Zal is Asif’s Pal

“Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador to the United Nations, is facing angry questions from other senior Bush administration officials over what they describe as unauthorized contacts with Asif Ali Zardari, a contender to succeed Pervez Musharraf as president of Pakistan…

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Rich and John’s Unexcellent Adventure

The big story in Pakistan today was not the swearing in of the new prime minister, but the arrival of Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher. Their two day visit to Pakistan, coming in the midst of a political transition there and prior to the formation of a cabinet, reflects a sense of urgency in Washington and a desire to influence, if not determine, the makeup and policy positions of the incoming government. Their eagerness has been received in Pakistan as overaggressiveness and was widely criticized.

Today, Negroponte and Boucher met with President Pervez Musharraf, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, soon to be outgoing Inter-Services Intelligence Chief Lt. Gen. Nadeem Taj, and Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan. They also met with National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza, People’s Party Co-Chairman Asif Zardari and, seemingly for the first time, Muslim League-Nawaz leader Nawaz Sharif.

Accompanying Zardari was probable foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Hussain Haqqani, an adviser to the late Benazir Bhutto and fellow at the neoconservative Hudson Institute, who some speculate will be Pakistan’s next ambassador to the United States. [The PML-N's Ishaq Dar will likely have the unenviable post of finance minister.]

Haqqani met with Boucher a few weeks ago in Washington. He told the New York Times today, “It is clear that the United States recognizes that there is a substantive change of political actors on the Pakistani stage…there is a new sheriff in town…There is a new political order in Pakistan, and Americans have realized that they have perhaps talked with one man for too long and now there is a new political team.” Ahmed Mukhtar, a senior PPP legislator, seemed to emphasize the need for continuity in Pakistan’s foreign policy.

Neither Negroponte nor Boucher spoke to the media after their meetings, reflecting the former’s refrain that the U.S. seeks a long-term relationship with Pakistan.

Sharif, however, provided a mouthful to the Pakistani press. He said he told the senior American diplomats that the time for a one man show in Pakistan has come to an end, the nation’s foreign policy will be produced after parliamentary debate, and that Pakistan won’t become a “killing field” for a U.S. war. Indicating that Pakistan’s foreign policy will change, Sharif also stated that the Pakistani people rejected Musharraf’s policies. He, however, did not provide any specifics of how those policies would change.

Seated with Sharif in the Negroponte-Boucher meeting was his brother, Shahbaz, potential finance minister Ishaq Dar, Nisar Ali Khan, Ahsan Iqbal, Khawaja Asif, and retired Ambassador Tariq Fatemi. The latter is a senior foreign policy adviser to Sharif and helped draft the PML-N’s election manifesto.

Tomorrow, Negroponte and Boucher will meet with lawyers’ movement leaders Aitzaz Ahsan and Tariq Mehmood, other civil society actors, and defense analyst Talat Masood.

The Negroponte-Boucher visit has been roundly criticized by political commentators and retired diplomats. Former Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokar described the meetings, which took place prior to the formation of a government in Islamabad and hours after the new prime minister was sworn in, as “typical American crude diplomacy” and “heavy handed” interference. He said that Britain or France would not behave similarly.

Some have suggested that Washington asked the PPP not give the PML-N the foreign ministry. Others have also claimed that Washington seeks the inclusion of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) into the governing coalition at the center, presumably as a “secular” party to balance out the PML-N. But if these potential developments do materialize, the PPP also has its own reasons for their realization.

Senior Pakistani journalist Nusrat Javed said that multiple sources have informed him that Negroponte asked Sharif to work with Musharraf as president for five years. Mariana Baabar, another leading Pakistani diplomatic journalist, stated that the Foreign Office in Pakistan asked the State Department to delay the visit until after the government was formed, but their wishes were ignored. However, both Khokhar and another Pakistani commentator, Shafqat Mahmood, opined that the Negroponte-Boucher visit could have been also at the behest of Musharraf.

In the end, the Negroponte-Boucher visit is yet another move by Washington that has widened the gap between it and Pakistan’s opinion shapers and general public.

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Negroponte on the Hill: Pakistan’s future is too vital to our interests to ignore or downgrade

NOTE: Bush in joint press conference with France’s Sarkozy speaks of his telephone conversation with Musharraf in which he told him, “You can’t be the president and the head of the military at the same time.” He added that extremism can’t be beaten with extremist tactics.


Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte just completed his testimony on Pakistan before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Here are the highlights:

  • Pakistan is a country vital to U.S. interests;
  • Cooperation with Pakistan is critical to U.S. and NATO’s cause in Afghanistan and contributes heavily to efforts in war on terror;
  • Pakistan was “founded on a democratic mandate” and has made “fitful” progress toward the idea of democratic civilian rule. It “seemed” to be on that path till recently.
  • State “strongly counseled against” the imposition of emergency rule but Pakistan’s leadership chose not to follow that advice.
  • Over time the U.S.-Pakistan relationship has been tumultuous, but after 9/11 Musharraf decided to ally with us. We are together with the Pakistanis in the fight against al-Qaeda.
  • Many Pakistanis have said that the U.S. has not been a consistent partner. There is, however, no question that Americans have a stake in Pakistan. There is no question that the U.S. should be closely engaged in helping the Pakistani people fight violent extremism and shaping a democratic Pakistan.
  • We strongly disagree with the current government’s decisions, but this should not translate into disengagement.
  • Since 9/11:
    • the Pakistani government has arrested or killed more al-Qaeda and Taliban than any other country;
    • Pakistan’s economy has grown rapidly;
    • civil society and media have grown “events of of recent days notwithstanding”;
      • There is a more participatory national debate;
      • Human rights and civil society organizations are more prominent than in the past;
      • Pakistan has become a more moderate and prosperous country since Musharraf has come into power;
      • But only civilian democracy can secure a prosperous future for Pakistan.
  • “We” urge Musharraf to resign as chief of army staff before he takes the oath for a second term;
  • It won’t be a full transition to democracy, but an important step on that path;
  • The U.S. stands with the Pakistani people in urging the government to commit to holding elections as planned. We are doing our part through assistance program to improve electoral mechanisms;
  • Thanks to bi-partisan congressional support, assistance to Pakistan is accomplishing a great deal for the U.S. and the Pakistani people:
    • Earthquake assistance has had a positive impact generating goodwill that has lasted to this day;
    • FATA aid package will permanently open this challenged environment to government and opportunity; there are a wide range of programs for that area:
      • Security and law enforcement training;
      • Developmental assistance;
      • Democracy and human rights support;
      • Infrastructural aid;
    • This assistance and the Reconstruction Opportunity Zone legislation are critical to achieving our objectives in the war on terror.
  • Military training and Fulbright exchange programs are building essential bridges;
  • Cutting off these programs would send a negative signal to the Pakistani people;
  • Long-term engagement is the only option for the United States;
  • The U.S. cannot afford to have the on-again off-again relationship of the past;
  • Pakistan’s future is too vital to our interests to ignore or downgrade;
  • The challenge is to deal with the government that supports the Pakistani people and strengthens moderate center against violent extremism;
  • With strong Congressional support for the U.S.-Pakistan relationship since 2001, we’ve helped the Pakistanis move down the path of moderation, stability, democracy, and prosperity. We’re asking for Congressional support to renew our commitment to long-term partnership with the Pakistani people;
  • There is not a mission more deserving of our considered patience and steady engagement.

Q&A responses:

  • “I believe they [the Pakistani military] have their nuclear weapons under effective control.”
  • Electoral timetable should be adhered to. If the emergency measures are lifted in the near future, then there is still time to organize “reasonably fair and free elections.” The longer this emergency situation goes on, the more difficult the political atmosphere will become.
  • Strong preference is that the government terminate emergency ASAP and get country back on track. Sooner that happens, not only the better for Pakistan’s political development, but also less likely that some agonizing reappraisal of assistance program would be required.
  • A number of statutes govern assistance to Pakistan. State hasn’t really gotten to the point of looking to alternatives. Just cataloging of assistance programs and what is or might not be impacted by statues.
  • Judgment at the moment: There’s nothing that will be automatically triggered by the current situation. Everything is covered at the moment by appropriate waivers. But if the situation continues, it will undercut the political support for assistance, or certain aspects of it.
  • U.S. has a Pakistan policy, not a Musharraf policy. It’s not about one leader. It’s about: helping a country; helping institutions transition, electoral assistance; and developing FATA; support of Pakistani army and government in supporting us in Afghanistan.
  • “Basically the political future of Pakistan is for the people of Pakistan to decide.”
  • The longer this situation goes on the more difficult it is going to become.
  • “In the historical record, there were times that they [India] did try to take advantage of political instability in Pakistan” but don’t appear to be doing that now.”
  • If Musharraf doesn’t take off the uniform, there will be principal political repercussions inside Pakistan.
  • On Nawaz Sharif’s exile: That’s an issue between the government of Pakistan and Mr. Sharif. Apparently committed to staying out of the country for a decade – we’ll just have to see how that issue evolves.
  • Extremists are not many in number, but use more extreme methods and are dangerous in that regard.

Congressmen comments:

  • William Delahunt interrupted Negroponte and said, waving his finger and apparently angry, “I think the Pakistani people are on our side.”
  • Dana Rohrabacher: “It’s time to drop this guy [Musharraf]” and side with the moderates.
  • Elliot Engel: Nawaz Sharif also needs to come back.
  • Gary Ackerman: Musharraf a “necessary thug.”
  • Dan Burton: If we abandon Musharraf, same thing that happned in Iran with the Shah will happen in a nuclear Pakistan.
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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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Arif Rafiq regularly appears on the John Batchelor Show Friday nights from 09:30-10:00pm Eastern Time. Tune your dial to 770AM in New York or 630AM in DC. The show appears on affiliates in other cities. Listen live online at WABCRadio.com.
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