On the same day that Pakistan’s Supreme Court found its civilian Prime Minister guilty of contempt, the country’s foreign minister claimed that the military no longer dominates Islamabad’s foreign policy.
Hina Rabbani Khar declared that the military, which has dominated Pakistan over its 64-year history and determined much of its foreign and security policies, has less influence now than ever as a new paradigm takes shape in the turbulent country.
“I want you to also understand that things have changed in Pakistan,” she told Reuters.
“I think this [prominence] of the role of the military in the foreign policy of Pakistan is something which will recede as time passes. I think all institutions in Pakistan are realizing that there is a place and role for every institution.”
Khar, who is only 35 and the first woman ever to serve as foreign minister, added: “And it is best to serve Pakistan’s interests that each of the institutions remains within the boundaries of the roles which are constitutionally defined. It’s a new sort of equilibrium.”
She also said that this new dynamic may lead to significant changes with respect to Pakistan’s relationships with the U.S. and India.
“As far as the new equilibrium … you have consistent four years of democracy, it’s the longest term a democratic government has had in Pakistan,” she said.
She also cited the incident last November where a NATO raid accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. A committee in parliament then demanded that the U.S. cease drone aircraft strikes along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border
“It is not the first time that foreign policy has been discussed in parliament,” said Khar. “But is it not the first time that relations with the United States and other important countries were put on hold until the parliament gave a green signal?”
Khar repeated her country’s demands an end to the drone strikes, which the U.S. views as a highly effective method of taking out militants in the lawless border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan – but which have reportedly also killed many innocent civilians.
On drones, the language is clear: a clear cessation of drone strikes, she said.
I maintain the position that we'd told them [U.S.] categorically before. But they did not listen. I hope their listening will improve.”
With regard to India, Khar indicated that despite much opposition within Pakistan, particularly its military, Pakistan granted most favored trading status to its historic enemy and neighbor. This move, Khar contended, could not have been accomplished without a vibrant civilian leadership in Pakistan.
“Don’t underestimate the importance of what this government did with trade with India. Since 1965 there was no political or military government that could open up trade with India. And it was considered a no-go area,” said Khar.
“And that to me shows, one the maturity of democracy, the maturity of views, and the maturity of the decision-making exercise in Pakistan.”
However, the relationship between Pakistan’s civilian government and its powerful military and intelligence services is extremely strained.
The assassination of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani garrison town last May raised grave fears in the United States and elsewhere about the military’s complicity with terrorist groups as well as its determination to limit democracy within Pakistan. That incident has also greatly damaged Islamabad’s ties with Washington (which has provided Pakistan billions of dollars in military assistance).
The ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) remains at loggerheads with the military.
Indeed, Prime Minister Yusuf Reza Guilani was found guilty of contempt by the nation’s highest court – in connection with a complex web of intrigue involving the military, the intelligence services and President Asif Ali Zardari. Basically, Gilani was convicted of failing to investigate Zardari’s alleged acts of financial corruption prior to his emergence as president.
Gilani claimed that since the charges related to acts committed before Zardari was president, they could not be prosecuted. Gilani also asserted that zardari enjoys immunity from prosecution as the head of state.
Moreover, the military is believed to be behind the push to prosecute Zardari since the president allegedly sought help from Washington to quell the power of Pakistan’s military and intelligence branches -- a charge Zardari has denied.
Interestingly, the court did not sentence Gilani to any jail term, although he may face a battle to keep his job as Prime Minister.
M. Ilyas Khan, a BBC correspondent in Islamabad, wrote: “The outstanding issue is whether Mr. Gilani could be disqualified from office. It will depend on whether he has been convicted under a specific clause in the constitution… which would mean he is automatically disqualified from holding public office. But the court order was unclear on that point. A detailed judgment will be issued later.”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.