US Foreign Policy: Republican debate on Pakistan; Islamabad names new US ambassador

Updated On: Nov 24, 2011

US Republican foreign policy debate criticises Pakistan, highlighting tensions

Republican presidential candidates showed their differences in a televised debate in Washington on Tuesday, focusing on US foreign policy. The debate revealed differences over the pace of withdrawal from Afghanistan and aid to Pakistan.

In particular, the Republican presidential hopefuls expressed disapproval over US policy toward Pakistan, highlighting tensions between the US and Pakistan.

Texas Governor Rick Perry said Pakistan was unworthy of US aid because it was not pulling its weight to help fight al-Qaeda. “To write a check to countries that are clearly not representing American interests is nonsensical,” said Mr Perry, who has seen a drop in approval polls after recent debate stumbles but showed a stronger performance Tuesday.

Representative Michele Bachmann, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, retorted that the US should demand more from a “violent and unstable” Pakistan with nuclear weapons, while calling Mr Perry “highly naive.” Ms Bachmann named Pakistan as “a nation that lies, that does everything possible that you could imagine wrong. At the same time they do share intelligence data with us regarding al-Qaeda.”

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said that US aid to Islamabad could help “bring Pakistan into the 21st century, or the 20th century for that matter.”

While debating Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Mr Perry and Mr Gingrich backed sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran, with Mr Gingrich calling it “a good idea.” “I think replacing the regime before they get a nuclear weapon without a war beats replacing the regime with war, which beats allowing them to have a nuclear weapon,” Mr Gingrich said. Former pizza chain chief executive Herman Cain, went further, saying he would assist Israel in an attack on Iran, but only if “it was clear what the mission was and it was clear what the definition of victory was.”

Polls have shown that Mr Gingrich has an edge over Mr Romney, who has stayed near the top of polls this year but failed to win over conservatives. Mr Gingrich’s campaign has shown successes while Republican rivals like Herman Cain and Mr Perry have faded. However, Gingrich crossed into dangerous territory that night as he said he would support enabling some illegal immigrants, those who had been in the country for many years, had paid taxes and had raised families in the US, to remain in the country. He cautioned that the Republicans could not be considered family-friendly if it was to “adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter-century.” Similar comments by Mr Perry several weeks ago were viewed as damaging his conservative support base.

Report: Republican presidential candidates attack Pakistan in foreign policy debate(National Post, 23 Nov 2011)

Report: Spirited Foreign Policy Debate Includes a Test of Gingrich’s Rise (New York Times, 22 Nov 2011)

Pakistan names Sherry Rehman as new envoy to US

Meanwhile, the government of Pakistan on Wednesday appointed Sherry Rehman as the new US ambassador in the wake of a scandal which saw the resignation of the previous envoy.

Ms Rehman, a liberal lawmaker and rights activist who has faced death threats for opposing Pakistan's anti-blasphemy laws, appeared to be a candidate acceptable both to the Pakistani military and the weak civilian government.

Her appointment comes at a time of strained ties between the US and Pakistan, with Washington’s patience with Islamabad running thin as Pakistan has shown little progress in combating Islamic militancy in spite of the Obama administration’s assistance. The US raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May in an army town not far from Islamabad fuelled suspicions in Washington that Pakistan, while receiving billions of dollars of US aid, was also helping militants.

Ms Rehman’s predecessor Husain Haqqani resigned on Tuesday as he was accused of creating a secret memo to Washington asking assistance in reining in the military in exchange for pro-US policies. He has denied any connection to the memo in the scandal now known as “memo-gate”.

Mr Haqqani had made no secret of his desire to attempt squeezing some power from the army to the civilian government, which has earned him the military establishment’s abhorrence. He has also been seen as an apologist for the US by some in Pakistan.

Ms Rehman was a member of parliament in Zardari's ruling party and was especially close to the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Zardari’s late wife.

Within Pakistan, she can expect opposition from the right wing, religious parties and the army if she is seen to be too close to the US, which is regarded as a hostile force in most of Pakistan. On the other hand, her record of supporting human rights and women’s rights, along with her public stance on militancy, is likely to be welcomed by the US.

Rasul Bakhsh Rais, professor of political science at Lahore University of Management Sciences, said of Ms Rehman’s appointment, “She is an excellent nomination because she is highly regarded in Pakistan's intellectual and political circles, and I think even in those circles close to the military establishment.”

Report: Pakistan names new envoy to US in wake of scandal (Associated Press, 24 Nov 2011)

Report: Pakistan signals new era in relations with US (Independent, 23 Nov 2011)