Will Washington Get It Right This Time?
By Ahmad Faruqui, PhD
Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Washington has followed a one-man policy toward Islamabad, largely for three reasons.
First, Musharraf headed the country’s strongest political institution. Second, the army was fully in control of the country. It seemed easier working with a military government which operated under the “unity of command” doctrine than with a democratic government. And third, it believed that the best way to get the terrorists was to engage the services of the military’s intelligence services.
The services had long-standing ties with those groups going back to the days of the anti-Soviet jihad. Once the choices were made clear to them, it was expected that that they would do Washington’s bidding. To make the assignment sufficiently interesting, upwards of $10 billion was provided as counter-terrorism assistance in the intervening years.
This strategy — let’s call it Plan A — worked reasonably well until the beginning of last year. Musharraf’s decision to grant himself another five-year presidential term triggered a wave of protests that ultimately resulted in the promulgation of an emergency, the suspension of the Constitution, the removal of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and of several other Supreme Court and High Court judges. In addition, thousands of protestors were arrested, including at one point a quarter of the nation’s lawyers. In late November, more than 40 retired senior military officers and diplomats called for the restoration of the judges and the Constitution.
These developments caused dismay in Washington. Even those policy advisors who had sided with Musharraf earlier voiced their serious concerns about keeping him as the centerpiece of American policy. The National Law Journal declared Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry as Lawyer of the Year and Harvard University conferred the Medal of Freedom on him. More than 12,000 members of the American Bar Association called for the release of Aitzaz Ahsan, the incoming president of the Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association, and were later joined by 38 US Senators. US Congressional Committees began to probe Musharraf’s anti-democratic activities.
Foreseeing a train-wreck for Plan A, the Bush administration scrambled back to the drawing board and came up with a half-baked Plan B. This envisaged a deal between Benazir Bhutto and Musharraf, two individuals who had had precious little good to say about each other.
He would continue as the President but she would be his “democratically elected” prime minister. In return, she would look the other way as Musharraf cracked down on other opponents. So, when Nawaz Shariff was deported off to Saudi Arabia in September, she said nothing. Later, when most parties called for restoring the judges before moving forward with the elections, she was quiet. All these moves were carefully choreographed so that nothing would get in the way of Plan B.
With Bhutto’s assassination, Washington is scrambling once again. It is evident that even though the emergency has been lifted and Musharraf has removed the uniform, he is still calling the shots. So there may a temptation for the policy wonks in DC to conclude that Pakistan is not fit for democracy and might as well stick with army rule.
But this would be the wrong message to draw from last month’s colossal tragedy. The generals have ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 60-year old history and more than one analyst has traced the rise of extremist militant groups to their involvement in the covert wars in Kashmir and Afghanistan.
The right message to draw from Bhutto’s assassination is that the army, by suppressing dissent and destroying all civilian institutions, has encouraged the growth of extremism in Pakistan. US policy has not helped matters.
Instead of reaching out to the people of Pakistan and helping develop civilian institutions, such as schools, colleges and universities, and providing money to buy tractors rather than tanks, the US has hired the generals in Rawalpindi to fight Washington’s wars, first the Cold War and now the Global War on Terror.
It is time for Washington to rethink this policy. Even though Musharraf lifted the emergency on the 15th of December, after a hand-picked new Supreme Court had validated his “re-election,” the media are subject to jail terms and fines for criticizing either the president or the army. The dismissed judges have not been reinstated. And Chief Justice Chaudhry and Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan continue to be under house arrest.
So what should be in Plan C? Rumor has it that Washington has simply scratched off Benazir Bhutto’s name in Plan B and replaced it with Asif Zardari’s. Well, that simply won’t do. Zardari does not come even close to rivaling Bhutto in name recognition among the Pakistani public. For many Pakistanis, she was the People’s Princess. And for many more, he is “Mr. Ten Percent.”
By now the US should have figured out that if it picks any Pakistani leader as its favorite, it basically dooms that individual. A better plan would focus on the implementation of a democratic process, not just on the hurried execution of elections whose results are known before the votes are cast. This would involve several steps, beginning with repealing the Provisional Constitutional Order, reinstatement of the top judges and the release of all lawyers.
It would involve monitoring the parliamentary elections to make sure that they are free and fair. The results of the elections should be respected, unlike the situation in 1970 when the army refused to hand over power to the winners and unleashed a civil war that dismembered the country.
For too long, America’s ties with Pakistan have emphasized expediency over long-term relationships. Support for the military dictatorship du jour has been justified by saying that Pakistan lacks a deep political bench. But this is no longer true. During the last year, several moderate, constitutionally minded and highly-educated leaders have emerged on the national scene.
A second false justification has been that democracy does not work in Pakistan. While it is true that it has not worked as well in Pakistan as in India, that is largely because every time it goes through a hiccup, the generals intervene. Unless a democratically elected government is replaced through democratic means, the political skills necessary to make democracy work will never be institutionalized and Pakistan will remain mired in political adolescence.
Finally, it is falsely stated that democracy in Pakistan simply means turning over the country to the feudal lords. The reality is that they have governed the country even during the dictatorships. The way forward is to end feudalism, not to stop democracy.
Is there a way to end feudalism? Yes. The next government should implement genuine land reforms and significantly raise the level of literacy in the general population so that the serfs no longer feel obliged to vote for their lords. There is no reason to fear feudalism. It does not pose the insuperable barrier to democracy that some in Pakistan claim it does. Were that true, than none of the countries in the developing world would be successful democracies today.