The curious incident of elections in Pakistan

The terrorists did not even attempt big attacks

In the run-up to the elections, there were some major terrorist attacks—including suicide bombings—targeting the Pakistan People’s Party and the Awami National Party.

On the day of the elections there were none. Not that the attacks were foiled. They were not even attempted. (There was only the ‘usual’ election violence, but that’s nothing to write home about)

Rewind a few weeks: During his recent trip to Europe, General Musharraf declared that elections will be free, fair and peaceful (emphasis his).

The metaphorical dog didn’t bark.

Where martial law is yet to be lifted

Bangladesh has remained under military rule for a year now

It has been a year since the Bangladeshi army staged a quiet coup, installed a regime of civilian ‘advisors’ and imposed an emergency. According to Freedom House, over the last year, Bangladesh’s “political rights rating declined…due to a military-backed replacement of the caretaker government in January and suspension of planned elections, as well as the imposition of a state of emergency under which political activity, freedom of assembly, and media freedom were curtailed”.

Photo: Flickr-Anonymous Photographer

During this one year, the military junta has attempted to gain domestic legitimacy by a very visible crackdown on political corruption. It has managed to avoid international scrutiny not only by keeping a low profile, but has gained from the fact that the world’s attention is turned towards Pakistan, Burma, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Yet military rule is unlikely to provide Bangladesh with a sound basis to address its numerous internal problems, and by extension, problems that affect India. The longer Bangladesh is under military rule, the greater the danger that problems will surface only after they have reached crisis levels.

The fact that one whole year after seizing power the generals are nowhere near announcing a timetable for a restoration of democracy proves that now is as good a time as any. We all wish we had better politicians, but the truth is that Bangladesh, like any other country, must do with the leaders and political parties it has got.

It is time for the generals to beat the retreat.

We don’t need no indecisive slobs (2)

Cite Pakistan’s failure and draw your favourite conclusion

What’s with editors of leading Indian newspapers? After Mr Gupta, the articulate Vir Sanghvi falls into the same trap: of declaring that democracy is better than dictatorship (linkthanks Pragmatic) and then tripping up while attempting to draw other conclusions. This time about the fates of states vis-a-vis their policy towards the United States.

There were only two major Asian countries that rejected the US prescription for development and foreign policy: India and China. And look where they are today. And look at America’s client states.

Of course, Nehru made mistakes. But can anybody really deny that the principal reason why India and Pakistan, once part of the same country, have followed such divergent paths is because of the choices both countries made in the years following independence?

At first, India’s priorities may have seemed (from a middle-class perspective) wrong-headed and muddled. Pakistan’s may have seemed glamorous and instantly gratifying. But, in the long run, we ended up as the superpower. And Pakistan as the failed state. [HT]

Leave aside that India is far from being a superpower. But citing Pakistan to prove that America’s ‘client’ states in Asia have done badly for themselves is shoddy analysis. Japan and South Korea too were American ‘client’ states in the second half of the twentieth century. Look where they are today. And look at us. South Korea, mind you, was a military dictatorship—much like Pakistan—for much of that time. That, it turns out, did not prevent it from jumping from a poor country to a rich one within the span of one generation. And then look at Taiwan and the other Asian Tigers—it turns out that pro-American states have done rather well for themselves.

Just as it is wrong to blame the United States for Pakistan’s failure, it is wrong to credit Nehru with India’s relative success. Assessing Nehru’s role in India’s development requires the space of several books. But one would think it reasonable to credit several hundred million ordinary people of India for doing little things right that contributed to their country being where it is. It is also reasonable to blame a small number of people for doing big things wrong that left India much behind what it could have been.

Pakistan’s situation could arguably be used to highlight the importance of democracy. But this is not an issue in India. But Mr Sanghvi appears to use it to justify a lot of things in omnibus. Therein lies the danger of comparing India to Pakistan. Almost anything will compare favourably. The irony is that Mr Sanghvi does this in an article that starts off by saying how the whole world, include Indians themselves, don’t make this comparison anymore.

Should India love Musharraf?

Love him or hate him. But it’s not about him.

M K Narayanan, India’s National Security Adviser (no less!) has declared a ‘grudging admiration’ for Pervez Musharraf. Now, stating that India would do business with whoever is in power in Pakistan is the right thing to do at a time when Pakistan is acutely unstable. But to declare admiration—grudging or otherwise—is pushing it too much. But then, Narayanan was always more comfortable in backrooms of internal security. He never had a flair for the front room of international diplomacy. J N Dixit died too early.

Then Maverick, a voice this blog respects, writes that India’s perceptions of General Musharraf have changed over the years. And that he “howsoever grudgingly has earned that respect from India”.

If this admiration and respect is for the manner in which Musharraf managed to ensure his own political survival in the face of political tumult and rising unpopularity, that’s fine. But it would be dangerously naive to believe that the ‘sombre, determined’ Musharraf somehow is now the best thing for India. Stephen Cohen’s 1999 thesis—that a Pakistan under military rule will be in India’s interests—has been recalled. This theory is the mirror image of those, like Rohit Pradhan, argue that a democratic Pakistan will be better.

Both these views just leaps of faith. What really matters is the balance of power. As long as this prevents Pakistan from pursuing ambitious projects at India’s expense, the type of dispensation in Islamabad is not of primary consequence. So India’s policymakers can entertain whatever fancies they like regarding Musharraf, as long as they are paying attention to what really matters.