Pakistan conference stresses need for long-term Pak-US ties
* Say current ‘confidence deficit’ characterising Pak-US relationship must be overcome
* Hasan Askari Rizvi says time of one-party rule in Pakistan has come to an end
* Akbar Zaidi says economy will be new govt’s main problem
By Khalid Hasan, Daily Times, March 31, 2008
WASHINGTON: A day-long conference on Pakistan at the John Hopkins University on Sunday emphasised the need for Pakistan and the United States to forge a close and long-term strategic relationship that will serve both their mutual interests and that of the region.
The conference, which brought area specialists and well-known figures from Pakistan and the US academic community together, was sponsored by the American Institute of Pakistan Studies and the School of Advanced International Studies of the John Hopkins University. It was addressed by, among others, Professor Hasan Askari Rizvi, Professor Akbar Zaidi, Joshua White, Farhana Ali, Zia Mian, Matthew J Nelson, Dr Rifaat Hussain, and Mrs Bushra Aitzaz.
Dr Rifaat Hussain, who had travelled from Colombo, told the conference, “The US must evolve a broad-based strategic framework for its interactions with Pakistan. Human rights organisations, civil society and the media must be recognised as important stakeholders in an effort to transform Pakistan - and the US should not block it from being a sovereign democracy.”
Confidence deficit: He said Pakistan has been a garrison state because of its national security dilemma but it is time for it to move on. He said the “confidence deficit” that characterises the current US-Pakistan relationship should be overcome. He urged Washington “not to hold Pakistan in too tight an embrace”. He also called for US help in making state-run schools in Pakistan more competitive, especially in rural and underdeveloped areas. Washington should also dispel the impression that its generosity is reserved for military regimes only. He said the Pakistan military is keen to reduce its visibility, but the defence budget must be scrutinised by parliament. He also called for the killings in FATA to be stopped before any social or educational uplift of the area can be undertaken.
Bushra Aitzaz provided the conference with a detailed account of the beginnings and development of the judicial crisis, emphasising that one emphatic “no” by the chief justice to an authoritarian president, who wanted him to resign, had changed the history of Pakistan. For the first time, the higher judiciary had demonstrated that it would not provide legitimacy to illegitimate rule. It had tried to regain its right to do justice, which had eroded over time. Obviously, that did not sit well with the powers-that-be. She denied that the February 18 elections were free or fair. Rigging, she pointed out, had begun as long as three years ago. She said the people had been given just one day to exercise their right of vote. Pakistan had changed, she said, thanks to the lawyers’ movement, as the people had come to realise that they could change things on their own and with their own power. She said it must be remembered that every order that the president had passed after declaring a state of emergency on November 3 last year had been rescinded by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s court. Democracy in Pakistan, she declared, is “back with a vengeance” and nothing can roll it back. She reminded the president of his promise that the day he realises the people don’t want him, he will go. “The people don’t want him,” she said, “and he should keep his word and go.” Silence, she stated, is no longer an option in Pakistan. She extolled the sacrifices made by the lawyers’ community. For one whole year, she reminded the audience, they have denied themselves an income because they believe in their cause, which is the establishment of the rule of law and the return of constitutional government in Pakistan that the people have elected.
One-party rule: Hasan Askari Rizvi said the time of one-party rule has ended in Pakistan, as it did in India, and a government of political diversity with a common minimum programme has come into office. Pakistan’s two main parties will have to learn the politics of co-operation and turn their back on the past politics of confrontation. Enduring changes that need to be made can only be made, he stressed, on the basis of consensus, through an inclusionary and not an exclusionary process. A political system that responds to the needs of the people needs to be brought into being and it must be one that is decentralised. The ‘Musharrffian’ concept of “unity of command” does not work because when it runs into difficulties, it collapses, having no give or flexibility. Such a system cannot absorb political shocks. He said the lawyers’ movement has restored the confidence of the people in the power of civil society. People today feel that they can bring about change. He felt that the disengagement of the army from civilian affairs would not be easy and may take some time. He noted with satisfaction the Army chief’s emphasis on people’s support being necessary for an effective army.
Main issue: Professor Akbar Zaidi told the conference that the economy is going to be the main issue for the new government. He said many changes have taken place in Pakistan, some of which are not recognised yet. For instance, Pakistan is no longer an agricultural country as the sector represents only 26 percent; nor is the majority of its population rural, since 55 percent of the people live in urban areas. The middle class has risen but when asked for its size, he replied that it was something that was hard to quantify. He spoke admiringly of the big strides made by women. He noted that 85 percent of the students at Karachi University were women. He also pointed out that the 4 percent share of the vote that the Islamic parties picked up in the last election came from Pakistan’s least developed areas. With the spread of education, he predicted, this percentage would be further reduced.
Zia Mian, a Princeton physicist, called for much greater civilian control over Pakistan’s nuclear assets. The nuclear secrets were locked up in a military black box, he added. He said the military’s argument that it should be trusted with the stewardship of nuclear weapons had lost credibility after the AQ Khan affair. He called for a number of steps to bolster civilian control over nuclear weapons including: repeal of the present nuclear command and control authority law that places nuclear weapons entirely under the control of the army and the president; oversight provision of these assets by government departments and parliament; institution of freedom of information laws governing nuclear issues; institution of environmental protection laws; protection to whistle-blowers; a more critical and not fawning media in relation to nuclear weapons; and the encouragement of anti-nuclear public interest groups.
Matthew J Nelson, an American scholar studying in Britain, who spoke on religious education in Pakistan, said, “The terms of religion can and should be used to reinforce ideas about modern citizenship, they will be used to reinforce ideas of modern citizenship in Pakistan and we have to appreciate that. The challenge does not lie in choosing or not choosing religious education. The challenge lies in engaging religious education and the different ideas about it and how to understand it in relationship to pluralism, diversity, debate, discussion and change.”