Current crises in Pakistan are not the result of any power vacuum or a single event but six decades of misrule by successive regimes representing bureaucratic, military, and feudal interests. People thought that by the end of Gen. Pervez Musharruf’s term as president the country would move to a democratic polity in free and fair elections. Current situation has become even more complicated since he has sacked the Supreme Court and plans to hold elections under the emergency rule.
The United States offered a quick fix leaving the hope that a serious democratic change would be possible. The success of this democratic change, in the Washington’s strategy, depended upon just the two leaders—Gen. Musharraf, head of a powerful army; and Bhutto, a symbol of democracy. Unfortunately, in the public’s mind both of these leaders are now perceived to be corrupt and beholden to foreign interests.
Deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who has defied the army generals twice and has taken the stand against corruption and is committed to upholding national interests, does not appear to be a factor in the army’s or the Bush Administration’s calculations as part of the solution. Nevertheless, he has emerged as a national hero championing the cause of democracy and good governance. He has the trust of the petulance and is not corrupted by internal intrigues and foreign influence. He is the true hope of democracy in Pakistan and could be the solution to these complicated issues of geopolitical politics in Pakistan.
The political, economic and social issues in northern Pakistan are complicated as the tribal clans in the north and in Afghanistan are fiercely independent and culturally committed to their values and traditions. A long-term program of education and economic development can end their isolation from the modern way of life and gradually integrate them in the mainstream civil society. The West must invest resources in education and economic program in these remote areas. It has a good chance of achieving peace and progress. The present strategy of armed confrontation and continued use of force is not the solution since the British and the Russians have tried it in the past.
A key factor in this crisis is Pakistan’s suspected role in allowing al-Qaeda within its borders. Gen. Musharraf‘s political alliances with the religious parties created a vacuum in the north allowing Jihadis and Al-Qaeda to fill the gap. The real question behind the ongoing war in Afghanistan is not whether Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan or on the other side of the border but to acknowledge people’s democratic aspiration and socio-economic problems and to address these pressing issues with a sense of urgency.
Why does Gen. Musharraf stand discredited in the politics of the country and in the eyes of the people? People had welcomed him with great enthusiasm as their savior in 1999, although he had suspended the constitution and declared martial law. This was mainly due to the fact that the two previous democratic governments of Mr. Sharif and Miss Bhutto had proven incompetent and corrupt. During Musharraf’s eight years of rule as president and army chief, the law and order situation has deteriorated, with little or no safeguards for life and property. There is a huge increase in corruption and a very poor state of governance. Corporate enterprises of the army benefit mainly the officer class, and dominate the country’s economic life. Throughout this period not a single initiative or program for uplifting the people has been undertaken.
In the wake of 9/11, Gen. Musharraf’s role of fighting the West’s war in Afghanistan has alienated the people. Generous American economic and military assistance, over $10 billion since 2002, is apparently benefiting only the army generals. Inflation and poverty, in addition to the deteriorating law and order situation, have been worsening people’s hardships. A frequently asked question in Pakistan is whose interests the Musharraf regime is serving—people’s or foreign? He is increasingly viewed as an American puppet “bought and paid for.”
Miss Bhutto was in self-imposed exile while under a cloud of corruption and money laundering charges at both home and abroad. She and her playboy husband, who was in charge of investments of the Bhutto government, stole over $1 billion, according to the Pakistan press. She was actually convicted of money laundering in Swiss courts, with the case currently under appeal. She is a graduate of Harvard and Oxford but is unable to divorce herself from her feudal upbringing. She is the chairperson for life of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) founded by her illustrious father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. In making her party’s political and financial decisions she exhibits little taste and patience for democracy. Her father, head of the first elected government, paid the ultimate price for his stance on democracy and for trying to uphold national interests. He was hanged by the U.S.-supported Gen. Zia. His crime? Opposition to the military rule.
The fact that Miss Bhutto received a warm welcome in the streets of Karachi on her recent return from exile in Dubai shows that she continues to be popular among the people. These events show how desperate the people are for a participatory democratic order. People remember her father’s sacrifices for them and his country. This is why people are willing to forget her past and want to give her another chance. Another reason might be the absence of a credible leader at this time. One interesting point regarding her exile in Dubai and during her frequent visits to London and Washington, people in Pakistan did not seem to miss her. It is only her belated presence in Pakistan that appears to have made a huge political significance.
India as a neighbor has not helped the situation. Pakistan was carved out of the agrarian belt of India in 1947 and is a resource-poor country. First, India delayed the release of Pakistan’s share of foreign exchange reserves held in London. Secondly, it kept the Kashmir dispute alive; thirdly, India developed nuclear weapons. Between India and Pakistan, enmity is long and deep. Foot dragging on settling the Kashmir dispute has caused several wars, which both countries could ill afford.
India’s nuclear programs could not go unchallenged, and Pakistan developed its own to deter what it believed might be India’s aggression in the future. India came close to invading Pakistan in the summer of 2001 but fear of nuclear exchange discouraged it. It is unwise for the West to attack Pakistan’s nuclear installations under any pretext for it will further inflame the Islamic militancy across the world. Hostilities and nuclear ambitions not only left 1.5 billion people poor and backward but also resulted in the supremacy of military rules and the suppression of democracy in Pakistan.Solutions to the perpetual crises and conflict in the region and to the current stand-off between the people and dominant local and foreign influences are restoration of democracy and economic development. All diplomatic and political efforts are needed to be directed towards this end. A new government in Pakistan, elected in a free and fair election, will enjoy the legitimacy and have the first and foremost responsibility of addressing the pressing challenges facing the civil society such as rising inequality and poverty, deteriorating state of health and education, serious land reforms, and reviving and strengthening institutions of democracy and development. The new government will have the legitimacy and mandate to seek accommodation with the militants in the north and authority of signing a peace agreement with them. The Western governments can assist the new government with economic assistant as proposed by Sen. Joseph Biden. He has recommended $1.5 billion annually over a decade to strengthen democracy in Pakistan.