Pakistan’s democracy: need for a change in world view

By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

The writer is High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and former Advisor to late Prime Minister Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. 

Media blitzkrieg by prophets of doom against largely consensus presidential candidate Senator Asif Ali Zardari has died unsung on the eve of the elections rendering its perpetrators deeply bruised by the backlash of humiliation. At the time of writing this just before the polls not even an iota of doubt was left in any body’s mind about PPP Co-Chairperson’s sure victory through an overwhelming parliamentary vote overly backed by the general will of the people. Not only that, most of the senior columnists believe that Mr Zardari has proved his political acumen beyond any reasonable questioning and that a PPP President would be a pillar of strength for democracy.

 

They have even strongly reacted to and bitterly criticised a maverick proposal that army should step in and clean the Augean stable that Pakistan was turned into by long rule of General Pervez Musharraf and much too repeated military interventions deflecting Pakistan from a democratic course. They unanimously support Army Chief General Ashfaque Pervez Kiani’s commitment to keep the institution out of and away from politics, devote itself to the national defence including eradication of terrorism from its roots and be at the beck and call of the democratic government.

 

In this context I would like to quote extensively from a commentary by Robert Templer: “Seize this chance to support Pakistani democracy” (Financial Times Aug. 31).

“Not much good news has come out of Pakistan recently…, it is worth bearing in mind that the country has a legitimate government for the first time in years and no crowds have taken to the streets. Pakistan has endured worse in the past and will survive worse to come. What is needed now is recognition that there is no quick fix, no one essential figure to lead the process and no underhand deal to be brokered by shadowy emissaries from London or Washington . “

 

He has responded succinctly to those who still believe that military has the answers to Pakistan ’s problems. “Backing the military or choosing sides among the political parties will not stabilise the country, as shown by the shaky economic and political legacies of eight years of rule by General Pervez Musharraf. Scolding the political parties for their lack of vision, corruption or their fickle alliances will not help either. Instead, what is needed are policies that put the Pakistani people ahead of personalities and institutions ahead of facile answers.”

 

Templer has also given the right advice to outsiders who think that by following their dictates Pakistan can pull itself out of the quagmire.  He supports the policy of the democratic government– led by Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani backed to the hilt by the future President Asif Ali Zardari– of brining Tribal areas into the pale of civilisation. Since long a de-stabilising factor in the region, he believes: “Much of the insurgency in Afghanistan emanates from this region. On both sides of the border, civilians are caught between brutal extremists and a military response that is often indiscriminately violent.” He has endorsed what PPP coalition is trying to change, that is, end the tribal people’s disconnect with the rest of the democratic country, bury their status as second class citizens “governed by colonial laws that deny them justice or representation.”

 

PPP coalition government believes that all colonial tribal laws shall have to be scrapped and tribal areas be inducted into the larger scheme of a federal democratic state with maximum provincial autonomy to its federating units to deliver “services to people who have been denied even the paltry government benefits received elsewhere in Pakistan.” Templer has rightly suggested and that is what is being in the process of implementation by the PPP government in deference to the mission of PPP’s martyred leader Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto whose agenda was to spread education, healthcare and social services in these forsaken regions to bring the step-motherly treated people at par with the rest of the country. 

 

One would agree with Mr Templer and his advice to Islamabad ’s Western friends is absolutely right that for “Pakistanis, the critical issue is the economy. Inflation is above 25 per cent. Families are struggling to buy food and power cuts are undermining industry. A US Senate plan to provide $15bn (€10bn, £8bn) in civilian aid over a decade is a start, as is some emergency food support, but all donors need to move rapidly to help stabilise the economy. An international plan to im­prove infrastructure, healthcare, education and justice should be the next step.”

 

While he has reasons to be critical of General Pervez Musharraf and his policies, he needs to give credit to the Pakistani military ever since the change in its leadership for leaving no stone unturned in combating terrorism—with its heart in the fight. No doubt Washington gave General Musharraf unaccountable billions in dollars; Pakistani military does need new high-technology weapons to penetrate into areas to fight insurgents operating from most rugged, difficult and impregnable terrain. Indeed, Pakistani soldiers have definitely done better than NATO troops—at a heavy human cost—in countering Taliban threats and aggression. It is uncharitable to an army that has lost more than thousand of its soldiers that it has not fared well and that its “military’s intelligence agencies still view jihadis as a foreign policy tool.”

 

Ever since the democratic change in Pakistan Islamabad has indeed been rapidly improving police and civilian intelligence agencies which for decades had been the neglected in order to make them part of its overall strategy to counter terrorism and provide security to its citizens. Soon the government will also be introducing significant judicial and prison reforms as a composite effort to minimise delay in justice and to provide convicts to change for better to be useful citizens once again. One agrees that all these measures put together will enable the state to “build a system that provides rather than undermines legitimacy and security.

 

“The best policy for the west would be an end to the view that outsiders can shape Pakistani politics. Blind support for Mr Musharraf’s dictatorship has left the US with few friends in Islamabad … Trying to pick winners will undermine democracy and create greater instability. Instead, the US and others need to broaden their relationships with the country, expanding trade, opening markets and providing more education assistance.”

 

I would like to remind Mr Templer and others who have a similar positive and realistic approach to problems faced by Islamabad that martyred Pakistani leader Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto gave her blood and life to be a catalyst for change for the good in the country, to foster an egalitarian democratic order and to establish a tolerant society free of extremism. PPP government and its Co-Chairman are committed to translate martyred leader’s dream into a reality for the greatest good of the largest number.

 

Now Pakistan has a democratic government with a unanimously elected Prime Minister and soon it will have an elected democratic President too. As such Mr Templer’s advice to the west has come about just at the right time, that with Mr Musharraf gone “the world’s view of Pakistan must change. Anxieties about state failure and loose nukes are overstated and hypocritical when the steps most needed to prevent them – addressing the economic and social concerns of the population – are ignored. Dictatorship has been ap­plauded while an elected government is viewed with snide suspicion. But that government provides the first opening in years to confront extremism and tackle Pakistan ’s real problems.

 

* The writer is High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and former Advisor to late Prime Minister Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.

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