By Khalid Hashmani
Stephen Cohen said that a group of international scholars that included authors and ambassadors were simply asked to provide their insight in the following two questions:
How did they see Pakistan in the medium-term (5-7 years)? What were key factors that may shape Pakistan’s future?
Their answers became the chapters of the book.
Panel Two – 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM (Moderator: John R. Schmidt)
We have to win them over; we cannot destroy them with drones!
Pamela Constable, Staff Writer for Washington Post remarked that situation in Pakistan had been so fluid that she had to revise her recent books six times in the past few months. She also remarked that she struck by the extra-ordinary commonality of diagnosis, She continued that every contributor to the book seems to agree the bleakness about the future of Pakistan. Constable said that hope is always desirable but at the same time there are some bothersome developments. Media for one had shown extra-ordinary potential for bringing positive changes to Pakistan but it has not been as forward-looking and is paddling the most common denominator such as anti-Americanism and mute criticism of extremist attitudes. Similarly, the “judiciary” and the “Lawyer’s Movement” that had once shown that it would help bring positive changes has been a terrible disappointment as too have been backward looking and unwilling to bring about positive changes. Constable remarked, ” yes, most Pakistanis do not support terrorism, but have never been so anti-American”. Some of reasons for the worsening attitudes – emotional defense of Islamism, confusing messages from their leaders, and rise of growth of radical movement as seen in Punjab University. She concluded by saying “We have to win them over, we cannot destroy them with drones”.
Replying to a question, Constable said that the public opinion in Pakistan is getting more conservative and that will further impact the military. The newly recruited crop of officers is more militant and increasingly they will have more influence on decision-makers.
Army will decide National Security and Allocation of Resources!
Bruce Riedel, Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy focused on the immediate (3-5 years) future of Pakistan. He said that we are seeing a creeping military dictatorship underway right now. It is not going to like Musharraf or Zia eras, but more settled, where decisions would be made by a collective leadership of few military men who will make all critical decisions against what broad population wants. The civilian façade will also go on with positions of President, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and other showcases of a parliamentary form of government. Media will be active and alive as long as they do not seriously criticize military. Those who do will be eliminated. Judiciary will be able to do what they want as long as they don’t challenge military. Army will decide the key decisions on the matters of national security and allocation of resources.
Riedel said that many would say that this has been the case all along any way, however, at least in the last three years, the civilian government did attempt to take some decisions. He saw the current situation where the current civilian government including President is truly scared and intimidated. He said that the “Memogate” is another example of this. It is ironic that the “memo” that was supposed to prevent dictatorship is now being used to facilitate the arrival of military dictatorship. He said he hoped that the person who wrote the memo and wrote about it in the “Financial Times” could live with conscience in what they have done to Pakistan.
Talking about the settled way of military dictatorship in Pakistan, Riedel said it would be a South Asian model of how military rules Algeria. There, the military rules behind curtains and very few people who are key military officers who make decisions. It is not a single person who dictates but rather a collection of few senior officers. He further said that good news is that this in-progress event can still be reversed if Pakistanis want. However, if this is left on its steady drift it is going to be 5th military dictatorship in Pakistan.
Commenting on the War, Riedel said that NATO and the US are fighting a proxy war in Afghanistan. This is not a new phenomenon but has been since 2002. It is just that veils are now taken off. Riedel continued that the assassination of President Rabbani was a key milestone sending the message that they are in no mood to compromise. He said that Pakistan’s absence at the Bonn conference is the message from Pakistan that it is backing Taliban and does not want negotiations. The US/NATO and Pakistan are heading towards a collision. Riedel added that there are some built-in “breaks” but it is to seen if these “breaks” are strong enough to stop rapture.
A questionnaire commented that the reason Imran Khan is getting support is because all other major parties in Pakistan are sharing or have power at federal and provincial levels. As the people’s problems are not being solved, the people are becoming more critical of those parties that are in power and they don’t find any reason to be critical of Imran Khan.
What is going to happen with “Islamism” in Pakistan?
Joshua T. White, a Ph.D. Student at John Hopkins University
White was of the view that policy of “containment” means “limited cooperation” and more or less of only transactional nature. It is not a helpful construct as it assumes that the friendly relations between Pakistan and the USA cannot be restored. He said advocating for “constrained” relationship ought to be a worst case scenario. He cautioned that US experts spent many more resources on “worst case” scenarios than most likely scenarios. Indeed the scope of relationship between Pakistan and the US is narrowing.
White said some of most disturbing trends he sees in Pakistan are the violence against moderate sects and moderate thinking people. He said that much more astonishing behavior was the reaction of moderate thinking people when Governor Taaseer was assassinated. They largely kept silent or even provided justification. When it comes to the public opinion in Pakistan, surveys often ask superficial questions. He added that some of the key questions that ought to be asked from Pakistani public to see what is going to happen to Islamism in Pakistan are:
Whose interpretation of Sharia will be accepted? Who will be responsible for enforcing Sharia?
Are Parties led of Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan capable of assuming such a role?
White was of the view that if the center-right parties win the next elections, then the religious parties will have far more opportunities to press for religious conservatism in the society. In an increasing de-centralized country, these parties would be able to put much more pressure on local government for changes in areas such as education.
Answering a question, Riedel said that although the “Civilian Government” has not turned out to be as effective as was expected, the policy of drone attack also has not been helpful. Drones are simply tactical tools and do not help in the strategic context. He said that he will still council a policy of “engagement and containment” that will still focus on helping the civilian government to solve people’s problems and control/contain the ambition of Pakistan military. He said that if the things don’t work out then it would be a disaster. When asked what he meant by the disaster, Riedel said it would mean more Mumbai-like attacks, serious terrorist attacks in the USA, and far more upheaval in the region.
Note that Bruce Riedel has recently written a book titled Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America and the Future of the Global Jihad.
It is increasingly becoming difficult to find common Solutions!
Marvin Weinbaum, Scholar-in-Residence at the Middle East Institute said that his chapter discusses six scenarios and assigns probabilities to them. Although, the situation is moving quite fast, he still feels that the scenario of “muddling through” is more likely scenario. He said he alarmed that “Jihadi narrative” is becoming more like narrative of Pakistan’s silent majority. He continued that in fact it might be that Pakistani public has become more extremist than the military itself. He gave example of Pakistani media, where Jihadi narrative continues to receive greater support than moderate one. He added that “political aware” population appear to have gone beyond where the military wants to be. The “elite” leaders are no longer as free as they once were to lead the populace.
Citing another example, Weinbaum said that recently the owners of print media and cable channels met and decided to curb distribution of international news and commentaries that were critical of Pakistan. It is shocking as these people are supposed to be the champions of press freedom and people’s right to know important news about their country. He noted that the “Jihadi Narrative” is not just anti-American but targets all its perceived enemies.
Weinbaum said that the goals of the US and Pakistan are not converging. Karazai government does not see Pakistan as a full partner in future and Pakistan sees Afghanistan becoming more pro-India. He concluded that it is increasingly becoming difficult to find common denominator for solutions.
Someone from audience commented that the reason Imran Khan is getting support is because all other major parties in Pakistan are sharing or have power at federal and provincial levels. As the people’s problems are not being solved, the people are becoming more critical of those parties that are in power and they don’t find any reason to be critical of Imran Khan.
In wrapping up the discussion, Stephen Cohen thanked panelists and audience and said that his first book on Pakistan was banned by then Pakistani government and hoped that this new book would not suffer the same fate.
(This concludes two-part write-up. Part One was posted on December 11, 2011)
The writer can be reached at, Khashmani@hotmail.com
Courtesy: Sindhi e-lists/ e-groups.