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DAWN - Opinion; July 18, 2006

Published Jul 18, 2006 12:00am

Is Pakistan in a mess?

By Shahid Javed Burki


IS Pakistan a mess? Is the Pakistani state slowly decaying? Does Pakistan’s “future look bearded”? In its recent survey of Pakistan under General Pervez Musharraf, The Economist asked these three and several other questions and provided a series of answers many Pakistanis would find troubling. The theme running through the closely argued 10-page survey is that Pakistan, while experiencing impressive economic growth, is headed towards political and social crises.

“Think about Pakistan and you might get terrified. Few countries have so much potential to cause trouble, regionally and worldwide,” says the survey in the opening paragraph. Written by the magazine’s James Astill, the analysis touches upon a number of aspects of Pakistan’s history: the performance of the economy, the rise of Islamic militancy, stunted political development and the collapse of most institutions of governance, the role of the military, relations with India and, in that context, the Kashmir dispute, and partnership with the United States in the latter’s war against international terrorism.

The survey, which appeared under the title, “Too much for one man to do,” reaches the conclusion that the task at hand may be beyond the capacity and capability of the man currently in charge. “It is impossible to predict at what point such things might translate into serious civil conflict, or mass support for the extremists.” I have serious reservations about the way the Pakistani situation was analysed by the author of the survey and the conclusions he reached. A careful rebuttal is called for not for reasons of patriotism. A survey such as this will be read all over the world, in particular by the community of investors and financiers whose interest in Pakistan has to be revived in order for the country to make progress precisely in the areas in which The Economist faults General Musharraf and the regime he heads.

The survey is a classic example of a “glass half-full half-empty” analysis. The problems Astill finds in today’s Pakistan can also be identified in a number of other countries — especially those that the West regards as examples of great success in the developing world. What The Economist has written about Pakistan could also be said for many other countries in Pakistan’s immediate neighbourhood and those a bit beyond.

The survey begins with some broad conclusions about the state of affairs in Pakistan. “One third of its 165 million people live in poverty, and only one half of them are literate. The country’s politics yo-yo between weak civilian governments and unrepresentative military ones — the sort currently on offer under Pervez Musharraf, the president and army chief, albeit with some democratic wallpapering. The state is weak, Islamabad and the better bits of Karachi and Lahore are orderly and for the moment, booming. Most of the rest is a mess.”

Let me begin with the state of politics. That the military has intervened four times in Pakistan’s nearly 60 years of existence is a fact of history. The first time the military ventured into politics was in October 1958. It came in because of both conviction as well as personal ambition. At that time most observers of the Pakistani scene recognised that the politicians had created a big mess — they had practised putrid politics. They had struggled for almost 10 years before giving the country a constitution, they continued to play “palace politics” even after the constitution was promulgated. Meanwhile, the state of the economy became increasingly precarious.

The rate of GDP growth hovered around the rate of increase in population, the incidence of poverty increased dramatically, millions of refugees who had arrived from India immediately after the departure of the British remained unsettled, the country that is today’s Pakistan went from being a granary of India in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s to a net importer of food-grains. India had become increasingly hostile; New Delhi was persuaded that the country whose creation the Indian leadership had resisted, and once created had resented, was rapidly moving towards collapse.

While this is not the space to write a paean to the performance of the first military government, Ayub Khan’s 11 years in office still represent a golden era in Pakistan’s history. During that time, the GDP grew at an average annual rate of 6.5 per cent, more than twice the rate of population increase. The incidence of poverty declined. Industrialisation proceeded at an impressive pace. Refugees were settled on the lands and the properties vacated by the departing Hindus and Sikhs.

A massive programme of replacement works undertaken after the signing of the Indus Water Treaty with India in 1960 secured water supply for agriculture. Two new dams, one on the Jhelum and the other on the Indus, increased the supply of electricity to the point that the country had a surplus. A new capital was built at Islamabad in the foothills of the Himalayas. Several western economists predicted that Pakistan, alone among the world’s developing countries, had reached the stage of take-off.

It was at this point that the politicians came back to life and started what The Economist calls “yo-yo” politics. They were not interested in building institutions but only in ensuring their own longevity. If their stay in office was threatened by those in opposition, they had no problem imploring the men in uniform to intervene. This they did in 1977 when the regime headed by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto refused to buckle under the pressure they were exerting. General Ziaul Haq obliged the quarrelling politicians, returned the military to politics, and stayed in power for 11 years. He would probably still be in office today, bettering the record of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, had his tenure not been cut short by an unexplained plane crash in August 1988.

I continue to maintain — as I have done on a number of occasions in these columns — that of the four military men who have gone on to become president, General Pervez Musharraf is the only one who does not seem to have been propelled by personal ambition. He didn’t carry out the coup that placed him in power; it was done on his behalf by a group of senior generals who were not prepared to accept the manner in which the prime minister sought to change the military leader.

General Musharraf will probably provide some more details of what actually happened on October 12, 1999, in his forthcoming autobiography. I don’t believe that the military assumed power because General Musharraf “wanted to save his career having been sacked by Nawaz Sharif, then the prime minister,” as The Economist asserts. “Mr Sharif had tried to subordinate the army — which in Pakistan is a parallel state, some say the only state — to civilian rule.” Both assertions are wrong.

The military has had little respect for the way civilian leadership protected or advanced the country’s strategic interest. The last time they showed some confidence in the civilian leadership in this context was when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was in charge. At other times, they considered the civilian leaders to be incompetent or naive or both.

I developed a good understanding of the way the military viewed the civilians who were in power in the 1990s after a number of detailed conversations on the subject with President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. It was Ishaq Khan who, at the urging of the military commanders, kept Pakistan’s strategic interest under a careful watch while the politicians played what he and the generals regarded as irresponsible games.

In one of my many sessions with him, he pulled out a map from his desk drawer and showed me a line drawn by one of the prime ministers he had dealt with during his tenure. The line was the basis on which a final settlement could be reached with India on Kashmir, or one part of Kashmir that was of enormous strategic interest to Pakistan. This approach was not acceptable to him and the military top brass.

That the Kargil episode had widened disagreement between the prime minister and the army chief of staff was well known by the time Mian Nawaz Sharif sent his younger brother to Washington to warn the Americans of a possible military coup. That was in September 1999 and no doubt contributed to the decision by the prime minister to change the army leader. It was the way the change of military command was attempted and the frequency with which it was being done that troubled the military. The military by acting on that fateful day was not meant necessarily to save one man’s job; it believed that it was protecting the last institution that had survived after repeated assaults on the country’s institutional structure by the civilians in power.

Although I believe that General Musharraf’s ascent to power was not motivated by personal ambition, he could have done more to provide the country with a robust political foundation. In a series of articles I contributed to this space a few weeks ago, I suggested that a parliamentary system would not work for as long as the ownership of assets remains highly skewed in the countryside.

As The Economist’s survey points out, some seven per cent of the landowners hold over 40 per cent of Sindh’s land.” The pattern of land ownership is similarly skewed in the southern and central parts of Punjab. The representatives chosen by the people from these places work for their own extremely narrow interests and not for their constituents — nor, most of the time, for the country.

In discussing the way they looked at their constituents the members of the landed community were quite frank in their conversations with the author of The Economist’s survey. “A landowner in Sindh’s interior told your correspondent that he would not provide his villagers with gas for cooking — that could be had free from a local pumping station — because he enjoyed a char-grilled meal on occasional visits to his lands,” writes James Astill.

Such representatives cannot be expected to bring the country a truly representative form of government. They have an abysmal record of attendance in the national and provincial assemblies in which they sit. The National Assembly often fails to get 25 per cent attendance needed for a quorum. But that is not the only problem. Although the current prime minister promised to bring efficiency to the way his 63-member cabinet functioned, ministers rarely turn up for the daily “question hour” when the government can be asked about its policies. If the people’s representatives do attend and vote, they don’t fully understand what they are voting for.

Pakistan’s political history is a vivid reminder of the fact that repeated elections don’t produce democracy or accountability for the people who are placed in power. To insist on one form of democracy — in Pakistan’s case on parliamentary democracy — is to confuse form with substance. What is required is the dismantling of old hierarchies before a representative form of government in which the chosen leaders feel responsible to the electorate can really take root. However, one of the several wrong steps taken by the Musharraf government on its declared way towards political reform is to increase the role of the military in the affairs of the state. This is one of the few places where The Economist has identified correctly what has indeed become a problem.

“On his watch, over 600 serving or retired army officers have been given top government jobs,” writes the author of the magazine’s survey. “Even if Musharraf sheds his uniform after next year’s election, as promised, the army will remain the font of his power.” In other words, even if the power of the landed aristocracy, the tribal sardars, and religious pirs is somehow diluted, the way General Musharraf has managed the state may result in the creation of another hierarchy — the military.

To be concluded

A summer of rage

By Niall Ferguson


ARE we heading for a Summer of Rage? A generation ago, young Americans flocked to San Francisco with flowers in their hair for a hippie Summer of Love. But in other parts of the world today the potent combination of young people and sunny weather is producing something very different. The ’60s slogan was “Make Love, Not War.” The 2006 slogan seems to be the very opposite.

Last week saw a worldwide eruption of violence. As many as 200 people were killed in India on Tuesday when a succession of bombs exploded along Mumbai’s western railway line. In Somalia, Islamist extremists tightened their grip on the area around the country’s capital. And the Taliban continued to menace western soldiers deployed in Afghanistan. The crucible of this Summer of Rage, however, is without question the Middle East.

On Wednesday, members of Lebanon’s Islamist organization, Hezbollah, attacked an Israeli border patrol, killing eight soldiers and capturing two. Israel, already grappling with a hostage crisis in Gaza, retaliated by bombing Beirut. Hezbollah responded in kind by firing yet more of its rockets into Israel. All of which makes it tempting to conclude that the clashes in this Summer of Rage will be mainly between Muslims and non-Muslims.

But wait a second. The continuing violence in Iraq runs counter to that idea. This time last week, a group of Shia gunmen — possibly members of Muqtada Sadr’s Al Mahdi army — briefly took over Baghdad’s mainly Sunni Jihad district and proceeded to murder about 40 people. This was just the latest in a succession of sectarian attacks by Shias against Sunnis, or vice versa. According to the Brookings Institution, the number of incidents of sectarian violence recorded in May was 250, compared with 20 in May 2005 and 10 in May 2004.

What this means is that, as I have been arguing for some time, the insurgency directed against American-led foreign forces is morphing into a civil war. Worse, as Leslie Gelb, a former assistant secretary of State, recently warned, the cancer of sectarian violence has the potential to “metastasize into a ... regional conflict.”

Events in Lebanon show just how easily this can happen. For Israel is now no longer just fighting a Palestinian intifada in the occupied territories. It has all but declared war on a neighbouring sovereign state. And Lebanon is only one of several potential targets in the region. Hezbollah and Hamas are supported by Iran; the exiled leader of Hamas is based in Syria. The Middle East is to our generation what the Eastern Question was to the Victorians: a baffling tangle of issues that defies simplification. Two things, however, are both simple and important: youth and heat.

Young people and hot weather are the common factors in all the conflicts that erupted last week, just as they played a part in the Summer of Love in 1967. The key differences are, first, that the proportion of young people is exceptionally high in the Middle East today, higher even than in the heyday of the baby boomers; second, that the temperature is a great deal higher in places such as Gaza than it ever was in Haight-Ashbury; and third, that Middle Eastern youths are much more likely to be poor and unemployed than their counterparts in the swinging — and affluent — ‘60s.

It is no coincidence that the most dangerous places in the world are among those with the most youthful populations. According to a recent study by Population Action International, countries in which young adults (ages 15 to 29) accounted for 40% or more of the adult population in 1995 had a 1-in-3 chance of experiencing civil conflict in the 1990s. Countries in which young adults were 30% or less of the adult population were far less likely to have experienced civil unrest (a probability of just 11 per cent).

In the United States today, young adults account for just 26 per cent of the adult population. In Iran, however, the proportion is nearly twice as high - 49 per cent. It is the same in the occupied Palestinian territories. In Iraq, it is 48 per cent.

In Jordan, it is 46 per cent. In Syria and Somalia, it is more than 50 per cent. Young men are innately violent, as the parents of teenage boys will readily confirm. But they are much more likely to give vent to their violent urges if they are hot, poor and unemployed. This is precisely the predicament of the youths of the Middle East. Take Syria.

The average July temperature in Damascus is 80 degrees, unmitigated by widespread air-conditioning, compared with a mild 60 degrees in San Francisco. Per-capita gross domestic product in Syria is less than a tenth of what it is in the United States. And the youth unemployment rate is a whopping 26 per cent.

Forget, for a moment, the terrible technicalities of Middle Eastern politics. These straightforward figures give you the essentials. They explain the difference between hippies and Hezbollah. They explain the difference between swingers and suicide bombers. Above all, they explain the difference between the Californian Summer of Love and the coming Middle Eastern Summer of Rage. —Dawn/Los Angeles Times Service

Pakistan’s politics: need for balance—II Why unprincipled alliances?

By Shahid M. Amin


PRESIDENT Musharraf’s foreign policy has won praise all over the world. While he is highly prized by the West and is admired by China and nearly all Muslim countries, it is evident that Russia and India also respect him.

He made the right strategic decision in 2001 by abandoning the ostracised Taliban regime in Afghanistan and joining the war against terrorism. Had he not done so, Pakistan would have been dubbed a terrorist state and exposed to the gravest dangers to its well-being and even its survival.

Many in the world see him as a moderate, progressive Muslim leader at a time when militant Islam has caused deep apprehensions all over the world. He has shown himself as an articulate spokesman of this country. This is undeniable.

Pakistan’s economic performance in the last five years has been highly rated by the main international financial institutions. It is quite amazing that economic circles around the world are praising Pakistan’s economic performance, but partisan politics prevent many people here from appreciating the country’s achievements, simply because they are bent on denying any credit to the Musharraf government. This is perverse as well as a sign of immaturity.

However, in spite of these positive points, the fact remains that Musharraf suffers from the problem of legitimacy. He seized power in 1999 by overthrowing an elected government. The presidential referendum held by him in 2002 was regarded by many as defective, if not fraudulent. Though later, he got himself elected as president through the normal constitutional process, he also continues to wear the military uniform, which is clearly an aberration. No other democracy in the world has a serving military chief as the head of state.

Moreover, after civilian rule was restored in 2002, the prime minister should have functioned as the chief executive, with full freedom of action, but it is clear that the president continues to dominate government policies. This is not in keeping with the spirit of parliamentary democracy and is a distortion of the 1973 Constitution.

Musharraf started with a campaign against corrupt politicians and has yet allowed some of them to hold top positions in the government. Another criticism of Musharraf is that an unprecedented number of military officers, both retired and serving, have been given posts in nearly every department, including the academic world as vice-chancellors of universities, heads of training institutions and even as the postmaster-general. It is as if our military officers are so outstanding that they can perform any duty assigned to them.

It is clear that the periodic seizure of power in Pakistan by the military, whatever its justification, has stunted the country’s political and constitutional growth. In the world today where there is an ever-increasing emphasis on respect for human rights, there is little tolerance for dictators, whether they are good or bad. Apart from being a negation of democratic norms, the big problem with autocratic rule has always been the question of orderly succession.

At the same time, it would be wrong to put all the blame on the military alone for the way things have developed in Pakistan. Our politicians have often shown themselves to be unequal to the task of governing the country in a reasonable manner. The first seizure of power by the military in 1958 took place after the chaotic politics witnessed between 1953 and 1958, when parties were formed overnight through palace coups and governments were changed in rapid succession in a game of musical chairs.

When civilian rule was restored in the 1970s, Bhutto had a great chance to consolidate democracy in the country but he squandered that opportunity because of his autocratic mourner and style.

Similarly, great hopes were pinned on Benazir Bhutto when she came to power in 1988. She was democratically elected — the first woman head of government in a Muslim country — and was a well-educated leader. But she too squandered the opportunity and her image has been tainted by allegations of corruption, in particular of her husband, apart from the capricious manner in which she ruled the country. She must also be faulted for not doing anything about the anti-women Hudood Ordinances though she had two terms as prime minister.

Similarly, Nawaz Sharif too had a great opportunity in 1997 when a big majority elected him. Unfortunately, he too wasted his popular mandate by adopting a dictatorial attitude. He tried to silence all dissent within his party of Pakistan. He was at loggerheads with the president, the army chief and the Chief Justice. He was acquiring regal instincts and was said to be planning to become Amir-ul-Momineen. He was a decent person and a patriot, but was a man of limited intelligence who was easily manipulated by his cronies.

It needs to be recalled that all opposition parties had welcomed Nawaz Sharif’s ouster in 1999, including Benazir Bhutto. Now, she has performed a typical somersault by signing the Charter of Democracy with Nawaz Sharif. Incidentally, when Benazir was in power, Nawaz used to call her a security risk and had repeatedly said that Pakistan and Benazir could not co-exist.

Similarly, Benazir was equally harsh in her condemnation of Nawaz. Now they are joining hands in a “democratic” alliance. Similarly, Imran Khan had entered politics by launching a crusade against the corruption of both Benazir and Nawaz and now he has joined hands with them. This kind of unprincipled politics does little to instil confidence in our politicians.

Still, we have to make do with what we have got. Both the PPP and the Muslim League-N are mainstream parties, with grassroots support, which are committed to the federal structure. They follow moderate and progressive policies and are in the best possible position to counter the fanatical and obscurantist policies represented by the Mullah alliance, on the one hand, and the lurking secessionist elements in Pakistan, on the other. Of course, the same is true of the ruling Muslim League-Q.

By the time the next elections are held, Musharraf would have had a long enough innings of eight years. Taking all considerations into account, the best thing for Pakistan’s politics would be if Musharraf retires gracefully on completion of his term in 2007 and allows free and transparent elections to be held to determine the will of the Pakistani people. His bid to seek another term would be strongly opposed by the combined opposition and the resultant situation could destabilise Pakistan. This must be avoided in all circumstances.

Concluded

The writer is a former ambassador.

On the brink of chaos

ONCE again the history of the Middle East is being written in Muslim and Jewish blood while outsiders look on: fighting within the region is at its worst for at least a decade. It could, then, have been a stroke of good fortune for the Group of Eight nations to be meeting at the same time as a downward spiral of retaliation and counter-strike took hold in Israel and Lebanon.

In a sane world the summit would have allowed the heads of the most powerful countries to sit down and jointly persuade all sides into respecting a ceasefire and imposing a period of calm. Instead, the G8 meeting in St Petersburg remained divided. Its emergency communique, issued after long wrangling, merely called for “utmost restraint” and an end to attacks, and for the UN security council to consider a monitoring force on the border between Israel and Lebanon.

The G8’s language, though, fell well short of a ceasefire, despite Jacques Chirac’s optimism. For Israel, a ceasefire would mean respite from deadly rocket strikes, such as the one that struck a railway station in Haifa on Sunday, killing eight civilians.

For Lebanon, it would have meant allowing its dysfunctional government to deal with the sudden population convulsions taking place as its citizens flee in panic at Israeli air attacks, and try to restrain the fanatics intent on provoking Israel further. For Palestinians, it would mean a pause for the desperate population corralled into Gaza. And for all parties it would have halted the escalation that threatens to draw in further involvement by Syria and Iran — a nightmare scenario.

Without a clear ceasefire none of that can happen. But despite active support from France and Russia, the US was intent on blocking any such call. Tony Blair laid blame on Syria and Iran for supporting extremists.

George Bush, pressed over whether he supported a ceasefire, instead reiterated: “My message to Israel is that as a sovereign nation, you have every right to defend yourself against terrorist activities.” Condoleezza Rice was forced to perform somersaults of logic to support her president’s position by arguing a ceasefire that halted the violence would make matters worse.

The time for calling for restraint has passed, since too many on both sides show no signs of exercising any. Sunday’s deadly Hezbollah rocket attack on Haifa, in particular, elevates the conflict to a point where the danger cannot be underestimated. The most plaintive event on Sunday, in the midst of civilians of all faiths being killed, was the Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Siniora, appearing on CNN to plead for his country’s future. Lebanon’s government bears the signs of collapsing into a failed state. To expect it to successfully disarm Hezbollah’s militants, while Israeli jets pound Tyre and Beirut as they did on Sunday, inflicting collective punishment and undermining its fragile economy, is unrealistic.

—The Guardian, London