Trusting the masses: US tiptoes into democracy in Pakistan

October 20, 2011

In his book “Where the Wild Frontiers Are: Pakistan and the American Imagination“, an edited collection of his Chapati Mystery blog, historian Manan Ahmed complained about the United States’ past support for former president Pervez Musharraf, and its refusal, at the time to trust Pakistan with democracy.  In an entry written in 2007, he described Pakistan as the “the not yet nation” - a country for which democracy might be a good thing in the long run, but  was in American eyes not yet ready.

“We fear the multitudes on two fronts. One is that we conceive of them as masses without politics – forever hostage to gross religious and ideological provocations. Masses which do not constitute a body politic or act with an interest in self-preservation or self-growth. Faced with that absence of reason, we are forced to support native royals to do the job (from Egypt to Pakistan). We justify it by stressing that we may not like these dictators but we know that if we did not have them, the masses would instantly betray us to the very forces of extremism that we seek to destroy,” he wrote.

“Second is that these masses are Muslim. This fear grounded in our history can, at best, be understood as the fear of the “Other” and, at worst, as the Lewis/Huntington model of civilizational clash. Either case, it is borne out of our inherent belief in ‘difference’. They are not like us. They do not possess reason, etc.”

That U.S. attitude has been changing slowly over the past few years, underpinned by the Arab spring, and in the case of Pakistan, Washington’s increasingly difficult relationship with the Pakistan Army over its alleged support for, or tolerance of, Islamist militants based in Pakistan. 

Democracy has become the new mantra, expressed most recently by former White House adviser Bruce Riedel in an op-ed in the New York Times.

“America needs a new policy for dealing with Pakistan. First, we must recognize that the two countries’ strategic interests are in conflict, not harmony, and will remain that way as long as Pakistan’s army controls Pakistan’s strategic policies. We must contain the Pakistani Army’s ambitions until real civilian rule returns and Pakistanis set a new direction for their foreign policy,” he said.

Somewhat more diplomatically, President Barack Obama made a point of saying that the United States’ argument was  not with the people of Pakistan but with the army’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), agency.

Asked if he would be willing to cut off aid to Pakistan, hit this summer by a second year of flooding, Obama hesitated, the New York Times reported.  The United States has a “great desire to help the Pakistani people strengthen their own society and their own government,” it quoted him as saying.  “And so, you know, I’d be hesitant to punish flood victims in Pakistan because of poor decisions by their intelligence services.”

With Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flying into Pakistan to push for greater cooperation on Afghanistan, one of the more interesting, but less obvious, themes of her visit will be how she navigates her way around the country’s civilian-military imbalance.  

The arguments, from a U.S. point of view, for supporting democracy and civilian rule are many.  In the short-run, the United States wants to weaken Islamist militants – including the Afghan Taliban as well as India-focused groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba which it says still enjoy support from elements within Pakistan’s security services – an allegation the army denies. By weakening the grip of the army on the country’s security policy, it would — in theory – dislodge support for militants.

 Tentative steps taken by the civilian government to change the way the country is governed – including through greater provincial autonomy – would provide a means for Pakistan’s different ethnic groups to try to negotiate their differences without taking up arms. But they would also undercut the centralising authority of the military, as would an ambitious but politically fraught proposal to split in two Pakistan’s dominant Punjab province, a major recruiting ground for the army.

And civilian governments have always tended to be more in favour of peace with India than the army, which once nurtured Islamist militant proxies to offset what it saw an existential threat from Pakistan’s much bigger neighbour.

Yet to consider how this might look on the other side of the table, read this column by retired army officer Ikram Sehgal who wrote in response to Riedel’s op-ed that the real aim of the United States was the “Balkanisation of Pakistan”.  By supporting civilian rule, he argued, the United States aimed merely to serve its own agenda given what he called ”atrocious (civilian) leadership that excels in nepotism and corruption of the worst kind”.

“The majority in Pakistan sees the army and the ISI as Pakistan’s front line of defence and do not approve of the US thus tarring and feathering them,” he wrote.  “Propping up corrupt leaders in Pakistan allows the U.S.  to pursue its core national interest even if it is detrimental to ours, eg impose Indian hegemony on us and … the US sees the Pakistan Army and the ISI as roadblocks in pursuing their own core national interests.”

In other words, an army which sees itself as the guarantor of Pakistan’s territorial integrity is unlikely to hand over power over foreign and security policy any time soon to the country’s civilian politicians.  As it is, the army barely disguises its impatience with the civilian government over what it sees as its failure to provide the governance necessary to underpin its own military campaigns against Islamist militants inside Pakistan.

And the country’s politicians themselves have been unable to expand the space available to them to assert their influence over foreign and security policy.  Barring a few politicians who questioned Pakistan’s policies — among them former prime minister Nawaz Sharif – an All Parties Conference held last month largely rubber-stamped the army’s response to American pressure to “do more” against Islamist militants. While one of three parliamentary committees due to be briefed by the army week refused to go to army headquarters – saying the military should  come to parliament, two others did so.  And as columnist Ejaz Haider has argued, the civilian government has yet to draw up a national security strategy which might allow it to examine military strategy through a different prism – as happens elsewhere when military leaders are called to testify before parliamentary committees. 

 So the question is this: Does the United States have the patience to nurture civilian rule in Pakistan when it is looking for a way out of the 10-year-old Afghan war? Only the Pakistan Army can either help deliver parts of the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network into an Afghan political settlement, or raise pressure on them enough to weaken them significantly and allow the Kabul government to hold its own as U.S. troops begin to withdraw.

The United States has always dealt with the army, even after Musharraf – who took power in a military coup in 1999 – was forced to quit in 2008. It was Musharraf’s successor as army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani,  who was feted in Washington rather than its president or prime minister. Even after the May 2 raid by U.S. forces who killed Osama bin Laden, Washington appears to have  given the details to the military first, thereby depriving the civilian government of the power of information and leaving it floundering in its response.

In an article in Foreign Affairs,  C. Christine Fair at Georgetown University argues that the United States needs to change this approach, following the same rules that it applies for other countries when it deals with their militaries.

“For one, the United States should follow its standard protocol for high-level exchanges. The Pakistani chief of army staff should meet and communicate with his American counterpart, not with the secretary of state or the president, as he does now. Rather than consult on political issues, the two countries’ military leadership should focus on security matters, such as the war in Afghanistan, continued joint training, and foreign military sales — preferably all geared toward supporting Pakistan’s counterterrorism and insurgency capabilities. It is worth remembering that the U.S. secretary of state meets with the military leadership of virtually no other country. Meanwhile, flagrant disregard for diplomatic protocol in almost every high-level exchange between Pakistan and the United States, is frustrating for even ordinary Pakistanis who are exhausted with U.S. pandering to their men on horseback, even if Americans are oblivious to it,” she writes. “Alongside diminished contact with the military, the United States should engage Pakistan’s civilian centers of power, including the parliament, the judiciary, educational institutions, and the economy.”

And while she acknowledges that greater civilian engagement will not transform Pakistan ”over any useful time horizon — if ever”, this was not a reason for giving up, she says. ”Although democratization efforts may take a long time to bear fruit, if they ever do, one thing is clear: the most likely path toward a stable country involves empowering Pakistan’s civilians to exert control over security and foreign policy. U.S. assistance to help Pakistanis do so is a high-stakes gamble worth taking.”

But that is long-term thinking from someone who has followed Pakistan closely for years. What about an administration facing a jittery political environment, the instant demands of 24/7 television news, and a desire at home for early results on Afghanistan? What about that nagging worry that Manan Ahmed captured in his book?  What if you support democracy and end up with a government you don’t like? The way Clinton and the U.S. administration finds its way through this particular minefield may end up telling us as much about the current state of ”the American imagination” as it does about Pakistan itself.

Comments

Often it is said that USA created a monster in Osama. But I for one never believed it and don’t believe it even now. USA did create Osama but it was NOT a monster. The real monster that USA created was Pakistan Army through its huge funding, mindless weapon sale, years of USA’s anti-India stand that aligned with similar stand of Pakistan Army. And it is absolutely foolish to believe that USA, at that time, did not knew who is the monster and what it can become. US knew it very very well that it is replacing red satan with green one BUT a satan will remain playing on grounds of Afghan valleys. What US never anticipated was that one day the monster’s head would be turned back onto US and all hell will let loose. As I always believed that Obama is the right man at wrong time!

Posted by 007XXX | Report as abusive
 

@Myra
United states have never had problems with the people of a country but always with their Govts and Govt controlled agencies. Mr Obama has not said anything new. Also go over his speech after the demise of Libyan leader, to understand the USA involvement. Who were the faceless recipient of two billion dollars? He suddenly claims that the USA has the leadership of the west and of NATO and therefore the world? Perhaps the Iranian President asked the Aljazeera investigating journalist the right question, as to who has asked the USA for a permanent stroll in the persian gulf? The USA is like a predator always in the wait to pounce on a sick and powerless when the natives abandon their nincompoup leaders.

Posted by fibs | Report as abusive
 

The US is a slow learner. After decades of propping up dictators against democratic institutions it is trying to change a line of communications in Pakistan which it set up itself. For years it justified Mushraff, saying he was easier to deal with rather than elected politicians. Their standard excuse was that the army moved, politicians would do nothing. Has it really learnt anything or is this too just a change in tactics to pull down the army which is getting tough with it? I think so.

None of Pakistans ‘friends’ gave civilian governments a chance to grow and mature, now they are reaping what they sowed. To say that 24×7 TV and corruption and getting a govt one may not like, is not reason enough to deny democracy a chance. Every democratic country has these problems and yet functions. Pakistan too will learn to manage. But do the US and Pakistan’s other mentors really want a democratic set up there? I think not. Do they have the patience to give democracy a chance, I think not again.

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive
 

If the US thinks that with a confrontational approach towards Pakistan Army it will get anywhere in Pakistan, it will be sadly mistaken. The only one institution in Pakistan which operates with a fair degree of organization and professionalism, Pakistan Army is an institution which will stand by the people of Pakistan thorugh thick and thin. In a state of chaos it is the only order, in a state of desperation it is one institution which gives hope that when things go wrong it will step in to take charge and calm the situation. I would vote for the Army over squabbling politicians any day. By the way which democracy are we arguing about? the circus that it is today in Pakistan where politicians feel dutybound to plunder national wealth? and turn the people into sheep. No way. Men at their best, Pakistan Army!

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive
 

@Umairpk

Do you have any commens on Daraindia’s post? The guy sounds like a sincere democrat. We all understand your regard for military and their being better organised than the civilian leaders of Paistan! In a democracy people form a Govt. and use a method of electing their representatives to the congress to legislate rules and regulations for the people to follow. I am sure you favour a democracy as well. For better or worse India is the most experienced democracy in the region and Pakistan could learn a lot from their experience.

Despite your confidence in the competence of Pakistan military, it is not trained and meant for running the administeration of domestic concerns nor have the vision of diplomacy and long term planning and negotiations with foreign countries. The great Musharaf caved in to a simple undersecretary of State and allowed a free pass to the Americans? The man who carried a pistol for his safety not only nominated himself as a military chief but also as the head of the state? A nightmare experience? The guy is now loafing about in londo ice cream parlors with his arab mentors?

I know that after having so many military confrontations with India it is difficul to foresee a great friendship with India. However, following Dara’s probe in Pakistan democracy , what would be the reaction of the people of Pakistan and the Govt. if Indian Govt. were to announce a date of referendum in Indian occupied kashmir allowing the possibility of independence, alighnment with Pakistan held Kashmir or remaining as part of India. No preconditions and no negotiations with Paistan Govt. but simply with the copoperation of the UNO.

Would this step not prolong the life of democracy process in Pakistan, shut out foreign interventions in the region and start a new rethink and reset process in Pakistan military and open the cooperation between the two neighbours in most avenues of commerce, diplomatic and military areas? I cannot imagine why your region cannot take this route when we in Europe are going through this difficult and painful complex process based on a vision, yes simply a vision of solidarity with each other for survival in the twenty first century and beyond. Enough with wars and conflicts which benefit no one but causes supperings to all.

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

@Rex
You raise some questions and I give you my opinion.
I think that there is a consensus in Pakistan in favor of democracy and against any dictatorship. Having said that the performance of democratic government leaves a lot of doubts. Another round of elections hopefully would improve the situation. Your underlying assumption that democratic government are less likely to go for is not borne out by history.
I don’t think India and Pakistan are going to war against each other any more for reason of MAD.
You conjecture about Kashmir is hypothetical as democratic India is allergic to any sort of referendum.
What I see is a condominium with Kashmir getting high degree of autonomy. If Kashmiris accept it Pakistan would also accept.
You are talking about trade and even now there is trade between the two countries. There is huge imbalance of trade between India and her neighbors. This is because of non-tariff barriers and subsidies. There are also vested interests involved. It will take time to sort out those things.
Energy availability is one of the biggest hurdles to growth. You know that every country is involved in energy politics. NATO countries are neck deep in constricting the energy supplies to Pakistan and also to some extent to India. There you have the source of conflict between Pakistan and NATO.

Posted by Matrixx | Report as abusive
 

Good to see that Matrixx’s latest comments are not as strongly anti-India as before. There is hope for peace in South Asia, after all!

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

@Matrix
I am sorry my knowledge of english is limited. I am unable to follow your statements:

1)For reason of MAD, India and Pakistan are not going to war. What is MAD?
2)Referendum in Kashmir is hypothetical since democratic India is allergic to any sort of referendum.
3)NATO countries are neck deep in constricting the energy supplies to Pakistan and to some extent to India.

Point 2 contridicts point 1 and perhaps could be the right medicine to cure Indian allergic reactions against democratic rules. What is a must for all humans must not be denied to kashmiris.
Iran is eager to supply energy to Pakistan and Pakistan has unexploited domestic resources so has India.
Do you mean Britain, France and Germany by the label NATO countries then you should be aware of the course Germany is now embarked on, ie. nuclear free and the Brits and French have come out with their colonialist past trics to steel energy from Arabia and North Africa, sice together with the USA they are no longer able to even pay for the energy imports.India and Pakistan have the most powerful energy source namely SUN and this has htherto not beem exploited.

Both countries have the reservoir of people and given the right education and support they could learn fast to innovate and develope today’s world. Alternatively, they could end up in a war by a simple miscalculation. Perhaps this is macabre but the most expediant of all to rid the land of people. Eighty five million people are being added to the world populationco each year.

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

@Rex
Let me further explain what I said in previous post:

1. MAD is an old acronym for Mutual Assured Destruction by using nukes. This is the reason that nuclear states do not fight each other directly and use other means like proxies to continue with their conflict.
2. When I say “India is allergic to referendum”, it sure contradicts with the democratic claims. Democratic India can not explain the mass grave recently discovered in Kashmir, thousands of missing and hundreds of thousands murdered.
There are dozens of insurgencies going on in India which should not be happening in a democratic state. I would let some Indian intellectual explain it.

When I talk about solution to Kashmir, I’m looking at what is feasible right now. Full autonomy and condominium for Kashmir allows India to save face. In longer run it would be people of Kashmir in driver seat.

3. I agree with you regarding solar and other sources of energy. Using those requires higher level technology, skills, organization and capital. All those things can be acquired but it requires time and commitment. If Pakistan had the capabilities of Germany, there would no problem. Germany is doing good but EU financial scam could also ruin Germany.
I’m watching the progress on Iran gas project which the most important short term solution to energy shortage in Pakistan.
I have my views on social change and how it occurs, a complex subject. I leave it for some other time.

Posted by Matrixx | Report as abusive
 

@Matrix
I got your views now and fully agree with them. You reason with logic and in my experience logic plays a very limited role in real life.In my opinion there are always consequences for Govts and individuals who commit atrocities in some form or other against their citizens. The european economic order and democracy is more or less based on a social market system and is different from that of the USA. This does not however mean that the emerging economies such as that of China and India need to follow it to improve the living standard of their people. Pakistan has 180 million people more than twice the polpulation of Germany and they could very well follow its example. The stegnth of Germany is its people, used to hard work and innovations with complete solidarity with one another. The current Govt. is now extending it to other European countries turning the European Union to a transfer Union, the stronger to assist the weaker. Almost impossible for many to imagine; and is based on a simple principle that we need one another to survive and prosper.
Believe me there are no short cuts; things take their own time. History is nothing but the story of the time! Europe has seen more sufferings and deads than any othr cntinent and this is in the psyche of the people. Democratically elected Govts here are no different than those in non european countrie; Once elected they do not reflect the will of people and execise their power in a so called geopolitical style as well. People are however allowed to demonstrate, protest and blocaade the Govts when no action is taken or eversed. What the Germans can achieve can be followed by the french and the Italians and the Brits and Greeks, but this does not happen since the Italians and the french two hours for his lunch whereas the German is allowed thirty minutes for his lunch break! I wish that the Americans would allow Pakistan democracy to function simply to avoid violence not sreading across its borders. I can assure you that for people in the north it is far easier to reach Lahore and New delhi than to reach further north of Afghanistan, forcing both India and Pakistan shooting at each other with fire balls that they have hitherto used for testing and as a deterrance.
Have a nice day sir.

Rex Minor

Ps
Paistan engineers and science students and scholars need a basic healthy common sense to understand the so called most complex technologies and for investment the European future now depends on chinese investments. China is looing all over to unload its american pesos!

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

@Rex you have some good down to earth ideas and I appreciate that.
I’m afraid that global banking crises is not going to be resolved easily and EU will go down with it. This is not the time for any country to make big commitments. This is a period of consolidation. More crises down the road.
Regards.

Posted by Matrixx | Report as abusive
 

@Matrix

We do not have a banking crisis but a crisis of democratic Govts. who have been spending beyond their income and some are in debt in excess of their annual GDP. Besides the speculative economy is now far in excess of the real economy. This needs to be brought under control. Unless some order is restored , the capitalist system is unlikely to function smoothly.

EU is made up of 27 countries, each being fully independent running their economies including those who have a Euro as a single currency. German Govt. efforts are to support the Euro and this requires regulations and more controls. Those banks who have been having a free ride, distributing profits to share holders but socialising losses cannot continue further.

Despite the fact that certain European Govts are now dysfunctional and living on borrowed time though insolvent, EU as a whole is unlikely to go down as long as the German Govt refuses to follow the path of the USA treasury to keep on printing dollars to keep up with their payments inland. In comparison Pakistan is a rich country with its resources and unexploited potential. Pakistan needs to open up; there is a flood of unused capital around and investors are too eager to diversify their holdings.

Regards,

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

It’s simply a challenge to deal with the civilians in Pakistan. It’s not that the Americans like dealing with the Army. They don’t. It’s that they are most comfortable dealing with the Army. Believe me there’s lots of internal criticism on that laziness.

The US will continue to deal with the PA. However, now that Libya and Iraq are wrapped up, the entire focus of the US DoD will be Afghanistan and more precisely Pakistan. As part of this, the Americans will craft a strategy to deal with the PA. And once they’re out of Afghanistan, you can expect a far harsher tone. And a stricter preference for civilian politicians.

Posted by True.North. | Report as abusive
 

whatever the senario is, the sub-continent is a blessed region with ideal climate, resources, people and man power, intelligence, genetic makeup and everything. The only thing the india and pakistan need is a little oblivion. These two countries are not buring the hatchet. This century is the era of revolutions. People of both these countries had suffered enough with the curropt politics, greater foreign influence, the huge military spendings and poor health care. By the end of 2000s both these countries knew the reason of their stagnant economy. Both were about to change their policies when 9/11 happened and Pakistan was again dragged to an endless war, on the other hand india chose a right path towards development. Now after a decade Pakistan is finding a way out of these wars to do a fresh start. My hopes and prayers are with my country as i have seen enough bloodshed all my childhood, and now i dont want to spoil my 20s. I would support whoever can lead us to betterment, be it the army or the democratic government.

Posted by Abdul_Basit | Report as abusive
 

The US has problems with the govts not the people? What about Pinochet and Chile or the Saud dynasty and Saudi (sic) Arabia now? The US problem has been short-term power-focused relationships, not supporting the right leaders and environments in countries for the long run. That just might be the nature of the beast of how the current political system works. We’re dead in the long run, so get away with what you can now, and let others worry about the consequences later.

Posted by Sal20111 | Report as abusive
 

Sal20111

You are talking about Saudi Arabia, what about Saudi Arabia? They are living a luxury life, among all saudis more than 80% are earning 145 thousand riyals per year, plus all the benefits their kingdom offers them, why the world is thinking they are a slave nation and unhappy, they dont have to worry about anything, their kingdom is developing them, i know its slow but it is there. What democratic govts do, as soon as they are elected they starts to benefit their supporters and then after mid term they do everything that benefits the next election. Why the world is too much after democracy, I am with every such system which benefits the people more than the political workers and supporters. If a person is a doctor or engineer and is not into politics, he wont be a beneficiary in democratic system. No one will talk about an accountant or a student working at the store. We should focus on the benefit of masses rather than some rats lobbying, and overtaking the govts.

Posted by Abdul_Basit | Report as abusive
 

Sal20111

You are talking about Saudi Arabia, what about Saudi Arabia? They are living a luxury life, among all saudis more than 80% are earning 145 thousand riyals per year, plus all the benefits their kingdom offers them, why the world is thinking they are a slave nation and unhappy, they dont have to worry about anything, their kingdom is developing them, i know its slow but it is there. What democratic govts do, as soon as they are elected they starts to benefit their supporters and then after mid term they do everything that benefits the next election. Why the world is too much after democracy, I am with every such system which benefits the people more than the political workers and supporters. If a person is a doctor or engineer and is not into politics, he wont be a beneficiary in democratic system. No one will talk about an accountant or a student working at the store. We should focus on the benefit of masses rather than some rats lobbying, and overtaking the govts.

Posted by Abdul_Basit | Report as abusive
 

Sal20111

You are talking about Saudi Arabia, what about Saudi Arabia? They are living a luxury life, among all saudis more than 80% are earning 145 thousand riyals per year, plus all the benefits their kingdom offers them, why the world is thinking they are a slave nation and unhappy, they dont have to worry about anything, their kingdom is developing them, i know its slow but it is there. What democratic govts do, as soon as they are elected they starts to benefit their supporters and then after mid term they do everything that benefits the next election. Why the world is too much after democracy, I am with every such system which benefits the people more than the political workers and supporters. If a person is a doctor or engineer and is not into politics, he wont be a beneficiary in democratic system. No one will talk about an accountant or a student working at the store. We should focus on the benefit of masses rather than some rats lobbying, and overtaking the govts.

Posted by Abdul_Basit | Report as abusive
 

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