Archive for ‘Pakistan’

December 28, 2011

Now Open for Bidding: Pakistan’s UNSC Vote

For the fourth time since 1945, Pakistan will take a seat at the Horseshoe Table on January 1, 2012. In terms of the politics of the Security Council, this means that one vote got much more difficult to predict on any of the number of issues that the Council faces as remnants of 2011, much less the unforeseen challenges of 2012. Pakistan’s role as a non-permanent member of the UNSC will be that of a wild card, casting its gaze about for the best prize before it raises its hand for or against any proposal.

Pakistan’s seat was by no means a guarantee. While Kyrgyzstan isn’t the platonic ideal of a state that the framers of the Charter had in mind when developing the requirements for service on the Council, it did have a certain appeal in its campaign for the Asia-bloc seat. Foremost among its strong points: it isn’t Pakistan. At the time of the vote in the General Assembly, relations between the United States and Pakistan were already on the rocks, remnants of the May 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden. No real counter-campaign to Pakistan emerged in Kyrgyzstan’s favor, as neither the US nor India stepped up to the plate to whip votes for the Central Asian republic. In the end, Pakistan came out ahead with 129 votes in the 193 body, a bare two-thirds minimum for acceptance onto the Council.

It’s surprising that the US didn’t lobby more heavily in favor of Kyrgyzstan. Doing so would have had several advantages. It would have provided a more likely reliable vote for United States initiatives. Kyrgyzstan has often been torn between the United States and Russia, and now increasingly China; US aid in gaining its first term on the Security Council would have been a strong point in the US’ camp. Further, Kyrgyzstan’s proximity to Afghanistan makes it ideal as an alternative shipping route for NATO logistics. Finally, and most importantly, it would have been a strong message to Pakistan that its role as a promoter of international peace and security is not a given. Denial of a Security Council seat would have been seen as an affront to Pakistan, especially if orchestrated by the United States, but such a shake-up would have been welcome at the time.

Instead, we today have a much larger rift in relations. Rather than being diplomatic in nature, this time the ire of the Pakistani military has been drawn over the accidental death of several Pakistani soldiers at the hands of NATO forces. Despite US and NATO efforts to calm the storm, Pakistan is now in the midst of re-evaluating its entire relationship with the United States, which will surely affect Pakistan’s behavior on the Security Council. The United States and the other Western permanent members have several equities at stake over the coming year that will require every vote they can muster, including Syria and other repercussions of the Arab Spring, further confrontations with Iran, as well as flare-ups in the Sudan and DR Congo. While the primary focus of Security Council dynamics often is focused on the working relationship of the Great Powers, the non-permanent members’ influence is keenly known to the ten holders of the rotating seats.

Empirical evidence supports their certainty. Several papers have come to the conclusion that states that serve terms on the Security Council see an uptick in United States foreign aid. This upswing begins when the member-state is first elected, continues throughout its two-year term, and then immediately decreases once its term has ended. While not spoken of, this knowledge is a factor in the race for Security Council seats among developing nations; the regional rotation of seats works against the original requirement of those most able to contributed to peace and security, so states may as well enjoy the spoils. Pakistan may find itself an outlier to this rule, as our continued military aid to a state that continues to hedge its bets in supporting non-state actors has come under sharper scrutiny. A reduction in aid at this time, while appropriate, could also serve to harm our interests during this two-year period outside of the scope of counterterrorism policy as Pakistan takes its seat.

The slowdown in aid without a resumption in 2012 would lead to the possibility that Pakistan will find itself more strongly allied with members of the BRICS-bloc throughout its term. The bloc, having lost Brazil to an expired term, is down a member-state that will constantly ally with it to put the brakes on Western efforts to utilize the Security Council’s full scope of powers. Even through abstention, the combined weight of the bloc leaves the other members of the SC scrambling to ensure that two other states don’t cast no votes or abstention of their own. Pakistan could easily fall into the BRICS camp, even if it does mean cooperating with its regional rival, India. The two are among the top contributors to peacekeeping missions, and are likely to work together to attempt to boost support for their forces in blue helmets.

The strain between the two may show its head when it comes to issues of fighting terrorism, however. India will be serving the second of its two-year term as the head of the UNSC’s Counter-Terrorism Committee throughout 2012. Formed in the aftermath of September 11th, the CTC hosts all 15-members of the Security Council. Any clash between India and Pakistan over the next year is likely to take place in this forum. Pushback on this issue may then reverberate to the Council writ-large, with the potential for destabilizing BRICS and splitting India from Russia and China while drawing Pakistan more into their camp.

This leaves Pakistan between the two sides, East and West, a potential wrench in the agenda for each. Up for grabs is its one vote among ten. When nine affirmative votes are required to pass anything through the Council, each one can matter, as Palestine learned when attempting to lobby for a full seat at the UN this fall. Unable to reach the minimum nine votes to force a US veto, the issue quietly died in committee. Pakistan is surely well aware of this, and will attempt to sway both sides on any issue, seeking political and economic promises before its support or dissent is given.

In theory, the two likely bidders for Pakistani support over the next two years are the United States and China; Russia’s primary strategic objective of defeating Western proposals needs no support as its veto power more than suffices. As for China, its footprint on the international community has been on the rise for several years, but has yet to translate to positive action in the Security Council, rather than serving as a brake with Russia. Should China choose to begin advancing its agenda on the Council more forcefully in the coming year, Pakistan would be a more than eager recipient of the attention and tangible benefits that would come along with supporting Chinese endeavors. This isn’t a certainty; the US using the Council to advance its own goals is.

As tempting as it may be to leave Pakistan grasping at straws with no takers for its product, it’s simply too valuable to leave on the shelf. The United States can, and will, attempt to build coalitions around Pakistan as often as possible, but there will surely be a time where that last vote is needed. And when that time comes, Pakistan will surely have an invoice ready.

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September 27, 2011

The Puzzle of Pakistan, or Why I Just Can’t Wish FM Khar Success

I clearly haven’t been paying as much attention as I should to Pakistan. Clearly. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been surprised when I saw a woman take the rostrum at the General Assembly this afternoon. I immediately set about Googling her, to see just what I missed in the months since Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar was appointed the youngest person and first female to hold the seat of Foreign Minister of Pakistan. What I discovered is that she’s 34 years old, only ten years older than I am, and has already managed to restart peace talks with India. Unfortunately, most of the rest of what came up was commentary on her wardrobe choices.

Those publications would do well to take her more seriously; she one of only two women to hold a seat in the Pakistani National Assembly that isn’t set aside specifically for women. Moreover, she has a tough job in front of her with US-Pakistani relations at a serious low and India as pervasive a threat in the Pakistani mindset as ever, but one that she seems willing to face head-on. In her speech to the General Assembly, she began by highlighting the fact that Pakistan will be seeking a seat on the UN Security Council next year, in the election that takes place during this session of the Assembly, filling the seat that Lebanon will be leaving vacant. Unspoken was the fact that India currently holds a seat on the SC, and so the two of them would be sharing the Horseshoe Table until 2013 when India’s term expires. The two countries have served on the Council three times since the founding of the UN, most recently in 1984.

Perhaps seeking to alleviate any concerns about this arrangement that fellow members of the Asian Group might have, Khar stressed that India and Pakistan are in the process of holding substantive dialogue, and expressed her hope that the talks will be “uninterrupted and uninterruptible”. That last phrase was more directed at India than any other state, an unspoken acknowledgement of the last interruption in talks, the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Whether she has the power to follow through and actually keep the Lakshar-e-Toiba in check is yet to be seen.

FM Khar then devoted a substantial chunk of her speech to the situation to Pakistan’s west, in Afghanistan, emphasizing that Pakistan is devoted to supporting peace and backs Afghan President Hamid Karzai and attempts at reconciliation with the Taliban. At the same time, Pakistan condemned the attack on the US Embassy in Kabul by the Haqqani Network. Here’s the thing about that, though. Just recently, outgoing US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen accused Pakistan of supporting the attack. The pushback by Pakistan has been forceful, but relations have turned almost glacial since then. FM Khar worked to defuse the situation saying that “perhaps understandable that there is a high level of anxiety and emotions”, stressing the need for the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan to “work closely and as responsible partners” and “not rush to judgement or question each other’s intentions”.

It’s not at all certain that the Foreign Minister has the power in the government to truly lead to a breakthrough in relations with the US. She did manage to cite some impressive figures in Pakistan’s commitment to fighting terrorism, saying that over 30,000 Pakistanis have died because of terrorism, fifteen times the number of Americans that died on September 11th. That might not be enough this time. Suspicion towards Pakistan is high and rising in the United States, the case certainly not helped by today’s New York Times article which ties the Pakistani Army with a 2007 border ambush on American and Afghan troops. This leaves, among other things, the prospect of the US supporting a Pakistani seat on the Security Council as shaky at best.

Pakistan is a puzzling case for US policy, in that we’ve clearly seen a situation where you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. After aid was cut off to Pakistan following the successful test of its nuclear weapons in the 1990s, we saw no alteration of its policy towards proliferation, towards combating terrorism, or supporting the Taliban. After aid was restored and boosted in 2002, we still have been on less than solid ground with both the military regime of Musharraf and the civilian governments that have followed. Pakistan’s policy in the last decade, as it was in the 1980s, is one where you never, ever find yourself holding a losing hand, and doing everything in your power to make sure that at the end of the game if you haven’t won, you at least haven’t lost. This is the case in Afghanistan, hedging against the US losing against the Taliban, and in dealing with India, making sure that despite talks its oldest foe does not think that it can trample Pakistan.

This sort of runaround makes sense in the short-term but is an abject disaster as a long-term strategy, which seems to be the case here. Rather than cutting ties with groups like the L-e-T and the Haqqani Network once and for all, the Pakistani government is still hedging its bets. While I like the new Foreign Minister, and wish Ms. Rabbani Khar well, the underlying fact is that until she and the rest of Prime Minister Gilani’s Cabinet prove that Pakistan has not only chosen a side but it’s one that does not act against the US’ interests, I can’t really bring myself to wish her success.