Last week the think-tank IPPR published a briefing paper on the situation in Pakistan, which is available here to read for free. I’m assuming its aim is to inform government policy on what should be done, which is timely given that Imran Khan is coming soon (or already here?) and so is Musharraf.
The short document goes against the view, which many seem to have assumed from my last post, that we need Musharraf in Pakistan for democracy to prosper.
But although there are many documented instances of the ISIâ€™s involvement with the Taliban, the army is not a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism (Wirsing.2005:.3). Although anti-Western and particularly anti-American feeling remains strong in Pakistan, the majority of people in the country do not favour a strongly Islamicised polity (The.Daily.Times 2008).
Free and fair elections would give voice to the overwhelming majority who oppose the Islamic political parties and those who seek to use violence to further their aims, and even now, an alliance between the PPP and Musharraf could create a strong mainstream alliance to â€˜take on the groups that were perceived to be directly or indirectly supporting religious extremismâ€™ (Dawn 2007). In such circumstances, Musharraf would not have the same incentive to play the radical Islamic card to secure support from the US, though this card will be an important element in Pakistani politics for the foreseeable future.
Pakistan is therefore invidiously placed â€“ much of Western foreign policy particularly in Iraq has alienated large sections of the population, including those who do not support either the Taliban or al-Qaeda. Similarly, the NATO action in Afghanistan makes the claims of Islamist groups appear more plausible, though the strength of such groups should not be exaggerated. Western policymakers must now show greater understanding of the tensions within the Pakistani state and the economic, demographic and security concerns that underpin them. The coming of democracy would not solve all the problems outlined here and the danger is that while the West behaves as though it can have all its goals met in Pakistan, the strategy of some, particularly in the US, may result in the achievement of none of them.
Let me clarify: I agree that right now Musharraf is resisting moving towards democracy because he knows he is likely to lose power if there are elections. I also agree that he has to go eventually and we need a democratic and accountable government in Pakistan – which is what the people want. My only point with the last post was that sudden upheavel by liberals pushing for democracy might de-stabilise the country so much that Islamists may snatch power. I also agree with many of you who said that most radical Islamist groups within Pakistan have grown only because of help from its intelligence services (the ISI), including the Taliban and the recent Red Mosque radical.
But even if we had elections tomorrow – would the people really have a varied democratic choice? Who would they go for as PM? Who is right for Pakistan? In the absence of any honest politician who wants more democracy, who will people go for? I’m not convinced that just the act of having elections right now would solve much. And yes, the Americans can screw up things even further, and the paper notes their contradictory policies in the region. I never said we should leave this in their hands.
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Filed in: Current affairs,South Asia