March 11th, 2009
06:01 PM ET

An Ambassador’s view of Pakistan

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/02/04/pakistan.NATO.trucks/art.checkpoint.afp.gi.jpg caption="Pakistani policemen at a border check point last month."]

Arsalan Iftikhar | BIO
Founder, TheMuslimGuy.com

The word Pakistan literally means ‘land of the pure.' Sadly, there has been nothing ‘pure’ about the continued downward political spiral of this nuclear-armed, third-world fledgling democracy of 172 million people over the last several years.

From the December 2007 political assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto in the garrison city of Rawalpindi to the September 2008 terrorist attacks at the Islamabad Marriott hotel (which killed over 54 people, including the Czech Ambassador to Pakistan); it comes as little surprise to any expert on the region that one of our major regional allies in the ‘war on terror’ is now teetering on the brink of political disaster.

Especially in light of the most recent tragedies like the March 2009 Lahore terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan national cricket team and the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks on the Taj and Oberoi hotels (which killed over 173 people in eight locations); Pakistan has once again infamously proven itself to continue being a focal point for our global realpolitik for the foreseeable future.

Wendy Chamberlin was the United States Ambassador to Pakistan on September 11, 2001. A career diplomat and former Ambassador to Laos, since that infamous day, Ambassador Chamberlin has had the personal ear of both former Pakistani PM Benazir Bhutto and soft military dictator General Pervez Musharraf.

In an extensive sit-down interview, Ambassador Chamberlin offered her personal views on how American policy toward Pakistan can both improve stability for the people of Pakistan and protect the national security of the United States.

“The objective is stability,” begins Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin; as we sit together in her office. “I almost feel like a broken record here. I have always said that we will be successful in this broader, longer-term objective when we are seen to be allied with the best interests of the people in the region…”

“It’s very clear that we have been relying too heavily on the military for so-called ‘assistance’ and that does not work,” she continued. Ambassador Chamberlin then highlighted the fact that military actions alone are always “an ineffective way of delivering aid to the people…”

“So, I think one of the top concerns for Hillary Clinton and Richard Holbrooke [and President Obama] within Pakistan and Afghanistan is to re-design our assistance [and development] program[s] there so that it actually delivers results to the people,” she said.

Ambassador Chamberlin highlighted the sorrowful state of police forces in Pakistan: “Neither in Afghanistan, nor in Pakistan, do they have local community police that protect people…In these countries; the rule of law does not protect the people…”

She further highlighted the importance of a successful ‘police force’ by pivoting to the current political situation in Pakistan by stating that, “…When people do not feel protected, they put their faith into God’s hands…And this exploited, frankly, some of the rhetoric and extremist ideology of the militants who claim that their driving objective is shariah law [or Islamic law]…”

This is where the Swat valley comes into play.

Recently, Swat came into the global news cycle when the government of Pakistan agreed to a cease-fire deal with local Taliban groups which will lead to the enforcement of shariah law in the restless Swat valley. According to BBC World News, Chief Minister of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) Ameer Hussain Hoti announced a bill had been signed that would implement a new "order of justice" in the Malakand division; which includes Swat and its neighboring valleys.

On the recent shariah law ‘compromise’ in the Swat valley, Ambassador Chamberlin says that, “I think that is more of a reflection of the fact that the army and the police were unable to contain the violence brought by the extremists [in the Swat Valley]…I think it was unfortunate and ‘sold-out’ the people of the region…”

The ambassador agrees that it is a “…misrepresented and distorted [version of] shariah law” and that the local extremists have “invented their own extremist interpretation of it, which is very dangerous…”

“In the local election of just a year ago, the people [of Swat] went to the ballot box in what everyone agrees was a fairly ‘free-and-fair’ election…And what did they do? They voted the religious parties out of office…The majority voted for the Awami National Party, a secular Pasthun party…”

However, shortly thereafter, that is when the terrorism began in Swat.

“Just as soon as that happened, the extremists moved in, slit throats of the Awami National Party officials, murdered policemen in their stations, slaughtered the military, kidnapped wealthy people, blew up schools because little girls went there…They terrorized the region,” Ambassador Chamberlin lamented.

“This was in complete contradiction to what the people of the region had voted for in a fair-and-free election…And the terrorists won…So my view [is that] caving in…is capitulation…” she concluded.

Former national security adviser Stephen Hadley once said: “Pakistan is both an ally in the war on terror, and in some sense, a battleground of the war on terror.” For an oft-forgotten and perpetually misunderstood place like Pakistan, the political transition from a tin-pot military dictator to an opportunistic (and former jailbird) husband of an assassinated prime minister is probably going to be filled with many political minefields; both figurative and literal. Add some irrational actors to the political mix; namely Al-Qaeda (and their Pakistani franchisees), and you have all the global ingredients for a third-world geopolitical flashpoint.

From an ambassador’s view of Pakistan, there can be no long-term peace and prosperity for over 172 million of its citizens without an impenetrable ‘rule of law’ system and increased developmental aid towards the impoverished nation. By increasing literacy rates, women’s political participation and the protection of religious minorities, the sixth most-populated country in the world can recalibrate itself towards one day actually living up to the lofty global standards that comes with ominously naming your country the ‘land of the pure’.

Editor’s Note: Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, founder of www.TheMuslimGuy.com and contributing editor for Islamica Magazine in Washington.

Filed under: Arsalan Iftikhar • Global 360° • Pakistan
soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. J.V.Hodgson

    When will we Americans get the facts of history and allow other nations to rule themselves in accordance with religious views, legal and governance systems that meet thier desires, not some western or American ( European) view of what is right and proper.
    Pakistan despite the best efforts of Ghandi separated from India with horrible religuos and viscuos divides and hundreds of thousands of deaths of innocents.
    The current so called wars on terrorism are nothing of the kind. They are ideological wars of religion and systems of law and governance.
    Let them have all of those they wish Pakistan , Iran, Sudan, but restrict the right to export that system by domestic law in America and Europe. that simply says if you wish to leave your country of origin you may, but you sign up to an undertaking to abide by local laws and customs and system of governance. This means no multiple marriages ( dependent children or relatives) equal rights for women to education, voting etc and you may practice your religion in competition with local religions. However, so called religious fatwahs which contravene local law or system of governance shall be a criminal offence. Why? You chose for whatever reason to MOVE to a society that does not hold the same views. Accept that or do not move, because you came in a belief that somehow under the society law, system of governance elsewhere you might be better off.
    True maybe, but live by the sword and die by the sword of those laws and system of governance.
    NGO's do your best to promote basic freedoms of voting, womens rights, education for all etc. These are not political issues per se but Human fundamental rights.

    March 12, 2009 at 5:31 am |
  2. JamesT

    We need to provide security for the freedom loving people in Pakistan and as President Obama said, Extend a hand of friendship for the peace loving Talibans and respect their soventry.
    General Patraeus knows how to do this as being demonstrated in Iraq .
    However we must get BenLadin and his top leaders for 911.

    March 11, 2009 at 10:46 pm |
  3. Franky

    Yep, there's no question is gonna be tough but don't worry! if it doesn't work out, we can do em like Florida and...you know, maybe not a good idea. Or here, James K. Polk did it easy, when we wanted to take Mexico, all we did was...you know, maybe not another good idea, LOL!! Or here, look at what we did to California when we first found it. If there is a sign of how transparency will work in the White House, Cali is the place to look at...just ignore the transparency and bipartisanship, LOL!!

    I guess if there's one thing that history shows us is that we as a nation, have already done everything...I mean, everything! LOL!! ...

    Yeah, I don't like the odds either, LOL!!!

    March 11, 2009 at 9:46 pm |
  4. Annie Kate

    So they have a fair and free election and vote the religious fanatics out of office – but then they get terrorism. I guess the religious fanatics don't care how they rule – just that they rule. Until the extremists know they are subject to human law in Pakistan and that it will be enforced, they will probably continue to say they are ruled by whatever they think is God's rule that day.

    March 11, 2009 at 8:30 pm |
  5. Mariam

    Long term peace may be possible with the extended understanding of some people.

    The day Pakistan sees complete peace will hopefully be soon, and the 'rule of law' system is something that needs to be put into action ASAP. From my own experience in Pakistan, this system is what Pakistan is in most dire need of.

    If Pakistan had a reliable security system the civilians could cooperate and be at peace; it's the first thing to be built on in Pakistan right now

    March 11, 2009 at 6:33 pm |