Beyond the US resolution: Pakistan’s democratic future

Beyond the US resolution: Pakistan’s democratic future

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The recent passage of resolution HR 901 by the US House of Representatives indicates a key moment in US-Pakistan relations. HR 901 calls on the US government to work with Pakistan to uphold democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It stresses the importance of free and fair elections and demands an independent investigation into any allegations of interference in Pakistan’s 2024 elections. It condemns efforts, if any, to suppress democratic participation, including harassment, intimidation, violence, arbitrary detention, and restrictions on Internet access.

Pakistan’s Foreign Office (FO) has responded that the US resolution stemmed from an “incomplete understanding” of Pakistan’s political situation and electoral process. Pakistan reiterated its commitment to constitutional values, human rights, and the rule of law, emphasizing a desire for constructive dialogue based on mutual respect and understanding. The Pakistani government expressed hope that US politicians would focus on strengthening bilateral ties.

The larger question is if the global community believes the FO’s response. Accusations of human rights violations and other issues are frequently leveled and are also wielded as political tools by more powerful actors. While responding with verifiable evidence is essential for the Pakistani government, the government also needs stronger citizen voices to effectively counter these narratives. Such voices seem to be missing. 

Independent local civil society organizations (CSOs) can be a bridge in this situation. These groups provide a citizen perspective that can be crucial for addressing genuine democracy and human rights concerns. A flourishing civil society stands ready to support their government’s actions toward promoting transparency and countering negative perceptions. However, since the past decade some governments in Pakistan have followed their Asian peers in overly regulating the CSOs, resulting in a void which has weakened local narratives.

While the Pakistan foreign office response is timely, it’s important to acknowledge that all elections have room for improvement. 

Dr. Vaqar Ahmed

The resolution’s passage could have implications for the longer term vision of US-Pakistan economic cooperation which remains at best a transactional relationship. As Pakistan seeks a new IMF program, US support becomes crucial. Congressional backing for democratic principles might influence the global lending community. Demonstrating a commitment to democracy has been a key element to enhance the credibility of countries looking to unlock US and EU backed economic cooperation and this includes investments from US allies in the GCC region. 

US aid, both military and developmental, is often pursued by Pakistani governments. Recently, the Pakistani ambassador to the US asked for more military equipment from the US to fight a surge in attacks originating from Afghanistan. The ambassador explained that Pakistan also needs the global community’s help to address climate change impacts. 

Pakistan and the US continue to engage under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA). This engagement focuses on a broad range of areas including setting better regulations, promoting digital trade, boosting trade in textiles, and attracting more investment. Continuation of such engagements which also demand strengthening democratic values, remain important because the US remains Pakistan’s largest export destination, with even more room for growth. 

For the past several decades, US firms remain key investors in Pakistan. The government and private sector on both sides are discussing clean energy options. In recent B2B meetings, Pakistan has expressed interest in US companies investing in renewable energy projects in Pakistan. This discussion has gained traction as the US may offer Pakistan alternatives to the planned gas pipeline with a sanctioned Iran. The Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) aims to provide a one-window facilitation and continues to engage with visiting investors from the US. 

Pakistan also continues to benefit from initiatives of USAID – aimed at education, health, empowering women and girls among other areas. Multi-sectoral interventions can also be seen in energy and agriculture which impact Pakistan’s GDP favorably. The “Recharge Pakistan” program is focused on water management and green infrastructure.  

Only time will tell if the US resolution puts some of the above-mentioned at stake or not. However, this resolution should be seen as an opportunity for further democratization efforts. Sustainable democratic reforms require not just government action, but also the active participation of local communities, CSOs, and independent think tanks. These groups can become partners of government to create buy-in or shape political will locally and abroad. 

While the FO’s response is timely, it’s important to acknowledge that all elections have room for improvement. Openly addressing any procedural shortcomings will not only strengthen Pakistan’s democratic framework but also enhance its international standing.

Constructive engagement with the international community, along with a strong commitment to democratic values and human rights, is the path forward. This is also important for sustainability of lending and market access arrangements allowed to Pakistan by the global community. 

- Dr. Vaqar Ahmed is joint executive director at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI). He has served as an adviser to the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and has undertaken assignments with the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, and the Finance, Planning, and Commerce Ministries in Pakistan.
X: @vaqarahmed​

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