Wednesday, August 23, 2006

# Posted 8:48 AM by Patrick Belton  

DEMOCRACY IN PAKISTAN, AND WHAT WOULD ORWELL DO: Kevin and Daniel have both raised the question of Pakistan in recent posts. I’m hesitant to wade in too precipitously, as I’m still coming to my own thoughts, wading through my notebooks and drafting my first writing based on my experiences there, a time maddening and interspersed with moments of touching humanity, and full of unexpected poignance.

I tend, though, and at some admitted risk of sacrificing nuance in service of moral clarity, to favour a comparatively full withdrawal of support from the present military regime in Islamabad. My reasons are personal and vivid. The travels I undertook through that country were peppered by meetings with both opposition politicians and more humble ordinary folk who, for their pains in speaking against army rule, were rewarded by time in an insipid network of (the term is cruel) safe houses and torture chambers scattered through the country with a density far exceeding anything the CIA in its darkest moments has ever been alleged to mount or imagine. Some withdrew, fearing consequences upon their families; others went on to secure election to the Senate, adolescent fecklessness and political arrogance being changed in them for a humility, depth and soft-spokenness that one sees in Mandela and others who have been broken for their beliefs. It is deeply humbling, to one whose most perilous exertion in favour of the norms of democracy and decency has been to sit before a computer and push buttons on a keyboard. No decent western journalist could speak with them without deep unease about a policy of support for their government.

This is not to say the civil and diplomatic services, and yes, the officer corps as well, are not fitted with many people of decency and intellect. It is neither to deny that, by the league tables of military dictators who have controlled Pakistan in the majority of the six decades since its political separation from the country in which I live, Musharraf is not by far and a bit the best. Yahya Khan inaugurated the incursions of the barracks into politics without much to show for it, apart from the dismemberment of his country and the mind-boggling atrocities of 1971, to include the genocide of Bangladeshi intellectuals; Zia from his political weakness as much as any personal faith dabbed the country and its laws with religion, making it at least in form an Islamic Republic to win the support of Jamaatis to his generals. Musharraf does have the interests of his country at heart; he has furthermore chosen the cause of the West. Neither of these facts do I deny. But both liberals and those whose political tradition is not liberal but religious view America as manipulator of their affairs; and to America they impute responsibility for the actions of Musharraf its client. I do not wish to oversimplify matters; only to point out that is dangerous, very dangerous, for America to pursue the course that it is taking. Rather than view it as an inspiration of liberty enlightening the world, Pakistanis see it as complicit in their oppression. When Musharraf leaves, the next government to be led from the PPP or the PML-N – and it will be flawed, corrupt and imperfectly democratic – will have less sympathy for the United States than if it had behaved during their time in the wilderness as a friend to them and such democrats who exist in Pakistan – and moving beyond Nawaz and Benazir, they are many. There is democracy there to nurture. On my first day, I went to attend a world social forum in Karachi, on which I was able to report for the BBC; it was full of civil society actors who previously had not met, badly organised, but full of idealism, and a mirror of the present state of a Pakistani civil society which must someday be made the base of a democratic politics. The country’s press is free – freer under Musharraf, it must be said, than under Benazir. (Though a friend from the new cable news network Geo, who unlike me has suffered for his trade, points out that freedom of press isn’t quite the same as freedom after press - whether from pressure upon editors to fire dissenting journalists, or introduction into the network of Cavaradossian torture which has always been the refuge of those who will not submit their power to the approval of those they control.) Their civil service is the child of our own, and professional even if in these days it is coming, like the economy, academy and social sectors, perilously under the control of retired brigadiers at its highest levels. If there are as many people as indeed there are like the tortured democracy activists with whom I spoke, then we of the west must be sufficiently true to our principles to support the seed of democracy even where dust and the impression of it are everywhere.

That America has some justification to pursue an alliance with a comparatively enlightened military dictator, helping to maintain him in power and through him wage its war on terror in the shorter-term of its operational horizons, is undeniable. That such a strategy does not, if subject to indefinite extension, pose grave dangers is absurd to believe. America has been the principal supporter of an army which now controls a quarter of its country’s discretionary budget, whose sway over other spaces of national life is great and increasing. Only in Pakistan, of all South Asia, is the amount of national spending invested in education of its youth and its future measured in real terms in decrease. Pakistanis, it must be noted, hold America complicit in all this. It is not, in Pakistan, viewed as a friend of democracy. I do not impugn its intentions, only the forwardness of its thought, and the length of its strategic horizons. If there are no easy answers, at least let us sound an Orwellian note of disquiet.
(18) opinions -- Add your opinion

So, because Pakistan's government's actions aren't in the best interests of the US, we should either refuse to deal with it or force it to conform more closely to our idea of a good democracy? Or is your problem that US policymakers aren't aware that the government's actions are not in our best interests? Either way, I'm not sure what you're advocating that the US do about Pakistan. And I'm not sure that the US should be concerned about whether we're well liked by people who cheered 9/11 and are largely complicit in terrorism.
"Pakistanis, it must be noted, hold America complicit in all this."

That's funny. Because I hold Pakistanis complicit in the creation of the Taliban, the harboring of al-Qaeda and the slaughter of 3,000 of my fellow citizens. And after that we can begin talking about their views on Jews, the role of women in society, etc....

Seriously, this whole 'America is responsible for the fact that some countries have no democracy' is ridiculous. They've had decades, even centuries to do something about it. We do some business with their government after 9/11 in exchange for us fighting al-Qaeda, which is basically us cleaning up their mess. I'm sorry but that's not the reason why they're not democratic and their country is a joke.
'people who cheered 9/11 and are largely complicit in terrorism.'

As a person who happens to be from Pakistan, I can't help but say I find the above comment ill-informed.
I was in Pakistan when 9/11 came to pass and, as I recall, the general impression was one of shock and horror. There were no joyous celebrations or bearded Islamic terrorists patting each other on the back and prostrating before the almighty for a well deserved blow against US foreign policy.
If you want to know what Orwell would have thought, you should read his essay, Shooting An Elephant.

You're probably thinking that Orwell only hated Totalitarianism. He also hated Imperialism.

Orwell, born in Burma, served as a policeman there.
I also thought immediately of Orwell's Shooting an Elephant essay.

Certainly a situation with no good options. If only everything could be as straightforwardly obvious as building closer alliances with India.

Did you see that the US and UK introduced a Darfur resolution in the Security Council, and that Sudan is fighting it? And that China and Russia have promised vetoes?
U.S. policy towards Pakistan is simple and practical. In the short-term, the U.S. is extracting whatever use it can from Pakistan in the war against Al Qaeda and those who wish to destablize Afghanistan (and putting up with Pakistan's double-games on these matters). But in the long run, the U.S. is writing off Pakistan as a future failed state or worse, a toxic nuclear weapons cleanup site.

Quoting from the post we wrote on this subject in March:

"President Bush has likely concluded that in the long-run Pakistan is inherently unstable and will more than likely descend into some form of chaos. This is a fate beyond the control of the United States government, General Musharraf, or anyone else. What a U.S. president can control is how the U.S. government will prepare for that event. President Bush has chosen to tilt decisively toward India. When Pakistan falls apart, leaving adrift its nuclear weapons stockpile, the U.S. will be glad that it has a solid bond with India when it is forced to clean up the mess."

The Pakistani people, we fear, are in for a horrible fate. But their fate is entirely their responsibility. As in virtually all Islamic countries, the rational and well-meaning majority is unwilling or unable to confront the minority within their neighborhoods that is leading them to doom.

You note accurately that Musharraf has "chosen" the West... What if Shah Palavi had not chosen the West? Would we have a seething majority in Iran today being held down by the brute force of the mad mullahs? I don't think so. And, after Musharraf, perhaps a sane majority will dominate the millions of Pakistanis, too, which would not happen without the current U.S. support for him and vice versa.
It will always be hard to establish democracy in any country filled with religious fanatics--look at Kemel Ataturk's long and brutal struggle, which the civil rights activists of today never would have approved. Look at the hard path of the current democratic government of Iraq, which is only working because that society was more advanced (i.e., more secular) than was Iran or Pakistan. For that matter, look at the beginnings of the United States, which worked in no small measure because the Founders sold the masses on the value of religious tolerance--which worked well all the way up to Janet Reno and Waco.
The Problem is not the US, but rather that Pakistan is barely holding together despite the omnipresent portraits of Jinnah! The Baluchi's and Frontier areas would split in a heartbeat without military force. Corruption and clan powergrabbing would persist in a non-military power structure as well. The islamacist presence simply tops off the boiling pot, making economic development extremely hard. High population growth coupled with slow economic growth seals the Pakistani dilemma.

When I was in Pakistan two years ago, my co-worker and I seemed to be the only westerners in the Karachi airport. Once this was a thriving hub, now almost mostly vacant as it has been eclipsed by Dubai. Security situation was worse in Karachi than in Baluchistan in some respects.

The current regime is the best bet in the short term to provide a measure of fiscal stability and small amount of security to the country. The likely successors in the political realm would be no democrats in any regard at this time.

What the US can do is to push the government on economic liberalisation and modest civil liberties improvements. The Pakistani in the street will always blame the US for everything while lining up for a US Visa.
Patrick Belton should admit that, if we followed his proposed policy, we would lose whatever support we now get from Mussharraf.

And while Mushharraf hasn't been our BEST friend in the war on terror, he has done some things. He was helpful in taking down the British plotters a months ago, for example.

Would Patrick still prefer his policy if it meant that those 10 bombers, instead of sitting in British jails, had bombed 10 transatlantic flights last week?
Actually, in every election that's ever been held, it's been the democratic parties that have won - either the PML-N or the PPP.

And also, the Islamists have principally been built up in the last 60 years by military rulers seeking to shore up their legitimacy - q.v. Jamaat's relationship with Yahya Khan, ditto Yahya Khan and Kashmiri jihadi organisations, Musharraf and the MMA in NWFP.

Military dictatorship is building up jihadism; not covering up for it.
Pakistanee, please don't insert relevant facts or on the ground knowledge into a neocon argument. It's like citing Feynman to Star Trek fans.
Thanks, just felt torn up to see a blogger torn to shreds for (1) actually looking within Pakistan's politics with some insight, and (2) pointing out, very politely and gently, downsides to western policy towards my country. It seems like this is the kind of thoughtful analysis born out of personal observation that more western bloggers and other media types should do; the response maybe explains why more of them don't.

For my personal opinion, and I think most of the above are cases in point, I think comments weren't necessarily a good addition on this blog -- there's sort of a Moynihan's law, under which there's a perfectly inverse correlation between how interesting what a person's got to say, and how likely they are to say it the comments section of a blog.
Yeah, I think jihadism might be an example of what we call blowback. In Peggy Noonan's "What I Saw At The Revolution," she positively *crowed* about the Mujahideen coming to the White House. At the time, the Reaganites were happy that the Mujahideen were giving the Soviets so much trouble that they gave them things like Stingers. And the Taliban were our friends in the War on Drugs until September 11.
I said example. I meant result.

i wrote a response here:

trying that again:

i wrote a response to this:

click on my name
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