Anne Meets Altaf

U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson was out of Pakistan during the visit of John Negroponte and Richard Boucher, purportedly on a vacation.  On her way back to Pakistan, she stopped by London, to visit none other than Altaf Hussain, head of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).

During their visit, both Negroponte and Boucher also met the MQM in Karachi.  Washington would like to see the MQM play a role in the still emerging political setup. 

This is due to a number of reasons. 

One, the MQM is the only Musharraf-allied political party with a real base (aside from Pir Pagara’s band of Hurs).  The utility of Musharraf’s Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) has and will continue to decline. 

Two, the party is thoroughly secular.  Washington sees an ideological compatibility with the People’s Party (PPP) and Pervez Musharraf.  Nawaz’s nationalism and religious sentiments are troubling for some U.S. officials, though it should be noted he came back from exile with more hair on his head, not on his face.

Three, the MQM has strongly spoken in favor of the war on terror.  The party has often tried to leverage this anti-terror stance to gain foreign favor.  An example of such is in the video below in which Karachi mayor Mustafa Kemal tells former President Bill Clinton of his party’s support for the war on terror and Pervez Musharraf.  Kemal also derides Nawaz Sharif as supporter of mullahs.

There is nothing wrong with U.S. officials meeting the leader of Pakistan’s fourth largest political party, though its record of violence is deeply troubling.  Moreover, the timing of the visit makes Washington’s intentions questionable.  Patterson’s meeting occurs as the PPP and MQM are coming closer, which some suspect as a way for the PPP to ditch, or at least check, the PML-N.  Many will view the Patterson-Altaf meeting as yet another example of Washington’s attempts to determine the political setup in Pakistan.  And there’s little to indicate otherwise.

Pakistan desparately needs, and most Pakistanis desire, a healthy relationship between the PPP and PML-N.  If Washington helps terminate their infant coalition, then it will not only encourage Nawaz Sharif to pursue an agenda even less consistant with that of Washington’s, but also increase his popularity and public resentment of the United States.  Sharif could find himself back in the prime minister’s house.  Though Negroponte oft speaks of a desire for a long-term relationship with Pakistan, the prospects of such could be nill within a year’s time. 

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Friday Round-Up: Saudi Ambassador Meets Chaudhry; PML Unification; Musharraf Stays in Army House; Election Rigging

The Pakistan government prevented Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif from meeting deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. However, it did permit the Saudi Ambassador to Pakistan Ali Awadh Asseri to pay a visit to Chaudhry today.

Asseri likely did not come to deposed chief justice with an olive branch from Musharraf. His visit is the latest of Saudi moves to ensure some political stability in Pakistan.

BBC Urdu reports that the Saudi ambassador offered Iftikhar Chaudhry exile in Saudi Arabia, ostensibly to prevent another judicial crisis in the country. Chaudhry refused the offer, stating that the only solution is a restoration of the pre-November 3rd judiciary.

In an earlier version of this post, I had suggested that the Asseri’s visit is also part of a Saudi bid to restore its good standing with the Pakistani public after taking Nawaz Sharif back in Jeddah. However, its reported offering of exile to Chaudhry is, in the words of Yogi Berra, déjà vu all over again. If accurate, the Saudi offer demonstrates their concern for political stability significantly outweighs any interest in Pakistani public perception of the kingdom. Like the September deportation of Nawaz, it is reasonable to believe that the offer comes with the blessings, or even at the behest, of Washington.

Continuing on the theme of the Saudi role in Pakistan, Dawn News reports that a “brotherly Muslim nation”, i.e. Saudi Arabia, is actively urging the disparate factions of the Pakistan Muslim league (Nawaz, Quaid, Functional) to unite.

This move makes sense on its own right. It is in Pakistan’s interest for the PML to consolidate and establish itself as a cohesive, ideologically-sound center-right party that is less personality driven.

But the unification, which would only occur after elections, also serves Saudi interests in checking the political position of Benazir Bhutto.

Pervez Musharraf has decided to keep the Army House in Rawalpindi as his residence. Though he has been president since 2001, he never moved into the presidential residence.

Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher tells the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the upcoming elections in Pakistan are “not going to be…perfect.”

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Arif Rafiq, a Washington, DC-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. [About]

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