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Turkish lessons
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22 Apr 2010
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Thursday, April 22, 2010
Tayyab Siddiqui

High-level visits by head of states and governments are considered a normal diplomatic activity between two countries, primarily meant to strengthen bilateral relations. The recent visit of Abdullah Gul, the president of Turkey, however, held special significance for Pakistan which is currently in a vortex of civil unrest, political turmoil and economic meltdown. The four-day visit, both in terms of substance and protocol, reflected the mutual sentiments of esteem and affection the nations share. The decision to upgrade strategic partnership and enhanced economic cooperation along with the determination to jointly struggle to defeat militancy and terrorism is welcome.

The Turkish leadership has demonstrated a pragmatic approach in foreign relations and a commitment not to compromise on its fundamental principles of state ideology. Turkey shares amiable relations with Syria, Iran, Russia and the West. The independence of its foreign policy is best reflected in its relation with Israel, as Turkey is among those few Muslim countries which not only have diplomatic relations with Israel, but it also has close defence cooperation with Israel besides its long-term programme of arm purchases.

Despite this relationship, Ankara has severely condemned Israel’s policy in Gaza and occupied Palestinian lands. In a harsh criticism of Israel’s policy, Ankara compared Gaza to a “concentration camp” and urged the international community to take action against the Israeli leadership for crime against humanity. In a memorable episode Prime Minister Erdogan accused Israel of “barbarian acts” during a seminar with President Shimon Perez at the World Economic Forum in Davos last January. He stormed out of the meeting saying to the Israeli president, “You know well how to kill people”. Turkey later followed this condemnation by excluding Israel from the joint military exercises as per the military cooperation accord signed in 1996.

Turkey, of late has involved itself in regional issues and showed particular interest in the situation in Afghanistan. It has hosted quite a few meetings between the leader of Pakistan and Afghanistan in Istanbul. The agreement between Iran and Pakistan on the IPI pipeline project was also signed in Istanbul.

Turkey is among those handful of countries on whom Pakistan can rely during its adversity and also for substantive support for different economic projects. Three MoUs were signed to explore the potential and enhance collaboration, focusing on trade enhancement, energy and agro-based industries. Another landmark decision was to upgrade railway link from Islamabad to Istanbul via Zahidan and Tehran, costing $20 billion.

Turkey, with its 70 million population and a highly strategic geographic location has displayed the ability to integrate in the West and yet have a $20 billion annual trade with Russia. Similarly, its political and military relations with Israel do not reflect on its relations with the Muslim World. Domestically Turkey boasts of a consolidated democracy and accommodated popular sentiments for Islamic unity without jeopardising its secular identity.

Pakistan can learn a lot from Turkey’s experience of crafting a foreign policy based on public aspirations and yet avoid conflict with its international obligations. The manner in which the Erdogan government has handled its relations with the army in the wake of an abortive military coup, hatched in 2003 and revealed now, without straining relations should also be instructive for us. How Turkey overcame the deadly campaign of terror and violence by PKK in the 90s is yet another area we can profitably learn from.

The writer is a former ambassador.

Email: m.tayyab.siddiqui @gmail.com

Things to take up
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25 Mar 2010
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Thursday, March 25, 2010
Tayyab Siddiqui

Pakistan should approach the Strategic Dialogue in Washington with candour and frankness and not conceal its disappointment that over the last five years little has been achieved in terms of a strong, stable and enduring relationship.

The US side should be briefed in detail on its multidimensional role including army operations and their adverse consequences, in particular the displacement of more than half-a-million civilian in the areas. The operations have resulted in huge human losses, including 8,000 security personnel. The economic costs have been equally staggering. A conservative estimate puts it at $35 billion.

The Pakistani delegation should keep the focus on the core concerns. Two major issues that should engage its attention should be the economy and security. The commitment made in the Pakistan-US joint statement should be revisited. The American should be reminded of the promised steps in particular the conclusion of a bilateral investment treaty and need for fast-tracking an agreement. Relevant with these issues is the nature of assistance and disbursement.

A congressional compilation of US aid to Pakistan since 9/11 has put the figure at $18 billion. The data include $7 billion as Coalition Support Fund, which in fact is the reimbursement of the charges for facilities and services in support of the US military operation in Afghanistan. According to this data non-military assistance is $7.5 billion for five years, as provided in the Kerry-Lugar Bill. These figures need to be spelt out clearly and classified under separate head to correct the perception of US largess to Pakistan.

The amounts committed and actual disbursement also need to be identified and the arrears due to Pakistan reimbursed in time. The particulars of economic assistance package have overlapped other commitment creating confusion in public mind as to the exact amount pledged. Funds should be released when due and not held up for any reason.

Another issue that Pakistan must push forcefully is in the context of its energy needs. Islamabad must be treated as part with India and a civil nuclear cooperation on the pattern of India should be effectively pursued and definite commitment obtained. A US concession on this score would go a long way to bridge the trust deficit and lay the foundation for strong bilateral relations.

It should also be conveyed firmly that discriminatory treatment between Delhi and Islamabad is not acceptable and access to civilian nuclear technology must be made available on the same terms as it is to India. Pakistan must remind the US that should the US persevere in its policy, Pakistan will not be in a position to sign the CTBT or FMCT.

Pakistan must demonstrate its resolve to enter into the strategic partnership only if it is based on mutuality of interest and meets its core concerns. We must not lose sight of the fact that huge stakes are involved in the dialogue and must not compromise on its core interests. Mere assurances and commitments will not meet the requirement.

The US political leadership and the military command agree that “no strategy for Afghanistan could succeed without Pakistan’s assistance.” Pakistan must make use of this window of opportunity and draw full political and economic mileage. Pakistan hence is in a commanding position and must negotiate from a position of strength based on immutable principle of reciprocity.

Foreign Minister Qureshi in his press briefing on the issue sounded very emphatic and determined. If his statement was not for home consumption then we are on a threshold of a genuine partnership that, in the words of Obama, “is built on a foundation of mutual interest, mutual respect and mutual trust.”

The writer is a former ambassador.

Email: m.tayyab.siddiqui@gmail.com

Rudderless
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20 Mar 2010
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Saturday, March 20, 2010
Tayyab Siddiqui

Seldom has a government taken the reigns of office amidst such public enthusiasm and anticipation as the coalition government of Gilani. The people’s struggle against eight years of military misrule had finally been redeemed with the dawn of a new democratic era, giving them new hopes.

The priority issues that the Gilani government said it aimed to address during its first 100 days included relief measures for the poor, austerity drive, supremacy of parliament, freedom of information, and national reconciliation based on restoration of law and order with all institutions subject to democratic control by the government. He pledged to start a national employment scheme to alleviate poverty under which one person from each poor family was to be provided a job. Also, plots of 80 square yards were to be allotted to the homeless. However, there has been no action in this regard, nor any details regarding the mechanism and modalities to achieve the target have been revealed.

Prime Minister Gilani also committed to bring stringent financial measures to reduce non-development expenditure and limiting the perks and privileges of ministers and officials. Today, Gilani is presiding over the largest cabinet in Pakistan’s history and most of his ministers have suspect record of being bank defaulters and NAB convicts. Some of them are infamous for their corruption and dismayed record of performance.

On the economic front, the government has failed to tackle serious challenges, the most critical being the hiking prices of food and fuel and the acute shortage of electricity and water. During the period, gas prices have increased by 31 per cent, and petrol shot up to Rs76 per litre – perhaps among the highest in the world. The flour crisis and later the sugar crisis exposed the government’s incapacity to govern, and the greed and avarice of the rich, quite of few of whom are in the federal cabinet.

On the issue of constitutional reforms, he pledged to restore the 1973 Constitution, the repealing of Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), the setting up of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to promote national reconciliation and bring NAB under the control of the judiciary to strengthen democratic culture and institutions.

The truth of the matter is that the Gilani government has not only failed to achieve any significant success during the last two years, but no movement is in sight in the direction of achieving any of its objectives as well. Parliament has been declared, ad nauseam, as the supreme authority and final arbiter of any policy, but has remained a silent bystander.

Following the American tradition where the president addresses the nation every month on the National Public Radio, on March 5, Prime Minister Gilani spoke to the nation on radio, but failed to interest anyone. His speech was a bland narration of his government’s so-called achievements which carried little meaning or credibility.

The prime minister will be well advised to refrain from making such boastful claims which only further expose the incapacity and inefficiency of his government. His pathetic effort to assert that he is the chief executive only invites derision. A prime minister who cannot find one suitable qualified person, for months, to be given the charge of the finance ministry, is a telling commentary on the functioning of the government.

After two years of democratic setup, the nation is more fragmented and tormented. The ineptitude of the government as well as its policy of prevarication has robbed it of any lasting impact. The commitment made regarding the restoration of the constitution to its original form is still to be accomplished. The government seems to have no sense of direction or destination let alone a vision.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email: m.tayyab.siddiqui @gmail.com

Dialogue with India
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18 Feb 2010
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Thursday, February 18, 2010
Tayyab Siddiqui

Once again, the US has brought India and Pakistan to the negotiating table. The “irreversible” peace process was stalled by India, following the December 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh categorically and repeatedly stated that India would be ready for a bilateral dialogue only if “Pakistan brings the terrorists to book, destroys their camps and eliminates their infrastructure.” This stance was repeated in varying tones by other Indian ministers. Pakistan kept urging that terrorism should not be linked with dialogue which must be resumed in mutual interest of both countries. The two summit meetings between Zardari and Gilani with Mamohan Singh also failed to convince India to revive the peace process.

With the fast deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and due to the need for effective and decisive action against the Taliban, the US appeared on the scene at this stage, as its success became dependent on Pakistan’s total and undivided attention and action in support of the US operations. It kept pressuring Pakistan and during his visit to China in November last year, Obama publicly urged China to use its influence to improve Indo-Pak ties. The joint communiqué of November 17, 2009 spoke of the two powers welcoming all efforts conducive to peace, stability and development in South Asia. The coercive diplomacy of the US finally won the day. Pakistan agreed to join the negotiations despite the fact that India is not ready to make the Kashmir issue a part of the resumed talks. Pakistan has also accepted not to make revival of composite dialogue a pre-condition for the talks and a new framework has been devised in which terrorism will be the core issue in the forthcoming talks.

Indian diplomacy and guile is at its best. Pakistan has been asking for resumption of the dialogue without any preconditions. India, on the contrary, remained evasive or negative. Now, under global pressure, India has manipulated to emerge as a proponent of the peace process. My assessment is that the initial rounds would be consumed in determining the structure and framework of the talks and substantive issues won’t be discussed seriously. Pakistan has been put into an extremely awkward situation. Having repeatedly urged for resumption of the peace process, any insistence on composite dialogue would be seen as negative and disruptive. Sensing this dilemma that Pakistan confronts, the spokesman of the Foreign Office has blandly mentioned that “preconditions for resumption of the dialogue would be counter-productive.” It is strange that Prime Minister Gilani tells the nation that India is not agreeable to talk on Kashmir and yet Pakistan is able and willing to re-engage India in a process that till date has proved sterile.

The history of negotiations between Pakistan and India clearly brings out India’s strategy for an open-ended negotiating process to buy time to consolidate its position, both internationally and with the Kashmiri leadership. India has yielded to US pressure and for its own reasons. It primarily wants to secure its interests and investments in Afghanistan, both political and financial, in the changing regional situation. On the other hand, Pakistan has submitted to US pressure without securing any gains or assurances. India is in the driving seat and will determine direction and destination. I do not see India agreeing to hold talks with Pakistan outside the range of composite dialogue. The focus will be on terrorism being the be-all and end-all of the negotiating rounds. Pakistan should not expect any progress, let alone a breakthrough, for reasons spelled out above. The US, India and Pakistan, each have their own reasons and compulsions. Once the Af-pak strategy achieves its goals and the key role of Pakistan in this strategy is over, the process would be allowed to lapse into oblivion.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email: m.tayyab.siddiqui@gmail.com

Our image abroad
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10 Feb 2010
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Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Tayyab Siddiqui

A favourite pastime of our politicians is to call foreign policy a failure and accuse the diplomats abroad of not projecting the image of Pakistan and its interests. Quite often, parallels are drawn with India’s conduct of diplomacy and our diplomats are pilloried for their inefficiency and incompetence. There is little realisation that a country’s foreign policy and image is the mirror of its domestic policy and circumstances. No envoy is a magician, nor can he afford to be a con man, particularly in the present age of information explosion.

It is now a fashion in Pakistan to call upon the ambassadors to present a soft image of the country without thinking what exactly a soft image is and what should be the mechanism to project it. Gone are the days when the word of an envoy was taken as gospel truth and with lack of other avenues to ascertain the truth of the statements of an envoy, the interlocutor had to accord credibility to the information disseminated. Not anymore.

The envoy is a representative of a country to relay and project the policies and perspectives of his country and seek the understanding and support of the country of his accreditation. His stock in trade is credibility and trust, and he is taken seriously and given high pedestal in society for these qualities. Once it is compromised, the mission that he carries lapses into nothingness. In a nutshell, the ambassador can embellish the good news or minimise the impact of a negative development, but what he cannot do is deny or hide the facts.

The mandate of an ambassador has expanded beyond recognition. Now, it is not only the projection of foreign policy issues that he is charged with. He has to deal with a wide range of policies as well ranging from democracy, human rights, good governance, treatment of minorities, gender discrimination etc. A country’s soft image is conveyed only if all these aspects of a society meet the standard, raising minimum concerns from the international community. The emergence of NGOs devoted to social issues and working as a watchdog, particularly in the Third World, is a development of enormous significance. Organisations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group among others have their presence in most capitals and collect and collate the information in most methodical and scientific manner.

The prime concerns of the international community today are terrorism and nuclear proliferation in the global context. Our record, both in respect of terrorism and nuclear non-proliferation, is known to all. Pakistan’s role in the war against terror as a front-line state has been gravely sullied with reports of Amnesty International saying that terrorist suspects were held in Pakistani investigation centres and handed over to US agents without any legal process for a bounty of $5,000 each. Musharraf in his autobiography has confirmed that millions of dollars were paid by the US for 369 alleged terrorists handed over to the US authorities.

This should give us a reason for reflection. If we are sincere in projecting the soft image of our country, our representatives abroad must have the wherewithal in terms of domestic politics and policies. Pakistan’s diplomacy can achieve the desired results only if we put our house in order. The soft image is conveyed through human dignity and freedom and democratic norms. The first requirement is embracing democracy as a way of life. Democracy in today’s definition encompasses concepts of social justice, good governance, non-discrimination, zero-tolerance for corruption and, above all, freedom to preach and practise one’s views and beliefs. Any society devoid of these attributes should not aspire for a wholesome image abroad.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email: m.tayyab.siddiqui@gmail.com

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