As the Washington clocks strike twelve on 20th January 2009, listen carefully and you might just hear a swooshing sigh of relief travel around the world.
But a critique of what should have been done differently since 2001 is not enough.
This blog is about the new ideas that can change our world and how a 'new multilateralism' can tackle the global challenges of our age.
Change the World, Reports from the Fabian new year conference

Friday, December 28, 2007

Why the west must think again on Pakistan

PThe desperate news of Benazir Bhutto's assassination in Pakistan yesterday brought back the memory of my father watching and being deeply affected by Indira Gandhi's funeral, broadcast on television here in Britain. I remember the strange spectacle of the funeral pyre which, to my ten year old self, seemed to burn for an age. My father's family in India, as middle-class Gujeratis, were natural Congress supporters. It was some time later that I learned that Indira had been a flawed, often divisive politician. Certainly a powerful female icon of political leadership but rather an ambiguous democrat. Her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, remains one of my political heroes. The key moment in embedding the world's largest democracy came in the 1977 emergency as India showed its democratic culture and institutions capable of rejecting the charismatic appeal of its founding dynasty.

Benazir Bhutto was also the flawed heir to a great, progressive political legacy, though hers was a bloody and turbulent inheritance defined by her father's execution by General Zia's military dictatorship. She had little to show for her two spells in office. Still, her death - and the courage of her final campaign - will rightly make her an enduring symbol of the desire for Pakistani democracy. That was not just the central theme of the tributes paid by world leaders. It is also echoed in the more nuanced and critical accounts from commentators and political opponents.

Bhutto's assassination also marks a failure of US and western polcy towards Pakistan. Over recent months, the top priority of the US administration had been brokering a Musharraf-Bhutto alliance, a strategy fraught with risk since the rift between the military and the Bhutto clan has dominated Pakistan's recent political history. The ostensible rationale was to bolster stability and western influence, yet those aims seemed to have become indistinguishable from the wish to 'bail out' President Musharraf.

It should now be clear that this broader strategy of backing Musharraf has now failed. The Washington debate has been about stability versus democracy - yet history is littered with evidence that making the 'strongman' choice for stability frequently delivers neither stability nor democracy. The broader mistake has been to place far too little emphasis on backing democratic principles and institution building, and instead too much on backing individuals, whose rhetorical commitment to those long-term goals has been, at best, contingent and more often lacking credibility entirely.

The argument for a change of policy is made powerfully by newspapers on three different continents today.

In London, The Guardian anticipates that Musharraf will claim to be the alternative to chaos, but notes that the claim has become threadbare:

This is by now a familiar speech. He made it when he first seized power as chief of the army eight years ago. He had made it when he launched a mini-coup by declaring a state of emergency on November 3. And he made it again last night. Each time he claims that the chaos in society justifies emergency powers, he fails to deliver that stability.

The New York Times is hopeful that the right policy might now be followed since all alternatives now appear to have been exhausted.

Betting America’s security (and Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal) on an unaccountable dictator, President Pervez Musharraf, did not work. Betting it on a back-room alliance between that dictator and Ms. Bhutto, who had hoped to win a third try as prime minister next month, is no longer possible.

That leaves Mr. Bush with the principled, if unfamiliar, option of using American prestige and resources to fortify Pakistan’s badly battered democratic institutions. There is no time to waste.

The Times of India puts a related point perhaps most powerfully of all. The argument that "the top priority has to be stabilising the nation" is correct, but should not now imply once again reinforcing emergency powers for Musharraf. "Making Musharraf the main prop of the nation's stability has failed, decisively".most powerfully of all. says the paper, noting the highly questionable focus of this supposed path to democratisation in recent months.

Musharraf's administration has focused its energies on targeting lawyers, political activists, supreme court judges and mediapersons, sending thousands of peaceful activists to jail. While being unable to prevent terrorists from striking at will, not even in Rawalpindi, which is a garrison city as well as ISI's home base. The military has also been diverting aid meant for frontline troops fighting the Taliban and the Al-Qaida, for the sake of trophy arms purchases if not outright corruption.

Independent voices in Pakistan have expressed similar views. The day before the assassination, an editorial in Dawn, Pakistan's leading English language newspaper noted the lack of substantive foreign policy progress in the Karzai-Musharraf summit this week, noting that 'the president's decision to shed his uniform, the return of the exiled ex-prime ministers, and the on-going campaigning have not given Pakistan even a semblance of normality.

Yet one lesson of the failure of current western strategy is to appreciate the limits of what can be engineered from outside. The possibilities for constructive external diplomatic pressure will depend on internal developments. Benazir Bhutto's PPP was a strange hybrid - a wholly owned family fiedfdom and yet still perhaps the best hope for democracy. Turning a dynasty into a democratic movement must be the task of those seeking to construct the viable alternative to military rule or Islamism which Pakistan needs.

1 comment:

Tom said...

Standard argument really... 'we will limit democracy, in order to protect democracy'.

One gets the feeling that without the crisis in civil society precipitated by Musharaff's contempt for the rights of his own citizens, Bhutto may still be alive today.

Incidentally,the PPP itself could do with a bit of a revamp. It needs to make moves towards the Lawyers who, were it a little more democratic itself, would be natural backers and powerful advocates.

On a rather separate note, the whole event should renew the faith of those who back interventions for regime change in people to do things for themselves, given the necessary political support from the west.

As the Washington clocks strike twelve on 20th January 2009, listen carefully and you might just hear a swooshing sigh of relief travel around the world. The Bush Presidency will not leave the legacy its architects intended. But a critique of what should have been done differently since 2001 is not enough. This blog is about the new ideas which can create a 'new multilateralism' to tackle the global challenges we face.