‘Bad News’ from Pakistan


by Sunny
24th January, 2008 at 9:27 am    

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 ISI’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 ‘take on the groups that were perceived to be directly or indirectly supporting religious extremism’ (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 – 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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  1. Sofia — on 24th January, 2008 at 10:03 am  

    I do agree with the opinion that musharraf has to be the best of a bad bunch at the moment…(not sure about Imran Khan being able to do anything), but all this talk of democracy makes me so frustrated. You cannot compare democracies in say, India and Pakistan to democratic processes in Britain/America. The issue of religion and it’s place in Pakistani politics for one is a huge issue, not something that can be brushed away under the “guise” of a liberal democracy. The army, as pointed out swings which ever way suits its own purpose and let’s not forget the feudal structure. How about defining what democracy is, within a Pakistani context taking the above into account. As for what the “west” wants in Pakistan, well they celebrated BB and Musharraf, and they don’t exactly have a great track record…

  2. Sid — on 24th January, 2008 at 10:35 am  

    I’m really tired of hearing from people living in the West bleating on about how Musharraf is the best and how Pakistan should remain a military dictatorship and, by extension, an incubation tank for Islamist radicalism. Why don’t these people go and live in a military dictatorship wedded to gun-wielding mullahs and write us postcards about how much better it is than democracy.

    I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: where are the representative, authentic pro-democracy grassroots voices from Pakistan who have fought Musharraf for autonomous democratic instiutions and to back off from destroying any chance of an independent judiciary?

  3. Jeez — on 24th January, 2008 at 11:28 am  

    And just this week dear ol Sunny was advocating this ere country to be given a high seat at the UN table. Ironies abound.
    Anyway…Democracy has a way of cauterizing some of the wounds that lie like a gash on Pak soul. At the very least it will give the people of that benighted couuntry *something* to do, some place to focus their energies on rather than the debilitating frustration that builds up. At least elected representatives can be thought to be a little more thoughtful and acconutable to the people’s woes than those that live in squeaky clean mansions with 24×7 water and electricity.
    And Sofia – all this talk about ‘guided’ democracy adn ‘genius of our people’ and your comment about religion misses the point. Democracy is only a means of ensuring that there is a more distributed mechanism for justice and fair play adn ensuring life and liberty for the weakest of the people. Also that there is accountability for higher ups. If Islam is all that it is cracked up to be, then it should have made these things possible. If not, find an alternative that works just as well. Singapore is not democratic in the classic sense but you dont see people jumping down their throats do you?

    The point is that all the pygmies that crawled/killed their way to power in Pakistan none has/had the wisdom to even treat people with a modicum of respect.
    Ensuring a democratic process of accountability and a system that ensures peaceful transfer of power is the only safety valve available to make Pakistan seem less like a snake pit.

  4. Sofia — on 24th January, 2008 at 11:39 am  

    Jeez, if you bothered to read what i actually wrote you wouldn’t have totally missed the point and put words in my mouth…when did i go on about genius of our ppl…???

  5. Sid — on 24th January, 2008 at 11:50 am  

    Sofia,

    Jeez is Dhanush is Muzumdar with his usual hand-me-down, sectarian bollocks. Best not to engage.

  6. sonia — on 24th January, 2008 at 12:10 pm  

    “Why don’t these people go and live in a military dictatorship wedded to gun-wielding mullahs and write us postcards about how much better it is than democracy.”

    always a good point to re-iterate.

    the wider issue is of course that having spot elections don’t actuallly mean that you’ve then automatically ‘got’ democracy. obviously that’s the problem – its not a binary 1 or 0 thing you can have ‘on’ or ‘off’ = building up democracy is a process, and its clearly not a simple one, clearly not one which can flourish when people are used to violence and the rule of violence/violence as a threat. Question is – precisely because its a process and not a 1 or 0 thing, you have to take on board you start somewhere, and then of course its a long way, and not a smooth path, and no guarantees of ‘endgame’. that’s how its always been and suggesting that we dont do anything, because it wont be ‘democracy’ wush straightaway at the push of a button – well that’s precisely why centuries of non-democratic thought and conditions had carried on..things don’t just ‘happen’, (who actually thinks that? Politicians? People who want to be rulers?) it has to start somewhere. If people want short term solutions, well then that’s fine but that’s just how its been all these centuries, there is nothing particularly progressive about that, in fact its business as usual.

  7. sonia — on 24th January, 2008 at 12:13 pm  

    anyway all this i said this i said that is moot, never mind what we commentators from the outside did mean or didn’t mean. the real question is – who are the real powerbrokers here? whose opinions/thoughts count? that’s what’s more interesting to find out.

  8. Sofi — on 24th January, 2008 at 12:33 pm  

    What really annoys me first and foremost is the threat people use to justify rallying with the ‘liberal west’ to further their own agendas – anything that doesnt sit well means Pakistan’s nukes getting in to the wrong hands and so ultimately destructive. What bollocks.

  9. Sid — on 24th January, 2008 at 1:09 pm  

    The paper’s conclusionary sentence on democracy is:
    “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.”

    This is beguiling and wholly contradicted by the earlier passage in the paper:

    “The problem, as this briefing paper has argued, lies not with Musharraf, but within Pakistan’s perceived strategic imperatives and in the army’s domination of the state. Even if free and fair elections are held and judicial independence restored, this is unlikely to change.”

    So the real reason, as suggested by this paper, why democracy continues to remain stillborn in Pakistan is not because of the odd Islamist radical warlord, or Talibanisation of entire tracts of its geo-polity, or the ISI encouraging Talibanisation, or nukes but the Military regime. Musharraf is an incidental detail, indeed, without General Kayani’s backing, he’s dead in the water. And it is the US who prop the Military regime up in Pakistan. They also pay lipservice to “democratic ideals” as being the reason for, say, invading Iraq. There lies the crux of the problem IMHO.

  10. Sofia — on 24th January, 2008 at 2:00 pm  

    Sid…islamist warlord??? I would not say islamist would be their raison d’etre…what warlords are you talking about? old feudal landowners?
    as for talibanisation???? these problems existed long before the concept of a Taliban…have they become the new bogeymen alongside Al qaeda???

  11. Sid — on 24th January, 2008 at 2:25 pm  

    yeah, exactly my point Sofia. The warlords I mean are people like Baitullah Mehsud, Hajj Omar and other Waziristanis. People who were probably behind the assassination of Benazir. People who would view me as a Bangali heretic pooftah and you as a mouthy westernised baby carrier. They have not become the new bogeyman alongside Al Qaeda, they are literally the Pakistani Taliban.

  12. Desi Italiana — on 24th January, 2008 at 5:50 pm  

    OK, Sunny, no more love and smooches from me. I can’t believe you published yet another post in which it seems like you hardly researched anything, when you’ve obviously got access to the Internet and you can sleuth via Google if you wanted to.

    “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.”

    Forgive me for saying this Sunny, but it’s a stupid, stupid, stupid point. Sorry. This profoundly flawed opinion has been unthinkingly repeated in White House and State Dept circles so much that one begins to think whether they are saying this for marketing purposes or based on facts.

    Based on what facts are you saying this, Sunny? I mean, you’re blogging here, not reporting, and I understand the difference, but what is the point to write such a thing based on nothing? And repeating something that has been repeated for YEARS in the NYT, Bush administration, etc.

    “But even if we had elections tomorrow – would the people really have a varied democratic choice?”

    How the fuck will we ever know? Because as of right now, no one in the West is seriously pushing for democratic election. Why are you posing a rhetorical question as a statement to prove an argument you have no basis for?

    But let me point out that if you want to look at past examples, the 2002 “elections” that were held in Pakistan, people overwhelmingly voted for non Islamists. What happened? Mush gave the Islamists more of their fair share in Parliament. Even with engineered elections, the Islamists garned 11% of the vote.

    And I quote from my own post:

    “For example, the electoral success of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (a coalition of religious parties) in the 2002 elections was a result of the elections being “rigged in the favor of the Islamist parties:” they won 11.10% of the votes but “became the second largest bloc,” acquiring 15% of the National Assembly seats. And historically, Islamist parties have never been successful enough to gain more than 5 to 8%:

    Even in the 2002 rigged polls, in which they benefited from military patronage, the Islamist parties collectively obtained only 11% of the vote.”

    http://italiandesi.wordpress.com/2007/08/03/elections-in-pakistan-what-will-the-end-result-be/

  13. Desi Italiana — on 24th January, 2008 at 5:52 pm  

    “Even with engineered elections, the Islamists garned 11% of the vote.”

    Sorry, mistake here. It should read:

    “The Islamists garnered 11% of the vote, with engineered elections, they obtained 15%.”

  14. Desi Italiana — on 24th January, 2008 at 5:54 pm  

    In case someone thinks I am pulling those numbers out of my brown booty, you can click on my sourcing. It’s from the Carnegie Endowment, paper written by the former French ambassador to Pakistan; the other paper is written by International Crisis Group, led by Samina Ahmed, who has testified to Congress.

  15. Sid — on 24th January, 2008 at 5:56 pm  

    Sunny’s adopted a curious neocon stance on matters concerning Pakistani democracy, favouring the old “stability better than democracy” canard. And the Pakistani liberal pro-democracy wing has gone deadly silent.

    Beuller?
    Beuller?

  16. Desi Italiana — on 24th January, 2008 at 5:56 pm  

    For a post which responds to Sunny’s ridiculous idea (that was echoed by Sepia Mutiny’s Abhi-ji a while ago)which has not discussed the realities on the ground by any means but seems to repeats ad nauseum White House press conferences:

    http://italiandesi.wordpress.com/2007/11/08/eating-out-of-musharrafs-hand/

  17. Desi Italiana — on 24th January, 2008 at 5:58 pm  

    How come Sunny gets invited to the Fabian conference to repeat stuff that has been said OVER and OVER again???

  18. Desi Italiana — on 24th January, 2008 at 6:00 pm  

    I am being mean, but I am sorry, I can’t help it.

  19. Desi Italiana — on 24th January, 2008 at 6:15 pm  

    “not sure about Imran Khan being able to do anything”

    God forbid that he can do anything. He’s been the opposition poster boy, but seriously, he seems confused about who is aligns himself to. I read a great editorial in a Pakistani newspaper asking for “The Real Imran Khan to Please Stand UP,” published a few years ago, w/r/t Khan’s supporting some fundies.

    And his ridiculous notion of an “Islamic democracy” demonstrates how confused he is.

  20. Sid — on 24th January, 2008 at 6:40 pm  

    Well he did study PPE at Oxford. Perhaps he fancies himself as tightrope walking political scientist. But I’m still fond of him.

  21. Ravi Naik — on 25th January, 2008 at 11:09 am  

    “I am being mean, but I am sorry, I can’t help it.”

    Desi, it is not that you are mean, but it often seems like you let your feelings get the better of you, in particular when it comes to Sunny. Surely, you can appreciate Sid’s response (#2) and Sonia’s (#4) point as objective sans aggression, and I can surely appreciate your contribution in #12 … if you had your gloves on.

    PP can be a consuming experience, and we might get sorely disappointed when people we admire get it wrong (in our humble opinion, of course) – so it is best to to disagree without being disagreeable, and let the weight of our arguments speak for themselves, and avoid humiliating other point’s of view. (Not trying to be on the high-horse here, I have been guilty of such behavior myself).

  22. Desi Italiana — on 26th January, 2008 at 4:18 am  

    Ravi,

    “and we might get sorely disappointed when people we admire get it wrong (in our humble opinion, of course)”

    Well, no, it’s not that I’m disappointed because I was expecting more (there have been several posts that I’ve read throughout my time frequenting PP that have made me raise my eyebrows), it’s because there are so many resources that point to things other than what Sunny is pushing here. It’s not that hard to come up with alternative viewspoints that differ from the US’ line, which is what is posted here.

    And yes, I said things that were uncalled for. For that, I apologize. Sorry, Sunny!

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