Contrary to the contention of leading policy wonks in the United States and Pakistan and intelligence officials, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman has asserted that the democratic civilian government led by the Asif Ali Zardari government, not the military, calls the shots in her country.
As per the orders of President Zardari, Rehman claimed that Pakistan has dumped its use of Afghanistan as a strategic backyard, vis-a-vis India.
In an interaction that followed her remarks to the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC on Rebuilding US-Pakistan relations, when Rehman was asked to address the perception that the military in Pakistan calls the shots despite the Zardari government having survived almost a full term, she facetiously asked the questioner, “Whose military, yours or ours?”
On a more serious note, she said, “We have stakeholdered the military in our policy equations with the United States. That has been President Zardari’s specific endeavour and we look forward to a future where this doubt is not constantly expressed.”
Rehman lectured the questioner, “You have to move on and look at the results on the ground. The military is now working with us on this policy shift very clearly. We have reached out to Afghanistan across the board. So maybe you need to be in the region, maybe you need to visit Pakistan to see the challenges we are facing.”
She said in Afghanistan, “Pakistan’s road-map is very clear. We will support all roadmaps to reconciliation and negotiated settlement.”
“But what we will not do is play favorites in Afghanistan in any way that suggests that Afghanistan is our strategic backyard,” Rehman said, and reiterated, “This is not the new Pakistan and we are making that very clear by our actions and walking the walk.”
US-Pakistan relations, according to her, are now once again hunky dory thanks largely to her efforts to infuse a sense of “strategic sympathy” for Pakistan in the eyes of the Obama administration and the US Congress.
Rehman said, “Pakistan and the United States are now in a position where they can sit down and say, how do we build a future for South Asia that is pivoted on the vision that our President has been very diligently pursuing, which is that we build stakes, constituencies, equities for peace and stability in all of South and Central Asia.”
She declared, “The good news is that the bilateral relationship is back to a sober and stable and, even I would say, an upward trajectory.”
“I don’t hesitate to say that because again, it is not in the news that we have had five working groups working together on different subjects -- energy, nuclear security, law and order, counterterrorism, economy. Many other meetings continue to take place as we rebuild our relationship,” she said.
Rehman said, “We hope that the current regional instability can become an opportunity for our two great nations to act together as a stabilising force.”
“Pakistan, I can assure you, will act as a regional pivot for stability, but we can only do so if we have the trust and confidence of our allies,” she said.
Earlier, in her remarks, Rehman acknowledged that “we have a calendar of imminent anxieties as this (US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation troops in Afghanistan) draw-down happens.”
In this regard, she implored, “We want at least some strategic sympathy for what we are facing down in the trenches and on the front-lines.”
Rehman said, “The narrative machine in Washington has got to take cognisance of the fact that Pakistan is facing a great deal of shocks on its own, and right now, it is braving for another surge.”
She said, “The new normal between our two countries has been reached after a long and difficult and challenging but very important process. I say more important because now it may be more sustainable, more sober, and more defined, with more transparency, more predictability and trust than in the past.”
Rehman also took some hefty swipes at her predecessor Husain Haqqani, who has argued in recent articles that the US and Pakistan are trapped in a bad marriage and the time for a divorce is inevitable.
She said those who use “metaphors of marriage and divorce,” were “intellectually lazy.”
“Let’s look at ourselves as two nations with real needs and real responsibilities, and what we need to do is understand that we have come together right now in the present after a difficult 7-8 months,” she said.
Rehman said, today as “democracy to democracy, decisions in Pakistan are not going to be made on one phone call to a dictator -- and I am hesitant to even use the word dictator, because it is so Cold War and so last century and I hope it stays that way. So it’s not going to be like that.”
“Maybe it was convenient and I do have to say that we have constant interactions with the United States Congress and I have to say that Congress has always stood by and supported democracy in Pakistan,” she said.
Rehman said, “Our policy with the United States is driven and based now in the legitimacy and the solid bedrock of public consent because parliament debated it, thrashed it, turned it upside down for seven months and that ownership was critical to the new normal that we call today because that is how we can have a longer, sustained, clear-eyed relationship based on realistic expectations from each other.”