Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Pakistani Way

The more I read and study about Pakistan the more I find myself alienated from its people, culture and political dealings. I opened up the Pakistani newspaper today (not literally, who reads an article on a paper anymore?) and I just couldn't imagine a riot like the one that happened in Pakistan today ever happening in the US.

The people in Multan, Pakistan (the home town of the new prime minister) burned down the state electric department and a bank because the power company announced another power cut. The mob also set fire to furniture, buses and motorcycles, but what I thought was the most outrageous part of the riot was that they dragged 10 electric company employees out into the street and savagely beat them with wooden planks. As if the low level employees are to blame for the power crisis. 40 people were injured in all and thousands of dollars of damages were accrued, but more importantly is that this is a sign of democracy's apocalypse and the four horsemen are high food prices, power shortages, credit shortages and no quick solutions to any of the other three.

Not to run this point into the ground, but I've said all along that a war with Mursharraf isn't what the majority of Pakistanis care about. They don't care that parliament was run by religious radicals, they don't care that the judiciary was sacked and they don't care what the constitution says. Let's be honest, the uneducated masses of Pakistan care about where their next pay check is coming from and how much of it is going towards food. The regional police chief, Mirza Muhammad Ali said that the power outages were putting 500,000 loom workers and their families at risk of starvation since they worked 20 hours a day and with the power outages they would be out of work for a period of time.

If problems like these power outages keep going unaddressed, then the new civilian government is going to find itself with few supporters. When the PPP came into office they promised that they would fix the power outages. Thus far, however, the only real action they have taken is replacing the head of the state electric department, which in my opinion, is more politics than a resolve to fix a problem. The new power plants they are considering building won't be done for 6-10 years and the current hydroelectric plants are losing power every day with the falling water levels. Their answer is that Mursharraf caused all these problems - a claim I'm willing to bet is true. However, people tend to have short term memories and when their families are starving the question isn't, "who caused this?" - it's, "what are you gonna do about it?" I'm sure putting Mursharraf's head on a pike will feed the people though, right?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Musharraf: The Real Dr. Green Thumb

I have to admit, just reading what Musharraf said makes me want to throw on an army uniform and say, "sir, yes sir!" I've never seen one of his speeches and it probably wouldn't help since I don't speak his language(s), but I'm told he's even more charismatic in the delivery of his speeches. So when Musharraf says something like this with regards to a peaceful transition of power - you want to believe him:
"You think someone who has spent his entire adult life defending Pakistan and the past eight years trying to put democracy back on track wants to see the government fail and the country return to political anarchy? No. I'm committed to making this work. I had planted the sapling of democracy and I will not let it be affected at any cost."
I'd love to believe that Musharraf has been trying to promote democracy by sacking the judiciary an dismissing parliament. I'd love to believe that imprisoning political opponents was a necessary growing pain and that he really was watering the seed of democracy all along. Unfortunately, my damn common sense keeps getting in the way. Musharraf would say that I "can't see through the uniform," but when I hear stories about how Condi Rice has repeatedly had to restrain him from delaying elections I find myself being justifiably skeptical of the President.

It's obvious that Musharraf has an ulterior motive for claiming to promote democracy. Maybe he wants to hold on to some of the power he's about to lose. I think it's more likely though that it's a front for the non-transparent power he's exercising in the background. My professors have often times called me a cynic for never believing that a military ruler might just want to step down peacefully for once. I hope they're being sarcastic when they say that, but I suppose every political scientist wants to believe that humans aren't always power hungry.

At any rate, Musharraf got one thing right in his speech yesterday. He painted a grim picture when he asked, "Can you imagine what the effect would be on the business community, both foreign and domestic, or in the capitals of nations allied with us in the war on terror if the first thing they saw after this election was a political war between the presidency and the government? I think it would be catastrophic." Indeed, it would be. As I've been saying all along - the last thing parliament should be thinking about is a war with Musharraf because it will ultimately play into his, or at least the army's, hands. Crucifying Musharraf will only serve to mend broken egos, but it will not solve the plight of the poor and middle class people in Pakistan. Here enters the next military dictator - on his white stallion throwing out bread and money to the beggars on the street with a sword hidden at his side and the prime minister's imminent death at hand.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

An Unlikely Figurehead

This week, President Mursharraf spoke at the 13th COMSTECH Assembly; an organization geared towards promoting the technological exchange between first and third world countries. Among the various issues he discussed at the conference he called for the “end of discriminatory distribution of economic resources in the world to eliminate extremism and the sense of deprivation” and claimed that “the Muslim world must initiate dialogue with the West to clear current misperceptions.” What the hell was COMSTECH thinking when they asked Mursharraf to speak at this conference?

Asking Mursharraf to promote the end of inequality is tantamount to former president, William Taft (a 340 LB modern-day Buddha), promoting a healthier American diet with a giant fried chicken leg in one hand and vestiges of Crisco in the other. I suppose that someone who has firsthand experience stealing from the poor to give to the rich would know a thing or two about discriminatory distribution. And hey, who better to tell the West that their perception of a backwards and oppressive Eastern society is all wrong? He could make that speech right before his two O’ clock appointment to sack the judiciary, dismiss parliament and execute some political prisoners – you know, the daily routine stuff.

I’m not saying the president is wrong and I completely understand why Pakistan, a leading industrializer in the Middle East, would be asked to talk about technology sharing, but come on - Mursharraf? This is the guy you want spearheading your initiatives? See if you can book the prime minister next time and save the president some time. He has too many military operations to cover up as it is!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Predator! Send Arnold to Pakistan!

I had heard of predators before but I suppose I didn't realize how much they were actually used until I read this article. Predators are the pilot-less remote controlled planes used by the US to conduct reconnaissance and bombing missions. In the last few years they have been the perfect loop hole for Mursharraf and Bush to conduct US strikes against terrorists while allowing Mursharraf to maintain his famous claim that only Pakistani forces could conduct missions on Pakistani soil. Of course, Mursharraf has always maintained that he was opposed to these bombing runs and that he strictly monitored and managed their occurrences. Newsweek printed an article today which indicates that the US has essentially been given free reign now to bomb as they please inside Pakistan due to the realization that terrorism in Pakistan isn’t just a US problem anymore.

Pakistani generals and Mursharraf were quick to deny these claims because they were afraid of the US-hostile civilian parliament reacting to them. They continue to maintain that they have never allowed the US to conduct these bombing run. The Newsweek article, however, maintains that there has been a huge spike in the number of predator missions conducted and no protestation accompanying them. While I’m happy to see that Mursharraf and the military are being careful not to anger the new parliament; I’m not convinced that Newsweek is misinformed about the deals between Pakistan’s military and the US.

Pakistan’s intelligence in the terrorist areas is so bad that the US has had to rely solely on its own intelligence just to run these missions. In just one year the number of suicide attacks in Pakistan has risen from 6 to 65. At some point, it makes sense that Pakistan’s military said, “What the hell, just go ahead and start bombing.” Absent this Newsweek report which was a result of a leak on the US’ side, I don’t think anyone in Pakistan would have been the wiser.

In the bigger picture of things, this really isn’t anything new or profound. The day the military unilaterally allows US full access into the country will be the day a scandal is really formed. My intrigue with this story is that it’s more so a foreshadowing of the way the military is going to maintain its control in the country. Parliament is horribly equipped to monitor what the military is doing. These permissible predator attacks will probably continue to happen and I highly doubt parliament will be able to pass a law that changes that. If this is allowed to happen though, then what stops the military from making backdoor deals both domestically and internationally? I’m not a CIA agent, but I guarantee that this Newsweek article is at least half right and Pakistan’s military is brokering deals with the US. This story just underlines the imaginary control parliament has over Mursharraf and the military.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

It's a Start...I Guess?

The Pakistani courts today decided that a law that's been on the books since the creation of the constitution is unconstitutional. I'm a little confused by this since I was under the impression that the judges still weren't reappointed, but whatever - apprently there's some sort of interim agreement I'm unaware of. Anyways, the law was that you had to have a B.A. or higher in order to hold an elected position in the government. Obviously, this should have been ridiculous to begin with considering that less than 5% of Pakistanis hold such a privileged degree, but the reasoning behind the decision is that "no other democracy in the world has such a law on the books and we shouldn't either."

Well, ok...I guess that's good, right? Yea, they got rid of an elitist law that prevented almost all of Pakistan from participating in their government, but for the right reasons I wonder? I mean, under that line of reasoning there are tons of laws on Pakistan's books that don't appear in any liberal democracy.

For example, what about the blaspheme law? Under this law, you can be jailed for saying anything blasphemous either about the Muslim faith or about a muslim government. There was a case last year where a guy posted his book online that was critical of Pakistan's religious law. He was jailed for over a year even though he removed the book. Apparently he was a bad prisoner though because he ended up being shot in the head by the warden. Obviously, this educated author was a hardened criminal causing tons of problems in prison huh?

I think Pakistan should be careful what the reasoning is for overturning a law. If they really wanted to show a concern for human rights then they should be overturning these rights based on the belief that everyone has a right to participate in their government or everyone has a right to free speech - not because other democracys do it. There is a subtle difference, but this is the key difference between a liberal democracy and a democracy in function only. I hope changes like this will continue to happen in Pakistan though, however, they should be done so carefully. The changes happening now will set a very important precedent for the future of Pakistan.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Pakistan Didn't Elect Bush!

For all the backwardness implied with the name Pakistan, the people are not so backwards that they would elect an ex-alcoholic from Texas once, more or less, twice. Unfortunately, the recent elections in Pakistan didn't magically quell the terrorist threat on the outskirts of the country. Insofar as this is not the case, President Bush will continue to make decisions that radically affect the Pakistani people until terrorism is gone or his term has ended. Almost assuredly, it will be the latter.

Terrorist organizations/tribes are still residing in Pakistan and they will need to be dealt with either diplomatically or by force. With regards to this matter, Fareed Zakaria points out that even though the Bush administration has continually pushed democracy promotion in the middle east; now that it has finally happen they would rather work with the dictator in pursuing a policy to deal with terrorists in Pakistan. Bush aides indicated that they would continue to work with president Mursharraf as opposed to the new parliament even though he's the anti-democratic spokesperson for the country and no longer has control of parliament (at least not directly or transparently speaking).

Obviously, this is a characterization of this administration's foreign policy: pulling the puppet strings from DC. The Bush administration would rather deal with an easily controlled Mursharraf. Undoubtedly he is easier to control than a new and unknown multifarious parliament. The downfall to this, which is aptly pointed out by Zakaria, is that no one is fooled by the puppet ruler and any decisions that are made as a result of Mursharraf's backing will be viewed as the US' war and not Pakistan's. The result will be a poorly run and poorly supported war which might lead to an increase rather than a decrease in terrorism altogether. On the contrary, if parliament calls the shots then the legitimacy of the war there will be maintained. Parliament's leaders are quick to explain that their plan for dealing with the terrorists is the same as Mursharraf's anyways except they will be able to succeed where he as failed. They want to open up lanes of diplomacy with the outlying terrorist tribes and whereas Mursharraf couldn't do it cause he was afraid of assassination, parliament's sheer numbers solves this problem. I'm not suggesting diplomacy will necessarily work. Often times these extremist groups are immune to peace talks. However, if there is a need to go to war in Pakistan - then parliament should be the one who makes that call.

The US has gotten sloppy with its behind-the-scene-CIA-cover-up strategy. For whatever reason, Bush and his people feel that open or vaguely veiled coercion of other countries is acceptable. Although I would feign promote this in any way, the fact of the matter remains that if a country thinks it's running the show then it will be motivated to carry out its objectives, even if their orders are really coming from another country. In short - perception is reality. However, since Bush is as sly and tactful as an elephant with a marching band behind it, we'll need to take the training wheels off Pakistan and give them a chance to ride on their own now. We can give them a push to get them started, which might include soft power help in maintaining Pakistan's independent judiciary, but that doesn't entitle us to man the handle bars and direct their policy on terrorism. We'd do well for ourselves not to try to anyways. Terrorism in Pakistan is as much a problem for us as it is for them. Our goal should not be to solve it our way and our way only, but rather to solve it. If there is in fact a solution to terrorism then entrusting Pakistan's parliament with the task of finding it will be the best way to reach it.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Democracy: Pakistan's Pink Elephant

Democracy in Pakistan is like a cordless screwdriver, it takes two days to charge and you get about an hour of use out of it. The recent democratic elections in Pakistan are the result of nearly 20 years of political turmoil, and yet, there is no indicator that democracy won't sputter out within the year. In the country’s 60 some odd years of independence it has spent about three-fourths of them under some sort of corrupt dictatorship and half the time it was the military running the show. Indeed, it would seem that it takes decades for the people of Pakistan to get politically charged enough to demand a democratic or transparent government and only a few years to revert back to an authoritarian dictatorship. Plainly put, Pakistan's corrupt history has a bad habit of repeating itself.

Why? Simple, those in power aren’t going away because an election they allowed decided to vote their party out. Their networks, power and wealth are too dense and deep-rooted for democratic governments to reform them. This ultimately yields a lack of results and a disillusioned populace with a nostalgia for a less democratic, albeit, stable time. Recent elections in Pakistan were fair and they were able to dislodge the military’s extremist party from parliament, but this is not what constitutes a democracy. PPP supporters quick to herald in a new democratic era forget that Mursharraf is still president, the military is still economically in control and parliament is no more powerful now than it was last month. It takes more than one ingredient to bake a cake.

A small Pakistani history lesson will remind observers what happened the last time Pakistan thought they had “democracy” in 1988. Benazir Bhutto, the female prime minister, was elected and dismissed from office twice on charges of “corruption.” Her successor was jailed on charges of “treason.” Surely, this was a transparent democracy fighting corruption at every turn, right? There’s an old joke about Pakistan, the only reason they avoided being the number one corrupted government in the world in a “1996 global corruption index” was by bribing Nigeria to take its place. We end this history lesson with current President Mursharraf’s military coup in 1999. This led to yet another dictatorial constitution granting him the following powers: right to dismiss parliament and the judiciary at his pleasure, appoint military chiefs and declare a state of emergency thus granting him dictatorial “emergency powers.” To date, despite a new civilian government, this constitution remains unchanged.

Granted, revamping a constitution is a serious political feat for any government, even those with popular support. However, parliament’s clamoring for a reinstated judiciary, a new constitution and the president’s resignation – shortly followed by Mursharraf’s veto is only a foreshadowing of what’s to come. In the past, Mursharraf has manipulated elections, circumvented the constitution to allow himself to maintain the dual posts of president and army chief of staff and struck unholy alliances with hard-line Islamists in Parliament while assuring his U.S. backers that he was cracking down on them. There is little reason to believe that he is quietly relinquishing his power when both the military and the Bush administration are behind him. Even if he is unable to openly wield the influence he once did, Mursharraf still has a never ending supply of roadblocks to throw in front of the new fledgling government’s objectives.

The new coalition parliament might have the backing of the people but Mursharraf and the army have something better: the backing of the world’s super power and a no-strings-attached-fat-check in which to command the economy. Parliament has virtually no authority to dictate policy for the army and the generous $10 billion foreign aid provided by the US is given in the form of direct military funding. In other words, another piece of the power-pie parliament has no authority over.

Pakistan would do well to take a page out of Turkey’s book if it wishes to antiquate military rule. The new EU member was in a situation similar to Pakistan's not too long ago. The incumbent government was able to maintain power for two reasons. First, they made sure to protect Turkey’s domestic and international interests and thus, made sure there was no excuse for the military to get involved in government affairs. Second, and most important for Pakistan’s case, Turkey’s parliament made the public’s wellbeing their highest priority and enacted successful economic reform in the country.

Parliament’s mission to crucify Mursharraf and the military will be an uphill battle and the victory short lived. As soon as the military ceases to be a problem then the economy will be the next big issue. The PPP will be called upon to answer for their shortcomings and this will be the “excuse” the military needs to justify its rise to power again. Pakistan’s new government should focus more on the well being of the people rather than waging a costly and, altogether, pointless, campaign against the military. When the general populace begins to benefit from reform then they will cease to harbor nostalgia for military rule. At present, parliament seems to be acting out the same cycle of autocratic tradition that has plagued Pakistan since its birth. The only cure is a shift in focus from a securing of power to a promotion of public wellbeing.