Pakistan: Critical Foreign Policy GoalsJohn Gastright, Deputy Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs
Remarks Before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and Sounth Asia
August 1, 2007
Mr. Chairman, thank you for this opportunity to appear before the Committee. As you know, Mr. Chairman, Pakistan plays a key role in some of our most critical foreign policy goals, such as eliminating terrorism and violent extremism as a threat to our security, and creating a regional environment inhospitable to terrorism and other forms of violent extremism. Pakistan is also critical to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Without Pakistani support and cooperation, we would face severe difficulties in supplying, reinforcing, and protecting our Coalition Forces deployed in neighboring Afghanistan to defend the democratically elected Afghan government. Most of the logistical support for those forces in Afghanistan passes through Pakistan. Pakistan also is key to our strategy of linking the landlocked, energy-laden nations of Central Asia to the dynamic markets of South Asia.
A stable, prosperous, democratic Pakistan is key to the stability and prosperity of the entire region and plays a critical part in all our policy goals for the area. A successful transformation of Pakistan—politically, economically, and democratically—would bring the benefits of prosperity, good governance, and justice to 160 million Pakistani people. This in turn would help to reverse the inroads made by violent extremism and help Pakistan to move toward modernity and moderation, eventually becoming a model in the Muslim world. Our interests in Pakistan are immediate as well as long-term and strategic; we will be working together to address the issues and concerns in this region for many years to come. Therefore, one of our most important objectives is to forge a long-term strategic partnership between the United States and Pakistan that is strong, multi-dimensional, and enduring. But at the same time we must address our immediate security concerns emanating from that country. Our assistance will help the Pakistani people to enjoy the benefits of security, prosperity, democracy, and good governance as well as improve governance in the least governed and most vulnerable areas of Pakistan.
The remainder of 2007 presents challenges and opportunities to accomplish fundamental tasks essential to achieving our long-term goals in Pakistan. This year will help determine whether Pakistan makes a successful transition to a democratically elected, civilian government, and we intend to assist President Musharraf to fulfill his commitment to this goal. We believe that Pakistan must transition to civilian democracy and we are backing the Pakistani government’s efforts to make that transition. Civilian democratic rule will allow the Pakistani military to focus on its primary job of providing security for the people of Pakistan and ensuring that Pakistan fulfills its international obligations to combat terrorism and violent extremism. I believe we have a good plan in place to work with Pakistan on all of these fronts. The challenge is to maintain the right balance and implement the plan quickly and effectively.
The upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections will be critical benchmarks in determining Pakistan’s progress toward full democracy. To help Pakistan transition to a sustainable democracy, we are helping strengthen the accountability and transparency of Pakistan’s democratic and civic institutions. The U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department are working with international partners to provide the necessary tools for a democratic parliamentary election in Pakistan later this year. We are helping to create new computerized electoral rolls to help ensure that all Pakistani citizens eligible to vote will be able to, provide over 300,000 transparent ballot boxes, and display the new voter lists at 45,000 centers nationwide.
Additionally we are working with the Asia Foundation and others to train 60,000 polling staff and other officials, provide 175,000 voter screens to ensure voter privacy, train local media on providing election press coverage, and build voter awareness. We have focused on funding nongovernmental organizations that encourage women to participate in Pakistan’s electoral process with a particular focus on the FATA and the Northwest Frontier Province. Finally, we are working to ensure that the election is adequately monitored by independent observers. But we also know that a thriving democracy requires more than just holding elections. Democracy requires a free press, the right to free assembly, a fair and impartial criminal justice system, a vibrant civil society, and broadly participative and responsive political parties and institutions. We are working to strengthen those important aspects of democracy as well.
The July 20 judgment issued by Pakistan’s Supreme Court that reinstated Chief Justice Chaudhry is an index of the independence of Pakistan’s judicial system. The President submitted the issue to the judicial branch and promised to abide by its judgment, and despite the unfavorable ruling, did precisely that. The Chief Justice having been reinstated by the Court, the matter was resolved in accordance with the Pakistani constitution and both President Musharraf and Prime Minister Aziz accepted the Supreme Court’s decision. We think this outcome demonstrates to the world that the democratic institutions of Pakistan are able to function in accordance with the rule of law and be honored by all participants.
Most moderate Pakistanis are concerned about the growing threat of extremism and violence. Last month, the Pakistani government moved decisively against extremists in Islamabad’s Red Mosque after Mosque leaders spurned opportunities to peacefully resolve the standoff. At the same time, the Government of Pakistan is increasing pressure on the militants and extremists in certain areas of Pakistan. Extremists reacted with retaliatory bombings in the tribal regions and in Islamabad, killing more than 200 Pakistanis and wounding many others. Most of the casualties have been Pakistani security forces, many of whom were moving into positions in the tribal areas. Islamabad has also borne the brunt of this retaliation, suffering a suicide bombing at a political rally that killed 12, and a suicide bombing at a market that killed 18 people. This week Pakistani security forces conducted another raid on extremists in North Waziristan, killing some 10 to 12 militants in the operation, according to initial press reports.
The Government has meanwhile expanded its political efforts in the Tribal Areas by working to boost the capacity and will of local tribes to resist and expel violent extremists in their midst, achieving successes in a few cases such as the expulsion of the al Qaeda-affiliated Uzbeks by tribal forces in and around South Waziristan. At this moment, the Pakistan Army is redeploying thousands of additional troops to the border area and strengthening border posts and controls. Since January, Pakistani forces have helped kill or capture major Taliban figures such as Obeidullah.
In the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the Afghan-Pakistani border regions, the government is implementing a comprehensive, sustainable development strategy to combat terrorists and extremists and remove them from their hideouts by integrating these ungoverned spaces into the mainstream of Pakistan’s economy and government. The goal is to render these areas permanently inhospitable to terrorism and violent extremism.
Of course, we are under no illusions about the difficulties the Government of Pakistan will face in extending its writ to these previously ungoverned territories.
The Tribal Areas, for example, have the worst social indicators in all of Pakistan, such as a 3 percent female literacy rate. We also are clear about the level of commitment required to prevent Al Qaeda and the Taliban from continuing to exploit their border hideouts as a safehaven in Pakistan. In a $2 billion, ten-year sustainable development plan, the Government of Pakistan is committed to improving living conditions, expanding governance, and improving security in the Tribal Areas, and we are asking for $750 million over five years to assist Pakistan in this crucial endeavor. By boosting security and governance as well as political and economic development, the people of the border region will have a real opportunity to embrace peace and prosperity, while those preaching violence and extremism will be left in the cold.
President Bush has announced his intention to work with Congress to create Reconstruction Opportunity Zones which would further expand cooperation and official ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan. These zones will be a critical part of our broader counterterrorism strategy in those areas, designed to connect isolated regions to the global economy and create vital employment opportunities in territories prone to extremism. The zones will encourage investment and economic development by granting duty-free entry to the United States for certain goods produced in the zones, and create employment alternatives for the working-age population who may otherwise be drawn into terrorism, narcotics trafficking, and other illicit activities. This initiative includes input from across the spectrum of U.S. government agencies—State, Commerce, U.S. Trade Representative, Treasury, Defense, Agriculture, Labor, Homeland Security, and others. We hope Congress will pass the legislation necessary to create this trade preference program soon so that we can utilize this important economic tool in our fight against terrorism.
Our partnership with the Pakistanis gives us an opportunity to support Pakistan’s own efforts to become a modern, open, prosperous, democratic state, and a moderate voice in the Islamic world. That is the vision for Pakistan that President Musharraf has articulated and demonstrated by reiterating his resolve to stop talibanization on the frontier and in urban areas, such as the Red Mosque compound. It is strongly in the U.S. national interest that Pakistan succeeds in realizing this vision.
There has been a lot of discussion about whether Pakistan can and should “do more” against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Islamabad faces immense challenges on this front, but Pakistan’s contribution has been invaluable. Since 2001, the Pakistani Government has arrested hundreds of terrorist suspects, turning over to the U.S. such senior Al Qaeda figures as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi bin al Shibh, and Abu Zubaida. Pakistan is an indispensable partner, one whom we not only believe can do more in the war on terror, but whom we believe is already demonstrating its commitment to doing more, not only because it is essential to our security, but because they recognize it is essential to their own. Pakistan has already increased its military personnel and assets in the FATA region and must now use these assets to take more effective action against extremists taking refuge there. There are currently 100,000 Pakistani forces stationed on the rough terrain near the Afghanistan border, and more than 600 members of Pakistan's security forces have sacrificed their lives in support of anti-terror efforts, more than 100 of them in the last few weeks alone. Pakistani security operations in the tribal areas are disrupting terrorist activities in an area where terrorists previously felt secure.
In many of its operations against militants, Pakistani troops are using equipment and training provided by the United States. This assistance has been crucial to bolstering Pakistan’s anti-terrorism capabilities, and by extension, our own. The State Department remains committed to working closely with the Department of Defense, with our Pakistani counterparts, and with Congress to ensure that Pakistani security forces have the necessary training and equipment to conduct these operations appropriately and effectively. I am aware of the substantial amount of foreign assistance—both economic and security—that we provide Pakistan, and assure you that we will work to see that these valuable resources the American people provide to Pakistan are utilized efficiently and effectively.
President Musharraf shares with the United States a recognition that we cannot counter terrorism and other forms of violent extremism by military means alone. Our mutual goal is to drain the swamp by creating an environment inhospitable to terrorists and extremists. That can be done only by bringing governance into ungoverned areas while persuading the local people that the benefits of governance are greatly preferable to the false hope offered by extremist recruiters. Musharraf’s plans for the most vulnerable areas of Pakistan include not only security operations to combat terrorists but assistance and development to provide for basic human services, health, education, economic opportunity and local governance that provides for civilian security for those that support the government’s efforts. His plan cannot succeed without a modicum of security and the support of local tribal leaders, and Musharraf has tried a number of methods to enlist their cooperation, including several agreements and undertakings with various tribal groups. For the most part these agreements were poorly implemented and enforced and failed to produce the results sought by the Government.
Before these arrangements existed, the Pakistani Government had tried deploying regular Pakistani military forces to these areas, but found that this antagonized local tribal leaders at the same time they pressed Taliban and Al Qaeda. The Government then tried a strategy of working with the tribes to fight extremists in the area. This strategy had limited success not only because the tribes failed to stop the extremists but because those who did cooperate with the government were sometimes murdered by extremists. One unfortunate indicator of the insurgents’ desperation to maintain their hold is their willingness to kill tribal leaders to intimidate the local population. It is worth pointing out that the tribes in these areas have been victims more than supporters of the extremists. While the government has reinserted some forces into the tribal areas, long-term denial of these areas to terrorists will require the eventual support and cooperation of the local population. We think that in President Musharraf’s three-pronged security, governance and development strategy the Government has finally found the right approach in the FATA and we and the international community should support it.
U.S. development assistance in Pakistan is tailored to help build sustainable growth and improve living standards that will promote the conditions for good governance, responsible citizenship, and foreign investment. In 2006, the United States spent more than $100 million to help Pakistan upgrade primary and higher education. Our emphasis is on improving the quality and affordability of Pakistan’s public schools and to permit parents of limited means to pursue educational opportunities for their children beyond religiously oriented madrassahs. Pakistan’s efforts to improve education are showing results. In Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province, free textbooks and stipends paid to female students have increased enrollment by more than two million students since 2001. In the Tribal Areas, enrollments have increased 38% since 2000 with female enrollment accounting for 27% of total enrollments. National female literacy rates in Pakistan have increased from 32% in 1998 to 40% in 2005.
An additional $45.7 million in U.S. funding is aimed at improving maternal and newborn health services and the accessibility and availability of family planning products, prevent major infectious diseases and increase access to clean drinking water.
We are also working closely with our Pakistani and non-governmental partners on key issues such as furthering women’s rights and legal protection for ethnic and religious minorities, and combating forced child labor and human trafficking. Women’s health is a particular challenge in Pakistan, but we know that the rate of maternal mortality can be lowered significantly with properly trained rural health providers, and the U.S. Agency for International Development providing such training.
We continue to actively pursue our public diplomacy efforts inside Pakistan to ensure that we reach out to Pakistani citizens to share our own message, and help others understand American policies, views and values. Americans continue to be generous in their willingness to help and reach out to Pakistanis as demonstrated after the devastating 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, where the immediate and overwhelming support of the U.S. military and the donations of private Americans saved many lives and garnered the goodwill of the Pakistani people. Nothing could have been more effective in demonstrating American values and disseminating a message of friendship between our peoples.
We are working with the Pakistani and the Afghan governments to find ways to assist their efforts to stabilize the areas along their rugged border. The joint statement issued by President Musharraf and President Karzai in Ankara this spring demonstrates growing cooperation between the two countries. But it is obvious that tensions remain. U.S. and NATO policies must continue to foster expanded Pakistan-Afghanistan bilateral dialogue, stronger economic and trade ties, and deeper cooperation between Pakistani and Afghan border security forces. With U.S. assistance, Pakistan is working to secure its border with Afghanistan to prevent the smuggling of arms, terrorists, and illegal drugs which are fueling the Taliban insurgency.
Pakistan’s transformation into a moderate democracy and a prosperous and open nation where its people can thrive is vital to our own future and safety, as well as to the future prosperity and regional stability of South and Central Asia. I look forward to working with Congress toward this goal.
Moving on to Bangladesh, we find a country in transition. In accordance with the Bangladeshi constitution, the outgoing government of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia turned over the reigns of government on October 28, 2006 to the newly appointed Caretaker Government, appointed by the President to conduct elections within 90 days. From the beginning the opposition accused the Caretaker Government of party favoritism, unfairness, and incompetence. The former opposition party leader Sheikh Hasina called for massive demonstrations against the government that turned bloody and ultimately promised to boycott the elections if her many demands were not met. Our encouragement of a dialogue or compromise between the two main parties fell on deaf ears.
On January 11, 2007, on what appeared to be the eve of one-sided, violent elections, the President, at the urging of senior military officials, declared a state of emergency, indefinitely postponed elections, dismissed the Caretaker Government, and replaced it with a non-partisan group of advisers drawn mostly from the private sector -- all actions permitted under the Bangladesh constitution. The new Caretaker Government immediately took measures, such as replacing the Election Commission and preparing a new and more accurate voter list, which had been key opposition demands. Some civil liberties were suspended, and a massive anti-corruption campaign swept dozens of senior politicians, businessmen, and government officials into custody. Six months later the state of emergency remains and some civil liberties have still not been restored, elections have not yet been held, and arrests remain 15 percent higher than last year. And yet independent polls reveal continued strong support for the Bangladesh government among Bangladeshis. The challenge for U.S. policy makers has been to forge a policy that accommodates the complex realities on the ground in Bangladesh – a country that was fast becoming a democracy in name only, where money, cronyism, and intimidation increasingly dictated the outcome of elections, the Parliament could not function, the electoral winners vanquished the losers, and the opposition’s sole focus was on bringing down the government at any cost.
From the beginning, the new Caretaker Government stressed that it sought to restore, not replace, Bangladesh’s democracy, by undertaking a comprehensive reform aimed at leading the country toward free, fair, and credible elections. The government insisted that it would not be rushed in this difficult task. Initially we were troubled that this dramatic shift in government might signal a hidden agenda to indefinitely delay a return to democracy and conceal a secret military coup. We articulated these concerns to the new Caretaker Government immediately, calling for a roadmap to elections to be announced as soon as possible and advocating a lifting of the ban on political activity. We also insisted that, while we applauded the anti-corruption effort, it would enjoy our continued support only if conducted with respect for international standards of human rights and with due regard for due process under the law of Bangladesh. Thus far the Caretaker Government has been open and responsive to our views, and has taken steps to address each of our concerns.
Bangladesh is a moderate and tolerant Muslim-majority country. While its democratic credentials have not always been perfect, it has held three elections since the restoration of democracy 16 years ago, and its people take pride in this achievement. On July 15, the Bangladesh Election Commission released a roadmap detailing the path to hold democratic elections by the end of December 2008. With international assistance, the Commission has already begun creating a new voter list with photographs – a huge step forward in a country where flawed and suspect voter lists have cast doubt on previous electoral outcomes. The Commission plans to start meeting with political parties to discuss electoral reform in September 2007 and will continue with electoral law reform by February 2008. Staggered local elections will begin in January 2008 with national elections scheduled by December 2008. We have commended the Caretaker Government on the release of this plan, but will continue to encourage them to honor this timeline.
The next step for Bangladesh to take is to lift the ban on political activities, which hampers the parties’ ability to meet and introduce reforms. Since the Caretaker Government took power there has been a ban on political activity. At this point it is necessary for the government to lift the ban so that parties are able to meet legally to initiate internal reforms and prepare for the upcoming elections. We will continue to push the Caretaker Government to relax the ban on politics to allow Bangladesh’s civil and political society to prepare for elections.
Part and parcel of electoral reform is political party reform, which I alluded to earlier. Until now, politics in Bangladesh has been dominated by Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League and Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Both have served as Prime Minister and hold deep grievances against the other, poisoning the interaction between the two parties. They also resist any party reforms that will diminish their power. Reformers within each of the parties are pushing for fundamental changes in party leadership and structure and for internal party democracy. While this is a matter for the Bangladeshi people to decide, the United States is actively following these developments.
Mr. Chairman, you are no doubt also aware of the Caretaker Government’s anti-corruption campaign. Bangladesh has the dubious distinction of consistently scoring among the most corrupt countries in the world according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Corruption such as this is not a simple matter of lining one’s pockets at the expense of wealthy corporations, or doing a few favors for a friend. Corruption of this nature eats away at the very tissue of society, resulting in justice denied to those too poor to bribe, deaths and injuries from illegal construction, mudslides due to illegal excavation, and poor basic services due to lax revenue collection. It is no coincidence, for example, that Bangladesh has a serious power generation deficit, and that many of the corruption allegations against high-profile figures involve power projects. As such, the strong actions the Caretaker Government has taken against corruption are popular with the average Bangladeshi and underlie the Caretaker Government’s support among the people of Bangladesh. The government can point to achievements like moving swiftly to adopt the UN Convention Against Corruption, separating the lower courts from the executive branch, and streamlining the operations of Bangladesh’s largest port, cutting transit times through the port from over eight days to three and trimming the rolls of no-show employees by 50 percent.
However, concern about the potential for over-zealous anti-corruption efforts yielding human rights abuses has resulted in a number of inquiries from NGOs, Congress and the press. Approximately 200 top political and business officials, from both major parties, have been arrested on corruption charges since January. In the first six months of 2007, approximately 286,000 people have been arrested, a figure 15 percent higher than during the same period last year. This number includes all arrests throughout the country, from charges of petty theft to murder, as well as the enforcement of long-standing arrest warrants that, for political purposes, were never acted upon. According to the government and human rights NGOs, the vast majority of those arrested have been released. The anti-corruption campaign has spared no one, regardless of rank; former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina herself was arrested on July 16 on extortion charges involving a power project when she was Prime Minister. She is being held in a special jail created for her in the residence of the Deputy Whip of Parliament, where she is allowed regular access to her lawyers and family. In a demonstration that Bangladesh has a system of checks and balances, the High Court ruled against the government, and in favor of Hasina, in a petition regarding one of her cases this week. We continue to monitor the case closely, and urge the government to ensure Hasina’s rights are respected.
The United States supports, as always, efforts to combat corruption. The reforms being enacted by the government are necessary to restore integrity to government, impartiality and fairness to the criminal justice system, and to ensure the proper funding of public programs from tax revenue. But it is also essential that the burden of corruption be removed from Bangladesh’s economy to allow it to function properly, become more efficient in order to continue to grow and expand. However, we are carefully monitoring the campaign and seizing every opportunity to urge the Caretaker Government, both publicly and privately, to respect due process in every action of the anti-corruption campaign, to follow Bangladeshi law, and ensure that it upholds international standards of human rights. Detainees should be granted access to legal counsel and should not be held indefinitely without being charged. Although some have complained about the slow pace of individual cases, the courts have made a few convictions and more trials are on their way. We need to ensure, however, that the drive to rid Bangladesh of one evil must not substitute another and must not come at the expense of the basic rights and freedoms that are necessary for a stable, democratic future.
The Caretaker Government has not been without its missteps. Some of its initial actions toward journalists and detainees did not accord with the norms we would expect from a democratic country. Initially the government attempted to remove the leaders of the two largest political parties with out due process. However, the government has since corrected several initial mistakes. Formal limitations and informal pressure on journalists has begun to ease and, despite concerns that the increased number of arrests would result in an increased number of custodial deaths, in fact there has been a significant drop in the number of deaths by law enforcement officials so far compared to the same period in 2006. We seek, however, even more than this; we are asking to see independent investigations of officers, whether civilian or military, who are involved in these abuses, and appropriate disciplinary action taken against those who have been found at fault. We will continue to monitor the human rights situation and, when appropriate, press the Caretaker Government to take the actions necessary to protect the rights of all during this critical time in Bangladesh’s history.
Mr. Chairman, Bangladesh, a country where poverty is rampant, is also beginning to see further economic growth. The World Bank and IMF have noted that the Caretaker Government has carried out more reforms than previous governments have enacted in the last 10 years. GDP growth, at 6.7 percent for Fiscal Year 2007, was the strongest on record since Bangladesh’s independence. Economic prospects are brightening. But problems remain. Increasing prices of basic staples such as rice and gasoline are pressuring the poor and electricity shortages hinder industrial growth. Many of the decisions taken by the government to improve order and conserve power, for example have courted dissatisfaction. Efforts to address chronic power shortages by curtailing the evening hours of shops has resulted in economic losses to shopkeepers and disrupted work schedules of those accustomed to shopping after work. Razing of slums constructed without legal work permits has displaced the poor. Strict import regulation and the elimination of small vendors have also contributed to rising costs of basic commodities. These are some of the continuing challenges facing the government. Bangladesh struggles to collect taxes and is facing growing inflation. However, I am confident that the current government, led by the former head of Bangladesh’s central bank Fakhruddin Ahmed, will address these economic challenges through prudent reforms and completion of the anti-corruption campaign.
Bangladesh has also joined with us to combat terrorism. On August 17, 2005, the banned terrorist group Jamaatul-Mujahedin Bangladesh launched a nationwide campaign of intimidation by detonating nearly 500 small bombs across Bangladesh on a single day. The arrest of its top leadership in late 2005 and early 2006 under the Zia government led to a halt in terrorism, but a new spate of arrests in late 2006 and early 2007 indicated that extremists are regrouping with the intent of conducting new attacks. Upon taking office, the Caretaker Government identified counterterrorism as a top priority. Since then, Bangladesh has pursued extremists, cracking down on the Jamaatul-Mujahedin Bangladesh, sentencing and executing six convicted militants in March of this year. The United States will continue to cooperate with Bangladesh, helping it to strengthen control of its borders and land, sea, and air ports of entry. Further, we will provide, with the consent of the Congress, additional counterterrorism-related assistance in Fiscal Year 2009. This assistance is necessary to support Bangladesh in its quest to rid itself of further violent militants that may emerge from within the country or seek safe haven in its borders.
The situation in Bangladesh remains fluid and the Caretaker Government still must prove itself by adhering to the elections roadmap it has released, and by meeting each milestone and benchmark, culminating in free, fair, transparent, and fully participatory elections. It must continue to fight corruption while ensuring that the human rights of all its citizens are preserved and protected, while fostering the growth of the very institutions that will make sustaining democracy possible, a vibrant civil society, a free press, and a fair and impartial judicial system. The United States will continue working with our longstanding partner as it moves through this important period in its history. Together we can strengthen a growing democracy, eliminate terrorism from Bangladesh, and provide brighter opportunities for Bangladesh’s over 150 million citizens.