Tag Archives: Zia-ul-Haq

“Do Not Underestimate the Pakistani People.”

Bruce Riedel

The Brookings Institution yesterday hosted the official book release for Bruce Riedel’s new book, Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America, and the Future of Global Jihad. The author, Bruce Riedel, is a career CIA officer and has advised four US presidents on South Asian policy. He is widely regarded as one of the United States’s preeminent experts on Pakistan.

The auditorium at the Brookings Institution, one of Washington’s oldest and most prestigious think tanks, was filled to capacity with representatives from several governments as well as the military. The rear of the room was packed with journalists from across the world. Mr. Riedel began his remarks by thanking several people, but he paused to give special praise for the former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto whom he recognized for her courage and inspiration.

Mr. Riedel noted that Pakistan is one of the most important countries in the world not only for its proximity to the war in Afghanistan, but because it is home to the second largest population of Muslims in the world, it has the world’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal, and it is a long-time American ally. Despite its importance, however, most Americans know very little about the country.

According Mr. Riedel, there are three main issues that he deals with in his new book: Pakistan’s domestic politics, US-Pakistan relations, and the growth of the global jihad movement.

Pakistan’s domestic politics, he said, is influenced largely by two primary struggles: one between the military and the civilian government, the other between the moderate majority of Pakistanis and the vocal but minority of Islamists. He mentioned that these struggles are often exacerbated by an irresponsible press.

But Mr. Riedel pointed out that there is one thing that has always trumped these struggles over the history of Pakistan – “the yearning for democracy has pushed dictators out of power over and over.” There is, he said, a constant underlying push for democracy, rule of law, and accountability. This was a key theme of Mr. Riedel’s remarks – more than anything, the people of Pakistan want to decide their own fate.

On the second issue, US-Pakistan relations, Mr. Riedel was honest and open about the fact that the US has not been a consistent friend to Pakistan. He referred to the relationship between the two countries as ‘a deadly embrace’ – one in which neither side knew if they could trust the other – and urged the members of the audience to change this from a deadly embrace to a friendly embrace.

Mr. Riedel pointed out two major mistakes made by the US:

First, that over the history of US-Pakistan relations, too much has been built around secret projects that are not really secret. He referred to the U2 base in the 1950s; the role that Pakistan played as intermediary between the US and China during Nixon’s presidency; the cooperation between the US and Pakistan in arming the Afghan mujahideen during the Cold War; and most recently the drone attacks on al Qaeda. By continually basing our relationship on secret agreements, we allow an air of intrigue to mischaracterize what is often a healthy cooperation.

The second major mistake the US made, of course, was the support for Pakistan’s dictators over the years – an error of both Republican and Democratic administrations, and one that set back Pakistan’s democratic progress by decades. Mr. Riedel urged the US not never repeat this mistake again.

The third issue Mr. Riedel addressed is Pakistan’s relationship with the growth of the global jihad movement. Here, Mr. Riedel says, we should understand that Pakistan is a nation at war for its soul. While the vast majority of the country are peaceful, moderate Muslims, Pakistan is also home to the largest number of militant groups in the world. As such, the country is divided between those who are loyal to the vision of the nation’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and dark forces who seek to convert Pakistan into a jihadist state similar to Afghanistan under Taliban rule.

The roots for the global jihad movement, Mr. Riedel explains, can be traced to the dictatorship of Gen. Ziaul Haq during the 1980s – a dictatorship supported by the United States. Make no mistake, he reminds, the US shares responsibility for this situation.

The good news, however, is that Pakistan’s military is engaged in the most serious counterinsurgency efforts it has ever conducted. While there may be some elements of the military and intelligence agencies still supporting militant groups as a holdover from previous doctrines of “strategic depth”, the military has realized that the nation most threatened by these groups is Pakistan itself. In answer to a question from the audience, Mr. Riedel said that if you had told him two years ago that Pakistan’s Army was conducting counterinsurgency operations in six of the seven tribal areas, he would have said you were dreaming. Today, though, that dream is a reality.

So what is the solution that Mr. Riedel proposes?

First and foremost, he says, the future of Pakistan is not up to the US. Only Pakistan can decide its own fate, and the US must not repeat past mistakes and try to push Pakistan one way or the other.

The US must not undermine the civilian government or the democratic process. To those who question whether one or another politician is preferable, Mr. Riedel reminds the audience that democracy is not about individuals, but about a process.

The US must also support Pakistan’s efforts to normalize and improve relations with its neighbors, especially India. Mr. Riedel gave special praise for the efforts of Pakistan’s current President Asif Ali Zardari to improve trade between the countries. While these may seem like small steps, he said, it is this path of incremental change and trust-building that will ultimately succeed.

Above all, however, the US must not try to broker a peace between Pakistan and India. It will not work, he said, and we must trust and support the Pakistani leadership to develop a path to normalization that satisfies their own needs and strategic interests.

The people of Pakistan have shown a remarkable determination to hold on to Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan as a nation at peace with its neighbors and itself. There are no magic solutions, he warned, and progress will take time. But, he advised, we should never underestimate the people of Pakistan’s desire for democracy and peace. If there was one message that Mr. Riedel left the audience with that day, it was this: “Do not underestimate the Pakistani people.”

The History that Haunts Us

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif)
Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif) addressing a gathering of the Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America (APPNA)

I was struck this morning by an editorial in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, “America & dictators.” I was taken aback not because the editorial was criticizing my country, but because it served as a reminder of the history of supporting undemocratic regimes that haunts us, and the vital importance of addressing it openly.

Though our memories in the United States may be short, conditioned for too long by 30-second TV commercials and 6-second sound bites, memories in most of the world are much longer. Most Americans are probably unaware of their country’s involvement in the 1953 Iranian coup that overthrew the government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and reinstalled the dictatorship of the Shah. But just because we are unaware of this misguided adventure doesn’t mean that the rest of the world is.

Pakistanis, in particular, are well aware of our choosing to support dictators Gen. Zia-ul-Haq and Gen. Musharraf when our short-term policy goals found these regimes convenient.

The editors of Dawn, then, ask a valid question:

In our case America’s response to military coups has followed a strikingly similar pattern: initial condemnation or criticism, then endorsement and finally whole-hearted support for the junta in question. Mr Berman is no doubt sincere when he says that the US wants to strengthen democratic institutions in Pakistan. But what guarantee do Pakistanis have that the self-styled champion of democracy will not play the same old game if the tide somehow turns? Can the US confirm in no uncertain terms that it will never support a Pakistani dictator again irrespective of circumstances?

This lingering doubt about whether the US is a long-term partner of Pakistani democracy, or if our past mistakes are a predictor of the future must be addressed. Moreover, this is why ill-informed and misleading journalism is counterproductive for American interests.

Rep. Berman’s (D-Calif.) remarks before the Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America (APPNA) are a necessary, but not sufficient step towards addressing Pakistani concerns about America’s commitment to democracy in their country. It is only through our actions that we will be able to regain the trust of the Pakistani people and strengthen our long-term partnership with this burgeoning democracy.

We should do this by continuing our commitment to Pakistan’s national security, our investments in civilian aid and infrastructure, and our vocal support for democracy in the country.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has extended a hand of friendship to the US. it is imperative that we return the gesture.

Pakistan's Constitution Must Be Amended To Remove Sectarian Clauses

The murders of over 90 Pakistani citizens last week because of their religious beliefs makes clear that Pakistan’s parliament must amend the Constitution to remove sectarian clauses that in part incite such violence.

Section 260(3) of Pakistan’s constitution defines whom the law considers a Muslim. This is exceedingly important because the constitution restricts certain government offices to Muslims. For example, Section 41(2) requires that the President be “a Muslim of not less than forty-five years of age.”

But more than simply disenfranchising some citizens, the sectarian clauses in the constitution have created second-class citizens of religious minorities, and given fodder for the hateful rhetoric of extremists that encourages such violence as was witnessed last Friday.

In fact, the massacre of the Ahmadis was not the first time that a religious minority has suffered violent attack in recent months. Last August, religious extremists attacked a community of Christians in Gojra, killing many and burning down several dozen homes.

Pakistan’s parliament and President Zardari were quick to condemn the attacks in Gojra and provide funding to compensate victims, but until the government purges the aberrant laws that extremists use to justify these attacks, future violence is all but inevitable.

Cornell doctoral student Basit Riaz Sheikh, agrees. Writing for English-language daily, Express Tribune, Sheikh notes that the sectarian tensions that increasingly flare up today are rooted in the regime of dictator Zia-ul-Haq.

Until 1977, when Bhutto’s government was toppled, Pakistan was free of any major sectarian and ethnic tensions. The ten years of Zia-ul-Haq’s dictatorial regime would transform Pakistan from a tolerant society into one marred with ethnic and sectarian divisions and hate-driven politics. He fully crippled the religious freedom of minorities by imposing draconian laws in the name of the Anti-Islamic-Activity Act. Zia vanished, but we continue to pay for his sins.

The remnants of his era, in the shape of many in our media now and others, continue to insinuate hatred against minorities, the West, and all others who disagree with them. It goes beyond my imagination that we let these hate-mongers freely express their extremist sentiments on TV channels under the pretext of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom to spread hate.

To build a stronger and a united Pakistan, we need to cleanse our constitution of the provisions that continue to divide us.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has recognized the Zardari government’s progress in the area of religious freedom in Pakistan, but points out that until discriminatory legislation promulgated by previous administrations is removed, religious minorities will continue to suffer.

The Zardari government has taken some positive steps regarding religious freedom. In November 2008, the government appointed prominent minority-rights advocate Shahbaz Bhatti as Federal Minister for Minorities with cabinet rank. Mr. Bhatti has publicly promised that the Zardari government will review Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and that the government is committed to protecting the rights of minority religious communities, including by implementing a five percent quota for religious minorities in federal government employment. In March 2009, the government appointed a Christian jurist as a judge in the Lahore High Court. It is not yet clear what impact these developments will have on religious freedom, which has been severely violated by successive Pakistani governments in the past. Discriminatory legislation, promulgated in previous decades and persistently enforced, has fostered an atmosphere of religious intolerance and eroded the social and legal status of members of religious minorities, including Shi’a Muslims, Ahmadis, Hindus, and Christians.*

Article 33 of Pakistan’s constitution requires the state to “discourage parochial, racial, tribal, sectarian and provincial prejudices among the citizens.” This vital mission of the government cannot be achieved while sectarian prejudice is codified in the nation’s laws. In order to protect the rights and the safety of all citizens, Pakistan’s Parliament should immediately move to amend the constitution by removing Section 260(3) and other sectarian laws.


*Emphasis added

True democracy in Pakistan can prevent extremism

Dr. Majjida Ahmed, a founding member of Americans for Democracy & Justice in Pakistan, has an op-ed in today’s Daily Caller that examines the relationship between cementing a strong democratic process in Pakistan, and the prevention of extremist violence.

What turns middle-class young people from Pakistan, like Faisal Shahzad, toward militant extremism? It’s important to note that Shahzad spent his youth in Pakistan during the military rule of hard-line General Zia al-Huq, who instituted a school curriculum that taught intolerance towards religions other than Islam and promoted militancy. And it isn’t just military dictatorships that have bred intolerance. According to Sherry Rehman, the former Information Minister, rampant conspiracy theories and unchecked hate speech against Americans in the Pakistan media may also be playing a part in radicalizing some of the country’s youth.

Pakistan’s military has been historically reluctant to act against militant groups like Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (“TTP”), which originally claimed responsibility for the attempt, until a civilian government came to power. Since President Asif Ali Zardari took power, the public and the government have been able to press the military into successful operations against these groups. That is why it is so critical for the United States to focus not just on aiding Pakistan’s military but on strengthening Pakistan’s democratic institutions by encouraging responsible participation by all constituents, including the media, opposition and judiciary. That is what the elected government of President Asif Ali Zardari has been trying to achieve, despite severe and irresponsible pressure against such moves by its opponents in those same groups—pressure which arguably supports extremism.

Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2010/05/11/true-democracy-in-pakistan-can-prevent-extremism/

The Restoration of Democracy, A Historic Moment for Pakistan

Though Pakistan continues to face a number of challenges, in its struggle for democracy it is, perhaps, a lesson for other nascent democracies. By tabling a package of constitutional reforms that will repeal several aberrations adopted under dictatorships in the 1980s and 1990s, the democratic government of Pakistan has achieved a landmark in democracy and brought hope to people around the world.

Events over the past week have sent a ripple of hope and optimism through the nation and its diaspora as the government prepares to right past wrongs and prove that, even as dictators attempt to preserve their misrule through constitutional vandalism, the natural desire for freedom will always overcome their tyranny. English-language daily, The Daily Times wrote on Sunday,

With the strengthening of parliament, the provinces, local governments, dispute resolution amongst the provinces and with the centre, transparent appointments of chief election commissioners and the superior judiciary, the citizens of Pakistan can draw a sigh of relief and feel justly proud of the consensus-building inherent capability of a democracy, the odd hiccup notwithstanding. This is an all too rare moment to celebrate in our national life, and it would be best to let bygones be bygones and not labour the respective contributions (negative and positive) of all the parties to this historic compact.

Washington-based attorney and former Pakistani military officer Mohsin Awan wrote this past weekend that the constitutional reforms represent “The Greatest Moment in Pakistani Democracy.”

This week may very well be remembered in Pakistan as the greatest point in the restoration of democracy in its 63 year history. Yesterday, after a year long legislative effort led by President Asif Ali Zardari and his Pakistan Peoples Party in the National Assembly of Pakistan, agreement was finally reached on the most dramatic and sweeping constitutional changes in Pakistan’s history, restoring the 1973 Pakistani Constitution, which created a Pakistani parliamentary democracy based on the British Westminster model.

That Pakistan’s President, Asif Ali Zardari, has voluntarily pushed through a package of constitutional reforms that will repeal power consolidation by previous presidents is an unprecedented move that will secure his place in the history books as a leader who put his nation before his personal interest. Again, from Mohsin Awan:

Contrary to those who would belittle him, Asif Zardari is hardly a recent convert to the restoration of the 1973 Constitution. President Zardari had planned to complete the transition to democracy and to return the country to the foundations of the 1973 constitution from his first day in office. During his address to the joint sitting of the parliament last year, he advised the Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Fahmida Mirza, to immediately form a constitutional committee comprising representatives of all political forces in the parliament to look at not only doing away with the arbitrary amendments including the infamous 17th amendment inserted by the dictator but also to settle the question of provincial autonomy according to the wishes of the federating units. He called upon his party in Parliament to enact a package of constitutional reforms as quickly as possible.

Irrespective of what his detractors may like to say, the fact is that Zardari has ungrudgingly consented, as was his original promise and intention, to forgo the powers conferred on the President under the 17th amendment thus implementing the public commitment of his wife and of our Party. He is not being “stripped of his power” as some have characterized it either out of ignorance or mischief, but rather has been in the vanguard of democratic change. The constitutional committee that was created at his request, specifically for this purpose, has completed its job and the reform package will be put before the National Assembly on Thursday and the Senate on Friday.

Letters to newspapers in Pakistan echo these sentiments of optimism among the Pakistani public.

Perhaps it can be dubbed the best constitutional package after the 1973 Constitution. It has a great deal of resemblance to the original 1973 Constitution, as the former like the later — is expected to be unanimous when it is finally passed by parliament.

Credit goes to all stakeholders in parliament, the media, lawyers and the President without whose generosity and cooperation such an achievement was not possible, at least in a friendly environment.

An atmosphere of optimism would develop in the country. At large, all provinces — especially the smaller ones — would regain their powers. A sense of deprivation prevailing in the smaller provinces would decrease to a considerable level.

After decades of constitutional manipulation and bold power grabs by dictators Ziaul Haq and Musharraf, Pakistan is teaching the world a lesson in democratic governance.

Politically Motivated Corruption Charges Are Lingering Effects of Dictatorships

Pakistan’s democratically elected President Asif Ali Zardari has suffered repeated accusation of corruption, including what is referred to in Pakistan as the so-called “Swiss Case.” What is largely missing from discussion of these charges, however, is historical context. These and other corruption charges were part of a widespread practice of using kangaroo courts to silence the democratic opposition to Pakistan’s past military dictators.

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Court Appointees Should Be Independent

Just as Pakistan’s first democratically elected government in decades was on the brink of undoing a number of power grabs by past military dictators, a wrench has been thrown in the works by an opposition politician and party leader. Mr. Nawaz Sharif, head of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party (PML-N) is holding up passage of a package of constitutional reforms that would restore proper checks and balances on power.

Included in his stated reasons for opposition is that Mr. Sharif would like to see implemented a a seven-member judicial commission to nominate justices to the superior courts. The commission, as envisioned by Mr. Sharif, would include three serving judges of the Supreme Court, led by the Chief Justice of Pakistan – and a seventh member to be selected by the chief justice himself. This obviously stacks the court for the Chief Justice.

Pakistani newspaper Dawn reacted strongly to this proposal, saying:

The problem that will be created by a judicial commission with a majority formed by serving judges of the SC and a handpicked choice of the CJP is not very difficult to identify. The superior judiciary is designed such that while every justice on a court has one vote, the chief justices are administratively the ‘bosses’. So it is very unlikely that in the presence of a Chief Justice of Pakistan who wants a particular nominee, the other justices on the commission would disagree with him. Also unlikely is the possibility that a handpicked seventh member of the judicial commission will oppose the CJP’s choice. And even if the CJP is an accommodating sort and encourages developing a consensus nominee among the judges and his handpicked seventh member, it would mean that the superior judiciary would determine by itself — because of the simple majority it would enjoy on the judicial commission — who can or cannot become a judge of a high court or the Supreme Court.

A hermetically sealed judicial institution of that sort is antithetical to the principles of democracy. Why should the present membership of a state institution determine what its future membership will be? Remember that judges are free to vote with their conscience once sworn in because it is virtually impossible to remove them before they retire (which is how it should be). What Pakistan needs is a judiciary free from interference, not a judiciary that is independent in the sense of deciding its own membership. Any proposal by Mr Sharif or anyone else that would effectively give the superior judiciary a majority on the judicial commission must not be accepted.

In fact, Mr. Sharif’s recent surprise decision to block passage of the democratic reform package has been met with near universal disdain in the mainstream Pakistani media. English-language daily The Daily Times has had harsh words for the former Prime Minister.

As for the issue of the judicial reforms, it was at the behest of the PML-N that a seventh member was added to the judicial commission on the appointment of judges. The constitutional reforms committee conceded to that demand but now the PML-N chief has gone further to ask that the prime minister should consult the chief justice (CJ) on judicial matters and that the CJ should be authorised to appoint the seventh member. Mr Raza Rabbani is right in rejecting this proposal because the whole purpose of the judicial commission would be defeated. The logic behind having this commission is to ensure that there is a transparent mechanism in the appointment of judges by taking it out of the purview of any one person. Unfortunately, Mr Sharif’s strategy of escalating demands does not make any sense.

Pakistan has the opportunity for the first time to rid its constitution of anti-democratic power consolidation measures adopted under duress of military dictatorship. It defies all logic that this package of democratic reforms put forward by the democratic government and initially agreed to across parliament should be held hostage by one man seeking to further consolidate power in another office – this time the Chief Justice.

Pakistan has come too far since the days of Gen. Zia-ul-Haq. The time for naked power grabs is in the past. If Mr. Nawaz Sharif cannot participate in honest democratic politics, putting the good of the nation above his personal interests, perhaps Pakistan needs to move on without him. Pakistan’s National Assembly should adopt the package of democratic reforms as they were agreed to, and get on with doing the people’s business.

American Media Misreporting Pakistan's Constitutional Reforms

As Pakistan’s parliament debates a package of constitutional reforms, it is important that these legal changes be viewed in the proper context. Unfortunately, anti-democratic talking points have crept into reporting on these developments in the American media. These talking points say that the National Assembly will be “curtailing” or “clipping” the powers of Asif Ali Zardari. In fact, the President has supported what is being discussed – a package of reforms that would redistribute powers previously seized by anti-democratic military dictators.

To understand the nuances of why this matters, a bit of historical context is in order. In 2008, Pakistan held elections that ushered in a new era of democratic rule. For the first time in decades, leaders selected by the people in open, free, and fair democratic elections governed the nation. It was a historic moment, and one that brought hope to the nation.

Despite the democratic elections, Pakistan’s government continued to operate under constitutional changes made by military dictators Zia-ul-Haq and Musharraf. From the outset of his term as President, Asif Ali Zardari vowed to undo the undemocratic consolidation of power that occurred under military dictatorships so that the government could operate with proper checks, balances and distribution of powers.

Over the course of the past year, Prime Minister Gilani and President Zardari have worked closely to craft a package of reforms that would return the Pakistani constitution to its democratic foundation. Last November, President Zardari stunned many onlookers when he voluntarily returned command of nation’s nuclear arsenal to the office of Prime Minister, where it lay prior to being seized by Gen. Musharraf in 2002. One might expect such an act to be met with praise, but Zardari’s anti-democratic opposition pounced on the opportunity to define the act to their advantage.

Unfortunately, much of the right-wing establishment in Pakistan still sees democratization as a threat. For a President to voluntarily return authority to the proper branches of government was dubbed ‘weak’ and ‘unpopular.’ We respectfully disagree with this point of view.

Some far-right publications, like the English-language newspaper The Nation, have recently complained that Zardari is going too far in promoting democratic reforms. This has caused some to question whether right-wing groups in Pakistan are trying to derail the process of democratization before the next elections in the hopes that they can take power under the rules set by previous dictators.

Unfortunately, anti-democratic talking points have begun to appear in American reporting about Pakistan’s constitutional reforms. Take, for example, an article in the Washington Post this week that begins,

Pakistan’s Parliament is expected to pass constitutional changes in coming weeks that would vastly curtail the powers of President Asif Ali Zardari, effectively sidelining the unpopular leader of the nation’s weak civilian government.

This paragraph not only reads like an anti-democratic opposition press release, the language has a tendency to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more people read that the democratically elected president is unpopular and that the constitutional reforms are meant to curtail Zardari personally, the more people begin to doubt the democratically elected president, and democratization more generally.

This is not unusual, of course, as we have seen recently the same phenomenon in American politics when opponents of President Obama’s health care bill repeatedly stated that health care reform was unpopular with the American people, only to see the bill’s popularity skyrocket when it became clear that it would pass. Whether American or Pakistani, people like to support a winning team.

Pakistani democracy is at a crucial moment in history – democratic and anti-democratic forces are wrestling over the future of the nation. Will Pakistan grow to become a free, democratic stronghold in South Asia? Or will right-wing forces turn Pakistan backwards towards the rule of Zia-ul-Haq and Musharraf?

We respectfully ask that American journalists consider their words when writing about democratic reforms, and recognize that the package of constitutional reforms currently under discussion in Islamabad is not a slight to President Zardari, but the culmination of difficult and humble choices made by the democratically elected President to return powers to their proper offices, ultimately putting his nation before himself.

Our security depends on aiding Pakistan

On Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s recent trip to Pakistan, he was reportedly asked by one Pakistani military official, “Are you with us or against us?” to which the defense secretary replied, “Of course, we’re with you.” But who precisely did the secretary mean by “you”? For both the U.S. and Pakistan’s interests, the “you” must mean the people who support the three principles of democracy, the rule of law, and civilian control in Pakistan — and, specifically, not those who would undermine them.

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