So you like a democratic Pakistan?

Know that it is a leap of faith

Barring a miracle, it is the end of the road for the Indian cricket team in World Cup 2007. But let’s look at the bright side. Public attention can turn to genuine matters of national importance, of which there are many. First, the myth—created by clueless political pundits and equally clueless Congress party politicians—that reforms are not helping the poor has been blown. If the Congress party leadership and supporters know what’s good for them, they should use the rest of the UPA government’s tenure to build political capital on how much reform they have delivered, in comparison to the previous NDA government.

Second, it is time for a re-assessment of India’s policy positions vis-a-vis Pakistan and Gen Musharraf. Even the United States is changing is approach, going to the extent of naming Musharraf’s successor (poor sod, he) and making it known that the CIA has sent head-hunters to Pakistan to recruit that country’s next head of state. As Amit Varma wrote in his column this week, finding a successor is not as important as changing his incentives. Just how this is to be achieved is a million-dollar question. It should be a five crore-rupee question too.

Rohit Pradhan argues that the United States must now focus on nurturing democracy in Pakistan.

While Americans cannot directly intervene in Pakistani politics, they can certainly do two things: First, hold Musharraf to his own promise of giving up the uniform and becoming a full-fledged civilian president. Second, ensure that the 2007 elections are absolutely free and fair. For the elections to be truly representative, the participation of Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto is essential. It would only be possible if they are allowed to return to Pakistan without the Damocles sword of past court cases hanging over their heads. [UPI Online]

Those are the necessary conditions. But the big question remains whether the Pakistani military establishment has sufficient incentives to allow everyone to live happily ever after. While Islamist parties are still unlikely to secure enough votes to ride to power, they are quite likely to do much better than ever before. It is a different world now in 2007. A democratic government, even with Musharraf-in-sherwani as president, will need the army’s support to face down the Islamists. For all his much touted liberal achievements, Musharraf has so entrenched it in the corridors of power—at all levels in the civil bureaucracy—that the military is unlikely to return to the clichéd barracks. And why would it support a democratic government against the Islamists when the democratic government is committed to bottling up the military genie?

Realists will argue that what really matters is the balance of power. Where it is in India’s favour, Pakistan is unlikely to initiate conflict. Yet as a practical matter it is impossible for India to tilt the scales in its favour at all times and at levels of conflict. Who rules Pakistan is not as important as to how stable the balance of power is. From this perspective, there is little reason to be excited about the prospect of elections, democracy and an ex-serviceman as president of Pakistan.

This is not to say that a return to elections and civilian governments is unimportant. Elections offer an infinitesimal amount of hope that Pakistan will one day become a normal, stable state. But we must acknowledge that our preference for democracy is primarily the result of our biases, which in turn arises from our values and experience. In other words, supporting democracy in Pakistan is a leap of faith. Nevertheless, it is a leap that India must take.

10 thoughts on “So you like a democratic Pakistan?”

  1. Nitin,
    Being one of The Acorn’s very early readers, can I take the liberty to ask you about the now missing ‘Sunday Levity’ post? Was that not confirming to the “Right of Center” viewpoint?

  2. RS,

    It made an appearance earlier than it should have. It’s not yet Sunday. Rest assured that it’ll be back tomorrow.

  3. Islamists are very unlikely to secure power in Pakistan. Infact the bogey of islamists is used by military to keep clinging to power. Its PPP in rural Sindh, MQM in Urban Sindh, PML (Nawaz, PML (ruling party) ) and PPP in Punjab, Islamists and ANP in Frontier province and Islamists and Baloch Nationalists in Balochistan. Now you can very well see Islamists stand some position in relatively less populated provinces of Pakistan. Democracy should be fully supported because Pakistanis want stablity with INdia. As democratic forces will strengthen military grip will loose.

  4. Nitin: are you saying that a democratic Pakistan might still be basket case? Interesting thought. In other words, if democracy is not the solution (even if it takes root), yours is a damning indictment of the state itself – that the state is incapable of reconciling its internal contradictions. That train of thought almost certainly leads to its balkanization – a very frightening prospect.

  5. Libertarian,

    In other words, if democracy is not the solution (even if it takes root),

    It has to do with the definition of democracy. Merely holding free and fair elections don’t cut it. The escalation of terrorism in J&K in the early 1990s, the creation of the Taliban, nuclear bartering and Kargil all happened when Pakistan was presumably democratic. But it was the military establishment that wagged that dog.

    I’d argue that democracy cannot take root before the military establishment is excised from Pakistan’s body politic.

  6. I’d argue that democracy cannot take root before the military establishment is excised from Pakistan’s body politic.

    Hmmm … my feeble imagination cannot accommodate an idea so distant from present reality. That idea belongs more on a wish list than a to-do list. My point is that that does not look like an option at all.

  7. Libertarian,

    Such is the toughness of this problem. I don’t like it either. Perhaps it is at such times that leaps of faith provide the answer.

  8. Re: “Where it is in India’s favour, Pakistan is unlikely to initiate conflict. Yet as a practical matter it is impossible for India to tilt the scales in its favour at all times and at levels of conflict. Who rules Pakistan is not as important as to how stable the balance of power is. From this perspective, there is little reason to be excited about the prospect of elections, democracy and an ex-serviceman as president of Pakistan.”

    Call me a pessimist, but in my opinion if the balance of power is in India’s favor, then history suggests that Pakistan IS likely to initiate conflict — just not in a conventional way. I say this because, in the sub-continent, India is a status quo power for the most part. Take Kashmir: even though both India and Pakistan claim all of Kashmir, the reality is that if the present borders stayed the way they are, the Indian political establishment wouldn’t have a problem, whereas the Pakistani political establishment (certainly the military establishment) would have a problem. In other words, I see India’s objectives as being attained if the status quo is maintained, whereas Pakistan’s require the status quo to be upset. In such situations, the weaker/disadvantaged party resorts to unconventional means. One might cite a Middle Eastern example as well, where Israel is (taking the Golan Heights as an example) a status quo power, and Syria is in the opposite position.

    I should qualify the above: it is more accurate to say that no determination of the stability or instability of the balance of power can be made absent an appreciation of the political ideologies at play. Take the example of Bangladesh: there are several sources of Indo-Bangladesh tension, including sporadically violent border disputes. However, it remains true that India and Bangladesh are, vis-a-vis each other, status quo powers for the most part, whereas Pakistan is not in the same position vis-a-vis India. I submit this is because there is a difference in ideology between the Pakistani and Bangladeshi states are concerned. As long as the ideology remains undisturbed, a balance of power in India’s favor is unlikely to halt conflict, but will likely channel conflict through “alternative” channels. Indeed that is what did happen during the 1980s and 1990s: the conventional balance of military power was in India’s favor — hence proxy wars etc., i.e. unconventional means, were explored by Pakistan.

    On the topic at hand — democracy in Pakistan — check out this recent article in The Nation:

    http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070416/usher

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