Pak-US alliance takes hits on campaign trail



THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Published — Thursday 2 May 2013

Last update 2 May 2013 2:48 am

| نسخة PDF Print News | A A

ISLAMABAD: On the campaign trail in Pakistan, candidates boast about their readiness to stand up to Washington and often tout their anti-American credentials. One party leader even claims he would shoot down US drones if he comes to power.
So it’s perhaps no surprise that the government that emerges from next month’s parliamentary election is likely to be more nationalistic and protective of Pakistani sovereignty than its predecessor.
As a result, the US may need to work harder to enlist Islamabad’s cooperation, and the new Pakistani government might push for greater limits on unpopular American drone strikes targeting Taleban and Al-Qaeda militants in the country.
But ultimately, the final say on Pakistan’s stance toward drones and many aspects of the relationship with Washington is in the hands of the country’s powerful army. And even nationalist politicians like former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the leading contender in the election, recognize the need for a US alliance and are unlikely to go too far in disturbing it.
“I think the tagline here is different posturing, same substance” when it comes to the next government’s relationship with the US, said Moeed Yusuf, an expert on South Asia at the United States Institute of Peace.
Nevertheless, it’s unclear how long Pakistan’s alliance with the US can remain relatively insulated from anti-American sentiment. The May 11 vote is historic because it will mark the first transfer of power between democratically elected governments in a country that has experienced three military coups.
US officials have remained fairly quiet about the election because they don’t want to be seen as influencing who wins. But Secretary of State John Kerry has met Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani twice in the last month, underlining the importance of the relationship to Washington.
The US needs Pakistan’s help in battling militants and negotiating an end to the war in neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistan relies on the US for billions of dollars in aid and also needs American support as it seeks a bailout from the International Monetary Fund to shore up the government’s shaky fiscal situation.
The relationship has been severely strained in recent years, especially following the 2011 raid that killed Osama Bin Laden near Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point. But it has never broken down completely and has settled into a wary calm over the last year or so. Trust is still in short supply, but both sides recognize they can’t do without each other.
“We have moved into a phase of reduced expectations of each other, which is good,” said Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the US “It’s what they call the new normal.”
Sharif has criticized the outgoing Pakistan People’s Party for selling out the country’s sovereignty in exchange for US aid and likes to recount how he tested Pakistan’s first nuclear weapon in 1998 despite American pressure.
“We will never accept any foreign pressure,” said Sharif, head of the Pakistan Muslim League-N party, during a recent campaign speech. “We will have relations with foreign countries on the basis of mutual respect, dignity and equality.” Sharif’s party controlled the government of Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab, in 2011 when it turned down more than $ 100 million in US aid following the raid that killed Bin Laden. But Lodhi, the former ambassador, said she thought it was unlikely Sharif would give up the more than $ 1 billion in American aid Pakistan receives annually if he came to power.
Imran Khan, who many analysts believe will end up playing a key role in the opposition after the election, has been even more critical of Pakistan’s relationship with the US, saying he would “end the system of American slavery.” But the manifesto of Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, is more tempered, saying “Pakistan will endeavor to have a constructive relationship with the US based on Pakistan’s sovereign national interests and international law, not on aid dependency.” Pakistan’s relationship with the US — and foreign policy in general — has been less of a focus in the election than domestic issues, such as corruption, pervasive energy shortages and stuttering economic growth.
Lodhi believes this is because the US has said it is largely pulling out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and is seeking a peace settlement with the Taleban — a move long advocated by the Pakistani government and supported by the main contenders in the election.
“That has helped to take the edge off negative sentiment in Pakistan which we saw in the last couple of years against the United States,” Lodhi said.
One issue that continues to create tension between the two countries is the US drone program targeting militants in Pakistan’s rugged tribal region near the Afghan border.
The attacks are extremely unpopular in Pakistan. They are seen as violating the country’s sovereignty, and many people believe they kill mostly civilians — an allegation denied by the US Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders have contributed to these perceptions by criticizing the strikes in public in the past, while supporting them in secret. This support has declined over time as the relationship between the two countries has worsened.
The number of strikes has dropped from a peak of more than 120 in 2010 to close to a dozen so far this year, but it’s unclear how much this trend has been driven by US decisions about targeting versus the political sensitivity of carrying out strikes.
Khan, the former cricketer, has sharply criticized US drone attacks and has even pledged to shoot down the unmanned aircraft if he came to power.
Sharif has also been a vocal opponent of the strikes in the past, although he hasn’t made them as much of a focal point of his campaign as Khan has.
Nevertheless, Daniel Markey, a South Asia expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, believes Sharif would work with the army to renegotiate the use of drones in Pakistan if he took power.
“In the end, I think probably some accord will be reached in which the use of drones will probably be curtailed from where they have been over the past couple of years,” Markey said during a recent call with media. “But they will continue, particularly against high-value targets when they are found.” However, Lodhi, the former ambassador, has doubts Sharif would pick a high-profile fight with the US over drones since the number of strikes has decreased so much.
“The centrality of drones may not be what it was in the past,” Lodhi said. “Why would you want to whip up something that is going down anyway?”

What's happening around Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH: Demand for housemaids is so high in the holy month that illegal domestics, working in violation of residence and labor laws, can easily draw a salary of SR3,000 during Ramadan.Due to difficulties in the recruitment process, Saudis are left wi...
JEDDAH: Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman has condemned the terror attack on several military checkpoints in Egypt’s North Sinai and expressed his condolences to President Abdel Fattah El-Sissi, SPA reported. In a cable to El-Sissi, the k...
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman prays inside the historic Quba Mosque in Madinah. The king was accompanied by Prince Muqrin, Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais, head of the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques and Prince Sultan bin Salman, ch...
JEDDAH: Shop rentals at certain malls have risen by 200 percent, with this cost likely to be passed on to the consumer, the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) said here recently. Muhammad Al-Shehri, chairman of the JCCI’s textiles and gar...
JEDDAH: People with special needs can now visit a park that has dedicated services for them.Jeddah Mayor Hani Abu Ras opened Al-Erada Park in Al-Salama district on Prince Sultan Street on Thursday.“The Kingdom provides special care for people with di...
JEDDAH: Is involvement in social media the right thing or wrong, particularly in the month of Ramadan? There is a difference of opinion with some arguing that it eats into the time that should be spent praying while some backing it for its religious...
RIYADH: The Argentine government has thanked the Kingdom for previously hosting its Umrah pilgrims for free.“They were part of a group invited by then Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah,” said Ambassador Jaime Sergio Cerda on Thursday.“T...
RIYADH: The Ministry of Education’s counseling department has approved the Rifq Program for the physical and psychological well-being of students.Nabil Mohammad Al-Budair, director of counseling for boys, said the program aims to reduce violence in p...
RIYADH: Sales of fireworks at public markets and main roads in Riyadh have increased during Ramadan, despite the Ministry of Commerce and Industry announcing a SR5,000 reward for anyone providing information about warehouses storing these dangerous i...
RIYADH: The General Organization for Social Insurance (GOSI) has reported that there were 69,241 work-related accidents in 2014, with expatriates making up 65,509 or 94.6 percent and Saudis 3,732.The accidents were in nine sectors with building and c...
JEDDAH: The Health Ministry’s expenditures over the past five years increased from SR29.29 billion to SR53.73 billion, an increase of about 83 percent.According to a study detailing the ministry’s expenditures between 2008 and 2012 issued by the mini...
RIYADH: Five people from the southern Indian state of Kerala were killed in a road accident at Salwa near Dammam in the Eastern Province early Thursday morning.Manoj Kumar, community welfare attache at the Indian Embassy, told Arab News that the vict...
MAKKAH: The government has deployed eight helicopters over Makkah to track the movement of vehicles and people, and assist in security tasks and medical evacuations.Maj. Gen. Mohammad Al-Harbi, commander of the Interior Ministry’s aviation security d...
JAZAN: A Yemeni woman (A.M.) has once again experienced freedom and a renewed sense of hope in life after reuniting with her family last week on her release from Jazan General Prison, where she spent six years on charges of murder of a citizen in the...
RIYADH: A delegation from the Kingdom recently visited the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to explore that country’s successful experience in tourism, in a bid to further develop the sector. Saudi Arabia has been making all-out efforts to promote tourism,...

Stay Connected

Facebook