DAWN - Opinion; February 19, 2008

February 19, 2008


Task before new policymakers

By Shahid Javed Burki

BY the time readers see this in print, the elections would have been held and a relatively new political order would have begun to take shape.

Some new and some old policymakers will be heading towards Islamabad and the provincial capitals to begin to work to fulfil the promise they made during the election campaign.

Whether they arrive in these capitals riding a tiger, or perched atop a bicycle or carrying an arrow to unleash from their bow, they will have to address one issue — or perhaps two issues. The first one will be to take care of the economic problems the people confront today. There are severe shortages of several items of daily use and consumption including wheat, gas and electricity. Shortages always mean that higher prices and a rise in inflation hit the poor harder than the well-to-do.

Then there are medium- and long-term problems. These can be divided further into two categories.

One, the loss of confidence by the people in the state’s ability to provide them with what they need the most: a sense of security, the working of a judicial system and a legal system that helps them to resolve their disputes.

The second perceived function of the state is to deliver economic growth which is high enough and robust enough to be sustained over a period of time. Without growth at a significant rate, the poor will remain poor. It was the claim of the government that governed for almost five years (2002 to 2007) that it had managed to do that — to place Pakistan on the trajectory of high and sustainable growth.

Some of us argued that that had not happened. But the point of today’s article is not to suggest that ‘we were right’. No purpose would be served by repeating the arguments and counter-arguments that were then made. The issue now is what can — or should — the policymakers do to help the country’s economy and to improve the economic situation of its citizenry. This is where the economic theory of ‘catch-up’ becomes relevant.

Several economists — some old and departed, others still working in the field — have developed different theories of ‘catch-up’ to study what the economies that have been left behind can do to catch up with those that have gone ahead. Pakistan today belongs to the second group of countries that have fallen behind. Some have fallen behind a greater deal — a group of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa about which the economist Paul Collier wrote at some length recently.

Some have missed a few steps and could speed up and come abreast with those who have advanced. Pakistan, I strongly believe, belongs to this category. The right set of public policies can get this country, if not immediately, to gallop then at least off to a brisk trot. For that to happen, the policymakers taking positions now or getting ready to that will need to do four things.

They must closely study the global economic system and how it has changed over the last couple of decades and how it is changing today. The reason for doing this is to see what opportunities exist today for a country in Pakistan’s situation. This would be the second part of the exercise. We must recognise that the international economic system helped countries such as South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia to become ‘miracle economies’ of their day.

That system no longer exists. The world of today is very different from the world of that day when it accommodated those miracle economies. In fact, the opportunities that propelled China into becoming an economic powerhouse and, a few years later, helped India to create a major presence for itself on the international economic scene are also gone. Pakistan will have to seek new areas in order to advance.

When the new policymakers in Pakistan’s various capitals begin to view and really understand the world they will begin to notice at least three things that are different from the way the world was structured a few years or a couple of decades ago. The new industrial production is no longer made up of a few companies located in a few countries producing a few finished products that travelled the globe satisfying various demands.

UNIDO and UNCTAD tell us that there are now some 8,000 to 10,000 multinational companies operating both inside the countries in which they are headquartered and outside the borders of these countries. They produce as well as trade. Apple Computer, for instance, invented the technology for its highly popular iPod and iPhone and then passed it on to its producers in China. The Chinese bought from the outside scores of components that go into the making of these products.

The components come from Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia even from the United States. Using all these components, the Chinese manufacture the final product most of which is shipped to the United States to be marketed by Apple’s own stores.

What is true for Apple’s iPod and iPhone is also true for thousands of other products that are imported for consumers all over the world. Cars, motorbikes, refrigerators, air-conditioners, and many other things are made that way. The trick for the Pakistani policymakers is to study the institutional system of industrial production, identify some niches for its industry that would help it to become a part of the global supply chain, and then incentivise the producers to take advantage of the opportunities that are still available.

The global trading system — another part of the new world economy — has also changed in many significant ways. Tariffs are way down but other obstacles to trade have materialised. These include health requirements that must be met by the producers of processed food, pharmaceuticals, toys and clothes. Countries producing these items must not employ child labour, the women working in the factories have to be treated in certain specified ways.

States wishing to build their export industries — surely Pakistan is one of them — must abide by these well-defined rules and standards. They have to set up regulatory bodies, research institutions and laboratories that can put their stamp of approval on the products that seek to enter the international marketplace. This stamp of approval has to have the acceptance of the countries that import.

The third change that has taken place in the world economy is in the structure of international finance. The sources of funds for countries in Pakistan’s situation are no longer what they used to be. It is no longer the governments, not even the banks that now dominate the field. It is now institutions such as private equity funds, hedge funds and now sovereign funds that have become mighty players.

The diaspora communities have also become important providers of finance. What are they looking for and what can they find in Pakistan are the sort of questions to which the new policymakers will have to find the answers and do so quickly.

In sum, as a new political order is ushered in Pakistan, there is a good deal of work to be done. One can only hope for the country’s sake that the new policymakers will be up to the task.

Political surge in Iraq

IT has taken nine bloody and difficult months, but the deployment of 30,000 additional U.S. troops appears at last to have brought not just a lull in the sectarian fighting in Iraq, but the first tangible steps toward genuine political reconciliation.

Last week, the parliament passed a crucial package of legislation that reflects real compromise among the many factions on three of the thorniest issues that have bedevilled Iraq.

First, a law requires that provincial elections be held by Oct. 1, and requires that a law spelling out the details on conducting the election be passed within 90 days.

This is essential because there hasn’t been legitimate, elected local leadership in much of Iraq since Sunnis boycotted the 2005 local elections.

Free elections of leaders who would be accountable to their populations would make it possible for the US to hand over power in many Sunni areas and draw down.

Second, an amnesty law will allow the release of thousands of prisoners, most of whom are Sunnis and many of whom have been held for months in hideously overcrowded jails.

The amnesty was a key condition for the Iraq Accord Front, a Sunni party, to return to the government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, which it quit last summer. Maliki reportedly hopes to form a new cabinet soon.

The package also included a national budget, finally passed on the seventh try. It gives 17 per cent of national revenues to Kurdistan — more than the Sunnis wanted, but a first try at the kind of painful compromise that will be essential in keeping Iraq from more violent Balkanization.

Ironically, all this good news might make it harder to get American military personnel out of the country.

The better things go in Iraq, the less likely it is that U.S. generals (or politicians) will want to risk jeopardizing their hard-won gains by drawing down. Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates has agreed to a request by Gen. David H. Petraeus to return to the pre-surge level of about 130,000 troops by August, and then allow a “strategic pause” to evaluate whether more can come home.

Battlefield commanders know best how many troops are needed to keep the country stable, but as a political and economic matter, US forces must leave Iraq eventually — sooner, if voters choose a Democratic president, much later if the president-elect is Republican John McCain.

Either way, the United States needs a logical, orderly exit strategy that minimises the risk that civil war will resume when our troops leave.

If the momentum of Iraq’s political surge is sustained, it’s conceivable that the United States, having torn the country apart in an ill-conceived invasion and a disastrous occupation, could help glue the biggest pieces together on its way out the door.

But building a decent government will probably prove even harder than curbing the violence.

And even under the rosiest scenario, it will be our moral duty to provide large-scale political, military and humanitarian aid, including support for the refugees who are beginning to trickle back home, for many years to come.

–– Los Angeles Times

US poll fears

By Farhana Ali

WITH the results of the parliamentary elections in Pakistan beginning to come in, there are two relevant questions for the United States to consider:

Will a newly elected Pakistani prime minister agree to work with Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf, America’s staunch ally on the war on terrorism? If the answer is no, what should the United States do in response?

To allay US fears about the polls, Musharraf and his Pakistani friends in Washington have repeatedly told US policymakers that the elections will be ‘free, fair and transparent’, as well as on time – a relatively new word attached to the infamous slogan.

No one was in doubt that elections would be held as planned, but many US experts and officials have been wary about whether the election will produce an honest result. From the US State Department to the Washington-based think tank community, there have been concerns that manipulation of the results may force the White House to make some tough choices.

Contrary to some western news reports, the choice for the United States in Pakistan will not simply be between a moderate democratic leader and the all-powerful military regime. Rather, the choice for America was boldly articulated this month by US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice before the US Senate Hearing Foreign Relations Committee: “No matter what the [election] result, we need to move in Pakistan from a Musharraf policy to a Pakistan policy.”

Her remarks signal that the United States can no longer afford to blindly support Musharraf. Hence, America is moving towards defining a new policy direction for Pakistan, and for good reason. For a long time the United States has supported Musharraf – a leader who holds a ‘cult of personality.’ He is not unique among Pakistani leaders in this regard. Previous rulers, from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to General Ziaul Haq, have assumed a larger-than-life leadership role. It is no different today with the ex-General Musharraf in power.

When I worked for the US government, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, security analysts could not have imagined a Pakistan without Musharraf. Each time an assassination attempt was made against him, the US government officers I knew sighed in relief when Musharraf escaped. In those early years after 9/11, US government analysts understood that without Musharraf, the US-Pakistan counter-terrorism cooperation might have been stale and stagnant. Pakistan boasts of arresting or killing at least 700 Al Qaeda operatives on Pakistani soil, a point American analysts accept. Without Musharraf’s consent, damaging Al Qaeda’s core infrastructure (i.e. training camps) might not have been possible.

But today, the stakes are too high for the United States to compromise its vision of promoting democracy in Pakistan. It must support a democratically elected leader to help Pakistan evolve from a weak state to a strong one.

However, the ballot box alone does not guarantee promotion of democracy in a country like Pakistan. With a large rural population that is illiterate and easily manipulated, this election is unlikely to represent the sentiment of the masses. The only way for these polls to be ‘free, fair and transparent’ is if the Pakistani elite accept the outcome, no matter how unfavourable it might be for Musharraf. And America should be willing to support the next civilian ruler even if he refuses to enter a power-sharing agreement with the ex-military ruler.

The writer is a terrorism expert at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organisation.

Elections and democracy

By S. Akbar Zaidi

NOW that all the votes have been cast in yesterday’s elections, is Pakistan, once-again, a certified democracy? Does the process of choosing one’s own representatives, through a process which may have been free and fair, necessarily imply that the forces of democracy are now on the verge of pushing back the forces of authoritarianism?

For most people, the answers to both these questions would probably be, either ‘no’, or a ‘not necessarily so’, and it is improbable that many actors, including those who contested yesterday’s elections, would give an unqualified ‘yes’.

Elections do not necessarily bring about the process of democracy and as we have seen, in fact, may, instead, reinforce and legitimise authoritarian political and institutional forces. The consequences they will have in Pakistan depend on a number of factors.

The fact that a majority of the electorate decided not to vote contradicts the claim made by many analysts and politicians that this was a particularly important election for Pakistan. Some called it a defining moment, bringing about a much needed transition from military rule to democratic politics.

But, for whom was it such an important election? If it was such a pivotal election for Pakistan’s future, a ‘make-or-break’ vote, why did the electorate not endorse this view? Was the low turn-out – as one could see – an indication of the fact that the astute Pakistani voter felt that the elections would actually bring about little change, and all that would change would be a few faces? Or, was this a vote against the entire electoral process itself, against what many call ‘democracy’?

While in most stable political environments elections bring about democratic politics, this universal assumption may not be applicable to Pakistan. We have seen in Pakistan in the recent past, that elections have been held specifically for the purposes to justify and legitimise military rule, making it more entrenched as a result.

Rather than resist the urge to participate and boycott the elections, precisely because they are political actors, political parties are willing to take part in any form of elections in which they see a possible chance of victory.

These political actors would argue that through the process of electioneering and participation, they are actually furthering the democratic process. While this may be a real possibility often for extraneous reasons, often political actors are trapped into an arrangement which compromises their politics, as we witnessed in 2002 and 2004. Parliamentary political parties actually legitimised the politics of military rule in Pakistan, and did so once again by not voting against the election of President Musharraf in 2007. Clearly, elections and politics may not be a chain linked to the democratic process. While elections are a necessary condition to bring about democracy, they are certainly not a sufficient condition. The commonly held assumption that elections necessarily lead to democratic politics, must be challenged.

It is these questions and issues which we should be posing with regard to yesterday’s elections. Clearly, there is going to be some change from this moment onwards, as new aspirants to power on the basis of the vote, are going to claim a share in the new political arrangement. The belief that the elections will necessarily bring about a democratic transition is an untested assumption.

After all, many of those who were in Parliament in 2002-07, have also contested yesterday’s elections. How do we convince ourselves that the Parliament of 2008 will be more democratic than that of 2002, especially when President Musharraf has said that he will be the ‘father figure’ to the new prime minister?

Clearly, the one major difference is that the Chief of the Army Staff is no longer the president, and the position of the latter, is the weakest it has been since 1999. Other than this important factor, what makes 2008 more democratic than 2002?

It is the notion of democracy itself, which needs to be continuously rethought. If one can argue that the political space for political parties now is probably wider than it has been since 1999, then one can claim success in the process of democratisation in Pakistan. Yet, the irony is that democratic spaces have been expanded not by political parties alone, but perhaps more importantly, by forces and groups outside the electoral process.

Since the electoral process is seen as coterminous with the democratic process itself, the process of furthering democracy often comes to a halt when elections take place. Moreover, many actors who were active in the political and democratic movements outside of the electoral process often give up their activism and their agency, after the elections, expecting elected representatives to further their political causes. That this does not happen causes resentment against what is seen to be the democratic process itself.

What is seldom recognised is that those who are elected to Parliament, may have a very different political agenda and priorities, than the one being articulated by, for example, civil society or by the lawyers. The reinstatement of the superior judiciary to a pre-November situation may be seen as a fundamental democratic demand by some actors, but not by all.

Similarly, the demand that restrictions imposed on the media be removed may not be as enthusiastically supported by the new groups in power. The political process of compromise and reconciliation after the elections, may even completely push these demands off the table altogether.

The biggest dilemma facing democratic forces outside of the formal political process today will be to understand how to push for a democratic politics amongst a group of actors who may want to play politics of a different kind.

These democratic forces may even fear that many of the gains that they have achieved over the last year, will be nullified, ignored, or even reversed, by those elected to represent them in Parliament. In order to democratise the political processes in Pakistan after yesterday’s election, all those who subscribe to a democratic future, will need to continue to press for their demands, and not succumb to the politics of the elected.

If, as many believe, democratic forces outside of Parliament have been the ones which have opened wider democratic spaces over the last year despite resistance from some important political individuals, they must necessarily continue that pressure now. They must use the space and opportunity created by the elections to further the democratic agenda, and not stop at the gates of Parliament fearing that they will weaken it.

Unless democratic politics dominates electoral politics, the elections yesterday will become just another plank in a scheme to legitimise non-democratic institutions and forms of government through different political arrangements.

© DAWN Media Group , 2008