US should support democratic forces in Pakistan: USIP study

Daily times, July 28, 2005

US should support democratic forces in Pakistan: USIP study
By Khalid Hasan

WASHINGTON: A new study released by the US Institute of Peace (USIP) calls on the United States to help Pakistan pursue a path that meets its people’s democratic aspirations and socioeconomic needs and is resilient enough to accommodate linguistic, regional, religious, and sectarian differences, as only such a course can help Pakistan become a stable and responsible member of the international community, at peace with itself and with its neighbours.

The study by former Pakistani diplomat and senior USIP fellow Touqir Hussain rules out US sanctions against Pakistan as a policy option, but adds that the United States should put some pressure on Pakistan to keep the country’s reform effort on track and to induce it to act as a responsible nuclear power. Washington would be well advised not to allow Pakistan to feel that it needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs it. A confident and secure Pakistan, the study maintains, is more likely to define its future in economic terms and wage peace with India and be a natural ally of the United States. As such, it recommends, Pakistan’s peace process with India must be supported by the United States. However, the benefits to Pakistan must counterbalance the effects of a “renunciation of Kashmir” and the attendant “loss of national honour” this will cause. The study admits that anti-Americanism exists in Pakistan, but argues that it can be toned down if the United States reaches out to liberal forces, the business community, and the female population.

Hussain argues that Pakistan’s multiple problems are now seamlessly linked and need to be attacked simultaneously. Above all, Pakistan needs to change its external behaviour to strengthen its internal order, rather than pursue external goals at the expense of its internal stability. But because of his lack of legitimacy, Musharraf is dependent on forces resistant to change. These include the mullas, whose extremism ironically he is fighting against, and the traditionally pro-establishment politicians who, like Musharraf, themselves have legitimacy problems and are fighting shy of reforms for fear of the mullahs and of social change that may erode the feudal and social structure they represent.

Further, the support of the army, Musharraf’s main constituency, imposes its own cost. By offering the military civilian jobs and economic and commercial incentives, the army’s stake in its domination of political power only grows further and comes at the expense of democracy. Musharraf has disparate allies with discordant agendas, none of whom can offer him unqualified support.

While each may support him on one issue, they may oppose him on another. Thus, with each reform that is made another must be sacrificed.

The former Pakistani ambassador writes, “Criticism provoked by his alignment with the United States and suspicions that his reforms are at the behest of the United States have also weakened Musharraf. Indeed, the strongest resistance to him comes from the Islamists, whose tolerance toward him has already been stretched to the limit by his cooperation in the war on terrorism. He is afraid to test it any further, as he is expending most of his political capital on complying with the US war on terrorism and securing his own survival, both personal and political. As a consequence, Musharraf’s reforms, except for his opening to India - and for the vastly improved financial sector under the direction of Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz - have been fitful and insufficient.”

Hussain maintains that US policy choices towards Pakistan are “complex and imperfect.” Though Pakistan is not a failed state nor a failing or a rogue state, it has had to varying degrees tendencies of all three. On top of that, it is a nuclear power. Pakistan is now not only a challenge but also a crucial partner in the war on terrorism. The United States faces a great balancing act in its relations with Pakistan. “It must work with President Pervez Musharraf but not identify with his personal ambitions, nudge him to democratise but not discourage his strong hand, and advance US nonproliferation objectives but not lose Pakistan’s support in the war on terrorism,” he suggests. He sees new threats and opportunities for US foreign policy in South Asia.

On relations with India, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Brazil, Spain and Japan believes only time will tell if there has been an enduring change in India’s strategic stance toward Pakistan or the Kashmir dispute. India’s hope is that in time because of closer links and liberal exchanges, Pakistanis will develop a different perception of India and Kashmir. India also hopes that other critical issues, such as energy, sharing of water resources, security, and good neighbourly relations, may eventually take precedence over Kashmir in defining the countries’ relationship, freeing India to find an internal solution to the dispute, facilitated by Pakistan’s diminished leverage and unforced concessions. “There might be gains for Pakistan in the relationship with India, but not in Kashmir, whose centrality to India-Pakistan relations will have gradually eroded. There is no guarantee the Indian ploy will work unless the Pakistan leadership itself has made a strategic decision to acquiesce to such a fait accompli. There is no firm indication this decision has been made. Nor is there a national consensus about India in Pakistan, as the public does not have a clear idea about what will come of the peace initiative. Indeed, in both countries domestic constituencies against normalisation have yet to be conciliated, so the potential for renewed tensions between India and Pakistan remains.

Hussain agues that though General Musharraf’s “enlightened moderation” is compatible with US objectives, both face dilemmas in the implementation of this reengagement. The principal challenge the US faces in Pakistan is securing Pakistan’s cooperation in the war on terrorism.

Questions over what would happen if Musharraf were eliminated reflect how much the United States has staked its relationship with Pakistan on a single individual. Rather than being preoccupied with the personal fate of Musharraf, the United States should focus on Pakistan’s democratisation. “The essential truth is that after years of living dangerously, Pakistan has been in a mess that can only be sorted out now by some measure of strong government, a ‘soft authoritarianism.’” The United States faces a “delicate balancing act” between supporting him in his reform efforts and being critical of his army-dominated rule that preempts democratisation efforts.

The former envoy is of the opinion that General Musharraf needs to realise that enlightened moderation is more than cultural liberalisation and that only political liberalisation will help strengthen liberal and secular forces, which can be his allies in defeating religious extremism. If this is not understood, then cultural openness could backfire and give further ammunition to fundamentalists, provoking a cultural war that gets entangled with political stability. Pakistan’s “quasi-reactionary” system, dominated by tribal interests will only be able to change Pakistan modestly before it itself becomes a “roadblock to change.” He also warns that Pakistan’s economic development will remain limited if the country does not come to terms with problems of poor public services, corruption, inequities in land and income distribution and social exclusions of women and other marginalised sections of society. Economic change will foster a middle class, Hussain argues, that may help lead the balance of economic and political power away from the feudal stranglehold. Musharraf should work towards this end and prepare the country for full restoration of parliamentary and civilianised democracy in 2007. “Beyond 2007, the army should have only a watchdog role in the government. This should be for a designated period of time, provided there is a national consensus and constitutional support for the idea.”

Hussain believes that Pakistan’s problems are not lack of institutions but “trivialization” of institutions. If institutions are not working, it is because they have been dominated by their subservience to the dominant centres of power. They can only be reformed if the social and political structure is first reformed. Education and social sectors are in a dysfunctional state and need to be urgently repaired and rehabilitated.

Hussain sums up future US interests in the region as not just “the looming strategic shadow of a resurgent China, but also of India and possibly of Russia.” There is also the risk of a possible surge in radical Islam in the region fostered by the inevitable crumbling of some of the conservative or repressive Arab regimes. This would be compounded by a nuclear Iran. China is already positioning itself to fill any future power vacuum caused by any receding US standing in the region and has begun building bridges with Iran and India. As a result, the US-Pakistan relationship will increasingly intersect with issues that go far beyond the war on terrorism.

There is, therefore, a compelling rationale for the United States to remain engaged in the region. And given its geopolitical environment and dependence on borrowed power, as well as its chronic domestic weaknesses that may take time to heal, Pakistan could remain a friend and possibly even an ally, he concludes.

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