The HKS Citizen (Harvard Kennedy School)
October 26, 2010
By Sanjeev Bery
Alternating between criticism and praise, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi spoke about US-Pakistan relations at the Harvard Kennedy School on Monday, October 18th. Qureshi was at HKS on the eve of a US-Pakistan strategic dialogue with senior US officials in Washington DC.
In his comments, Qureshi offered blunt criticism of the history of US foreign policy towards Pakistan. “We see half a century of indisputable, empirical evidence of the US dancing with dictators who subverted human rights, using our people and soldiers as surrogates in proxy wars,” he stated.
Qureshi also sought to contrast past Pakistani military dictatorships with the current civilian government, which has become deeply unpopular under President Asif Zardari. “Over the last two and a half years, our country has fundamentally restored democratic governance,” he stated.
The comments came during the Pakistani official’s visit to the US for wide-ranging talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and senior US military officials. It was the third such meeting in 2010.
The US-Pakistan relationship has been roiled with tensions over consistent US accusations of Pakistani military support for Taliban leaders based in Pakistan’s border regions. The Pakistani military operates independent of Pakistani civilian leadership and is not controlled by the civilian government that Qureshi represents.
Pakistani officials have responded to US accusations by publicly criticizing US drone missile attacks in Pakistan.
While many Pakistanis have been critical of US foreign policy in the region, not everyone was quick to praise the Pakistani Foreign Minister’s comments. One Pakistani elected official from a rival political party pointed out that both Qureshi and current Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani had held office during the time of Pakistani military dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, a recipient of US support in the late 1970s.
“The Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister were both close to Zia-ul-Haq,” the official stated. “Why do they blame the US for doing what they do themselves?”
Not all of Qureshi’s comments regarding US-Pakistan relations were negative. The Foreign Minister highlighted passage of the Kerry-Lugar $7.5 billion aid bill as a step towards a new relationship. He pointed to US relief aid in response to Pakistan’s floods as another example.
“In the battle for the hearts and minds of the people of Pakistan, Kerry-Lugar is one step forward. Massive flood relief is one step forward.” he stated. “But drone and helicopter attacks on our territory and people are two steps back.”
Qureshi also took time to describe the staggering size of the floods. “Over the last three months, Pakistan has seen one-fifth of our nation underwater — an area as large as Italy,” he stated. “20 million of our citizens have been impacted. 10 million have had their homes destroyed. 8,000 schools have been washed away.”
According to US State Department official Frank Ruggiero, the US has provided $390 million in immediate relief and recovery efforts, including 16 million pounds of refugee supplies. Ruggiero added in a State Department briefing the next day that over 23,000 people have been rescued by the 26 US helicopters participating in flood rescue operations.
One questioner asked about alleged efforts by Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) agency to prevent Taliban leaders from participating in Afghanistan peace negotiations. On Tuesday, October 19, the New York Times had reported that the ISI had previously detained a number of Taliban leaders living in Pakistan after learning that they were secretly talking with Afghan government representatives.
Qureshi denied that any such interference was occurring. “ISI is not guiding any talks,” he claimed. “The Afghans have to decide who they want to talk to. It has to be a process led and owned by Afghanistan.”
Historically, the Pakistan military has pursued a doctrine of “strategic depth,” in which it has sought to maintain a friendly regime in Afghanistan in order to better respond to a hypothetical ground war with India.