* Experts say post-election change provides opportunity to redress country’s institutional weaknesses
* Another military intervention likely if civilian govt fails to deliver
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: Speakers at a discussion on post-election Pakistan were one in stating that while the popular mood in Pakistan was one of optimism, sharply rising prices of essential commodities of daily use had left the new government facing its biggest challenge.
They also agreed that the performance in office of elected politicians will be judged and scrutinised by those who sent them there and disillusionment would be swift if they failed to deliver what was expected of them, namely good government, security, good law and order and basic necessities that could not be done without. If the civilian government let the people down, Pakistan could slide back into the old “musical chairs routine” of civilian/military rule.
The discussion, moderated by Teresita Schaffer at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) featured Rick Barton and Karin von Hippel of the CSIS, Glenn Cowan of Democracy International and Brian Katulis of the Centre for American Progress. All speakers had had the opportunity to pay several visits to Pakistan to study the situation.
Change: In her introductory remarks, Schaffer, who heads the South Asia programme at the CSIS, said the change in Pakistan provides an opportunity to redress institutional weaknesses and effectively deal with both internal and external insurgencies that threaten the life of the nation. She said those elected wished to distance themselves from the United States because they saw the war on terrorism as not their but America’s war. Pakistan’s problems had been made worse by US policy assumptions. She hoped that these challenges would be addressed by both sides successfully.
Cowan said he had found no political will in Pakistan on the part of those in charge to undertake reform. Everything, it was being assumed, was fine till the next elections, when it was not so. He called the Pakistani political parties undemocratic and operating under a system that was feudal. Only candidates who could pay their way were awarded party tickets to run for public office. Campaign spending was uncontrolled and went unreported. The parties could not thus be said to represent the will of the people. He said that only the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) practised internal party democracy. He was of the view that Pakistan would remain in turmoil unless these shortcomings were addressed.
Katulis, who made three trips to Pakistan in five months, said what Pakistan had today was a “historic window of opportunity”. While there had been irregularities during the February elections, the people wanted to move beyond them. President Pervez Musharraf’s continued presence posed a problem. He felt that what Pakistan has today is a fractured National Assembly and a hung parliament. The national landscape itself is fractured. The politicians appear to have no appetite for electoral reform. The constitutional deviations and imbalances Pakistan has suffered also need to be corrected. President Musharraf’s future poses a major question. There is no accord on the judges’ issue. People feel that Pakistan has been made to pay the price for America’s “so-called war on terror”. The economic difficulties facing the people are huge. Then there is the challenge of dealing with terrorism and extremism. Pakistan also needs to deal with the question of balance of power between the president and the prime minister. The international community is also expected by the Pakistani people to come to their aid. In short, he concluded, it is a “complicated landscape.”
Intervention: Hyman said there is a feeling of hope in Pakistan today and a sense of optimism. Support for democracy is to be found from one end of the country to another. The question is: Can the government perform and deliver? If the civilians are unable to do so, chances of another military intervention will remain high. The army, he added, is “licking its wounds” and had returned to the barracks. It is now or the politicians, who in the past have “played footsie” with the army to prove their mettle. He said there is support for the chief justice because he stood up for the rule of law. People also want a system of checks and balances so that the government in power can be held to account. There are serious structural problems, coupled with economic difficulties. On the face of it, there is no obvious set of politicians that shows the ability to take charge and deal with these issues so that the people’s expectations do not go unfulfilled. If the situation remains un-redressed, then it will be back to military rule in three to four years.
Von Happel, who studied the situation in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) during her visits to Pakistan, told the meeting that violence in Pakistan was no longer confined to Waziristan. She said there was popular support for negotiating with the Pakistani component of the militants while isolating the “foreigners”, reportedly made up of Arabs and Central Asians. Some issues, such as the establishment of Khilafat, were not negotiable, as far as the Taliban were concerned. The present ceasefire had enabled the FATA militants to slip into Afghanistan. The Awami National Party was confident that it could deal with the militants, its policy being to come to terms with the locals and flush out the foreigners, something the US was not willing to endorse, but it had taken a “back seat” for the present. She pointed out that no one was actually able to go into Waziristan and other conflict-prone areas, including, the NWFP police chief. There was a good deal of confusion as to the agenda of the militants. It was also known that some of those operating in those areas were criminals. The effort currently was to drive a wedge between different groups.
Courtesy: Daily Times, 1/5/2008