By AHMED QURAISHI
Pakistan has expelled two American citizens trying to incite unrest in the country, and foreign diplomats – especially the American and British ambassadors – have been put on notice: Do not test our patience on how some of you have been taking sides in domestic Pakistani politics.
But that is not all. Now my sources are telling me that the Pakistani federal government came close in November to expelling an American diplomat from Pakistan, in a move that could have set precedence in the longstanding Pak-American relationship.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, an angry U.S. diplomat accused me of spreading anti-Americanism through my television show and columns, but I will come to that in a second. Let me tell you first about how unprecedented American interference in Pakistani politics led to a sharp reaction inside the Pakistani government.
A rowdy federal cabinet meeting in the last few days before the government of Prime Minister Aziz packed up on Nov. 15 saw at least two federal Pakistani ministers strongly protesting the way Ambassador Patterson and Mr. Hunt conducted themselves publicly.
Prime Minister Aziz listened intently as one Pakistani federal minister accused his colleague Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, the Foreign Minister, of “failing to stand up to [U.S. Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice.”
“She has been bypassing [Kasuri] and having her office directly contact the [Pakistani] President’s office,” the angry minister told Mr. Aziz. “Kasuri failed to confront her” about this violation of protocol and diplomatic etiquette.
What provoked the Pakistani ministers was the sight of U.S. ambassador to Pakistan publicly taking sides in domestic Pakistani politics. On Nov. 6, she visited the Election Commission of Pakistan and tried to embarrass the Musharraf administration by standing on the Commission’s doorstep and telling the reporters she wanted to see the election schedule issued “as soon as possible.”
Around the same time, she visited the office of GEO, a private Pakistani television network locked in a dispute with the Pakistani government over a Code of Conduct that is already ratified by more than 35 other broadcasters across the nation.
Ms. Patterson decided to publicly side with the network against the Pakistani government. When some prominent Pakistanis objected to this, the U.S. diplomats ratcheted up the pressure. U.S. consul general in Karachi received orders to visit the office of another television network, ARY, that faced a similar problem [but ratified the code later and restored operation]. And then another U.S. diplomat, Ms. Elizabeth Colton, made a very public visit to an FM radio station that refused to recognize the Code. The U.S. embassy issued a statement that sympathized with the station’s position.
The message that most Pakistani observers were receiving was loud and clear: Interference in Pakistani politics will continue. Pakistan was beginning to look like Panama, where Washington once intervened to arrest a president and replace him with another.
Prime Minister Aziz deferred taking a decision during the cabinet meeting on how to react to this situation. But something had to be done. The Musharraf administration had detected disturbing signs that some foreign actors were colluding with domestic elements to create conditions in Islamabad for regime-change. Information was pouring in from multiple sources indicating unusual and unprecedented levels of organization and mobilization behind the unrest in Pakistan over the past few months.