Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The writer is a defence expert and author of two books on the Pakistan Army.
By Brian Cloughley
Many of Pakistan’s problems are of its own making, courtesy of uniformed dictators or ineffective politicians or weird alliances of both. When military rulers took over the country in their bloodless coups they were welcomed by the majority of citizens, which was understandable given that the governments they replaced were feudally authoritarian and grossly incompetent.
The problem was that the generals stayed too long in power. If they had wanted to further democracy they would have encouraged the country to move towards socially aware and proficient civilian governance. But they didn’t; and there’s no point in crying over spilt opportunities. What matters now is unifying the country to meet its many challenges. Unfortunately, about the only bonding factor evident is extensive distrust and hatred of America.
Pakistan has immense internal problems. For example, the education and health systems are a disgrace, mainly because the rich and powerful and the politicians – who are often the same people – don’t have to use them. It is shameful that Pakistan has to endure what is called ‘load-shedding’ – electricity power cuts – for so many hours each day and that prices of basic foodstuffs are so high. The economic effects of power cuts on industry are becoming critically serious. The great flood has made the situation worse, but even before that disaster there were many millions who could not operate a tiny fan to ease the crippling heat of summer, or a one-bar radiator to counter the killing cold of winter. There has been scandalous and even criminal mismanagement of flood relief measures. Corruption is rife and living standards are appallingly low for the majority of the population.
A comment recently by Asif Zardari, the powerful head of the Pakistan People’s Party, that the country’s next president could be a woman has set off speculation that he might propose the name of one of his sisters, both members of his party, to succeed President Pervez Musharraf.
What better way to burnish Pakistan’s credentials as an enlightened democracy than have a woman as head of state at a time when the power of Islamist militants is growing, especially in the vital northwest region where they have been burning down schools for girls.