justice system are more crucial for nabbing and prosecuting extremists in South Punjab, for instance. Whether or not Pakistan moves in this direction by taking significant reform-oriented steps should be followed closely.
While pursuing "an enduring, strategic partnership" with Pakistan is a laudable goal, it can be achieved only when Pakistani public perceptions about the U.S. improve. As recent polls indicate, an increasing number of Pakistanis view the United States as the greatest threat to their country. Hence, gauging American image in Pakistan can be a useful barometer, and effective targeting of the forthcoming U.S. development aid (which is mentioned in the metrics) can potentially start turning the tide in favor of the U.S..
Finally, the list mentions performance and stability of Pakistan's civilian government and aptly links the stability factor with ‘military involvement' in governmental affairs. However, this is something that is also dependent on how the Obama administration approaches its relationship with Pakistan. While it is expedient for the U.S. to engage all power centers in Pakistan, it must be recognized that civilian authority in Pakistan will be strengthened when the U.S. government also directs all its communications and links with the country through what in Pakistan is called the ‘proper channel,' which in this case implies talking to the highest political office first and routing all communication, even about defense issues, through the foreign office and civilian leadership. Moreover, transition from military to civilian rule is a process that takes years and given the influence, resources and past role of the army, it will likely continue to play a crucial role in defining Pakistan's policy towards regional security issues.
Hassan Abbas is a Bernard Schwartz fellow at the Asia Society and senior advisor at the Belfer Center, Harvard Kennedy School. He is also the author of Pakistan's Drift into Extremism.
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