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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

US lawmakers tell Obama, dump Pakistan and go with India

Chidanand Rajghatta, TNN

WASHINGTON: Expressing apprehension that the United States is being "taken for suckers" and "looked at as patsies" by Pakistan, two American lawmakers on Tuesday called for strengthening ties with India even as a White House report gave a harshly critical assessment of Islamabad's effort to defeat extremism.

While administration officials defended Washington's support for Pakistan using the same logic as London is doing on UK Prime Minister David Cameron's ongoing visit to Islamabad ("a difficult partnership with Pakistan is far better than having a hostile Pakistan," one U.S official testified), lawmakers wanted a major reappraisal of U.S outlook for the region. They expressed doubts if any good would come out of the current U.S policy of coddling Islamabad in the face of Pakistani duplicity in combating extremism. Instead, they pushed for even closer ties with India.

"After 10 years of hearing the same sales pitch I tend to doubt it. I doubt that our money is buying anything that's deep or durable," New York Congressman Gary Ackerman said at a hearing. "I doubt the leaders in the Afghan government and the Pakistani government are going to do anything except pursue their own narrow, venal self interests. I doubt the ISI will ever stop working with us during the day and going to see their not-so-secret friends in the Lashkar-e-Taiba or Jaish-e Mohammed and other terrorist groups at night."

His California colleague Dana Rohrabacher went even further back to frame the situation in a historical context. "I've been hearing that for 50 years. And I will tell you, a realistic relationship, rather than basing the relationship on wishful thinking, is what will bring about peace in that part of the world. What we've had is wishful thinking and what I call irrational optimism," he said at a hearing called to assess U.S foreign policy priorities in South Asia.

The critical comments came just hours after a White House report to Congress concluded that after years of work with the Pakistani military "there remains no clear path toward defeating the insurgency" that thrives in the country, remarks that analysts said reflected growing frustration in the administration over Pakistan's commitment to fight extremism.

Still, administration officials defended Washington's outreach to Pakistan, insisting that the country is vital to US national security interests and suggesting the U.S had no other options.

But lawmakers were not convinced. Both Rohrabacher and Ackerman, who described U.S ties with New Delhi as the "one shining light" and "brightest light" respectively of the administration's foreign policy pressed for greater emphasis on India.

"I would hope that we have the intelligence to work and to make sure that India is our best friend in that part of the world," Rochrabacher said, offering his contrast between the two countries. "The fact is that Pakistan is committed to Islam...India is dedicated to prosperity for their people."

Amid what lawmakers saw as Washington's compulsive obsession with Pakistan, Ackerman in fact criticized the administration for not using U.S diplomatic leadership and agenda-setting capability to focus global attention to the threat to India from Pakistan-based terrorists, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba.

"If there is, God forbid, another Mumbai-like strike, we will not be able to say that we did our utmost to prevent it because in truth, we haven't," he warned. "The ambitions of these terrorists have only grown and a full-fledged global campaign to crush these thugs still awaits at our peril."

While critical of Pakistan, the White House report offered no new prescription of how to handle Islamabad, aside from reflecting on the well-known fact that India looms large in the Pakistani military's thinking.

"As India continues to dominate their strategic threat perception, large elements of Pakistan's military remain committed to maintaining a ratio of Pakistani to Indian forces along the eastern border," the Presidential report to the Congress on Afghanistan and Pakistan said, adding, "This deprives the Pakistani COIN (counter-insurgency) fight of sufficient forces to achieve its 'clear' objectives and support the 'hold' efforts."

Some analysts have suggested India should take steps to reassure Pakistan about its security, but the broad reading in Washington is that nothing can placate a security establishment that uses a trumped-up or exaggerated Indian threat to extend its stranglehold on the Pakistani people and the country's resources. President Obama downwards, U.S officials have said the Pakistani military's obsession is misplaced. Frustrated lawmakers on Tuesday suggested in effect that the administration simply strengthen ties with India to counter Pakistan's policy.

Pakistan cozies up to China
As relations with the U.S. erode, Islamabad finds a friend in Beijing

by Julia Belluz on Wednesday
Pakistan’s ambassador to China used a recent celebration of his country’s Republic Day to give a rhetoric-filled talk about Beijing-Islamabad relations. If March 23, 1940, was the day the Muslim League decided to establish Pakistan, then the anniversary would be a time to declare that relations with China will define the way forward. “We shall take our bilateral relations to new heights,” Masood Khan proclaimed. “China and Pakistan are the best friends in the world.” The warm words echoed those of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who said during a December visit to Pakistan that the neighbours would “remain brothers forever.” Such events, of course, can be mere exercises in diplomacy. But in Wen’s case, the sentiment seemed sincere; it was backed by $35 billion in economic deals, and he rolled out a proposal to help Pakistan’s rebuilding after last summer’s flooding, even suggesting that 2011 be the “Year of China-Pakistan Friendship.”

If China appears to be paying special attention to Pakistan lately, it may be because it senses a real opportunity. Pakistan’s relations with its most powerful ally, the United States, have been souring for some time, possibly leaving Islamabad open to other overtures. Most recently, in March, Pakistanis protested and burned American flags over the release of Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor who confessed to killing two men in Lahore. Though he was freed after families of the victims were paid “blood money,” the case further bruised the Washington-Islamabad alliance. Even in the art galleries of Karachi, exhibitions featured critiques of the “fair-weather” friendship. As Michael Krepon wrote on the Arms Control Wonk blog, “U.S.-Pakistan ties are the worst I can recall in almost two decades of visits, and are likely to deteriorate further.”

Fraying ties with one global superpower, however, do not fully explain the vigour of the China friendship. Pakistan has been moving into China’s sphere of influence for decades, and the countries routinely refer to each other as “all-weather” partners. This year will mark the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations. “Even when I was there in 1981, ’82, I could see Chinese military factories going up,” says Stephen Cohen, a Pakistan expert at the Brookings Institution. Now, Pakistan represents a major market for China’s nuclear and military technology. According to SIPRI, a Swedish think tank, over 40 per cent of Chinese arms exports go to Pakistan—the largest share of any country China sells to. New U.S. intelligence assessments concluded that Pakistan has been steadily growing its nuclear arsenal since President Barack Obama came to power in 2008, and it is poised to overtake Britain as the world’s fifth-largest nuclear weapons power. This is largely thanks to the People’s Republic. Cohen says, “No one did not believe that the Chinese role was not critical and remains important.”

China also recently announced that it would forge ahead with plans to build two more nuclear power reactors in Pakistan—despite the crisis in Japan and global concerns over atomic safety. So it helps, of course, that the China-Pakistan union is a relationship devoid of criticism. Like most countries that benefit from China’s deep pockets, says South Asia analyst Teresita C. Schaffer, “the Pakistanis don’t do things we do that embarrass our friends, like hassle visitors about human rights.”

Meanwhile, relations between the two Asian nations balance ever-warmer ties between the U.S. and Pakistan’s arch-rival, India. Since the Sino-Indian war in 1962, Pakistan has viewed China as a regional counterweight to rising India, whose presence has been a source of security concerns following partition in 1947, and three subsequent major wars. “India is bigger and more successful economically,” says Schaffer. “[Pakistan] has always sought to make friends with powerful outsiders, in order to compensate for India’s larger size.”

But the syrupy rhetoric regarding Pakistan’s friendship with China can be deceiving. “China did not help Pakistan in the 1965 war, and did nothing in the 1971 war,” says Christine Fair, assistant professor at Georgetown University. “It took the side of India in the 1999 Kargil war.” China’s trade with India outstrips trade with Pakistan. Fair adds, “Yes, China has been a consistent military provider, but the logic there is to keep Pakistan in the position to distract India.” Other analysts point out that investing in Pakistan’s ports and infrastructure gives China an alternative route for energy sources. Fair concludes, “The Pakistan-China marriage looks like a love marriage but it’s also a marriage of convenience. The only difference is, China doesn’t complain about Pakistan, but we do.”

Still, at a time when it seems everything is going wrong for Islamabad­—rising food prices and inflation paired with a weak currency, a middle class that has virtually disappeared, and a society that is increasingly fragmented—it feels it has a friend in Beijing. Though, as Cohen points out, “Pakistan may not be such a great prize for China. Between ethnic violence and religious quarrels, it’s coming apart at the seams.”

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