WASHINGTON, Nov 9: US policies in Pakistan are motivated by its need to fight terrorism and not by its professed goal of promoting democracy in the Islamic world, speakers at a seminar in Washington observed.

The three-session seminar at Johns Hopkins University's School for Advanced International Studies aimed at predicting Pakistan's future by looking at current political and economic trends. The school's department for South Asia Studies had gathered prominent scholars, politicians, diplomats and officials from Pakistan, India and the United States to speak on various national and international issues affecting Pakistan.

The most interesting observations were those of Umar Ahmad Ghumman, minister of state for investment and privatization. Although he claimed to be a politician, he argued that Pakistanis are better off under a military government than in democracy.

"Who is to be blamed for economic disparity in Pakistan," he asked. And then replied: "It is the political leadership, I stand guilty as charged."

During the democratic dispensation, he said, everything was going badly and declared: "We will rather have a dictator."

Pakistan, he said, cannot have the kind of democracy that the West does. "Democracy has not worked in Pakistan; it has failed over and over again," said the minister.

Praising President Musharraf, Mr Ghumman said in the last 250 years, nobody dared going into the tribal territory but "now we have a leader who wants to establish the rule of law in that area."

In his opening remarks, Pakistan's acting ambassador in Washington, Mohammed Sadiq, said Pakistan was "the most misunderstood country in the world." "It is not a perfect society but we are not ready to believe that every thing we did is wrong," he added.

Parliamentarian Sherry Rahman said the United States had "traded democracy for security" in Pakistan. This, she said, was a strategic bargain and as a senior partner the US invariably sets the agenda for this alliance.

The strategic bargain will be bad for the war on terror as well, she argued. While the arrangement has led to the arrest of some key Al Qaeda figures, it failed to go deeper and see what's going in the society at large, she said.

Ms Rahman said the Islamization of Pakhtun nationalists was a major threat to the country's security. The US-led alliance, she said, will now use the new Taliban to shore up the Karzai government in Afghanistan.

"The biggest policy failure of the US is that it underestimates the power of political Islam and ignores the people who are converting to the ideology of anti-Americanism. There's a growing Islamization at many levels. Osama bin Laden is a symptom of something much larger," Ms Rahman said.

She wished that the United States would push President Musharraf for more democracy and more reforms for women.

Teresita Schaffer, a former US diplomat and senior scholar, argued that the US "signs up with Pakistan for limited purposes and gets off the board when Pakistan wants more."

She rejected the argument that the United States was responsible for Pakistan's ills. "People are responsible for what happens inside their country. You cannot blame America for every thing," she said. But she acknowledged that the US was "too involved" with one leader.

Ambassador Schaffer said it also wrong to say that the United States allowed Pakistan to make a nuclear bomb. The US, she said, did try to stop Pakistan by imposing sanctions but could not.

She said the deal between Pakistan and the US over Dr A.Q. Khan was simple: "Let bygones be bygones but it should not happen again."

Ms Schaffer said setting a strict timetable for return to democracy was not possible because the timeline can always be manipulated. She instead urged Pakistanis to focus on institution building and introduce judicial, administrative and educational reforms.

Charles Amjad Ali, a Pakistani scholar who now teaches in the United States, said the military, bureaucracy, feudal lords, industrialists and technocrats are all responsible for harming Pakistan. The ruling elite, he said, also collaborates with religious extremists to continue its domination over the country.

Pakistan's Hudood laws, he said, were not enforced by religious parties but by a military regime. Pakistan, he said, was a heterogeneous country looking for a homogenous philosophy.

Prominent columnist and a Carnegie scholar, Husain Huqqani said that Pakistan had become a rent-seeking state, "for its geo-strategic position it always wants rent."

The military and the ruling elite, he said, believe that they are Pakistan. "There is an inability to respect the masses. They always want some kind of ideology to justify that."

He said there's corruption in other countries too but they did not use it to wrap up democracy.

Sushant Sareen, a fellow at New Delhi's Observer Research Foundation, said the blow back of Kashmir has been the rise of jihad culture which has stopped investment in Pakistan. The idea of strategic depth in Afghanistan, he said, has turned into "a strategic black hole."

Mr Sareen said that Pakistan's Defence expenditure was unlikely to come down, even if India and Pakistan were to make peace because insecurities that propel defence expenditure will remain.

Pakistan's religious parties are using religion to strengthen their position, which will further marginalize mainstream politicians.

Population explosion, he said, was also a big problem but does not get enough attention.

Zia Mian, a Princeton professor, said that trade between India and Pakistan will not lead to peace. Studies have shown that bilateral trade between the two South Asian neighbors will not go beyond one billion dollars even if it opens up.

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