Monthly Archives: October 2010

Democracy Matters

Pakistan’s role in establishing a lasting peace in Afghanistan – in fact, in all of South Asia – is well established. But the continued fight against terrorists in the region, especially those who are hiding in Pakistan’s remote tribal regions, is wearing thin on the patience of some American officials and a war-weary public.

Former Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, cautions us to be patient, though, and not to put short-term gains ahead of long-term progress.

For the urgency of our short-term military and political needs can easily make us act in ways that seem disdainful of a proud people, and dismissive of the often messy workings of a struggling democracy that faces tremendous domestic pressures of its own. Such an approach would be more likely to undermine our long-term interests than to buttress them. As much as it goes against the national grain, we must find it within ourselves to be patient and supportive, albeit cautiously so, in a situation that seems to demand immediate and uncompromising action to protect U.S. interests.

The question is not solely whether we favor the government of President Asif Ali Zardari, or think that our nation would be safer if the military or the political opposition were in power. Rather, we must ask ourselves whether Pakistan’s internal political dynamic appears to be heading in the direction of stability or anarchy. We cannot let the frustration and disappointment of transitory and contradictory events, such as the recent temporary closure of a NATO supply route that runs through Pakistan, blind us to the essential and vital underlying reality.

The good news is, there is significant reason to believe that progress is being made, and that Pakistan’s democratic government is laying the foundation for permanent change in the region.

Here are two important indicators. Recently, President Zardari and other representatives of the civilian government met with Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the leader of Pakistan’s army. Although widely depicted in the Pakistani media as a heated confrontation, the session concluded with a joint statement by both groups stating that they had agreed “to protect the democratic process and to resolve all issues in accordance with the constitution.” And, only a few days later, Pervez Musharraf, who stepped down as military dictator of the country in 2008, announced he had established a new political party to seek a return to power.

While these events are far from definitive, they provide a rational basis for believing that the immense pressures buffeting Pakistan and its people may not result in yet another political upheaval. Although change of some form will inevitably occur in the years to come, there is good reason to hope that it will take place in ways that are consistent with the nation’s constitution, and conducive to the emergence of a more stable country. In such a situation, it would be ironic indeed if we failed to support Pakistan’s fledgling democracy while striving so hard to establish the rule of law in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Past strategies that emphasized short-term gains resulted in unintended consequences that make today’s battles more difficult. The US should not make the same mistake this time, and should concentrate efforts on supporting and maintaining a transparent and legitimate democracy in Pakistan. Doing so will enable us to repair relations with officials and the public who continue to suspect American motives based on past mistakes, while also giving pro-democracy reforms the breathing room to continue to build on recent progress.

Terrorism is a virus. It spreads quickly where it is unobstructed by democracy, which weakens the ability of terrorists to recruit and carry out acts of violence. Though it may be tempting to try to destroy terrorism with sheer force, such a strategy actually leaves the region susceptible to its continued spread. Only by supporting and reinforcing the trend towards democratic reform will the world be able to rid itself of the terrorist virus for good.

Judicial Restraint and Pakistan's Media-Judiciary Nexus

We have already commented on Pakistan’s activist media and its increasingly activist judiciary, and the potential of these two institutions to destabilize Pakistan’s fragile democracy just as it is getting its footing. The recent situation in which Pakistan’s Supreme Court called emergency hearings about a rumor reported on TV channels emphasizes not only the extent of the problem, but the nexus between media and judicial efforts in an ongoing power struggle, and the need for judicial restraint to ensure the democratic process is able to function.

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Pakistan's Activist Media

Geo TV: "Entertainment, News, Infotainment"Americans are well familiar with accusations of political bias in media. It’s become a standard complaint among politicians and their supporters that the reporting by certain journalists and news agencies reflects a particular political agenda, rather than unbiased facts. But, as recent weeks have demonstrated, the American media has nothing on Pakistan when it comes to political activism.
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What Is the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue?

Beginning today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi will meet during the third US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue in Washington, DC. But what exactly does ‘Strategic Dialogue’ mean, and what with the officials from each countries be discussing?

Yesterday, U.S. Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Frank Ruggiero briefed the press about the dialogues and answered many of these questions.

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Greater Threat Than Floods: Pakistan's Judiciary?

The historic flooding that has ravaged Pakistan was considered for a brief period to be a grave threat to the country’s stability. Analysts were unsure if the young democratic government would be able to provide relief and reconstruction services enough to satisfy a panicking public. As the waters subsided, though, the civilian government demonstrated that it could work with the military and the international community to provide services to the people. Today, however, the government faces a possibly greater challenge: continued attacks from the nation’s judiciary.

Pakistan’s judiciary has been threatening to topple the democratically elected government in what many are calling a “coup by other means”. While unprecedented challenges to elected officials have been going on for some time, the courts appear to be determined to continue their attacks.

Since its December judgment striking down an amnesty that shielded President Asif Ali Zardari and other officials from old criminal allegations, the top court has pressed the government on corruption, in particular a dated money-laundering case against Zardari. The stakes have risen as repeated government delays have stoked frustration within the army and the political opposition. Another showdown is scheduled for Wednesday, when the court could hold the prime minister in contempt or indicate that it will reconsider Zardari’s presidential immunity from prosecution.

The standoff has cemented the Supreme Court’s position as a central player in Pakistan’s nascent democracy. But it has also highlighted questions about the solidity of that system.

The Army has largely stayed out of the affair, though as Ahmed Rashid writes for BBC, they would stand to gain the most should the courts succeed in overthrowing the government.

It would be a constitutional rather than a military coup, so that Western donors helping Pakistan with flood relief would not be unduly put off, but the army would gain even more influence if it were to happen.

The courts, for their part, are attacking the government from two flanks – the Supreme Court is threatening to disqualify President Asif Zardari more than two years since his election, and the Lahore High Court – headed by Chief Justice Khawaja Sharif, an ardent supporter of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) – has reinstated an old corruption conviction against Interior Minister Rehman Malik, despite his having been pardoned in May.

According to a growing number of voices in the legal community, the politicization of Pakistan’s courts is a growing problem that threatens the stability of the government and the legitimacy of the nation’s judiciary.

“This judge and the court have embarked upon politics,” said lawyer Khurram Latif Khosa, whose father, also a lawyer, advises Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani. “The lawyers who were chanting slogans in their favor are now burning effigies of their idols.”

Mr. Khosa is not alone in his analysis. His statement echoes the sentiments of Supreme Court advocate and human rights activist Asma Jahangir who wrote in December of last year:

While, the NRO can never be defended even on the plea of keeping the system intact, the Supreme Court judgment has wider political implications. It may not, in the long run, uproot corruption from Pakistan but will make the apex court highly controversial.

Witch-hunts, rather than the impartial administration of justice, will keep the public amused. The norms of justice will be judged by the level of humiliation meted out to the wrongdoers, rather than strengthening institutions capable of protecting the rights of the people.

There is no doubt that impunity for corruption and violence under the cover of politics and religion has demoralised the people, fragmented society and taken several lives. It needs to be addressed but through consistency, without applying different standards, and by scrupulously respecting the dichotomy of powers within statecraft. In this respect the fine lines of the judgment do not bode well.

The lawyers’ movement and indeed the judiciary itself has often lamented that the theory of separation of powers between the judiciary, the legislature and the executive has not been respected. The NRO judgment has disturbed the equilibrium by creating an imbalance in favour of the judiciary.

A few months later, Ms. Jahangir’s tone turned decidedly more dire.

People will soon witness a judicial dictatorship in the country if the judiciary continuously moves ahead in its present direction and then we would forget military and political dictatorships, HRCP chairperson Asma Jahangir said on Wednesday.

By April, even opposition politicians the PML-N were raising concerns that the courts were over-stepping their constitutional role to topple the government.

Raising concerns about the conspiracy, PML-N spokesman and senior leader Ahsan Iqbal has said that a third force wants a clash between the judiciary and parliament.

Iqbal did not name the third force precisely in the same fashion, as Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has repeatedly done in recent months, The News reports.

According to another PML-N leader, the Army is trying to pitch the judiciary against parliament and for this purpose it is using certain elements in the media.

Recently, Pakistan’s Chief Justice issued a statement condemning those who are speaking out against perceived judicial overreach.

Ironically, the Chief Justice who is leading this assault on the government, Iftikhar Chaudhry, was himself the victim of extra-constitutional removal by then President and Chief of Army Staff Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Justice Chaudhry was released from detention by Pakistan’s newly elected government in 2008, and reinstated to the Supreme Court in 2009.

Some believe that during the year between Justice Chaudhry’s release from detention and his reinstatement, the judge grew to resent the new government and has taken it upon himself to bring a myriad of legal challenges to its authority. In fact, many of the cases before the court were not brought by any individual or official agency, but were taken up “suo moto” – by the choosing of the Chief Justice, himself.

Regardless of what is motivating the incessant attacks by members of Pakistan’s judiciary, the right to decide the nation’s leadership rests solely with the people of Pakistan. Military generals, religious clerics, and judicial appointees all have a role to play in the success of the nation. But each must work within the bounds of the constitution and the democratic process. Whether led by the military, the Taliban, or an army in black robes, a coup is a coup – and any coup will be devastating to Pakistan’s future.

US Should Follow EU Trade Concessions

EU officials announced that this Thursday they will unveil plans to grant trade concessions to Pakistan to help the country grow its economy following the historic floods. The US should follow suit.

Recently, Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations where he explained why open markets support democracy, stability, and the fight against terrorism in Pakistan.

Americans for Democracy & Justice in Pakistan agrees, and has encouraged the reduction of textile tariffs as a means of helping Pakistan grow its domestic economy and reduce its reliance on foreign aid.

By following the EU and adopting a package of trade concessions for Pakistan, the US would stand to benefit in two important ways.

US businesses and consumers would have access to equipment and products at a lower cost. This would provide a much needed boost not only to the Pakistani economy, but to our own struggling economy as well.

One of the greatest recruiting messages of extremists is that the democratic government cannot provide stability and economic growth necessary. Strengthening the Pakistani economy is essential to the long-term stability of Pakistan’s democracy.

With the EU moving ahead with more general waivers including not only textile exports but also industrial goods, the US should pass its own trade concessions to further Pakistan’s ability to support itself economically, and to strengthen the security of a key ally.

What's Really Going On In Pakistan?

The headlines about Pakistan lately have been unpleasant. Between tensions over a botched air strike, Bob Woodward’s new book, and Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s announcement that he’s returning to the country – a lot of people are wondering if change is afoot. But media headlines notwithstanding, there’s a lot of reason to believe that Pakistan will not undergo another sudden extra-constitutional change.

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