Archive for July, 2007

Benazir — Musharraf coalition

Both foreign and local media confirms a meeting occurred between General Musharraf and leader of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Benazir Bhutto in Abu Dhabi during last week. The deal between these two is a repetition of what people of Pakistan have witnessed over last 60 years, a General willing to go to any length to ensure continuity of his rule and a political opportunist hungry to get back in power at all cost. In the current situation the new dimension is open intervention of US and Britain to influence the formation of future government in Pakistan. Traditionally both these powers have worked behind the scene to ensure accession of their proxies to power. It remains to be seen what promises are made by Benazir with them in return for her accession to power. 

Just few years ago Musharraf commanded a majority support for his progressive views and condemnation of political opportunism. Now everyone agrees Musharraf is part of the opportunism which has severely damaged pillars of our nationhood including judiciary, provincial harmony, security of people and economic independence. All his actions suggest he is acting more like a self-centered politician than a person concerned for the nation. He has disguised his own interest as the interest of the nation. Most people think Musharraf has outlived his promises but the prospects of same old politician returning to power does concern people.  This is another sign of weak political institution that can not produce new leaders for the nation. 

Democracy has always struggled in Pakistan because of absence of certain basic ingredients. The first ingredient is an informed and empowered mass of people. Empowerment of the people can only be achieved through education, economic independence and awareness. Proliferation of media of all persuasion and interest is doing a good job of creating awareness among people about the actions of political leaders and political systems. Influenced by the media even Benazir’s own party, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), is showing their concern about the public backlash in case of a probable deal with a military ruler. But awareness can not be effective unless the people have self-respect and understand the power of their vote. This can only be achieved through education. Considering literacy level of 8% there is a slight chance that an enlightened, moderate, and loyal political leadership will emerge from coming elections. But even worst form of democratic ruler is better than a military general. If democracy is allowed to prevail, people will start understanding the power of their vote and exercise it better. 

The second ingredient for durable democracy is creation of political parties that practice the basic tenets of democracy itself before demanding it for the nation. In Pakistan, almost all political parties are undemocratic with an individual or a family at the helm requiring unquestioned loyalty to them, more than the nation, to get a party nomination. In many countries a person receiving a party ticket has to give up their party position so that there is no conflict of interest. Keeping both offices gives rise to cronyism and corruption in appointments, award of contracts and allocation of funds. This situation also prevents development of new leaders through party ranks to assume power later on.

The third ingredient for durable democracy is equal economic opportunity for all citizens. Almost 60% of Pakistanis living in villages are employed by jagirdars and waderas as peasants on their lands. These people are paid subsistence level income and deprived of education to keep them subservient through generations. These peasants are also forced to give vote to the wadera or face their wrath. In Balochistan Nawab Akbar Bugti received billions of rupees from the government as royalties for natural gas but he never took steps to introduce education or health care for his people or develop the infrastructure in his area. These jagirdars do not pay any taxes on their agricultural incomes running into millions. As their peasants toil on their lands they enjoy good life in major cities like Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. These jagirdars, with a lot of time at their hand, then look for political power to protect their estate. Members of the same family join different political parties to hedge their risk. On the other hand, to generate revenue for the treasury salaried people of the cities and private business owners are subjected to heavy taxes. 

The fourth ingredient of durable democracy is equal justice for all. Reinstatement of Justice Chaudhry as Chief Justice has given people renewed hope in imposition of rule of law. But this is only a pipe dream. For any judicial system to succeed it needs an impartial, just and qualified police department that can impose the will of law. In Pakistan, Police as an institution has been intentionally made so weak that they are viewed more as a state arm of extortion than a department to enforce justice. This is the direct result of military rule which neglected the training, organization and empowerment of this institution. It is in the interest of the army to keep Police weak to prevent them from resisting imposition of martial law. Unless we empower the judiciary and police we can not expect the rule of law to improve and allow people to exercise their rights without fear. 

The fifth important ingredient of durable democracy is people’s desire to control their destiny and refuse to allow their exploitation. It seems preposterous to think that 160 million people are exploited by less than 2 million elites comprising of military and civil bureaucracy, jagirdars and their families. But that has been the situation so far. People should wake up to this exploitation and refuse to be silent about injustices and inequalities. This can only be achieved if they are guided by an ideology like Allama Iqbal presented the concept of Khudi to the Muslims of India. Musharraf’s enlightened moderation is devoid of passion because of his own unethical ways to acquire and retain power. Religious leaders have tried to present Islam as an ideology for the people. But this is not a religious struggle as the exploiters and exploited are both Muslims. This is a struggle for attaining national dignity and improving the lives of the people. 

As a nation we are forbearers of people who enriched the culture of Indian subcontinent in architecture, governance and art. As a community we are followers of a religion which is founded on the ideals of truthfulness, honesty, justice and family values. For a crowd to become a nation they need sincere, passionate and enlightened leadership. We will continue to remain a herd unless we are able to produce good leaders whom we are willing to follow to new horizons. We should always remember the advice of Sir Syed “God does not help those who do not help themselves:

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US – Pak Relations

US diplomats and policy makers have been making waves in the media stating US could take unilateral action against terrorist inside Pakistani border. The current rhetoric by Bush administration removes all doubts that Richard Boucher might have threatened to bomb Pakistan if they did not support the US. At the same time Turkey, a strong US ally, refused to support US invasion of Iraq. The reason for this extreme step is the failure of government of President General Musharraf in achieving results in the fight against terrorist. This change in US policy should not come as surprise to any one. First, the Bush doctrine since 911 has been to fight terrorism through weapons instead of ideas. Second, US foreign policy has always been driven by the adage that “US has no permanent friends or allies”. As long as it suits US they keep a friendship but once the purpose is served they drop a friend like a rock. For Pakistan this is a familiar scene since it gained independence in 1947. First US refused to help Pakistan in its fight against India when it supported separatist movement of Awami Leaque of East Pakistan. Second, it used Pakistan as a frontline state in its cold war with Russia especially during the Afghan occupation. But as soon as Russia withdrew from Afghanistan US left Pakistan on its own to deal with the Afghan problem. The result was the proliferation of drugs, weapons and extremism in the moderate Pakistani society. Soon after Afghan war and Russian break up US imposed Pressler amendment on Pakistan effectively blocking all aid and stopping the delivery of F-16 fighter jets for which money was already paid for. 

The friendship between US and Pakistan can, at best, be termed as unilateral. Pakistan has always been on the giving end while US has always been pushing for more. Pakistan accepted the membership into US sponsored coalitions of SEATO and CENTO to provide counter against growing communist influence in the region. Pakistan also allowed US to use its air space to fly U-2 spy planes over Russian territory. It ultimately embarrassed Pakistan when a U-2 was shot down by Russians damaging diplomatic relations deeply. In early 1970s, Pakistan was also instrumental in arranging first secret meeting between then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Chinese government which resulted in opening trade ties between US and China. The highest price Pakistan paid for US friendship was when it agreed to become a frontline state to support Afghan Mujahideen against Russian occupation. That role resulted in growing extremism in Pakistan as well as an attack on its social fabric in the form of drug addiction and small arms proliferation among political and sectarian parties. These arms are now fully utilized by extremist element to fight the law enforcement agencies of Pakistan in large parts of NWFP and Balochistan. 

US image has suffered in the Muslim word by adopting dual policy. At one hand it wants to introduce democracy among Muslims to counter extremism and on the other hand it supports autocratic rulers like General Musharraf to gain support for fight against terrorism. This approach encourages extremist elements to blame the declining social conditions on US duality and offer salvation by returning to conservatism. If democracy is good for Iraq then it should also be good for Pakistan. US should support establishment of democracy by forcing the General to give up his military uniform and conduct fair elections in the country allowing participation from all leading parties. US should also understand that social reforms can not be achieved through weapons. It requires patience, negotiations and understanding. West should also realize that almost 70% of the Muslim population is 30 years olds as compared to an average age of 45 in the western world. There is no way a 45 years old can win a fight from a 30 something youth. 

After 911, General Musharraf provided unconditional support to US largely to protect his own rule in the disguise of the national interest. Looking at the history of our relations with US it is important that we take a long term view of the situation instead of complying with short term directives. 

Pakistan’s foreign policy should be driven by due considerations given to its geopolitical situation, its position in the Muslim world and its economic dependence on certain countries. Based on these three considerations we can not afford to have a confrontational position with India as well as weaken our relationship with China. Similarly we have to create partnership with Iran to help create stability in the region as well as provide a bridge for them to negotiate with West on their peaceful nuclear program. In the Muslim world Pakistan should take a leadership position considering its size, military strength and intellectual depth. Pakistan is rightly emphasizing on restructuring of the Organization of Islamic conference (OIC) to make it a central player in bringing the Muslim world together to negotiate its issues with the Western societies. For its economic development Pakistan should view India and China as two large markets for its exports instead of fearing them as competitors. Pakistan should also form trade blocks with Middle Eastern countries which can benefit from deep human pool of Pakistan as well as improve trade and investment. Recent Arab investment in banking, real estate and retail industries is a positive development are positive developments.  

Sovereignty can not be achieved by Pakistan unless it resolves its internal conflicts, progress economically and understand its true role in the Muslim ummah. It is a good time for all of us to come together to gain a dignified position for ourselves and create peace in the region.

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