Senate of Pakistan

Chairman meets the President of International Crisis Group

July 9, 2012

Ms. Louise Arbour, the President of the International Crisis Group called on for a meeting with Senator Mushahid Hussain on July 9, 2012 at 12:00 p.m. in Committee Room No. 3 at the Parliament House Islamabad, to discuss the latest developments with regards to balance of power within Pakistan along with relations between civil, military and judicial groups. Foreign relations, particularly with the U.S, Afghanistan and China, as well as the aftermath of the normalization of relations with the NATO were also a significant part of the discourse. The following members attended the meeting:

1. Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed (Chairperson of the Standing Committee of Defence and Defence Production)
2. Ms. Louise Arbour (President of the International Crisis Group)
3. Dr. Samina Ahmed (Project Director, South Asia)
4. Mr. Jonathan Prentice (Senior Policy Advisor)

The meeting started off by exchanging pleasantries; Ms. Arbour thanked the Senator for his time and expressed her utmost admiration by mentioning that Senator Muhahid Hussain is one of the most credible, capable, and realistic representative of the Parliament. The Senator also welcomed all three representatives of the International Crisis Group to Pakistan and the Parliament.

Ms. Arbour informed that she was also the former Chief Judge of the Canadian Supreme Court, and therefore was deeply interested in the recent Contempt of Court Bill under discussion in the Parliament of Pakistan. Mr. Hussain said that there has always been a tussle for authority in the developing societies; however, the most commendable part in Pakistan is the transparency where everything is out in public and can be questioned. He also said that the judicial activism is part of the democratic process and a free and active judiciary is a component of the democratic society.

The first question came from Dr. Samina Ahmed, who asked about the Pakistan’s relations with the United States after the revival of the NATO supply route. Mr. Mushahid Hussain replied by describing the whole picture of the situation and mentioned the new realities which were to have a lasting impact on the politics of this region. First, he said, was that Pakistan today contained multiple power centers contrary to the past. Today, there was the military, the political parties, judiciary, media and the civil society, which shape the dynamics of the situation together. However, an internal balance of powers has not been attained yet. Secondly, Pakistan is trying to position itself for a post 2014 Afghanistan, and for that, it seeks better relations with its neighbors through regional cooperation and economic ties. Thirdly, the ‘New Great Game’ is in the process of making and Pakistan is viewing the situation in depth while maintaining friendly relations with the US and China. Fourthly, there has been a decline in the clout of the United States post Afghanistan and Iraq incursions. The US is now looking for a dignified withdrawal from Afghanistan for which it is even willing to hold talks with the Taliban today. He added that although the Pak-US relations have stabilized, but a meeting of minds has not happened yet.

As far as the post US regime in Afghanistan is concerned, the Senator stated that the Afghani people are very nationalistic; they will not allow any foreign ruler, and hence if the US extends its stay or maintains some sort of power within the region then this shall result in extended confrontation and violence. In terms of the implications for Pakistan post 2014, the presence of the Taliban as an indigenous force within Afghanistan is fine from Pakistan’s perspective, but Pakistan’s main vision is for a stable united Afghanistan, and will not support any single party or force which will go against that vision. Senator Mushahid Hussain went on to say that this region is extremely important for US interests, and is probably the most strategic part of the world in lieu of the New Great Game. The US would not like to destabilize Pakistan since it would be against their interests; they have already lost control over Egypt and Turkey, and given this context they cannot afford more destabilization. But they shall also have to accept an autonomous Pakistan.
Dr. Samina Ahmed then shifted towards the fragility of the political system, in terms of the multiple crises the country is facing at present, and asked the Senator where all of this seems to be leading to. Senator Mushahid Hussain responded by mentioning that all such crises boil down to governance. The delivery at the economic front is also a reflection of the competence of governance. Unfortunately there has been great distance between Islamabad and the rest of Pakistan, the middle class takes a very small proportion of the country, and this unholy alliance of diverging social classes has led to these multiple crises. The government seems to be acting like a fire brigade, waiting for a crisis to occur so that it can act upon it, this is clearly insufficient. There is no broad strategic vision for economic growth. He went on to state that the military is not the solution to our problems; they already have their hands full in fighting terrorism, and they have done a good job at that but have regrettably failed in terms of producing a counter-insurgency strategy.
Adding to the discussion, Mr. Jonathan Prentice asked Mr. Hussain about his position on the drone attacks carried out by the US. Mr. Hussain replied that we unequivocally oppose the thinking behind the drone strategy and condemn the strikes. It causes a bulk of collateral damage, taking lives of the innocent civilians and fuelling the fire of hatred and revenge among the people, therefore being counterproductive. The US sees it as leverage, whereas the ground results and the consequences are far more damaging. Mr. Hussain added that the US has not learned from its mistakes in Vietnam, where it conducted ‘Operation Phoenix’ to eliminate high value targets. The program backfired, producing deadly outcomes for the US strategists. They are committing the same mistake again in Afghanistan in the shape of the drone strikes.
Dr. Samina Ahmed then mentioned relations between the US and Iran, and asked the Senator of the influence on Pak-Iran relations. The Senator replied that Pakistan wants to develop relations with Iran in isolation of any stance that the US holds. It is understandable that the US will not take this well but Iran is our neighbor and it is essential for us to be on cordial terms with it.
Dr. Samina then went on to ask about China’s position with respect to the Afghan situation. According to Senator Mushahid, China wants to defuse this situation, and wants early normalization of relations with the US. China itself is going through a political transformation so they want this new start to be in a peaceful scenario. It shall also look towards being more active with Afghanistan in terms of political and economic interaction. Investments shall increase and will play an increasingly political role due to the rise of the New Great Game. Another very major reason for China’s increasing political role in Afghanistan is because of Xinjiang sharing borders with Afghanistan, so they are wary of the realization that extremism can spill over since Xinjiang is a Muslim majority region. Xinjiang is also a very important region due to its resources and its access to other countries via its border. Ms. Arbour backed this point of view and mentioned the need for the media to focus on the influence on central Asia.

Dr. Samina ended the dialogue by asking what would happen if the legislation introduced on contempt of court is declared as a violation of the constitution. The Senator replied that it is very likely that it shall be declared as a violation and hence there is a need for early elections. He went on to state that two battles are unwinnable, one with the judiciary, and one with the media. This however could affect the electoral process. As of now there is an informal consensus among political forces to let the current system continue because a plunge of the entire system would not be in favor of any political party.

Towards, the end, Senator Mushahid Hussain expressed optimism with regards to the future of the country, saying that the Pakistani society is very vibrant and dynamic today, and it leads us into hoping for a prosperous Pakistan in the days to come.

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