Monthly Archives: February 2011

Democracy At Greatest Risk in Raymond Davis Affair

Anti-democratic groups protest in PakistanHeadlines across the world note that the diplomatic crisis resulting from Raymond Davis’s shooting of two men in Lahore last month is straining US-Pakistan ties. A month after the incident, a solution acceptable to both nations continues to be elusive. But something more fundamental than US-Pakistan relations is at great risk as positions harden – democracy in Pakistan.

Despite the nationalist sentiment surrounding the controversy, the fact is that US-Pakistan relations will only be affected at the political level. According to a report in Stars & Stripes, a Department of Defense-authorized daily newspaper, senior leaders of the US and Pakistani militaries held secret meetings at a secluded resort in Oman this week. The meetings were described by one attendee as “very candid and cordial, and very productive discussions.” Even a split between the CIA and the ISI would likely only temporary as all intelligence agencies must interact with each other in order to be effective. Regardless of popular political opinion, military and intelligence officials will continue to cooperate based on the nations’ mutual security interests.

But Pakistan’s civilian population, and the civilian government they elected, is far more vulnerable. The latest United Nations Human Development Report, released on Tuesday, found that 51 percent of Pakistanis are living in multidimensional poverty and 54 percent are suffering intense deprivation. Cutting aid to Pakistan would have devastating consequences, not for the entrenched military-intelligence establishment, but for the civilian government and the Pakistani people.

“There’s no choke on aid yet,” says a senior Pakistani official. But if the standoff continues, and especially if Davis is convicted, it could be reduced to a trickle. And that could have a potentially catastrophic impact on an economy threatened by hyperinflation and the devaluation of its currency in the coming months.

A civilian government unable to provide basic services, much less show an improvement in economic opportunity, would quickly find itself rejected by Pakistanis already frustrated with uncertain security and lagging economic progress. While it is unlikely that militant groups would have the resources or influence to fill the role of government nationwide, it could create an environment in which the military-intelligence establishment – until now content to sit on the sidelines – decides to intervene. Such an event would not only undo the progress towards a more just and democratic government made over the past three years, it could set back Pakistan’s democratic movement for a generation or more.

Thankfully, Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley reiterated the Obama administration’s long-term commitment to the people of Pakistan on Wednesday by insisting that the White House is not considering cuts to aid.

“We’re building a strategic partnership with Pakistan. It’s important to the future of the region. It’s also important to the security of the United States. We are engaging Pakistan in good faith. We want to see this resolved as soon as possible so it does not become an impediment in our relationship and it does not measurably interfere with the work we are doing together in fighting extremism that threatens Pakistan and threatens us,” he said. “We are not contemplating any actions along those lines,” Crowley said when asked if the US government is considering curtailing any of its military or economic assistance to Pakistan over the Davis row.

Whatever the outcome of the Raymond Davis affair, it is certain to have implications far beyond the short-term cooperation between the CIA and the ISI. As political leaders and intelligence officials work to find a solution, we should all remember that Pakistan’s fragile democratic government, and the Pakistani people, stand to lose the most from deteriorating relations between our two countries.

AP Report Highlights Role of Respect in Raymond Davis Affair

An Associated Press report on Wednesday highlighted the role of dignity and respect in the ongoing struggle over the fate of American Raymond Davis, accused of killing two Pakistani citizens in Lahore last month.

Discussing the organization’s mounting frustration over the Raymond Davis situation, one ISI official explained the general feeling that the CIA was not treating their Pakistani counterparts with due respect.

The ISI official said his agency knows and works with “the bona fide CIA people in Pakistan” but is upset that the CIA would send others over behind its back. For now, he said, his agency is not talking with the CIA at any level, including the most senior.

To regain support and assistance, he said, “they have to start showing respect, not belittling us, not being belligerent to us, not treating us like we are their lackeys.”

We wrote last week that the US needs to view this crisis not only through through the lens of law and order, but through the lens of dignity and respect for the people of Pakistan. That advice applies to inter-agency relations as well. The CIA needs to consider whether its current approach to relations with Pakistan’s ISI are self-defeating. While there may be some frustration over the ISI’s perceived unwillingness to adequately respond to militant groups that they do not consider a direct threat to Pakistan, making end runs around domestic intelligence agencies could undercut the broader cooperation required to secure the US and Pakistan’s mutual security interests.

Fighting Militancy With Democracy In FATA

Significant progress has been made in strengthening democracy and justice in Pakistan since the 2008 elections. President Asif Ali Zardari stunned critics by voluntarily returning powers that were consolidated under military dictators, reinstating the deposed Chief Justice, and passing legislation protecting the rights of women. But while democratic progress is taking place in much of Pakistan, there is a place that continues to suffer from a lack of democratic reforms – the federally administered tribal areas (FATA) on the nation’s Western border.

In our post on Dr. Hassan Abbas’s latest report on reforming Pakistan’s police and law enforcement infrastructure, we noted that anti-democratic militant groups such as the Taliban operate somewhat like an extortion racket, creating chaos and then filling the popular demand for some form of law and order regime. Nowhere is this more apparent than FATA.

This ability for militant groups to gain support in the region is largely made possible by the fact that FATA is not subject to the same legal system as the rest of the country. FATA, much as the name implies, is an area administered by a patchwork of colonial-era rules dating back to the 19th century. Originally intended to provide autonomy to independent tribes in the nation’s remote frontier, the governance structure today breeds corruption and impedes swift resolution of legal claims.

In a 2009 paper, “Mainstreaming Pakistan’s Tribal Belt: A human rights and security imperative,” Ziad Haider, a JD and MPA candidate at Georgetown Law and the Harvard Kennedy School, describes a series of reforms that could be implemented easily and make great strides towards bringing FATA into mainstream Pakistan.

In the short term, these policies include extending the Political Parties Act, and allowing the nation’s political parties to organize in the tribal areas and offer a moderate, mainstream alternative to extremist political groups; overhauling draconian penalties including collective punishment and whipping; delivering speedy justice by establishing timelines for cases to be heard and decisions to be handed down; and expanding the right to appeal to a court of law and not a panel of bureaucrats.

During a discussion on Pakistan’s future at the United States Institute of Peace, Christine Fair pointed to a 2009 poll that showed that, when asked what people meant when they said they supported Sharia, most people answered “good governance.” Later in the program, Shuja Nawaz noted that good governance is key to countering the spread of militancy. It should come as no surprise, then, that the area in which militancy has most taken root is FATA, where a lack of effective and efficient governance consistent with the rest of the nation provides an environment ripe for militant influence.

Uprooting militants in Pakistan’s tribal regions is not an easy task. But it will not be possible without bringing democracy and justice to FATA by integrating those areas into the mainstream political and legal structure of the country. This can, and should, be implemented with careful attention to the unique cultural needs of the people and should follow the path of devolution and increased participation that President Zardari began in 2008. The citizens of FATA are as Pakistani as the citizens of Lahore, Karachi, and Faisalabad. They deserve the same political and legal rights as well.


Reading Raymond Davis, Reading Rodney King

Negotiations between the US and Pakistan over the fate of Raymond Davis appear to be approaching a new phase as Pakistan’s media reports that the country’s Foreign Ministry has affirmed the American’s diplomatic status. But recognition of Raymond Davis’s diplomatic status will not be sufficient to resolving the larger issue: American recognition of Pakistan’s dignity. To understand this issue, we might look to another chapter in America’s recent history: Rodney King.

LA police beating Rodney KingWhen LA police brutally beat Rodney King following a traffic stop in 1991, the initial response from law enforcement was that the officers involved were justified in their use of force because they had reason to believe that Rodney King was not only resisting arrest, but presenting an imminent threat to their own safety. A year later, a jury in Los Angeles agreed. But that was hardly the end of the Rodney King saga.

Upon acquittal of the police officers, Los Angeles erupted in violence. Fifty-three people died, over two-thousand were injured, and the city suffered financial loss of almost $1 billion. The US military was eventually called in to restore order. To many Americans, the question should have been resolved by the official trial and acquittal of the officers. This perception ignored the underlying issue of dignity in the African-American community of Los Angeles.

The LA riots of 1992 were about more than simply one incident of police brutality – they were a manifestation of the anger and frustration of a community that felt it was being denied basic human dignity, that white police officers could attack, humiliate, and even kill African-Americans with impunity.

It was not until after the 1992 riots that the Department of Justice held investigations that resulted in the indictment of the officers for federal civil rights violations. The federal trial examined not simply the isolated incident of Rodney King’s beating, but the larger context of power and police culture in which the incident took place.

Power Asymmetry

Like the asymmetry of power between Los Angeles’s African-American community and the largely white law enforcement and criminal justice system that policed it, US-Pakistan relations are plagued with a perception that the US imposes its will upon a Pakistan that is unable to adequately represent and defend its own interests. Some of this perceived asymmetry may be based in myths created for political convenience, but much of it is very real.

The US has immense leverage in Islamabad in the forms of massive military and civilian aid, access to US visas for Pakistani nationals, and the ability to authenticate Pakistan’s importance in the greater world community.

Pakistan, however, has significantly less leverage in Washington. Despite Pakistan’s geo-strategic position in relation to Afghanistan, Pakistan offers little in the way of economic opportunity. Even the country’s strategic usefulness may be overstated. Recent statements by Gen. David Rodriguez suggest that the country’s assistance in securing Afghanistan may not be necessary.

A good example of the results of this asymmetry is public reaction to the drone program. Long known to be operated in close cooperation and with the full knowledge of Pakistan’s military, complaints of the program infringing on Pakistan’s sovereignty continue. But these complaints are based less in the US violating Pakistan’s sovereignty qua sovereignty than they are in the humiliation resulting from American unwillingness to share control of the drones with Pakistan so that the program can be operated by the country’s own military.

No Justice, No Peace

Jamaat-i-Islami protesting against the release of Raymond DavisMany Pakistanis assume that if Raymond Davis is returned to US custody, he will walk away “scot-free.” From this perspective, “diplomatic immunity” is equated with a “license to kill.” A prominent Pakistani author even compared American attitudes towards Pakistan as that of hunters to a game preserve.

While US law does provide for cases of justifiable homicide, such cases do require an investigation and court hearing. Spy novels notwithstanding, there is no such thing as a license to kill. But this has not been fully communicated to the Pakistani people. Despite Raymond Davis’s shooting taking place over three weeks ago, yesterday was the first time a representative of the US government publicly assured Pakistanis that Raymond Davis would face a full criminal investigation.

“It is customary in an incident like this for our government to conduct a criminal investigation. That is our law. And I can give you the full assurance of our government today that that will take place,” Kerry told reporters in the eastern city of Lahore. “So there is no such thing as a suggestion that something is out of law or that America thinks somehow we’re not subject to the law.”

This is a crucial part of the conversation that has been missing from the US’s public response to the crisis – an assurance that justice will be served. This assurance must be reiterated, and the promise must be kept. If justice is not forthcoming, Islamist parties will continue to exploit Pakistanis frustrations and channel their anger into deeper anti-Americanism. Without bridging this ‘dignity gap,’ the US and Pakistan will never be able to move beyond a dysfunctional transactional relationship.

From Jamaat-i-Islami led street demonstrations to Taliban threats against the Pakistani government, anti-democratic groups are using Raymond Davis as an opportunity to promise respect for Pakistani dignity. But dignity is a promise at odds with their political aims. The US needs to approach this crisis not only through through the lens of law and order, but through the lens of dignity and respect for the people of Pakistan. An opportunity exists to redefine the essence of the US-Pakistan relationship. Let’s not let that opportunity go to waste.

Do Not Cut Aid Over Raymond Davis

Questions about the fate of Raymond Davis continue to complicate US-Pakistan relations. Today, President Obama called on Pakistan to release the American pursuant to the Vienna Conventions. The Pakistani government continues to call on the question of Davis’s immunity to be decided by Pakistan’s courts. While Tuesday did see some potential progress on the issue, it remains to be seen how the situation will ultimately play out.

Bradley Klapper’s report for The Sydney Morning Herald makes an important observation:

[Raymond Davis’s] detention has become a point of honour for both nations, and a rallying point for anti-American sentiment in Pakistan.

According to Klapper, the US government is considering several options in response to Pakistan’s refusal to return Davis, some of which center on isolating the South Asian nuclear power.

US officials hinted broadly that they may cancel or postpone an invitation to Pakistan’s foreign minister to visit Washington this month.

The Obama administration also is reportedly considering a slowdown in visa processing for Pakistanis seeking to come to the US. That would be hugely unpopular in Pakistan, where grievance already runs high over the perception that the US discriminates or holds back in granting visas to Pakistanis.

The US is also considering suspending or cutting back on military and educational training programs with the Pakistani armed forces and suspending or cutting back on civilian educational, scientific, cultural and local and state government exchanges, one official said.

Cutting aid and attempting to isolate Pakistan would not only be a huge mistake, it would result in a policy failure of immense proportions due to two important realities: Pakistan’s geography and demographics.

Pakistan is on the verge of a demographic explosion.

If current demographic trends continue the country’s population is projected to reach 238 million in 2030 and 335 million in 2050. Of the current population of 172 million, 66 per cent is below 30 years. 39 million are between the ages of 15-24.

Simply put, a nation of 300 million people cannot be contained. Past attempts to influence Pakistan by cutting aid reinforced the narratives of Islamist militants and resulted in nuclear proliferation. The US is going to have to engage Pakistan, and engage them as peers, not as patrons.

Pakistan is also bordered by two nations that would be more than happy to step in and fill any space left by an American withdrawal of engagement: Iran and China. As China passes Japan as the second largest economy in the world, it is also moving to expand its influence in Asia. At the end of 2010, China signed $30 billion in trade deals with Pakistan, and announced plans to build a fifth nuclear reactor in the country.

While less able to provide Pakistan with economic and military assistance than China, Iran poses potential difficulties of its own. Its own isolation at the hands of US policy would create an opportunity for the two nations to overcome sectarian differences to help each other through the construction and control of regional energy infrastructure as well providing leverage for Iran to influence Pakistan to trade in nuclear technology as a means of securing much-needed state revenue.

Thankfully, calls for cutting aid to Pakistan appear to be going unrecognized by the White House. President Barack Obama this week proposed over $3 Billion for Pakistan in the 2012 budget. This investment includes $1.5 billion in funds allocated under Kerry-Lugar-Berman, $350 million in military financing, and $1.1 billion in counterinsurgency funding. It is imperative to building trust between the US and Pakistan that the US to make good on its promises to provide economic, civilian, and military assistance. This funding should not be made conditional on the release of Raymond Davis.

Diplomatic problems require diplomatic solutions – not diplomatic freezes. Sen. John Kerry’s apology to the people of Pakistan was an important first step in overcoming confusion about Raymond Davis’s diplomatic status and American respect for Pakistani lives. Making good on obligations to invest in Pakistan’s national security and economic growth are another important part of the solution.

Quality of US Reporting on Pakistan is Lacking

The quality of US reporting on Pakistan is lacking. This is increasingly evident from the number of reports filed by respected, award-winning journalists at mainstream media outlets that end up proven inaccurate. While some of the confusion may be due to the generally complex nature of US-Pakistan relations,  producers and journalists need to re-examine their processes for vetting sources and confirming information before it is released. With the stakes as they are, we simply cannot afford to keep making mistakes.

TV CameraIn the most recent example, ABC News reporters Matthew Cole and Nick Schifrin reported yesterday that National Security Advisor Tom Donilon threatened to send Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani back to Islamabad if Raymond Davis is not released. This report was immediately denied by the Pakistani Ambassador via Twitter, “Read my tweet: No US official has conveyed any personal threats 2 me or spoken of escalating tensions.”

When ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper responded, “That’s not a denial,” the Pakistani Ambassador reiterated his denial: “This is: Read my tweets: No US official, incl the NSA, has conveyed any personal threats 2 me or spoken of extreme measures.”

What is curious about the report by Cole and Schifrin is that they didn’t seem to ask the Pakistani Ambassador who, as demonstrated by his Twitter feed, is quite accessible to journalists. Instead, they cited “two Pakistani officials involved in negotiations about Davis” and “a senior U.S. official, who was not authorized to speak on the record.”

Ambassador Haqqani noted that the Pakistani officials Cole and Schifrin spoke to could not have known what was said in the meeting with NSA Donilon as he was the only Pakistani present. As for the senior U.S. official who confirmed the report, we would be wise to remember that senior government officials have been known to feed high profile journalists statements designed not to inform, but to influence public opinion. Examples of this behavior were well documented in Bob Woodward’s most recent book, Obama’s Wars1.

Following the ABC News report, Pakistani English-language daily Dawn spoke with the US Embassy in Islamabad which described the ABC News report as “not true”, a position confirmed by an official press release from the Embassy early this morning which describes the story as “simply inaccurate.”

But ABC News is not the only major media outlet that’s come under fire for its reporting on Pakistan recently. We have observed in the past that The New York Times has occasionally published problematic coverage of Pakistan, and Pakistani blogger Syed Yahya Hussainy earlier this week criticized The New York Times for relying on the same individuals for comment on issues despite evidence that they may not be neutral observers.

Additionally, as we noted on Wednesday, news reports have suggested that tensions over the fate of Raymond Davis threatened trilateral meetings scheduled for later this month, but this assertion too has been denied by the US government.

Beale also said that there was no change of plan in President Asif Ali Zardari’s trip to the US, and nor was President Obama planning to cancel his trip to Pakistan. The spokesperson said that the US embassy and consulates will continue work as per usual in Pakistan.

We wrote on Wednesday that “Both nations’ needs deserve respect and attention, and the only path to a solution that satisfies both nations is open and constructive dialogue.” In order to facilitate such a dialogue, we need the press to cut through the rumor and speculation that clouds public perception about international relations.

1 See: Woodward, Bob. Obama’s Wars. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010. 157-159.

Law, Order, and Democracy in Pakistan

Pakistan police badgeWhere the Pakistani Taliban have won sympathy, it has come largely as a result of the group’s promise to provide some semblance of law and order in areas that lacked what was popularly considered a fair and neutral arbiter of legal disputes. The Taliban’s form of “justice” might be harsh – even medieval – but it may be seen as a better alternative than banditry and corruption. This means that the key to undermining local sympathies with the Taliban may lie in strengthening the local law enforcement infrastructure so that the state is popularly viewed as the legitimate source of local law and order.

Two stories this week emphasize conclusions reached by a new report published by the United States Institute of Peace this week on the importance of reforming Pakistan’s police and law enforcement infrastructure.

The first story relates to a new US government report that suggests  aid to Pakistan is not meeting its goals.

The report, which was released by the Inspectors General for the U.S. State Department, Defense Department and Agency for International Development (USAID), cites a number of reasons why the aid has proved ineffective. It says problems with staffing the programs, a hostile security environment and – in one case – fraud, have led to programs not being implemented.

The second story is this morning’s suicide bombing in Punjab, the latest in a series of attacks on police and security forces.

Militants have recently stepped up attacks across the country’s north western cites, mainly targeting police force, after a period of relative calm. Four police stations were attacked in Peshawar in a week. Bullet-riddled bodies of two tribal police officials and a villager were found on Thursday near Mir Ali town of North Waziristan with a note that they were American spies. The three men were kidnapped in January and their bodies showed signs of torture, officials said.

The Taliban have learned that their most effective approach to power is to undermine the state’s authority by creating chaos and then offering to step in and provide security and some form of neutral justice. As such, they operate as any other extortion racket, but with a goal of gaining a monopoly on police power and therefore superseding the authority of the state.

Meanwhile, the US is pumping billions of dollars in civilian aid into Pakistan, but is not able to achieve desired outcomes in large part due to a lack of law and order that prevents proper and timely delivery of aid resources and project implementation.

Against this backdrop, Dr. Hassan Abbas, Quaid-i-Azam Professer with the South Asia Institute, Columbia University, released his latest report, Reforming Pakistan‘s Police and Law Enforcement Infrastructure in which Dr. Abbas makes two important points related to this context:

1. Police effectiveness is inextricably linked with legitimacy of the state. At present, there is a systematic effort on part of extremist groups to target police & law enforcement because they have learned that most effective way to expand their own networks is to undermine the writ of the state.

2. US aid objectives cannot be achieved so long as law and order is not prioritized. There are serious issues of focus in US aid priorities – namely, a lack of resources and training for local civilian law enforcement.

Dr. Abbas makes very clear that civilian police are not military force multipliers, village defense forces, or lashkars (militias). Pakistan has an effective and capable military which can clear militant groups from an area. What it lacks is a well-organized, well-resourced civilian law enforcement system that can build trust and provide an ongoing sense of order among the local population.

US military aid is necessary, but not sufficient to countering the spread of extremist influence. As Dr. Abbas explained yesterday,

“Foreign donors should avoid framing everything in the context of counterterrorism, as Pakistani public opinion is likely to be more appreciative of international help in this arena if it is focused on enhancing the crime-fighting capacity of police.”

During a discussion on Pakistan’s future last week, Christine Fair pointed to a 2009 poll that showed that, when asked what people meant when they said they supported Sharia, most people answered “good governance.” Later in the program, Shuja Nawaz noted that good governance is key to countering the spread of militancy. The missing piece of the puzzle of good governance in Pakistan is effective and efficient civilian law enforcement.

If significant progress in Pakistan can be achieved by something as simple as increasing the pay of Pakistan’s civilian police, can the US afford not to do so? As the US examines outcomes from US aid investment in Pakistan, it should consider the findings of Dr. Abbas and the need for reforming Pakistan’s police and law enforcement infrastructure.

Diplomatic Problems Require Diplomatic Solutions – Not Diplomatic Freezes

Raymond DavisTensions over the fate of Raymond Davis, a US consular official who allegedly shot two men in Pakistan last month, have grown to unconstructive proportions. As a satisfactory solution continues to elude negotiators, both sides should remember that diplomatic problems require diplomatic solutions – not diplomatic freezes.

The Wall Street Journal reported this morning that tensions threaten US–Pakistan meetings scheduled for later this month, and the foreign press has reported that the US broke off high-level contact with Pakistan over the issue, an assertion countered by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Philip J. Crowley on Twitter today.

Pakistani political commentator Dr. Moeed Pirzada, writing for English-language newspaper The Daily Times, advises both sides to come to the table prepared to work out a solution that satisfies both nations.

Let us not kid ourselves; this is not going to be settled inside the Vienna Convention. This needs to be resolved inside the bilateral relations. I wish the indefatigable Holbrooke were around today. Anyway, it is not a secret that Washington has much leverage in Islamabad, so a rough solution may be emerging within the next few days. But as both sides wriggle to get out of this, it is imperative that a small tactical victory should not be allowed to jeopardise the gains of diligent public diplomacy of the last few years.

Dr. Pirzada is right. The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations notwithstanding, Pakistan’s government has a very real need to demonstrate to its citizens that it is protecting their security, and the US needs to demonstrate that it is treating Pakistan with the same respect it would demand for itself.

American officials need to view the situation from the perspective of the Pakistanis. Imagine the political minefield that would result from a Pakistani security contractor shooting two men in Manhattan and then fleeing the scene. Regardless of the facts, cable talk shows and blogs would quickly create and atmosphere of fear and confusion and government officials would soon find themselves in the the position the Pakistanis are now – pressed between the norms and conventions of international relations and the political reality of a scared and angry public.

The US and Pakistan have found themselves at loggerheads in the past and have resorted to suspending cooperation rather than making the difficult decisions necessary to move forward. The results were predictably disastrous for both parties. The US insisting on a solution that humiliates Pakistan will be equally as Pyrrhic a victory as Pakistani intransigence.

While the US wants Raymond Davis returned to American custody, we must remember that Pakistanis have lost three of their own countrymen in this affair. Pakistan deserves a solution that demonstrates that the US values Pakistani lives. Both nations’ needs deserve respect and attention, and the only path to a solution that satisfies both nations is open and constructive dialogue.

Pakistan Can Serve As A Guide To Burgeoning Islamic Democracies

Pro-democracy demonstrations across the Arab world remind us that Islam and democracy are not only compatible, but, as we are increasingly seeing, Muslims across the world yearn for freedom and self-determination. Reuel Marc Gerecht, Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies observes in today’s New York Times that “the idea of democracy had become a potent force among Muslims, and authoritarianism had become the midwife to Islamic extremism,” phenomena brilliantly explained by Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in her final book, Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West.

Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the WestBenazir Bhutto posited that there are two elements primarily responsible for the lack of democratization in Muslim-majority countries: The battle within Islamic factions for “raw political and economic power” and “a long colonial period that drained developing countries of both natural and human resources.”

Despite these obstacles, Pakistan has a democratically elected government going into its third year; Tunisia’s dictator for a quarter-century has been forced from power; Egypt’s Tahrir square is overflowing with Muslims demanding the right to choose their own leaders. These developments have received mixed reactions in the West. Too many continue to fear that elections in Muslim-majority country will result in the “wrong” people gaining power and voters will not wake up in liberal democracies promoting post-enlightenment values. This is the wrong lens through which to view the rise of democracy in the Muslim world. As Benazir Bhutto wisely observed, “Democracies do not spring up fully developed overnight.”

It is here that Pakistan can serve as a valuable guide along the path of democratization in the Muslim world. Having gained freedom from the dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf in 2008, Pakistanis have been strengthening democratic governance, learning to balance political and national priorities, and creating an inclusive process that represents the aspirations of all Pakistanis.

That is not to say that there have been no mistakes, no set backs. But this is the nature of democracy. The difference this time is that mistakes and set backs are Pakistani in nature and not imposed by an outside power or an authoritarian dictator. As such, they can be learned from and reformed, and negative impacts will lack the permanence that they would otherwise. Benazir Bhutto described this process eloquently in Reconciliation:

We must think of a new democracy like a seedling that must be nourished, watered, fed, and given time to develop into a mighty tree. Thus, when democratic experiments are prematurely interrupted or disrupted, the effects can be, if not permanent, certainly long-lasting. Internal or external interruptions of democracy (both elections and governance) can have effects that ripple and linger over generations.

As we wrote on Friday, the US needs to give Pakistan’s democracy space to grow. This applies, of course, to all burgeoning democracies in the Muslim-majority nations. Islam and democracy are not incompatible, but will peacefully co-exist if allowed to grow and flourish naturally.

The political situation in Pakistan may appear volatile, and indeed the path of democracy, as our own history illustrates, is wrought with missteps. But there are no short cuts to democracy, and attempts to trade progress for stability will produce neither. Given nurturing and support, however, Pakistan can continue to serve as a guide to Muslims across the world who are struggling themselves for the ability to determine their own future.