Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Don't Cry for Pakistan

A moment of meditation on Pakistan

From the Statesman
ND Batra

Pakistan is not a failed state but at present it is in a state of dynamic instability, which could spin out of control if the situation is not handled wisely by its neighbors, international allies, and all-weather friends.

And what makes Pakistan an intriguing story is that to insure its own survival it has successfully developed nuclear weapons and now has enough arsenals to cause nuclear havoc all around, if they fall into the hands of Islamic militants.

Thanks to the unsupervised autonomy given to its footloose nuclear scientists, AQ Khan and others, to develop nuclear weapons, it has also been a nuclear proliferator: Iran is said to have benefited from its nuclear technology. Having conceived and given birth to the Taliban movement, it is a breeding ground and hideout for Al Qaeda and Taliban militants and terrorists.

Added to its complexity is yet another remarkable layer: of a progressive, liberal and somewhat secular Pakistan that surfaced recently when Benazir Bhutto returned home after eight years of exile; and when lawyers, journalists, students and other open-minded moderate groups protested by the thousands against President Pervez Musharraf for his high-handedness in the dismissal of the Supreme Court justices.

Lest we hastily romanticize the bench, the Pakistan Supreme Court instead of being a neutral umpire and interpreter of the law had begun to give the impression of being a partisan group. The Court could have and should have played the role of a pacifier in an extremely violent environment.

Before you hastily dismiss Musharraf as a tin pot dictator, consider the initiatives he took to bring India and Pakistan closer for trade and commerce and resolve the Kashmir problem. Violence has abated in the valley. Between the peoples of India and Pakistan, there is a genuine feeling of goodwill and desire to live and work together. This is no small achievement, for which Musharraf deserves the most credit.

Since Musharraf assumed power eight years ago, Pakistan has registered remarkable economic growth, which has swelled and beefed up the Pakistani middle class. According to the World Bank, “After a decade of anemic economic growth, Pakistan’s economy has grown by more than 6.5 percent per year since 2003. While income inequality has increased somewhat, poverty has declined significantly….A wide-ranging program of economic reforms launched in 2000 – fiscal adjustment, privatization of energy, telecommunications, and production, banking sector reform and trade reform – have played a key role in the country’s economic recovery… Pakistan's economy has shown great resilience in the face of the devastating earthquake, and future growth prospects for the economy are good.”
A growing and self-confident Pakistani middle class is clamoring for more political breathing space; but in any case the country is not mimicking China— Pakistan’s all-weather friend. The Pakistani middle class’s aspirations are closer to that of India than any other country, in spite of it being an Islamic country. A self-confident and stable Pakistan is in India’s national interest, as I said earlier in this column. As Stephen P. Cohen, a South Asian expert at the Brookings Institute said, India by being India and leaving Pakistan alone can help Pakistan become a better Pakistan.

So don’t cry for Pakistan. Not yet.
Unlike most other Muslim countries, Pakistan is no stranger to freedom and democracy. It has a vibrant press; a free and bold, albeit erratic, judiciary; and an intellectual class that you find nowhere else in the Muslim world except perhaps in Turkey. Its scientific community, which developed nuclear weaponry with the help of China, cannot be brushed aside. Pakistan has brainpower waiting to be tapped. It is unfortunate that Pakistan is caught up between democratic aspirations at the top and religious obtuseness at the bottom.
Senator Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wrote in The Baltimore Sun that the United States “must move from a Musharraf policy to a Pakistan policy that gives the moderate majority a chance to succeed.” Instead of depending upon the questionable political strength and commitment of Musharraf alone for war against terrorism, the United States should be reaching out to a wide variety of constituencies in Pakistan including the media, universities, businesses, non-profit organizations, tribal leaders and intelligence communities. I agree. Not only that, the United States should open up its duty free portals to Pakistani manufacturers. A nation that trades cannot afford to hate others.
It is true that Musharraf has not been to make a total break from the forces that have supported him in his hold on power and hence his inability to wipe out terrorism totally. Musharraf’s deal with tribal leaders relinquishing sovereign authority over the tribal territory did not turn out to be a wise political move. Perhaps it was done out of helplessness. Pakistan has become a safe haven for Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
The question is: If Musharraf has not been able to exercise full control over the forces operating in the divided country, what can be done? Would a civilian government headed by Benazir Bhutto or anybody else, if it were possible to hold free elections, be able to control the raging militancy in Swat, Waziristan, and not least, in the hearts and minds of many Pakistanis? Bhutto can launch a thousand ships against Musharraf, but what will she do against the Taliban and Al Qaeda? Nonetheless, Benazir Bhutto symbolizes a future that must happen in Pakistan one day.

(ND Batra, who teaches communications and diplomacy at Norwich University, is the author of Digital Freedom and is working on a new book, This is the America Way)

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