Rice and Kerry: What is in it for Pakistan?

Adramatic move and the second Rice was off the menu.
Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, wasn't perhaps destined to follow into the footsteps of Condoleezza Rice, the first Afro-American woman secretary of state, after dropping out of the race to replace Hillary Clinton as the top diplomat.

She will surely rue an opportunity that slipped out of her hands just because she hadn't weighed in on how sometimes words take a life of their own.

In Pakistan, it would be nearly inconceivable for people in positions of power to retire hurt over a couple of liners like the one Rice made about the Benghazi incident in which the American ambassador to Libya was killed last September. Forgotten in the umbrage that followed her initial remarks was that Rice was speaking only on the basis of the information she had about the attack that claimed the ambassador's life at that point in time.

After giving CBS's Face The Nation to believe that "we do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this (attack) was premeditated or pre-planned," Rice told ABC's This Week that the attack "began spontaneously" before it was "hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons".

Unfortunately for Rice, Patrick F Kennedy, US undersecretary for management, like Libyan President Mohammed Magarief elsewhere, had already described it as a "pre-planned" attack with the latter even suggesting an Al Qaeda link.

To her credit, Rice had qualified her reaction by saying that "We'll want to see the results of (an FBI) investigation to draw any definitive conclusions." However, such trivialities weren't considered worthy of defence. Ignored also was the fact that Rice's remarks were premised in unclassified version of information approved by US intelligence services.

Politics appeared to win the day as Republicans moved in for the kill, threatening to block her confirmation if she was nominated. The irony was that the Senate had previously unanimously supported a resolution that described the attackers as "an angry mob of protestors" while making no mention of Al Qaeda!

Ninety-seven House Republicans sent a letter to President Barack Obama last month complaining Rice's statements were "misleading" and that she should accordingly not be considered a candidate to succeed Hillary Clinton.

For Pakistan, it was the other candidate left in the fray who is of special interest: Senator John Kerry, a former Democratic presidential runner and the influential chairman of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee. In the trying Obama years, the Massachusetts legislator has been a regular fixture on the diplomatic front viz-a-viz Pakistan but this has been more in the mould of  trouble-shooting in and out of Islamabad somewhat aptly for his 6'4 frame and the proclivity to get on his bike.

When the bilateral almost broke down in the wake of a secret operation by US Navy SEALS in Abbottabad to eliminate Osama bin Laden in May last year, it fell upon Kerry to undertake the mission impossible to placate the "frontline ally" in Islamabad.

While it would have been well nigh impossible for anyone else in his place to deliver, he was able to make a case for keeping the ties afloat even as he pleaded that getting rid of Bin Laden was in the interest of Islamabad anyway.

The Pakistanis grudgingly listened not just because it would have been detrimental to disengage with the world's pre-eminent superpower on an issue that disturbed the deep recesses of the American mind, there was the small matter of dealing with the consequences of having been caught with the world's most wanted man — all the while denying his presence — in a rather strategic location.

At the same time, there is a soft corner for Kerry within the civilian government in Islamabad since he was instrumental in sponsoring and getting the Kerry-Lugar-Bergman Act passed in 2009, entailing a five-year $7.5 bn aid package for Pakistan.

Pakistan's military wasn't happy with clauses in the bill pushing for civilian oversight of what it deemed "purely military matters" and created a furore by going public with its reservations. However, after much rancour, Washington only agreed to append a memo clarifying those clauses.

From amongst the key figures of the Obama Administration during the last four years, Islamabad found in Kerry a rare sympathizer, who not only appreciated the stellar role played by one of the world's critical capitals in the war-on-terror at a huge internal cost, but also pushed with his bosses for better understanding in Washington.

If Kerry won confirmation as reports emanating from Washington suggest — the Pakistani military would have little choice but to deal with a secretary known for his strong support for democracy in general and civilian supremacy in particular. The civilian government in Islamabad, of course, would be much happier.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad.. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.


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