Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
All countries are unique and comparing two of the world’s most populous Muslim countries, Egypt and Pakistan, is as risky as comparing Britain to France at the time of the French Revolution. But many of the challenges likely to confront Egypt as it emerges from the mass protests against the 30-year-rule of President Hosni Mubarak are similar to those Pakistan has faced in the past, and provide at least a guide on what questions need to be addressed. In Pakistan, they are often summarised as the three A’s — Army, Allah and America.
Both have powerful armies which are seen as the backbone of the country; both have to work out how to accommodate political Islam with democracy, both are allies of America, yet with people who resent American power in propping up unpopular elites.
As my Reuters colleague Alastair Lyon writes, Egypt’s sprawling armed forces — the world’s 10th biggest and more than 468,000-strong — have been at the heart of power since army officers staged the 1952 overthrow of the monarchy. Mubarak’s announcement that he was naming his intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as vice-president was seen as a move towards an eventual, military-approved handover of power. And Egyptian protesters have sometimes tried to see the army as their ally — an institution that puts country first before personal gain.
Yet armies, as Pakistan has discovered over its many years of on-again off-again military rule, are not designed for democracy. They are designed to be efficient, and with that comes the hierarchy and obedience to authority that would seem alien to many of those out on the streets of Cairo.
Of the many comments I heard in Pakistan, one question particularly flummoxed me. Was democracy really the right system for South Asia? It came, unsurprisingly, from someone sympathetic to the military, and was couched in a comparison between Pakistan and India.
What had India achieved, he asked, with its long years of near-uninterrupted democracy, to reduce the gap between rich and poor? What of the Maoist rebellion eating away at its heartland? Its desperate poverty? The human rights abuses from Kashmir to Manipur, when Indian forces were called in to quell separatist revolts? Maybe, he said, democracy was just not suited to countries like India and Pakistan.
from Tales from the Trail:
Pakistan's foreign minister heads his country's delegation to Washington this week for high-level talks, but there was no mistaking who was the star at a reception at the Pakistani Embassy on Tuesday night: Army General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
Guests crowded around Kayani at the annual Pakistani National Day party at the embassy, posing for photos and jostling for the military leader's ear. Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, also drew those eager for photographic souvenirs of the occasion, but not such a feeding frenzy as that around Kayani.
For the first time in many months, the future of Pakistan is being determined not in the fight against Islamist militants, but within its institutions — its judiciary, its political parties, its government and its military. Last week’s decision by the Supreme Court to strike down a 2007 amnesty given to politicians and bureaucrats has provided Pakistan with a rare opportunity to remodel itself as a civilian democracy based on the rule of law. But the way forward is so fraught with difficulties that assessments of its chances of success are at best sober, at worst ominous.
The court decision to strike down the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) affects some 8,000 politicians and bureaucrats on a list of those who had been covered by the amnesty, including the defence and interior ministers. President Asif Ali Zardari had also been covered by the amnesty, but remains protected by presidential immunity. Such was the upheaval created by the ruling that foreign exchange markets were briefly shaken last week by unfounded rumours of a military coup. The real impact is likely to be more slow-burning.
While attention has almost entirely been focused on America’s difficult relationship with Pakistan – a writer in Foreign Policy magazine called it the world’s most dysfunctional relationship – India and the United States have quietly gone ahead and completed the largest military exercise ever undertaken by New Delhi with a foreign army.
The exercise named Yudh Abyhas 2009 (or practice for war) and conducted in northern India involved tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and helicopter-borne infantry. The U.S. army deployed 17 Strykers, its eight-wheeled armoured vehicle, in the largest deployment of the newest vehicle outside of Iraq and Afghanistan for Pacific Rim forces, the military said.
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has put out a paper on the need to reform Pakistan’s intelligence agencies just as army chief General Ashfaq Kayani is winning much praise for playing what is seen as a decisive role in defusing the country’s latest political crisis and saving democracy.
French scholar Frederic Grare says in the paper the reform and “depoliticisation” of the agencies, in particular the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), is imperative.
Do read this piece by Gurmeet Kanwal, the head of the Indian Army’s Centre for Land Warfare Studies, about how India should respond to the Mumbai attacks with covert operations against Pakistan.
He says that ”hard military options will have only a transitory impact unless sustained over a long period. These will also cause inevitable collateral damage, run the risk of escalating into a larger war with attendant nuclear dangers and have adverse international ramifications. To achieve a lasting impact and ensure that the actual perpetrators of terrorism are targeted, it is necessary to employ covert capabilities to neutralise the leadership of terrorist organisations.”
History never repeats itself exactly, but it does leave signposts. So with India and Pakistan settling into a familiar pattern of accusation and counter-claim following the Mumbai attacks, it’s worth remembering what happened after the December 2001 assault on India’s parliament brought the two countries to the brink of war. Or more to the point — thinking about the less remembered follow-up attack on an Indian army camp in Kaluchak in Jammu and Kashmir in May 2002 that nearly propelled India over the edge.
Following the attack on parliament that India blamed on the Laskhar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, both Pakistan-based militant groups, India mobilised its troops all along the border, prompting a similar mobilisation on the Pakistani side. Then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf went on national television in January to promise to crack down on Islamist groups; the activities of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed were curbed, and tensions abated somewhat.
Amid the feverish speculation about when, how and where President Pervez Musharraf will go, analysts are already looking beyond to the future of Pakistan in a post-Musharraf era. One theme stands out: while the consensus appears to be that the Pakistan Army will not step in to save Musharraf, it might well intervene in the not so distant future if it believes it needs to save the country.
“Musharraf’s departure will highlight the problems that confront the country, which is in the grips of a food and energy crisis. Inflation is out of control,” writes Tariq Ali in the Los Angeles Times. ”The price of natural gas, used for cooking in many homes, has risen by 30%. Wheat, a staple, has seen a 20% price hike since November 2007 … According to a June survey, 86% of Pakistanis find it increasingly difficult to afford flour on a daily basis, for which they blame their new government.”
“There can be few countries where the art of the coup is so finely honed as in Turkey…” So starts this Reuters blog by Ralph Boulton about the Turkish Army.
It’s well worth a read for anyone interested in comparing Pakistan and Turkey, two Muslim countries which have both struggled to reconcile secularism, democracy, Islam and domination by the military — and all the more so given President Pervez Musharraf’s own admiration for Turkey.