Pakistan’s Long March to Isolation

American Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued a strong warning to a long-time US ally last weekend, warning that if they don’t change their stubborn adherence to a paranoid and unrealistic foreign policy, they face international isolation. That ally? Israel. But before our hyper-nationalist chattering classes begin pointing to this as further evidence that the West is collapsing, perhaps we should take a moment to think about what the American Defence Secretary said.

“Is it enough to maintain a military edge if you’re isolating yourself in the diplomatic arena?” He continued, “Real security can only be achieved by both a strong diplomatic effort as well as a strong effort to project your military strength.”

The only really surprising thing about Leon Panetta’s warning is how long it took for the Americans to realise what the rest of the world has known for years – Israel’s stubbornly myopic foreign policy is actually making it less secure. What is less clear is whether those responsible for directing our own foreign policy understand why.

Pakistan’s military strength is unquestioned. We have the 7th largest standing military, with over 48 million more brave Pakistani men who will answer any threat to our national security with a swift and strong response. Our SSG commandos are second to none, and we have the fourth largest nuclear arsenal of the world. Unfortunately, the security provided by such military strength is being taken advantage of by some who are repeating Israel’s misguided foreign policy and pushing Pakistan to the brink of international isolation, weakening our security in the process.

Similarly, reading the commentary of right-wingers in the media makes it clear that many are taking the wrong lesson from the American frustration in Afghanistan. This line has been showing up more and more across the media – that the Americans stand on the brink of defeat in Afghanistan. The lesson we should be taking is not that America can be defeated, it’s that military strength without diplomacy is not sufficient.

The delusional fantasies of some retired officers notwithstanding, America is not on the brink of collapse, and a new Sino-Pakistani Empire is not ascending to take its place as the world’s only superpower. Since last week’s All Parties Conference, China announced that it was pulling out of a $19 billion investment in Pakistan due to a lack of security, and Afghanistan announced that it’s signing a strategic pact with India. What has all of this chest beating accomplished except to bruise ourselves?

No nation can prosper in the modern world without maintaining strong international ties with both its neighbors and other major economic powers. Sadly, too many in our own nation are suggesting our leaders do just that. We tried unity governments that thumbed their noses at the world in the past, and each time it set Pakistan back. The greatest threat to Pakistan today comes not from an external enemy, but an internal mindset that is increasingly withdrawn from the world around it.

Dictatorship vs. Democracy

From Huffington Post, the following article by Aparna Pande provides an excellent examination of competing political perspectives. We have often made the argument that debates should focus on reason, and the following piece gives some important historical context to the struggle between the preference for rational thinking which can be quite messy and the preference for order which is tidier. The author is a Research Fellow at The Hudson Institute in Washington, DC.

Aparna PandeWhile discussing the current Middle East situation in a recent interview, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf asserted that “good dictatorship is better than bad democracy.” Mr Musharraf’s quote is reminiscent of the traditional Asharite/Al Ghazzali view that “a bad ruler is preferable to anarchy.”

During the early centuries of Islam there were two broad views on political theory and philosophy — the Asharite and the Mu’tazilite. The Mu’tazilites, influenced by Greek philosophy and thought, emphasized reason and rational thinking (ijtihad), whereas the Asharites were more traditional and asserted imitation (taqlid). With the need for complete control desired by monarchs it was the Asharites who eventually won the debate and gained political blessing. The main reason was that every political system needs legitimacy and the Asharite view of taqlid was more likely to approve of the existing system than the Mu’tazilite view of reason and questioning.

While these views and names are rarely mentioned today, their basic conflict still remains. Across the Greater Middle East, this view has been prevalent for decades that autocracy or dictatorship is preferable to the anarchy or chaos associated with democracy. The Saudi dynasty’s legitimacy derives from an alliance with the Wahhabi clergy where the latter have consistently overlooked the personal indiscretions of the ruling family on grounds of avoiding anarchy. Al Ghazzali, a prominent Islamic theologian of the 12th century, often stated the need to avoid fitna (strife) and anarchy.

All of Pakistan’s military rulers, from General Ayub through Yahya and Zia till Musharraf, have held similar views on the need for order and avoidance of anarchy under democracy. General Ayub Khan (1958-69) believed that the people of the subcontinent were not suited either by temperament or by experience to the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy. General Ayub also believed that democracy was best suited to cold climates and not to the tropical climate of Pakistan. That the same conditions prevailed in India did not seem like an anachronism to the general. General Ayub attempted to impose his form of autocratic rule under a system of ‘Basic Democracy’ which excluded political parties and instead installed an indirectly elected presidential system. Ayub’s failure in the end lay in his inability to gain legitimacy and the prevalence and popularity of local political parties despite attempts to get rid of the latter.

General Zia ul Haq (1977-88) sought legitimacy in religion, for him Pakistan had been created in the name of Islam and the reason for the 1971 break up as well as any problems to date had been because his predecessors had moved away from Islam. The Islamization of Pakistani society, education, politics and law struck deep roots under Zia’s era. Zia was fearful of democracy because it would show the strength of parties like his nemesis Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Zia repeatedly asserted that it was his rule that had prevented anarchy, corruption and further break up of Pakistan by its eternal enemy India, helped by Soviet Union, Israel and other allies.

General Musharraf believed that he was the messiah who saved Pakistan from the corrupt, inefficient and constantly bickering rule of politicians. Thus he ended anarchy and brought efficient rule under a dictatorship. Musharraf’s policy of ‘Enlightened Moderation’ was very similar to Ayub’s ‘Basic Democracy’ — an attempt to build legitimacy outside of the political system. Musharraf’s views have not changed, as evident from his memoirs and speeches given after he resigned as President in 2008. He still believes he is the messiah who will save Pakistan from its chaotic democracy. Musharraf’s recent statements are reminiscent of his predecessors not just in his condescending views of democracy but also in his worldview. Just recently in an interview Musharraf stated that Pakistan is faced with an existential threat — not from the Taliban and jihadi groups who are eating up Pakistan internally — but from the eternal enemy, India.

The view that the Pakistanis masses are illiterate and do not know what is right for them and given the choice would choose inefficient, corrupt and self-serving politicians is a view held deeply by the military-civilian establishment. From this it follows that the military and technocratic elite are by education and temperament best suited to guide and lead Pakistan and protect it from its external and internal enemies. The Pakistani army strongly believes it is the guardian of Pakistan’s territorial and ideological frontiers.

The notion that “good dictatorship is better than bad democracy” arises from the need to have order and predictability. However, for any multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-lingual country like Pakistan, any attempt to impose one view will have long-term repercussions. As discussed in my book, Aparna Pande Explaining Pakistan’s Foreign Policy: Escaping India, Pakistan’s founding fathers constructed an ideological identity for the country, which subsumed and denied the religio-ethno-linguistic differences. The various internal challenges facing Pakistan today are a blowback of this basic challenge of identity.

While order and conformity suit the people in power, they rarely ever benefit the masses. The irony of Musharraf’s statement seems to be lost on him — the only way Musharraf can return to power is if he contests elections under democracy!

Fixing The Ship Without Sinking It

Syed Yahya HussainyPakistan is not the only country in the world where corruption takes place, but it does seem to be one of the few countries where the approach to reducing corruption actually feeds its existence. While corruption should never be tolerated or excused, we should be asking whether this seeming obsession with corruption in the public discourse is standing in the way of effective solutions. As they say, we should not let perfection be the enemy of good.

The Los Angeles Times reported over the weekend that Adil Gilani, the head of Transparency International’s (TI) office in Karachi, has been threatened by some officials for his work in rooting out corruption. The same day, however, Pakistani daily The News International reported that misunderstandings between TI and the government had been resolved and the two were now working together on joint efforts.

So, what’s the real story about corruption in Pakistan?

As it turns out, corruption is more complex an issue that is often admitted. Part of the problem, as reported by Transparency International, is political instability. This should come as no surprise. Pakistani politicians tend to have a short shelf-life. With a political history that includes more coups than elections, political leaders have a perverse incentive to stash away public funds to ensure their own survival.

But Pakistan is not the only country that has elected one or two crooks in its time. Neighboring India continues to struggle with corruption. In fact, a recent report by the watchdog group Global Financial Integrity found that India has lost more than $462 billion due to tax evasion, crime and corruption. And even that estimate is possibly quite low. Some estimates put the amount of money siphoned off India’s ecnoomy in the trillions. Additionally, The Wall Street Journal this week reported on leaked recordings of phone calls between an Indian lobbyist and her political contacts that has shaken Delhi.

And corruption is not a South Asian export, either. Rest assured, the Americans are in on the game as well.

In recent weeks the powerful American Congressman Charlie Rangel was found guilty of 11 counts of ethical violations including “failure to pay some taxes, improper solicitation of charitable donations and failure to accurately report his personal income” and former Vice President Dick Cheney faces accusations in a bribery scandal in Nigeria.

Though corruption is present in both India and the US, the solution for the problem in these countries is discussed differently than in Pakistan. Rather than supporting transparency and establishing processes that help prevent corruption by making it too risky, discussion in Pakistan focuses on vague and unsubstantiated accusations by political opponents and a sensational media. Corruption often overtakes discussion of terrorism, development, and education in the popular discourse. As a result, these problems continue unaddressed. Simply put, it’s easier to score political points by accusing your opponent of corruption than it is to produce innovative solutions for the deeper problems that Pakistan faces.

Worse, however, are the perennial threats of coup against every seated government, regardless of whether or not it was genuinely democratically elected. Earlier this year, for example, the head of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) political party, Altaf Hussain, publicly called for the military to “take any martial law-type action against corruption politicians”. While this statement was widely condemned, many observed that it was the natural result of a perceived campaign to unseat the democratically elected government by some sections of Pakistan’s media.

Everyone has disavowed the old reflex of trying to get rid of the government mid-tenure. But if you look at the political landscape of Pakistan you will clearly see that there is a media campaign to do just that to the PPP government. Criticism of the government is a duty that a free media must perform, even of problems like the PIA, of load-shedding and rental units, and the wheat and sugar crises, that have a history in the past. But defaming the president of the country so blithely is not a good precedent to set, especially by comparing him to a president recently deposed in Latin America for corruption.

Ironically, many of the journalists involved in this campaign support opposition political leader Nawaz Sharif – himself removed from power in 1999 by a military coup rationalized by claims of weeding out corruption. At the end of the day, the political discussion of corruption in Pakistan has less to do with corruption than with politics.

No one believes corruption should be tolerated, and no one believes that the rich and powerful should be allowed to use the nation as their personal bank account. But eliminating corruption in Pakistan must be approached with reason and patience. If opposition politicians or journalists have evidence that exposes corruption, by all means that should be presented to the public. But using the issue of corruption as a political strategy risks undoing not just the present government, but democracy as a whole. This would do nothing to eliminate corruption, while doing irreparable damage to country’s democratic progress. Removing a ship’s hull to fix a leak mid-voyage only threatens to exacerbate the problem and ultimately sink the ship.

Wikileaks Actually Shows US-Pakistan Relations Are Strong

Syed Yahya HussainyThe past few days we have witnessed a lot of panic about the state of US-Pakistan relations following the release of secret diplomatic cables by the website Wikileaks. In Pakistan, right-wing conspiracy theorists see the documents as proof of a secret plan to seize the nation’s nuclear assets; their counterparts on the American right-wing see the documents as proof that Pakistan is secretly working with terrorist militants. Actually, though, the documents tell a very different story – one in which US-Pakistan relations are stronger than ever before.

The infamous Julian Assange of the website Wikileaks earned his first taste of fame when he posted on the Internet a secret military video that appears to show US soldiers shooting down innocent, unarmed men in Iraq in 2007. The release of the video was a thorn in the side of the American government which certainly did not want any more bad publicity for its actions in Iraq, but it was defended by human rights supporters and many in the world community for exposing a cover-up and holding the American military accountable for its actions.

Mr. Assange seems to have delighted in the attention that followed, and he has since orchestrated massive dumps of secret documents smuggled out of American government offices. What he hoped to achieve with this latest release is unclear – there is no claim of any specific wrongdoing by the American diplomatic corps. Rather, it seems Mr. Assange simply enjoys his time in the lime light.

If he hoped to embarrass American or other leaders, Julian Assange probably failed. Secretary Clinton was told by a foreign counterpart, “Don’t worry about it. You should see what we say about you.” Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry called the release of diplomatic cables “irresponsible”. But everyone seems to agree that what has been revealed is fairly well known to those who closely follow world affairs.

That’s not to say that it hasn’t strained relationships, it has – but not for the reasons we like to think. South Asia Advisor for the United States Institute of Peace Moeed Yusuf, quoted on the blog CHUP! – Changing Up Pakistan says that what is revealed by the cables is nothing particularly new, but warns:

…that is not how it will be presented to the man on the street in Pakistan. This will likely fuel even more conspiracy theories in the country.

And that it has. Pakistani newspaper The Nation, prone to anti-Americanism and wild conspiracy theories, claims that the cables confirm their own paranoia:

The disclosures of the US attempt to remove highly enriched uranium from the Pakistani reactor confirm the suspicions of certain political circles in Pakistan that the US has an eye on our nuclear assets, and while doing everything it can to strengthen India, defence-wise and economically, at the same time, it wants to enfeeble Pakistan. That would not only fulfil (sic) the hegemonic designs of India in the region and “solve” the Kashmir dispute, the bone of contention between the two, but also help promote the US strategic ambitions vis-à-vis China. Once Beijing’s fast friend in the subcontinent is rendered powerless in the political game and its adversary emboldened with renewed strength, New Delhi would have no reservations, at least that is the assumption of policymakers in Washington, in making a bold bid to scuttle the Chinese relentless rise to global prominence.

But what did we really learn from the Wikileaked cables? We learned that US-Pakistani relations are fragile and clouded by mutual suspicion and frustration, but each side is working tirelessly to find common ground and to improve trust and cooperation. We learned that the Pakistani military leadership is a powerful political force in a country with a weak civilian government, but is refusing calls by some opposition leaders to step in and is supporting the democratic process as it takes root.

Even on the issue of old uranium stockpiles in Pakistan, what we learned is that there were talks going on to determine the best way to ensure that terrorists don’t have access to nuclear material while protecting Pakistan’s rights and national interests.

We also learned, however, that Mr. Moeed Yusuf knows what he’s talking about. A primary concern in the talks was how any cooperation would be treated by the media.

In May 2009, Ambassador Anne W. Patterson reported that Pakistan was refusing to schedule a visit by American technical experts because, as a Pakistani official said, “if the local media got word of the fuel removal, ‘they certainly would portray it as the United States taking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons,’ he argued.”

Pakistan has a strong and robust defense capability, including a powerful nuclear deterrent larger even that India’s. Transferring some uranium that has been stored next to an old research reactor for years is an awfully strange way of neutering Pakistan’s nuclear capability. Actually, what this entire issue demonstrates is that a major obstacle to improved US-Pakistan relations is the media hysteria that is inevitably invented by journalists more interested in personal fame than the public good.

It is instructive to learn from the Wikileaks documents that despite fears and concerns about Pakistan’s ties to militant groups, however unfounded those fears may be, the Americans have turned a new leaf and are legitimately dedicated to supporting democratic process and not repeating old mistakes by supporting a military coup. Pakistanis are devoted to seeing their nation succeed despite the challenges they face. It turns out, the Americans are, too.

Likewise, the Wikileaks documents clearly depict that most of Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders are willing to look beyond America’s foreign policy follies of the past, and interact with their American counterparts as friends and colleagues. Dedicated to promoting the interests of Pakistan, they deal with the Americans just as any businessmen approach a mutually beneficial transaction.

Unfortunately, the cables also suggest that some political figures such as opposition leader Nawaz Sharif play to populist anti-Americanism in public while making quite different overtures to American officials when they think no one is listening. If Wikileaks has taught us anything, its that we need less duplicity and more honesty from our leaders.

Diplomacy is not handled on the front page of newspapers or by TV talk show hosts, and sensitive issues between nations are not decided on Internet message boards. The men and women who serve their respective nations in Embassies and foreign offices around the world are working tirelessly to represent their nation’s interests in the context of an increasingly interconnected and interdependent global community. With regards to US-Pakistan relations, the lesson from the latest Wikileaks documents is that the two nations are desperately trying to overcome their mutual concerns to find common ground and work together to make the world a safer, more prosperous place. Rather than turning up our noses at the process, we should be applauding.

Published in Huffington Post on 2 December 2010

Farahnaz Ispahani – PPP: The Hope of a New Pakistan

The following article by Farahnaz Ispahani was originally published by Huffington Post on 1 December 2010.

Farahnaz IspahaniAs we celebrate the 44th founding day of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) today, it is important to remember and retrace the history and the principles of the PPP — its consistent purpose of progressive, responsible and compassionate government. The PPP, which was launched at its founding convention on November 30, 1967, is the only party with demonstrated strength in all of the four provinces of Pakistan. It is and always has been democratic and egalitarian, committed to equal opportunity for people regardless of class, region, religion or gender. From its founding statement to the party manifesto under which it contested and won the 2008 elections, the PPP is committed to the values of faith, freedom, fundamental human rights, and a society based on the rule of law and human dignity. From its founder, Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, to the great martyr of democracy Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, to the current co-chairmen of the party, President Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the party has had an unshakable commitment to parliamentary democracy, accountable government, and democratic civilian oversight of all ministries under the constitution. Some people have talked about change. The PPP has delivered it. Some people have talked about democracy. The leaders of the PPP have lived and died for it.

The PPP encompasses four founding principles: Islam is our Faith; Democracy is our Politics; Social Democracy is our Economy; and All Power to the People. The first principle of the PPP, Islam is our Faith, explains that Islam teaches brotherhood, love and peace. Pakistani’s faith places a responsibility on each citizen to reach out in a spirit of accommodation and tolerance to all religions and sects and to treat people of all faiths with respect, enabling them to enjoy religious freedom and equality before the law. The message of Islam is the message of Peace and are symbolized in the words and verses of great Sufi saints Data Sahib, Shah Abdul Latif of Bhittai, Baba Farid Ganj Shakar and Lal Shahbaz Qalander. The PPP commits itself to religious tolerance. Religious beliefs of individual citizens have little to do with the business of the state, as the Founder of the Nation declared in his inaugural address to the Constituent Assembly on 11 August 1947. Shaheed Benazir Bhutto spent her last years traveling the world, educating people of all religions and on all continents, that Islam was not the caricature it was painted in the west, but a progressive, tolerant, innovative religion that abhors terrorism and violence, and guarantees social equality. She knew that in the end, she was the Jihadists worst nightmare — an enlightened, liberal woman dedicated to equal opportunity for all Pakistanis. She knew what she was confronting, but she bravely moved forward, teaching her country and the world what courage and dignity and true commitment is all about.

The second principle of the PPP, Democracy is our Politics, emphasizes the PPP’s commitment to freedom and fundamental rights, including freedom from hunger and want, is written in the blood of its martyrs and in the red marks of lashes on the back of its workers. It is written in the suffering and sacrifice of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who faced the gallows refusing to bow before tyranny, defending the human rights of our citizens to the last breath. In every age, including today, the PPP leaders and office bearers have been behind bars, in exile, facing political persecution, defending their Party and its principles at great personal cost to their families and themselves. It is written in the suffering and sacrifice of its leaders the greatest of whom was Quaid e Awam Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, who gave their lives so Pakistan could be truly free.

The third PPP principle, Social Democracy is our Economy, aims at creating a just
and equitable society with equal opportunity for all its citizens. The growing gap between the rich and the poor must be bridged by supporting the underprivileged, the downtrodden and the discriminated. The PPP is proud of being the voice of the poor, the working classes and the middle classes. These policies, while dedicated to the underprivileged, created conditions that enabled the business and trading classes to compete in the open market and satisfied basic human needs including full employment, national health, universal education, water supply and sanitation. Under Benazir Bhutto’s government 89,000 primary and secondary schools were created; 100,000 women health workers spread out across the country bringing health care to villages that had never seen it before; thousands of villages were electrified for the first time; all political prisoners were freed; labor and student unions were legalized; women were appointed to the Courts for the first time in our nation’s history and allowed to compete in international sports; polio was functionally eradicated. It was a record so distinguished that Pakistan under Benazir was awarded the Gold Medal by the World Health Organization, and declared one of the great emerging economies of the world by the IMF.

The fourth PPP principle, All Power to the People, has taken up the task of safeguarding the liberal, tolerant and enlightened values of the country and has been at the forefront in arresting the trends of extremism with its power of people. It has rendered several sacrifices, the greatest being in the early hours of 19th October 2007 when 170 workers of PPP were martyred and more than 500 injured in a bomb blast during a welcome procession of the party’s chairperson Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, on her return to the country after eight and a half year. These workers, mostly young boys, did not just die trying to protect Benazir Bhutto. They died trying to protect democracy in Pakistan. Three and one-half months later, their sacrifice and the sacrifice of our leader Benazir brought free and fair elections to Pakistan, with a democratic government replacing a decade of military dictatorship.

On this day of our founding, we recall both the triumph and the tragedy of our party’s great history — what we have accomplished and what we have sacrificed. Perhaps our greatest substantive and symbolic achievement occurred during this year, when our party led the National Assembly and the Senate to adopt the 18th amendment, purifying our beloved 1973 constitution from the usurpations of dictators. That fight was led by our President Asif Ali Zardari, through an unprecedented, selfless and principled fight to dilute his own power and in the process restore true democracy to Pakistan.

On this sacred day of remembrance and renewal, we reiterate our commitment to follow in the footsteps of our leaders Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto to build a modern, progressive and democratic Pakistan in which the poor, the downtrodden and the marginalized sections of society including minorities and women live with honor and dignity.

And finally on this day our thoughts are with the assassinated leaders of the Party Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto as well as to the hundreds of martyrs of democracy who gave their lives for the future of our children. As Benazir so poignantly noted:

“It is because of their sweat, blood and tears that the dream of democracy has survived. It is because of them that dictatorship has not been able to talk root in Pakistan”.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s foundation of the PPP was a setback for the reactionary forces in a country long dominated by the Right. The fight goes on…

Farahnaz Ispahani is a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan and spokesperson for the Pakistan Peoples Party co-chairperson.