Being Hard on Pakistan
On Friday, Preeti Aroon at Madam Secretary asked "Was Clinton too verbally hard on Pakistan?:
Over at FP's Shadow Government blog ("notes from the loyal opposition"), some people think Secretary Clinton laid the smack down too hard:
- Peter Feaver thinks that when Clinton said the Pakistani government was "abdicating" to the Taliban, she stated her views "undiplomatically."
- My colleague Christian Brose thinks Clinton should be holding her tongue when it comes to publicly criticizing Pakistan.
As a woman, does Clinton feel pressure to come on hard and tough? If she hadn't spoken out when the Taliban were a mere 60 miles from the Pakistani capital, would some have perceived her as too soft?
Christian's argument is that we should be careful about not undermining the Pakistani leadership. You can make up your mind after reading his post, but this criticism is misguided. The perception that criticism of a foreign government would undermine the government is a fairly superficial - and extraordinarily US centric - way of thinking about this matter.
When we are busy bombing Pakistan and asking Pakistan to bomb portions of their own country at our behest (motivated by the desire to eliminate Al Qaeda and the Taliban) - it is naive to think that our praising the Pakistani government is going to play well within Pakistan and somehow prevent the Pakistani government from being undermined. The likelihood that the Pakistani government would become more unstable is higher if Pakistani citizens feel that their government is a puppet of the United States that would simply say "how high" when asked to jump. So, if the Pakistani government appears in public to sometimes not meet the expectations of the U.S., that won't undermine the government - quite the opposite. What's more, as I will discuss in a future post, the overt Islamization that was started under Pakistani dictator Zia ul-Haq was resented deeply by many within Pakistan and there is a perception that one of the main reasons why Zia was able to carry out his terrible deeds was that he had the overt and tacit support of the U.S. government during his reign of terror. There were strong feelings at the time that Zia got into the good books of the U.S. and was therefore able to do whatever he wanted inside Pakistan. So, if Pakistanis see their government as one that is trying simply to be in the good books of the U.S., this is more likely to feed more resentment in Pakistan and cause more instability.
The US should state its interests and must call out the Pakistani government if it is undermining human rights and democracy and not doing enough to curb militant groups - regardless of whether the Pakistani government likes this or not. The Pakistani government needs to balance the dire need to take the country back from Islamic fundamentalists with the need to appear independent from the United States. This is a complex situation and private channels should be used to build trust regardless of what is said in public.