Will Obama’s victory boost democracy in Pakistan?

November 6, 2008














In his new book about the Pakistan Army, “War, Coups and Terror”, Brian Cloughley recounts how the British general, the Duke of Wellington,  responded to democracy in his first cabinet meeting as prime minister: “An extraordinary affair. I gave them their orders and they wanted to stay and discuss them.”

The story is told as part of an argument about why the Pakistan Army has never been particularly successful at running the country.

“All Pakistan’s army coups have been bloodless, successful and popular – but popular only for a while,” writes Cloughley. “The trouble is that military people are usually quite good at running large organisations, even civilian ones, but generally fail to understand politics and government, and the give-and-take so necessary in that esoteric world.”

That idea is very much in vogue in Pakistan. Former president Pervez Musharraf has been forced to resign by a new civilian government, and Pakistan Army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, has pledged to keep the military out of politics. 

But how long will this idea hold? In a country which has been ruled by the army for much of its life, the possibility of a military coup will always be higher than in a country where democratic institutions have had time to establish themselves over decades or over centuries. On top of this, the fledging civilian government ushered in by elections in February faces the multiple challenges of near-economic collapse, the possibility of having to adopt unpopular measures prescribed by the International Monetary Fund, Islamist militancy and frequent missile attacks delivered by U.S. drones inside Pakistani territory.

All that makes its democracy fragile, and Barack Obama’s presidential election victory all the more important for those who see it as a triumph of the democratic process over decades of institutionalised prejudice. (Most analysts, at least temporarily, have set aside their anxieties about Obama’s pre-election pledge to go after al Qaeda targets inside Pakistan.)

“Pakistan too has to understand that a different mood now prevails in Washington,” the Dawn newspaper says in an editorial. “There will be a clear tendency on the part of our patrons to pour money into democracy as opposed to autocracy.”

“More generally too, Obama can inspire us,” says an editorial in Pakistan’s The News. “The fact is, Americans have made a historic choice, and not only because they have elected an African-American man to the White House. They have opted for youth, globalisation, diversity, diplomacy, and global integration, instead of age, isolationism, Cold War-era partisanship, and secrecy. They have embraced the 21st century, and left behind the twentieth.

“Pakistan must also look to the future with the rest of the world. It should reposition itself as a trade and economic hub, an energy corridor, an agent of change in the Muslim world, leaving behind its roles as India’s long-time rival and America’s faithful stooge. In this goal, Pakistan will find in Obama a supportive and reasonable ally … As such, he might be the change we need.”

Pakistani defence analyst Shireen Mazari pours cold water on this optimism in another editorial in The News. “We are certainly overdosing on the U.S. these days. As if their increased drone attacks against Pakistani civilians were not bad enough, we have had to suffer the excess of the Pakistani media’s coverage of the US elections – which in the end will really not alter our fate vis a vis U.S. policies and may make it worse,” she writes.

“When will it become clear to our ruling elite that the U.S. is a hostile, if not an enemy state?” she asks. Islamabad, she says, should see the change of administration as “a small window of opportunity” to stand up to the United States, protesting against drone attacks by suspending supply lines for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and telling U.S. military personnel to leave Pakistan.

So will Obama’s victory inspire a “yes we can” brand of euphoria that will carry Pakistan’s democracy along onto firmer ground? Or will realpolitik kick in, perhaps sooner than anyone expects?


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Democracy is not possible in Pakistan, which is created in contradiction to all democratic principle. Pakistan is a colonial and anti-democracy entity by birth.

When a state is not build on genuine democratic practice, it can never be democratic.

Instead of talking democracy, Obama should concentrate his efforts in eliminating the terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan and save the world from the extremism emanating from there.

When true democracy prevails in Pakistan, there won’t be any country by the name of Pakistan, because people would dissolve it since they never wanted to create it or be part of it.

Posted by mirwais | Report as abusive

Obama’s victory can never boost democracy anywhere, let alone in Pakistan. It is the Pakistani government, military and people who must boost their own democracy…or not.

The first step toward boosting their own democracy is to offer up Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Once the Pakistani government, military & people do that, the U.S. can get out of northwestern Pakistan…and out of Afghanistan as well.

As for the money to pour into democracies v. autocracies is concerned…find it if you can. The last time I looked, the world was in recession and America was $13 Trillion in debt (including FY 2009’s $1 Trillion budget deficit).

The Dow lost another thousand points just in the past two days. And what happened when those two days began? Why, Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States of America with 364 electoral votes and 53% of the largest popular vote ever cast in America’s history.

OK Jack

Posted by OK Jack | Report as abusive

india seems to be moving back into j&k military airbases… have you looked at a map of the neocons’ plans for pakistan, and a map of the NATO bases in afghanistan?

seems like israeli america and their indian allies might be preparing a pincher movement to decapitate pakistan to ensure no pipelines to china will be built through pakistan.

…so pakistan seems to be in a world of hurt… unless china crashes the american economy so bad that the US cant afford any more of these little adventures.

but helicopter ben can always drop a few more chinook-loads of thousand dollar bills into wall street, cant he…? i mean, that’s worked real good so far, hasnt it…? …seeing as how the DJI lost 5000 points in the months before obama was elected.

http://news.google.com/news?hl=en&tab=wn &ned=us&nolr=1&q=india+air+base+ladakh

Posted by wadosy | Report as abusive

First of all Jack your knowledge about terrorism and Pakistan is poor at best. First nobody knows where OBL is exactly. He could be totally in different country for all we know. Now some facts about pakistan.

Pakistan has about 120,000 soldiers in FATA which according to Pakistani constitution is illegal and is seen as aggressive move by general population of FATA. FATA population is many times less than Afghanistan yet NATO and USA has only about 80,000 or less soldiers there. We are cutting deals with drug lords and criminals (which control most of country area) to keep peace there and only concentrate on Al-Q.

Because of PAkistan’s operation in FATA, Pakisatn has become target of sucide attacks by Al-Q which has killed more people in few years than the people who died on 911 and then some. And pakistan has lost hundreds of troops in the operation.

So cost of operation to Pakistan has been more civilian deaths than US and hundreds of dead soldiers, and thanks to sucide attacks Pakistan economy is getting killed by people running from country with their money. So give some credit where it is due.

Posted by sam | Report as abusive

In Pakistan, it will not be easy.

Too many factions who have learn to save through the barrel of the gun.

Too much time waste on arguing which maybe ended by the gun.

Their style of Democracy,YES: – but not the US type of give and take where the loser will congratulate the winner.

It will take a while yet or will never happen.

Posted by siburp | Report as abusive

To the first post- mirwais-

That was most ignorant thing an individual could say regarding Pakistan’s birth. A little history lesson would indicate that Pakistan’s creation was through self-determination for a majority-Muslim state, which is an essential aspect of a democratic movement. The legislative constituent assemblies are another highlight of the democratic movement that Pakistan was and currently still is. Our history only spans a few decades. To say that Pakistan was a colony is false, as there was no Pakistan at the time, and secondly, your argument to say that former colonies can’t be a democracy is also a fallacy- I give the example of the United States- a former collection of colonies, not based on the principles of democracy. Or how about UK, a former Monarchy. Democracy isn’t built in a day, nor does a country with a 160 million, with conflicting interested parties help the ordeal. We are fighting for and we are determined to achieve a democratic nation. There is no such democratic movement in the world as there is in Pakistan, eg- movement of lawyers, students, civil society. However, I will not go further in exploiting your ignorance, but it was only to warn the other readers of an individual with little background in the history of a country and people that deserve respect…

Posted by Mahir Nisar | Report as abusive

[…] Some Pakistanis are looking to Obama to change that relationship – and to support Pakistani democracy in a way previous American leaders have failed to do. […]

Posted by Afghanistan/Pakistan: Missile Strikes and Strategy Shifts – The Seminal :: Independent Media and Politics | Report as abusive

map PNAC’s plan for pakistan

http://img361.imageshack.us/img361/9498/ pakistanindia7nov08co03hx8.gif

Posted by wadosy | Report as abusive

I mean absolutely no disrespect to the people of Pakistan, but the problem is that the Indian Muslims who wanted to be free of India could not because of the geographical contiguity issue. earlier the British (1905) split Bengal into two, isolating Bengal Muslims. Kashmir wanted to be independent. Baluchistan and NWFP arrived at the partition negotiations thinking they were discussing independence. When they learned the only issue was joining Pakistan, I am told they walked out. Punjab was a tri-cultural society living in harmony till the 1947 rift. Sindh was much closer to western India in all ways. The first CM of Sindh told Mani Shanker Ayier that had his party not stuffed the ballot boxes, Sind would have voted for India. But the people who really wanted an independent Pakistan, such as Hyderabad, East Bengal, large parts of UP and so on, could not become a part of Pakistan. This is the tragedy of 1947, and subsequent generations continuing paying the price.

Posted by Ravi Rikhye | Report as abusive

I have studied US-Pakistan relations since 1954 in great detail and can confirm that if anyone thinks the US is a friend of Pakistan, they are mistaken. US has always had nothing but contempt for Pakistan and has sought to use it whenever possible; and if the Pakistanis refused to cooperate, the US has punished them.

BTW, I am Indian by birth and live in the US; I have no dog in the fight of US-Pakistan, except to be repeatedly accused by my countrypersons during my 20 years in India of being not just pro-Pakistani, but toward the end of my stay, of being a Pakistani spy and agent provocateur. Among my crimes was saying Pakistan did not start the 1971 War, India did, and that in well over 100 instances of purchase of major weapons systems, 90% of the time India introduced a new weapon system and not Pakistan; i.e., that India was driving the arms race.

Posted by Ravi Rikhye | Report as abusive

As a military analyst of 44 years experience, I can firmly state that India will never go along with any US attempt to break up Pakistan. India learned its lesson after 1971, when its help to making Bangladesh created a series of intractable problems getting steadily worse in India’s Northeast. India understands that any break up of Pakistan will absolutely, completely, irrevocably destabilize India. That does not mean India has the least clue of how to deal with Pakistan.

Posted by Ravi Rikhye | Report as abusive

Ravi Rikhye says: “I can firmly state that India will never go along with any US attempt to break up Pakistan.”

seems to me that it would be to india’s and israel’s advantage to dismantle pakistan and eliminate the threat of pakistani nukes…

…provided, of course, that pakistan doesnt take a page out of israel’s book, and do a pakistani version of israel’s samson option.

google: israel “samson option” http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=isr ael+%22samson+option%22&aq=f&oq=

not to mention the fact that remodeling pakistan would help control china’s access to persian gulf energy… and to the americans, that’s what this exercise is about, seeing as how china is the biggest threat, the most competition, in the global effort to secure energy.

too bad the chinese can buy gas and oil faster than the neocons can steal it, isnt it?

Posted by wadosy | Report as abusive

No. Not only Pakistan, whole Islamic world from Maghreb to Malaysia- all are going thro’ massive Islamist movement- and if elections are held free and fair, Islamists will come to power in most of these countried.

Posted by Dipak Ghosh | Report as abusive

Ravi Rikhye
‘i.e., that India was driving the arms race.’
— God only knows what sort of ‘military analyst of 44 years experience’ are you? who isn’t aware of the simple fact that India’s weapon upgradation has all to do with China & nothing to do with Pakistan…
— & your ‘Partition theory’ is all bunk- it is the Punjabi landlords who wanted to save their land holding from the ‘socialit congress’ that threatened for a separate state,(not necessarily wanting one), the UP deobandis were against partition..

Posted by Indian | Report as abusive

Mahir Nisar
— mirwais has stated the truth,It doesn’t matters whether you accept it or not or try to cover it with your ‘historical lies’ the facts won’t change…

Posted by Indian | Report as abusive

[…] Pervez Musharraf in 2008 and the election of President Barack Obama had raised hopes Washington might be about to turn over a new leaf, with policies which encouraged the development of civilian democracy.  Its preference for […]

Posted by General Kayani in Washington; Pakistan’s most powerful man « Read NEWS | Report as abusive