UK Prime Minister David Cameron is once again in the foreign policy news, this time for the grave error of saying what pretty much everyone knows to be true:
(After) a generally well-received speech to talk up the prospects of trade between India and Britain, a question and answer session moved on to the fraught relationship between India and Pakistan.
Although in his speech Mr Cameron had tried to suggest this was not a subject on which a British prime minister should opine, he appeared to accuse Pakistan of double dealing over terrorism: “We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country is allowed to look both ways and is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror whether to India, whether to Afghanistan or to anywhere else in the world.”
Given the care with which he had avoided giving any judgement on this subject in his scripted speech, his comments came as rather a surprise.
And given just how fraught that particular relationship is, his intervention might not be seen by some as altogether wise.
In Pakistan – which after all, has suffered its own losses of blood and treasure in the War on Human Caused Disasters – the PM’s comments have created quite a stir, not merely for content but also for context: Taking heat from the former colonial power on the turf of the current geopolitical adversary seems a bit too much:
Pakistani intelligence officials have cancelled a visit to Britain in protest at comments made by David Cameron about the country’s alleged links to terror.
The prime minister warned Pakistan not to have any relationship with groups that “promote the export of terror”.
Senior intelligence agency officials had been due to come to London for talks on counter-terrorism co-operation with the UK security services.
Shadow foreign secretary David Miliband said the cancellation was “bad news”.
A visit by the President, Asif Ali Zardari, is still expected to go ahead.
If this were merely a governmental decision in Pakistan to demonstrate the price of trifling with the country’s honor, that would be one thing. But this, alas, is something else altogether:
Dr Farzana Sheikh, associate fellow at Chatham House think tank, said there was “deep disarray” inside the ranks of the Pakistani government, with the intelligence officials and military “clearly at odds” with the political leadership over how to react.
“It’s clear the military and intelligence services want to show that they can act quite autonomously of the political leadership by announcing that Lt Gen Shuja Pasha will not be joining the president on his visit to the UK.”
Nuclear armed Pakistan’s democracy is still fragile, with only the bureaucracy and the military considering themselves fixed institutions. Governments may come and go – by one method or another – but significant elements within the ISI and military remain more faithful to their own institutional survival than to the whims of transitory politicians. But until all power poles are consolidated under and accountable to the government – and thereby to the expressed will of the electorate – Pakistan will remain mired in squalid internal skirmishes, eruptive blood lettings and sordid alliances of convenience.
L’affaire McChrystal demonstrates that in this, at least, the US has got it right. The deeply flawed 2007 National Intelligence Estimate demonstrates that we should not break our arms patting ourselves on the back.