Current crises in Pakistan are not the result of any power vacuum or a single event but six decades of misrule by successive regimes representing bureaucratic, military and feudal interests. People thought that by the end of General Pervez Musharruf’s term as president, the country would move to a democratic polity in free and fair elections. The current situation has become even more complicated since he has sacked the Supreme Court and plans to hold elections under the emergency rule.
The United States offered a quick fix bringing the hope that a serious democratic change would be possible. The success of this democratic change, under the Washington strategy, depended upon just the two leaders - General Musharraf, head of a powerful army; and Bhutto, a symbol of democracy. Unfortunately, in the public’s mind, both of these leaders are now perceived to be corrupt and beholden to foreign interests.
Deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who has defied the army generals twice, has taken a stand against corruption and is committed to upholding national interests - does not appear to be a factor in the army’s or the Bush Administration’s calculations as part of the solution. Nevertheless, he has emerged as a national hero championing the cause of democracy and good governance. He has the trust (?) of the population and is not corrupted by internal intrigues and foreign influence. He is the true hope of democracy in Pakistan and could be the solution to these complicated issues of geopolitical politics.
The political, economic and social issues in northern Pakistan are complicated as the tribal clans in the north and in Afghanistan are fiercely independent and culturally committed to their values and traditions. A long-term program of education and economic development can end their isolation from the modern way of life and gradually integrate them into the mainstream civil society. The West must invest resources in education and economic programs in these remote areas. It has a good chance of achieving peace and progress. The present strategy of armed confrontation and continued use of force has not been the solution when the British and the Russians have tried it in the past.
A key factor in this crisis is Pakistan’s suspected role in allowing al-Qaida within its borders. General Musharraf‘s political alliances with the religious parties created a vacuum in the north allowing Jihadis and al-Qaida to fill the gap. The real question behind the ongoing war in Afghanistan is not whether Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan or on the other side of the border, but to acknowledge the people’s democratic aspiration and socio-economic problems and to address these pressing issues with a sense of urgency.
Why does General Musharraf stand discredited in the politics of the country and in the eyes of the people? Those same people had welcomed him with great enthusiasm as their saviour in 1999 - although he had suspended the constitution and declared martial law. This was mainly due to the fact that the two previous democratic governments of Mr. Sharif and Ms Bhutto had proven incompetent and corrupt. During Musharraf’s eight years of rule as president and army chief, the law and order situation has deteriorated, with little or no safeguards for life and property. There is a huge increase in corruption and a very poor state of governance. Corporate enterprises of the army benefit mainly the officer class and dominate the country’s economic life. Throughout this period not a single initiative or program for uplifting the people has been undertaken.
In the wake of 9/11, General Musharraf’s role of fighting the West’s war in Afghanistan has alienated the people. Generous American economic and military assistance (over $10 billion since 2002) is apparently benefiting only the army generals. Inflation and poverty and the deteriorating law and order situation have been worsening people’s hardships. A frequently asked question in Pakistan is: whose interests is the Musharraf regime serving -the people’s or some foreign? He is increasingly viewed as an American puppet “bought and paid for”.
Ms Bhutto was in self-imposed exile while under a cloud of corruption and money laundering charges both at home and abroad. She and her playboy husband, who was in charge of investments of the Bhutto government, stole over $1 billion, according to the Pakistan press. She was actually convicted of money laundering in Swiss courts (the case is currently under appeal). She is a graduate of Harvard and Oxford but is unable to divorce herself from her feudal upbringing. She is the chairperson for life of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) founded by her illustrious father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. In making her party’s political and financial decisions, she exhibits little taste and patience for democracy. Her father, head of the first elected government, paid the ultimate price for his stance on democracy and for trying to uphold national interests. He was hanged by the US-supported General Zia. His crime? Opposition to the military rule.
The fact that Ms Bhutto received a warm welcome in the streets of Karachi on her recent return from exile in Dubai shows that she continues to be popular among the people. These events show how desperate the people are for a participatory democratic order. People remember her father’s sacrifices for them and his country. This is why people are willing to forget her past and want to give her another chance. Another reason might be the absence of a credible leader at this time. One interesting point regarding her exile in Dubai and her frequent visits to London and Washington: people in Pakistan did not seem to miss her. It is only her belated presence in Pakistan that appears to have made a huge political impact.
India as a neighbour has not helped the situation. Pakistan was carved out of the agrarian belt of India in 1947 and is a resource-poor country. First, India delayed the release of Pakistan’s share of foreign exchange reserves held in London;. secondly, it kept the Kashmir dispute alive; and thirdly, India developed nuclear weapons. Between India and Pakistan, the enmity is long and deep. Foot dragging on settling the Kashmir dispute has caused several wars which both countries could ill afford.
India’s nuclear programs could not go unchallenged and Pakistan developed its own to deter what it believed might be India’s aggression in the future. India came close to invading Pakistan in the summer of 2001, but fear of nuclear exchange discouraged it. It is unwise for the West to attack Pakistan’s nuclear installations under any pretext for it will further inflame Islamic militancy across the world. Hostilities and nuclear ambitions not only left 1.5 billion people poor and backward, but also resulted in the supremacy of military rules and the suppression of democracy in Pakistan.
To the perpetual crises and conflict in the region and to the current stand-off between the people and dominant local and foreign influences, the solutions are the restoration of democracy and economic development. All diplomatic and political efforts are needed to be directed towards these ends. A new government in Pakistan, elected in a free and fair election, will enjoy legitimacy and have first and foremost responsibility of addressing the pressing challenges facing the civil society - such as rising inequality and poverty, deteriorating state of health and education, serious land reforms and reviving and strengthening institutions of democracy and development. The new government will have the legitimacy and mandate to seek accommodation with the militants in the north and the authority for signing a peace agreement with them. Western governments can assist the new government with economic assistance as proposed by Senator Joseph Biden. He has recommended $1.5 billion annually over a decade to strengthen democracy in Pakistan.
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