The Cable

Rohrabacher: The Pakistanis are 'hard-core, two-faced enemies'

House Foreign Affairs Committee member Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) has caused an uproar in Pakistan by introducing a congressional resolution calling for self-determination in the restive province of Baluchistan. But the 12-term California representative is unfazed by the criticism: If the Pakistanis don't like it, that's their problem, he told The Cable in an interview today.

"The purpose of the resolution was to create a much-needed dialogue about Pakistan and Baluchistan, and that's what it's done, so that's very nice," he said. "It's important to get over that phase where people are going ballistic and start getting serious discussion about an issue that's been ignored but shouldn't be ignored."

Rohrabacher said the Baluchistan issue and the human rights violations there have been ignored in Washington out of a fear of offending the Pakistani establishment, but that strategy isn't working.

"It's one of those issues that's been ignored as to not upset the Pakistanis because they are fragile friends," he said. "Well, they're not fragile friends, they are hard-core, two-faced enemies of the United States."

Rohrabacher isn't shy about his anger with the Pakistani government, its attitude toward the United States, and its actions related to America's war against the Taliban and al Qaeda. In fact, the discovery that Osama bin Laden was hiding for years in the Pakistani military town of Abbottabad was direct motivation for his Baluchistan initiative, he said.

"What made me really determined to get involved to the point where I was willing to author resolutions like this was when Osama bin Laden was discovered in an area which made it clear that Pakistanis had for eight years taken billions in U.S. foreign aid while giving safe haven to the monster that slaughtered 3,000 Americans on 9/11," he said. "At that point I felt, no more walking on egg shells around Pakistan."

Baluchistan is the largest of Pakistan's four provinces and is home to about 8 million people, many from the Baloch tribes, which have Persian and Kurdish origins. Nationalist movements there have fought the Pakistani government intermittently for independence over the past decades, with the most recent skirmishes in 2006.

There's no love lost for Rohrabacher on the Pakistani side of the relationship, either. There were street protests against the resolution and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said, "This resolution violates our sovereignty and we condemn it." A visiting U.S. congressional delegation in Islamabad had to distance itself from Rohrabacher's resolution.

"I can see why the prime minister of Pakistan wouldn't fully understand why people in various countries -- especially elected officials -- are free to comment on any policies they see fit in any country they see fit," Rohrabacher said. "That's what freedom is all about, but perhaps that's why they don't understand it."

One theory that became popular in the Pakistani press following Rohrabacher's Feb. 8 hearing on the resolution was that Rohrabacher was working with the CIA to try to pressure Pakistan to allow U.S. intelligence agencies to put listening posts in Baluchistan aimed at Iran.

"Anyone who believes that is totally out of touch with reality," Rohrabacher responded. "I've had no discussions with anyone in the CIA about this whatsoever and my guess is that if I did, they would be doing somersaults trying to prevent me from doing this."

In fact, he didn't even bother to confer with the Obama administration about the resolution at all, he said, and has not heard from any administration officials.

"It was my resolution and not theirs," he said of the administration. "Unlike our friends in Pakistan, they understand that in a democracy people elected to the legislative branch have the right to propose any legislation they want. I can see why the Pakistani government wouldn't understand that."

Rohrabacher compared the struggle of the people of Baluchistan to the struggle of the American colonies against the British Empire. "Like in the United States, where we gave a declaration of independence, we have a right to a country separate from Great Britain. That's what self-determination is," he said.

Beyond Baluchistan, Rohrabacher's top priority is preventing Pakistan from influencing the Afghanistan reconciliation talks to the benefit of the Taliban. He promises to fight giving U.S. aid to Pakistan if that's the case.

"The most important thing now is not to permit Pakistan to think they can do anything they want and there will never be any repercussions and they can side with any enemy of the West and still think we're going to pour money into their pockets," he said. "That ain't gonna happen."

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

The Cable

“Friends of Syria” meeting will be about humanitarian access

The first even "Friends of Syria" meeting Friday in Tunis will focus on ensuring humanitarian access and a possible short-term ceasefire, according to State Department officials traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in London.

Clinton had several meetings with European and Arab leaders on the sidelines of the London conference on Somalia to prepare for "Friends of Syria" event, where dozens of countries will meet to determine what steps the international community can take to bring relief to the communities under siege from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

"There is a lot of concern, of course, about what's happening in places like Homs, the horrific conditions in which people [find themselves], and how do we get the right type of humanitarian and medical assistance [into Syria] that people need," a State Department official told reporters traveling with Clinton in London.

"And [there is] general agreement that while all of us have been working with various humanitarian well-known organizations, U.N. organizations on the ground, that the real challenge is the access issue. And it is going to be up to the Syrian government to be -- the Syrian authorities, the Syrian regime -- to respond to the international community's real commitment to provide the type of assistance."

The Tunis meeting should result in concrete proposal for speeding humanitarian and medical assistance to the civilians inside Syria, but all would require the agreement of the Assad regime, the official said.

The second main focus of the Tunis meeting will be to coalesce around a plan to transition toward democracy in Syria. Members of the Syrian National Council, the opposition group composed mostly of people living outside Syria, has its own plan for transition that it will present at the Tunis meeting. That plan and the Arab League backed plan for transition are not mutually exclusive, the State Department official said.

"Everybody is backing the Arab League transition plan who's at the conference tomorrow, but it's incumbent upon the Syrian National Council to talk about how they would translate that transition plan into action on the ground and for them to articulate it in a compelling way that's comprehensible, understandable to Syrians inside and out," said the official.

The third focus of the Tunis meeting will be how the international community can coordinate sanctions to bring maximum pressure and isolation on the Assad regime.

How does the "Friends of Syria" group plan to incentivize Assad to go along with any of these ideas? According to a report by the Associated Press, Clinton and the other leaders are considering issuing Assad a 72-hour ultimatum whereby he would have to agree to a ceasefire and grant humanitarian access or face as yet unspecified additional penalties. The ceasefire could be granted in 2 hour per day increments, as the International Committee for the Red Cross has suggested.

"Clinton met Thursday in London with foreign ministers and senior officials from about a dozen countries, including Britain, France, Germany, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates," the AP reported.

Representatives from Syria's internal opposition groups will not be at the conference. One administration official told The Cable that Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford had urged in internal discussions that opposition council leaders from Damascus and Homs be included in the Tunis meeting but ultimately they were not invited.

The Obama administration has focused on interacting with the external opposition and avoiding direct contact with the Free Syrian Army, which is working closely with the local rebel councils inside Syria, the administration official said.

But the State Department official speaking with reporters in London said the administration was confident that the SNC was adequately representing the array of opposition groups inside and outside Syria.

"It's a very complicated political situation that they face that the Syrian opposition members, whether they're inside or outside, have a hard time communicating with each other given the restrictions that are put on to the -- onto the Internet, onto movement, given the horrific conditions under which people are living and operating inside Syria," the State Department official said. "The opposition has done a fairly good job of reaching out, being able to synthesize views from across Syria. And I think that all of us are favorably impressed with the direction in which they're moving. But we'll hear from them tomorrow in terms of specific needs."