Friday, May 22, 2009

Harper government incompetence on the Pakistan file

Interesting week watching the Harper government's handling of the Pakistan file. They've swung like a pendulum, back and forth. Defence Minister Peter MacKay says one thing, well, a few things, before and during his trip to Pakistan which would lead a Canadian citizen to believe that he has the authority and competence to be doing so. Then within days, Lawrence Cannon's Foreign Affairs Department, perhaps assisted by the overlord in the PMO, cuts the rug out from under him. So, what is going on here? Is it just plain old incompetence? An intra-party dispute spilling into foreign affairs? Could be and it all has the effect of making us look like amateurs on the world stage.

Here are the twists and turns this week.

While in Pakistan early this week, MacKay told both the Globe and the Star ("Canada eyes arms sales to Pakistan") that Canada was considering lifting its ban on military exports/technology to Pakistan. That was a big development and caught a lot of eyes. But via the Globe last night, we learned that Foreign Affairs has assertively retracted MacKay's representations:
The Harper government moved Thursday to quash Defence Minister Peter MacKay's assertion that Canada is considering lifting a ban on arms sales to Pakistan, asserting that it has no plan to allow military exports to resume.

It appeared to be an embarrassing contradiction of Mr. MacKay, who three days ago told The Globe and Mail that the Conservatives are “contemplating” an end to the 11-year-old ban.
But what's very strange is that the Globe reports from a number of sources that yes, the government was indeed actively considering lifting the ban and it was somewhat widely known in Ottawa. For example:
Pakistan's deputy high commissioner, Naela Chohan, said that after lengthy efforts of pushing for the ban to be lifted, Canadian diplomats told her in the past two weeks that Ottawa was considering doing so.

“I had been hearing it from my diplomatic contacts,” she said. “That's my information. If there has been any development or change on that, I haven't [had that] conveyed officially.”
It was also about to be discussed by the Harper cabinet according to a "government source" cited by the Globe. Now whether MacKay should have stated the information publicly while in Pakistan, that's another question. Because India weighed in after hearing the news, raising concerns about the lifting of the ban. The Harper government may therefore have been caught flatfooted by MacKay's representations.

A further twist, this Canadian Press report from last night, 'Pakistani nukes secure, despite MacKay warnings: report." After MacKay had been publicly rebuked over the arms ban, for good measure it appears that a report was released via access to information to CP that further contradicts something MacKay said prior to his trip to Pakistan.
Prior to a trip to Islamabad this week, MacKay had warned that advancing Taliban forces in the east of the country posed a threat to Pakistan's nuclear weapons.
But the report obtained by CP contradicts this point:
Security around Pakistan's nuclear weapons is "credible" and the threat of them falling into the hands of terrorists or rogue army commanders is remote, Canadian military analysts have concluded.

The assessment, contained in a briefing note last year to the country's top military commander, contradicts recent warnings by Defence Minister Peter MacKay, who said the south Asian state was the most dangerous country on the face of the Earth.

The report, obtained by The Canadian Press under access-to-information laws, comes after the Foreign Affairs Department took the unusual step of publicly contradicting the veteran Conservative minister over the issue of potential arms sales to the government in Islamabad. (emphasis added)
Someone seems to be going to a lot of trouble to publicly punish MacKay. I mean, it's not like we haven't heard concern about Pakistani nukes from the Americans of late.

So what's happened here? A case of swelled head-itis by MacKay who had been up for the NATO job and is having a hard time coming back to earth? Is it a lack of teamwork between MacKay's Defence team and the Cannon/PMO Foreign Affairs team? A reflection of an ongoing split between the MacKay PC side and the Harper Reform side with all the politics going on there? A further reflection on the PM for not being able to ensure such mistakes aren't made by his ministers? For not being able to manage his people with all that awesome "Stephen Harper: Leadership" mojo? Which lack of management is now spilling over into Canada's reputation on the world stage? And damaging relations between India and Pakistan?

Well done, Harper team, whatever the case may be, well done. It would be amusing if it weren't so darned consequential.