November 15, 2006

Reflections on the emerging Pakistan

Reflections on the emerging Pakistan

By Wolfgang Danspeckgruber
Guest Columnist

Whoever could attend the address in the Wilson School's Dodds Auditorium of Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz last Thursday experienced public (relations) diplomacy at its very best.

Unfortunately, this polished version of PR-diplomacy to portray Pakistan as the economically rapidly expanding soon-to-be-more democratic ally of the United States and the West represents wishful imagery (or deliberate policy), especially in a time when British Intelligence and MI5 warns about many more potential terror threats — like the one last August — perhaps emanating from Pakistan and when Washington gets increasingly troubled about the possible continuous hideouts of Osama bin Laden and Mular Omar supposedly in Pakistan's NorthWestern territories, which seem also to serve for the Taliban for fall-back and recruiting. No word about the ever-increasing domestic fundamentalist Islamic challenges, no mention of the continuous generous U.S. economic assistance due to Pakistani cooperation in the war on terror in excess of $8 billion (a cause for some of the economic boom the PM referred to) and nothing on Islamabad's severe problems in key regions like Baluchistan or the inadequate handling by the authorities of rape or other mistreatment of women.

Aziz did not once refer to the "Taliban" and/or the critical role of the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence Organization (ISI), talk about the separate Waziristan "peace deal" between Islamabad and the Taliban or address the new tensions with India about the recent terror bombings in Mumbai.
He instead warned of the rising "nationalism" against too long "foreign occupation" (presumably suggesting U.S. forces and International Security Assistance Force could leave) in neighboring Afghanistan combined with drug trafficking and "Narco terrorism."
It is the Taliban — operating in both states — together with many in Islamabad's elite who reap the enormous financial benefits from the excessive poppy production of Afghanistan's regions under its control.

Another key problem for the future of Pakistan and the region was also unmentioned. Since 1993, the year of the termination of the legal agreement about the Durand line — the boundary delineating the territory between Afghanistan and Pakistan — no internationally recognized boundary currently exists between the two neighboring states.

Aziz's reality description very much presents ideal Pakistani interpretations. Today, Pakistan seems to calculate that in view of possible U.S. withdrawal from the region, i.e. Afghanistan in the not-too-distant future, its military and security apparatus may soon be able to play a pivotal role in its "strategic backyard" of Afghanistan as a caretaker, as it did in the past. This time, however, fully (financially) supported by the United States.

A further predicament behind this brilliant exhibition of public relations diplomacy is that the real power in Pakistan regarding control of the security apparatus and the military remains in the hands of President General Pervez Musharraf. Aziz's delicate mission — in numerous appointments during three days — thus seems to have been to demonstrate the sophisticated, gentlemanly and Western image of an otherwise severely challenged, possibly increasingly radical state where loyal (Taliban) ISI officers appear to test the power of the very leader, namely Musharraf himself.

This proves the predicament in which Pakistan's leadership finds itself. On the one hand, it wants to present itself as a reliable ally for the west in the fight against Islamic extremism. On the other hand, it tries to arrange itself with the radicals and the Taliban as an attempt to reduce tensions (it also employs their influence in Afghanistan for its own interests). Both seem to fail as recent bombings in the North-West tribal areas have indicated, and the fundamentalists apparently gain increasing influence, while the West loses trust.

Thus remains the question why the Prime Minister painted such a bright picture. Is it to counter U.S., British and others' exasperation with Pakistan's "inability" to contain terrorist activities apparently emanating from its territory, to alleviate international fears about the North Waziristan Agreements with the Taliban, to ascertain that American economic assistance that begun post 9/11 will continue in spite of these doubts or to counteract an increasingly special relationship between the United States and India in terms of trade, high-technology and nuclear power, while preparing the ground for a special Role of Pakistan west and north of its territory, for the time of reduced American presence?

Whichever of these perspectives or possibly others Aziz intended to achieve, his stellar performance and gentlemanly demeanor were an example of public diplomacy at its best. It remains to be seen, however, whether this is an appropriate strategy to redress the West's loss in trust or a catalyst if the discrepancy between image and reality becomes too large.

Wolfgang Danspeckgruber is the Director of the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination and a lecturer in the Wilson School. He may be reached at