Sunday, January 6, 2008

Pakistan: Building Democracy or Collapsing?

If you are confused about what is happening in Pakistan, read the short essay on the military’s role in Pakistani politics by Dr. Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a leading Pakistani specialist on Pakistani politics and this short essay by political writer Tariq Ali on the role of feudal party politics.

Writing in October, Dr. Rizvi states:

Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan has given a boost to civilian-political
forces. However, her major strength i.e. her popular appeal, incurs the wrath of
militant Islamic groups and the leadership of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League
Both view her as a threat to their respective agendas and want to
neutralise her popular appeal.As a result, Pakistan will witness increasing
political hostility between the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and its political
adversaries. This situation will get a fillip from militant Islamic groups that
are likely to use violence to disrupt Pakistan’s transition to a more democratic
system. In such a complex and polarised political situation, the attitude of the
top commanders is important in shaping the direction of political change: will
they help the government cope with these pressures and facilitate the transition
to democracy or exploit these problems to further consolidate their hold on

Candidates for the U.S. presidency who wish to make public comments on Pakistan would do well to consider Dr. Rizvi’s list of proposals for improving governance in his country, including:

  • Military officers should “review their attitude towards civilian politicians, whom they view with contempt;”
  • Civilian institutions should be “liberated from the domination of retired and serving officers;”
  • Commercial activities by the military should be made “more transparent” and “placed under parliamentary oversight;”
  • For a fair election, “neutral caretaker governments” should be installed “at the centre and in the provinces.”

Maybe the world should have a bill of rights for democratic processes. Would Dr. Rizvi's above points be a good start? Other proposals? Anyone care to list the countries that would benefit from such a set of democratic principles?

Tariq Ali, writing after Bhutto’s murder, states:

Some of us had hoped that, with her death, the People’s Party might start a
new chapter.
After all, one of its main leaders, Aitzaz Ahsan, president of the
Bar Association, played a heroic role in the popular movement against the
dismissal of the chief justice. Mr Ahsan was arrested during the emergency and
kept in solitary confinement. He is still under house arrest in Lahore. Had
Benazir been capable of thinking beyond family and faction she should have
appointed him chairperson pending elections within the party. No such luck….

Meanwhile there is a country in crisis. Having succeeded in saving his own political skin by imposing a state of emergency, Mr Musharraf still lacks legitimacy….

A solution to the crisis is available. This would require Mr. Musharraf’s replacement by a less contentious figure, an all-party government of unity to prepare the basis for genuine elections within six months, and the reinstatement of the sacked Supreme Court judges to investigate Benazir’s murder without fear or favour. It would be a start.

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