Tag Archives: Cyril Almeida

Why Pakistan’s Political ‘Crisis’ Isn’t One

President Zardari meets with MQM delegation
President Zardari meets with an MQM delegation to discuss their concerns.

Despite Chicken Little headlines declaring the government in ‘crisis,” the political negotiations in Pakistan are a natural part of parliamentary politics and, some analysts suggest, point to progress in the nation’s democracy.

The decision by the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) party to leave its seats in the federal cabinet – but remain on the treasury benches – has surprised political analysts who see the move as strategically questionable.

Leaders from the nation’s largest opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz faction (PML-N), have exchanged harsh words with the MQM following their decision. In fact, the two parties are historically less politically aligned than the MQM-PPP alliance, and many suspect that MQM, with 25 seats in parliament, would have less influence under a coalition headed by the PML-N.

Still, the government is taking MQM’s concerns quite seriously. President Zardari has forbidden party officials from speaking ill of coalition members, and has reached out to MQM chief Altaf Hussain to assure him that the PPP will address his party’s concerns. Sindh Home Minister Dr. Zulfiqar Mirza, who earlier this month accused MQM activists of perpetrating political violence in Karachi, has offered to take a back seat to ease MQM concerns.

While some suggest that the move could result in mid-term elections, that does not seem likely. Pakistani analyst Cyril Almeida notes that a no-confidence vote in the parliament is mathematically impossible without PML-N support, a position opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar has previously dismissed.

With the ongoing threat from extremist groups, a fragile – albeit improving – economy, and a struggling energy sector, one would not be surprised to see the PML-N decide to let the PPP finish its term if only to bolster their own chances in the 2013 elections.

Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi, president of the Pakistan Chamber of Commerce–USA, writes for Pakistan’s Daily Times that mid-term elections would be counterproductive at this late stage in the government’s tenure.

Mid-term elections will just be a game of musical chairs between the existing cadres of leaders but will cost the nation a lot of money and loss of productivity in the economy. There are only two years left in the term of the current government, which is not a long time to wait. During this time, the local bodies’ elections should be held so that an institution for future leaders is reinstated. These elections will be a litmus test of the nation’s choice for the next government in the province and Centre.

All things considered, it is not unusual to see internal coalition politics get messy, especially in countries with relatively young democratic systems. An editorial in today’s Dawn explains that the political dance is not unusual in coalition politics, and the way that all parties are handling themselves is encouraging.

With the PPP about a third of the way from having a majority in the National Assembly, the role of the supporting cast is crucial, and that was always going to be fertile ground for uncertainty. However, in a welcome sign that perhaps Pakistani politicians have matured somewhat, not a single political player of any significance has suggested his intention is to remove the government or perhaps even derail the democratic process.

Though the US is not a parliamentary democracy, I’m sure that President Obama can closely sympathize with his Pakistani counterpart Asif Zardari’s situation. Trying to hold together a coalition of politicians eager to demonstrate their independence and with their own political ambitions is no easy feat. That he’s managed to do so despite the challenges his government has faced is a testament not only to President Zardari’s staying power, but to an often underestimated political astuteness. As coalition partners negotiate, one things looks clear – the present government is navigating the tumultuous waters of democracy quite well.

Supporting Democracy & Stability Key To Reducing Corruption

Transparency International makes headlines every year when they release their Corruption Perception Index.

The causes of official corruption are many – from historical roots that can be traced to the Mughal empire to the pervasiveness of petty bribery in daily life. Earlier this week, however, Transparency International identified one are of particular interest: political instability.

This is not an uncommon problem. A study of political corruption in Africa pointed to a situation that may be familiar.

From east to west, the pattern is drearily repetitive. Keep just enough at home to rig the next election/pay off the army/build a garish palace (complete with Olympic-sized swimming pool and helicopter on the lawn). Stow the rest in offshore bank accounts in Uncle Binzi’s name, buy flats in the most expensive districts of Brussels, Paris and London – the kids, after all, will need a base in between terms at Eton and Harrow – and set up a handful of offshore companies. Whatever you do, get the money out of the country and never bring it back.

Africa’s history of political instability has also played its part. Presidents who knew they could be overturned at any moment rushed to steal as much as they could in the time available to them. In Nigeria, the post-independence elite initially invested their new-found wealth domestically, only to see those assets appropriated by incoming administrations. The likes of the late General Sani Abacha, who sent an estimated $4bn abroad, were careful not to repeat the mistake. “The thinking is always: ‘I am certain to be probed once I leave power, so I had better put everything abroad’,” says a Nigerian banker.

It’s widely suspected that Gen. Musharraf’s London lifestyle is financed in part by funds siphoned from US aid to Pakistan. And he’s not the only former Pakistani leader to face exile, and not the only one accused of funding his exile with looted funds. Former Prime-Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto both lived in exile, and both suffered accusations of official corruption.

We learned from the diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks that Pakistan’s current president, Asif Ali Zardari, has asked the United Arab Emirates to allow his family to live there in the event of his death, an event he believes would not be accidental. His concerns are not without merit. A popular theme in the Pakistani media during 2009 was the “Minus One Formula” – an alleged plan by the military to remove Zardari from power.

In the US, we put our ex-Presidents to pasture on book tours and lecture circuits. Pakistan’s political leadership has historically faced less attractive options. Knowing the stakes, it would be irrational for Pakistani political leaders not to make decisions to ensure their self-preservation – decisions that may involve engaging in some level of official corruption as a means to establishing a foreign safety net in the event of a coup. That doesn’t make it right, but it does make it a reality.

All of this, of course, reinforces the need to support the democratic process as key to reducing corruption and the perception of corruption in Pakistan. Pakistani columnist Cyril Almeida writes for the English-language daily Dawn that Pakistan still lacks political stability and the threat of military intervention, while weakened, still looms in the background of Pakistan’s domestic politics. His solution – stabilizing the nation’s contentious democratic process.

Official corruption is not a problem unique to Pakistan. A recent BBC report claims that the entire world may be more corrupt than it was three years ago. Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, says the government considers corruption a form of terrorism, and is taking action to eliminate it throughout the government. Without the assurance of a stable democratic system, though, the temptation to engage in corruption as a means to create a safety net will endure. The US has many options when it comes to helping Pakistan eliminate corruption – the first should be working to ensure a stable and enduring democratic system. Without that foundation, progress will be hard to come by.

New York Times' Problematic Pakistan Coverage: "Fake Degrees"

While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been in Pakistan announcing $500 million in new civilian aid projects, the New York Times has been reproducing misleading narratives from Pakistan’s political opposition. Over the next few days, I’ll be responding to the most egregious of these stories in order to correct the record, provide much-needed context for American readers, and, hopefully, inspire the journalists at the Times to more adequately fact-check their reports on Pakistan while being mindful of possible political influence underlying their stories.

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Pakistan's Senate Passes Historic 18th Amendment, Sends Democratization Bill to President

Pakistan's National Assembly

Following the National Assembly’s passage of the 18th Amendment package of constitutional reforms, Pakistan’s upper house Senate approved the measure this morning, sending it to President Zardari for ratification. This historic event is culmination of unprecedented cooperation and consensus between Pakistan’s political parties.

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