While weather in the US capital may be unseasonably pleasant, the temperature in Congress is heating up as senators and House members publicly take out their frustration on Pakistan.
The first half of the current year has already seen several bills introduced by various Congressmen asking for the right to self-determination for the people of Balochistan, US citizenship for Dr Shakil Afridi, blocking of military aid and all assistance to Pakistan, and recently a cut in military assistance with more conditions than ever before. The Congressional mood regarding Pakistan has been described as ‘increasingly impatient’.
Dr Afridi’s sentence and the closure of Nato supply routes have adversely affected the mood in Congress as well.
Earlier this week, Senator Rand Paul tried to push for an amendment in the Senate farm bill calling for stopping all civilian assistance to Pakistan until the routes were reopened.
While there were some positive moments this week – Senator Feinstein asked Defence Secretary Leon Panetta during a hearing why an apology had not been issued to Pakistan and Senate Leader Harry Reid blocked Senator Paul’s amendment from going forward – the impression amongst many is that if the routes remain closed, Congress would continue showing impatience with Pakistan using legislation and remarks.
The way forward
A Senate aide, speaking to The Express Tribune on condition of anonymity, said that the US and Pakistan need political space, which would come from reopening the supply routes.
“If the routes are opened, it will give both sides space, and they can keep things going until after the elections,” he added.
A Congressional aide, also speaking on condition of anonymity, echoed the sentiment: “We need some small wins. Opening the Ground Lines of Communications (GLOCs) will be a good restart and can help calm the situation.”
“The notion of a US-Pakistan strategic relationship is basically over. We are looking at more transactional things we can do together.”
In August, Congress will go into recess, and will resume session in September. But in the run-up to the US presidential election, very little may take place – members are expected to be busy in campaigning – barring any big shocks.
But Islamabad and Washington seem to be in a stalemate since Pakistan insists on an apology.
“Pakistan might not get an ‘I’m sorry’, but there are plenty of ways to communicate condolences and regret. The president and Secretary Clinton amongst others have already said that in a time of war, the US regrets loss of life,” said the Senate aide. “There is increasing impatience and frustration in Congress with Pakistan, which is empowering right wing elements in the country.”
The aide said that walking away from Pakistan was not an option, and even if the issues at hand were difficult, both sides had to engage. “This is no longer the Reagan-Zia era of the 80s, there are multiple stakeholders.”
But engagement may not be enough to defuse the moods of the hard-line Congress members who are losing patience with Pakistan. The Congressional aide said, “Two years ago, the Afridi case would have not been a measure of our relationship. It would have been handled more discreetly.”
“If the GLOCs don’t open, you could see a further deterioration in relations,” said the Senate aide.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 16th, 2012.
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