Will Pakistan be Pressured?
By Shahid Javed Burki

How do policy makers, columnists, and editorial writers in the West - in particular the United States - view Pakistan's political system in light of the inaugural address by President George W. Bush? A quick consensus emerged among most analysts that General Musharraf's political system, notwithstanding his own description of it, was not strictly seen as a democracy. In fact Pakistan was being lumped together with some of the more authoritarian regimes in the world. "When opposition to tyranny has been at odds with security or economic policy - in Pakistan, in Egypt, in Saudi Arabia, in Russia, in China - the Bush administration of the past four years consistently chose to ignore and excuse oppression," wrote The Washington Post in an editorial that appeared a day after the speech.

Even President Musharraf's domestic opponents would not call his system or his style of governance "tyrannical" or "oppressive" but that was the description used by several analysts in America. If the Pakistani system did not qualify as a democracy, should Washington, following President Bush's pledge to bring freedom and liberty to the world, work to change it? If Pakistan is to be nudged towards a system that is different from the one it has in place today, in which direction should it be pushed? Or should Pakistan be left alone to find its own way as long as it continues to help the United States in its fight against Islamic radicalism and international terrorism? The Washington Post had an answer to these questions which were echoed by a number of other commentators.

"Anyone judging by Mr Bush's speech yesterday would have to conclude that US policy towards those countries, and many others, is on the verge of a historic change. If not, his promise of the 'greatest achievements in the history of freedom' will be remembered as grandiose and hollow." This was a severe indictment for Pakistan and an invitation to Washington to begin to adopt policies that would bring about change in Islamabad. It matters for Pakistan how it is viewed by opinion makers and policymakers in the United States. There is a great deal at stake in Islamabad's relations with Washington. What is at issue is not simply how much economic and military assistance America will be prepared to provide Pakistan as the latter struggles to revive its economy and place it on a path of sustainable growth and development for years to come. How America looks at Pakistan will also determine Islamabad's relations with a number of counties, and most definitely with India.

A good working relationship with the United States will give Pakistan the confidence to work out its differences with its large neighbor. The United States has much greater leverage in both India and Pakistan when it is seen to be even handed; a tilt in one direction or the other can have a significant impact on how Delhi and Islamabad shape their relations with each other and with the rest of the world. It was the United States' mild hostility towards Pakistan in the 1990s that was a factor in Islamabad's decision to support the Taliban in Afghanistan. Insecurity can always lead to irrational behavior although to the architects of that particular policy it seemed like an appropriate response. In analyzing how America's stance towards the world would change if President Bush and his team were serious in pursuing their "freedom and liberty" agenda in their foreign policy dealings, questions were most often asked about Washington's relations with China, Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea.

It was recognized that there was a great deal of difference in the political systems that operated in these countries. Under Russian president Vladimir Putin, the country seemed to be veering towards authoritarianism. He placed curbs on the media, harassed large businessmen, abandoned the system of elections for choosing provincial governors, and became more aggressive in projecting the Russian influence over what Moscow called the "near abroad". President Putin was resentful of the way the West had influenced the electoral process in Ukraine. He ultimately - but very reluctantly - accepted Victor Yushchenko as the duly elected president of Ukraine and allowed him to take office on January 23, 2005.

Notwithstanding this change of heart, the Russian president was not pleased with what happened as a result of the "silent revolution" in which a very large number of citizens had simply refused to accept the results of the previous election that was widely regarded to have been rigged. It was well known that the Americans in particular but also the Europeans had provided money, help and training to the grassroots organizations that had used "peoples power" to persuade the outgoing president Leonid Kuchma to agree to another poll. There was much rejoicing in liberal circles that a quite revolution rather than military confrontation had brought about change in Ukraine and moved that country towards democracy.

Even President Bush paid an oblique tribute to this development when he said in his inaugural address that "it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world". China also presented a problem in pursuing what some analysts had begun to call the Bush doctrine. The Communist Party continued to control the state with an iron hand. It was not prepared to allow a great deal of freedom to the media and had no hesitation in suppressing the news that was regarded as inimical to its security concerns. Chinese have long memories. They were mindful of the fact that it was the outpouring of affection for Hu Yaobang, once the party secretary-general, at his funeral that led to the Tiananmen Square incident in June 1989.

When Zhao Ziyang died in January 2005, after remaining in house arrest for 16 years, the Chinese feared that his death could once again galvanize the Chinese youth and get them to demand an opening up of the political system. Should Washington encourage such a movement as it had done in Ukraine when it had become so dependent on the Chinese economy for its own economic health and when the Chinese had been fully cooperative in Washington's war against international terrorism? Egypt also posed a serious dilemma. It was the second largest recipient of American aid; under the long-serving President Hosni Mubarak, it had walked a fine line in the dispute over territory between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Washington regarded Egypt's voice to be the more moderate one in the Arab world. But there was a problem. Muhammad Ata, the mastermind of the September 11 attacks on the United States, was an Egyptian who was deeply resentful of the authoritarian ways of the Mubarak regime.

President Bush seemed to be speaking for people such as Ata when he said that "America will not pretend that any human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies. We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people". Will Washington follow through these words with actions that resulted in persuading the Egyptian president to think again before presenting himself at the head of another ticket in the next presidential elections? Would the United States be ready to aid civil society in Egypt as it did in Ukraine to open up the system? Or, conversely, would Egypt's usefulness to the United States in its approach towards the Middle East override this ringing cry for freedom? The Bush doctrine about promoting freedom and liberty was put to an early test within a couple of weeks of the inaugural address. On January 31, the Egyptian authorities apprehended Ayman Nour, the leader of a new opposition party - the Tomorrow Party - that had called for the establishment of liberal democracy in that country.

Nour was roughed up by the security forces and sentenced to 45 days in prison on a charge of forgery. "In standing for Mr Nour, Mr Bush would be supporting homegrown constitutional reform aimed at the creation of a parliamentary system of government, to be chosen in a fully democratic election," declared The Washington Post in yet another editorial. Saudi Arabia, another country that practiced politics very different from the one President Bush was advancing as a cause for the entire world, was closely allied to the United States. It was one of the main suppliers of oil to America, and was in some ways the major presence in the Muslim world. It had also joined the American war on terrorism. But then there was considerable restiveness in the Kingdom as people - in particular women - wished for greater participation in political processes and in the country's economic life. Saudi Arabia also had a poor human rights record and its legal system with public beheadings of those convicted sometimes of petty crimes did not suggest a rapid march towards modernity.

At the same time, the Saudi government had used its enormous resources to promote the orthodox version of Islam that it practiced, not only to such other Muslim countries as Pakistan, but also to Muslim communities in America and Europe. Did the Bush doctrine apply to the kingdom? How should President Musharraf respond to this challenge? His style of governance is widely misunderstood among the liberals in the United States. It is a stretch to include Pakistan with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, China and Russia as a country that has gone completely off the democratic track. It is necessary for Islamabad to do a better job of explaining what it is doing in the field of political development. Democracy cannot be imposed from the outside; it cannot suddenly take root. Even the outpouring of enthusiasm by the Iraqis for the polls conducted on January 30 is not going to usher in democracy in that unfortunate land.

It will take patience and perseverance. Institutions that must be in place before democracy can flourish take time to develop. This is also the lesson of Pakistan's experience. Elections did not produce democratic governments in the country. Pakistanis went to the polls four times between 1988 and 1997 and each time they chose a government that, in terms of quality of governance it provided, was worse than the one before. The assemblies, political parties and the judicial system were not able to constrain the wayward behavior of self-absorbed politicians. This brings me back to the example of Ukraine. If America and its president are really interested in promoting democracy in the world they should work with the institutions and civil society to cultivate behavior that would promote democracy. That is precisely what was done in Ukraine. Islamabad should welcome assistance in developing a democratic culture in the country. That would be a real contribution.

Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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