This beleaguered minority in the country still deserves international support.
BY SADANAND DHUME
This isn’t the best time to be a Pakistani liberal. Opinion polling shows most Pakistanis thinking of America as an enemy, democracy as an unwelcome concept and the imposition of Shariah law as a no-brainer. Meanwhile, recent news out of the country involves the judiciary taking down an elected prime minister and politicians like Imran Khan riding high by invoking anti-imperialist and Islamist ideas, even as an Urdu-language media remains saturated with hyper-nationalism.
Against this backdrop, the world can’t be blamed for regarding the Pakistani liberal as an exotic hothouse flower with no roots in the country’s unforgiving soil. As the United States enters a shaky new period of detente with Pakistan following the reopening last week of supply routes to Afghanistan, it’s fair to ask if these liberals deserve notice at all. Doesn’t it make more sense for the West to instead engage more intensely with the powerful army and assertive hardliners such as Mr. Khan?
The answer is no. It’s always tempting for the West to do business with whoever’s powerful, but this is a recipe for the kind of trouble America right now faces with its troublesome “ally.” Pakistan’s liberals are not only less weak and less of a fringe phenomenon than they’re made out to be, they’re also the only ones who hold out the promise of a better future for their country.
One recurring complaint against liberalism is that though Pakistan regained its democracy four years ago, President Asif Ali Zardari’s civilian government still can’t wrest decision-making away from the military. But no civilian government could realistically be expected to immediately assert its authority over an army that has directly ruled the country for 34 of its 65 years, and continues to command the lion’s share of national resources. As the experiences of Indonesia and Turkey show, only when democracy grows roots do politicians acquire the finesse and self-confidence to take on generals accustomed to command. This takes patience.