Looking good in America

Benazir Bhutto is managing international opinion. If only Pakistanis get a chance to voice theirs?

Benazir Bhutto’s party is spending top dollar on image management—in the United States. Over at the Washington Note, Sameer Lalwani responds the response of Burson-Marsteller, Bhutto’s PR firm, to one of his pieces that the PPP didn’t like.

If Musharraf should fall, the point is the military will prevail as a critical institution. Bhutto’s PR firm might be able to create a climate that gets her back in power but she cannot simply buy her way out of the strategic quandaries that surround Pakistan nor the straitjacket of incompetence and corruption that has plagued her party and feudal politics. In order to govern, she will need to depend heavily on the military (not to mention the US’s own strategic dependence on them). More than democratic charlatans and feudal politics, Pakistan needs a healthier civil-military balance and perhaps a power-sharing deal can pave the way for this. [Washington Note]

Lalwani is right on the ball—what they’ve planned out in Pakistan is a power-sharing deal that attempts to modify the civil-military balance. The best that Pakistanis can hope is that this is the beginning of a transition towards, but democracy it most certainly it is not.

On the other hand Lalwani believes that the United States should deepen its ties with the Pakistani army, and continue its policy of buying its support. This prescription ignores the reality that this approach has run its course, not least because—as Joshua Hammer writes in this month’s The Atlantic—the Pakistani army can go only so far in fighting its compatriots in the tribal areas without risking a visible division in its ranks. So as long as American military assistance is linked to pressure to act against Pashtun tribesmen, continuing along this path is a recipe for instability as the Pakistani army falls apart.

The best use for American aid money is to strengthen Pakistan’s civil institutions. Unfortunately, that’s a task that the United States is not game for.

Update: Benazir Bhutto’s op-ed in the Washington Post. Meanwhile the timer is set—Pakistan’s presidential elections are scheduled for 6th October, with nominations closing on 27th Sep. High drama on the cards…

5 thoughts on “Looking good in America”

  1. It is in my estimation that if a Democrat wins the White House in 2008, you will see a shift in U.S. policy on Pakistan, from from supporting the military, which will continue in a smaller form, to building civil institutions.

  2. Niraj, don’t bet on it. Difference in US parties are only about Iraq – declare victory, pack up and leave or stay on slog. The parties world view about the rest of world, esp Islamic, is pretty similar. After getting burned in Iraq, civil institutions in LoP, even if Pakistanis wants them, would be a no no.

  3. Chandra, Even on Iraq the differences will magically melt away to a minimum once the Democrats move into the White House.
    And any Democratic party supporter who believes that the American Army will come home on the 21st of January, 2009 is in for a very rude awakening.

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