A Critical View of the Political Developments in Pakistan

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Kazi Anwarul Masud[1]


Authoritarian military regimes have ruled Pakistan over extended periods since the country’s emergence in 1947. In this period there have been brief interludes of unstable civilian governments. Contemporary Pakistan is beset by terrorism, sectarian violence and religious extremism. The writ of the state has been eroded particularly in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Commentators have variously described Pakistan as the most dangerous country in the world, the epicenter of global terrorism and a failing state. However, after the elections of February 2008, civilian rule has been restored and this could herald the advent of a stable political dispensation. President Asif Ali Zardari and the mainstream political parties, notably, the PML (N) and the ANP deserve credit for the ongoing civilianization of the country.  Editor.

Political analyst Daniel Markey suggested that the choice facing the US between supporting Pakistan’s army and promoting democracy has always been a false one.[1] Both are necessary. Only by helping to empower civilians and earning the trust of the army at the same time will the United States successfully prosecute the long war against extremism and militancy.

It has been argued that societies like that of Pakistan, burdened with the attributes of   tribalism, are complex. Added to this feudalistic character of the society is the constant fear of Hindu India overrunning smaller, but nuclear-armed, Pakistan.   It has also been suggested that the Pakistan army and its intelligence services have retained ties with the militants and Taliban sympathizers as a hedge against abandonment by the US in the event of a Pakistan-India conflict.

Ayesha Siddiqa writes that the military’s power allows the army to define its economic interests and exploit public and private resources, a behavior that increases its appetite for power. Siddiqa’s contention is strengthened by the belief that the Pakistan military will not accept any dilution of power, however tainted some elements of the army remain by Islamist extremism and jihadist ideology. [2]

French political analyst, Frederic Grare, however, dismissed the fear of the west, particularly of the US, that the overthrow of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf would result in his replacement by an Islamist regime which would, thereby, control the country’s  nuclear assets, as a  myth deliberately propagated by the vested interest to continue its stranglehold on Pakistani state power. He argued that the perception of an Islamist threat was neither as great nor as imminent as it was made out to be. Furthermore, there was also no possibility of Islamists capturing power through free and fair elections.  This proved true in the February 2008 elections which were resoundingly won by secular political parties. Yet, since the birth of Pakistan, the army has effectively ruled the country and remains its strongest government institution.

The violence inherent in Pakistani society was vividly and cruelly demonstrated yet again with the return of Benazir Bhutto from exile in October 2007 when a bomb attack on her motorcade in Karachi resulted in more than a hundred deaths though she herself survived.   The incident, however, demonstrated that powerful elements felt threatened and feared that her popularity would marginalize their influence in Pakistani politics. In an interview with Wolf Blitzer of CNN a few days earlier, Ms. Bhutto spoke of the threat to her life and the possibility of violence. She claimed to have had a letter hand-delivered to then President Musharraf listing the people who should be investigated if anything happened to her. The list included the name of a top official of the intelligence bureau.

Benazir Bhutto’s fears were not unfounded. She was assassinated on 27 December 2007, and, the Musharraf government accused the Taliban hardliner, Baitullah Meshud. Her husband, Asif Zardari, now the President of Pakistan, however insisted that the assassination be investigated by the UN.  The writers of a piece in Newsweek Ron Moreau and Michael Hirsch expressed the view: – “Today no other country is arguably more dangerous than Pakistan. It has everything Osama bin Laden could ask for: political instability, a trusted network of radical Islamists, an abundance of angry, young anti-Western recruits, secluded training areas, access to the state-of-the-art electronic technology, regular air service to the West and security services that do not always do what they are supposed to do.”[3]The article was written after the attack on Benazir Bhutto’s motorcade in October 2007 i.e., before the democratization of Pakistan.

In order to understand the violent opposition to Benazir Bhutto’s return, one must recognize the existential gender inequality in Pakistani society that is basically patrimonial.  In a country where honor killing (killing of women for allegedly bringing dishonor to the family) go unpunished and girls are married off at a very young age, the acceptance of a female Prime Minister is extremely difficult although Benazir Bhutto was twice elected to that position. In Pakistan, as in many underdeveloped societies in Asia and Africa, violence against women is pervasive and often practiced in the name of religion. In politics, though South Asia has had women Prime Ministers in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the   acceptance of females in politics, as elsewhere, is not easy. They are usually regarded as the property of the male in the sense that the father rules her destiny before marriage, the husband after marriage, and her own children in her old age.  Despite this, it is probably fallacious to conclude that the violence triggered by Benazir’s return was because she was a woman. Similar terrorism could have greeted Nawaz Sharif were he allowed to come back to the country at that time.

It would be dangerous for the subcontinent if the events in Pakistan were to lead it to state failure because the first victims of such a situation are inevitably the immediate neighbors. The world is witnessing the pressure now being borne by Chad, itself a poor country, because of the refugees streaming in from Darfur to escape genocide. Rwanda and Srebrenica aside, the situation in the Ivory Coast, DR Congo, Liberia and Somalia, should be lessons enough for the globalized world about the dangers of weak or failed states. Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw defined a failed state as when it is unable to: (a) control its territory and guarantee security to its citizens; (b) maintain the rule of law, promote human rights, and provide effective governance; and (c) deliver public services to the people such as education, health, economic growth.

Parts of the picturesque state of Swat have come under the control of a firebrand Taliban sympathizer. A western journalist in Pakistan has written a horrifying account of beheading of criminals, drug pushers, bootleggers, and extortionists as well as the execution of others for running dens of inequity amidst public applause that “the Taliban have done the job that the enlightened moderates refused to do. May Allah provide us with leaders like Mullah Omar.” The applauding crowd, according to the journalist, did not consist of Afghans or mujahedeen but of young men from seminaries and jobless tribesmen calling themselves Pakistani Taliban. The latter have become the de facto political leaders of North and South Waziristan.

Islamabad today is paying the price for the myopic US-Pakistani policy of building up the Taliban to fight against the Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan. The Taliban, even after their post-9/11 expulsion from Afghanistan, remain a formidable force. They are allied with al-Qaeda and Islamists from Central Asia and Chechnya and are entrenched in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA). Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte has described FATA as the secure hideout from which al-Qaeda radiates to its affiliates in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.

In this matrix it is difficult to ignore the aspiration of some for an independent Pashtunistan consisting of FATA, the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan and the settled regions of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) as well as parts of Baluchistan. Whether or not such irredentist aspirations are to be taken seriously, it is undeniable that Pakistani nationalism, based only on religion, has failed since 1947 to forge national unity cutting across tribal, ethnic and linguistic barriers. It is said that Punjabi, and not Urdu, is the state language of Pakistan.

Understandably, veteran journalist Robert Kaplan sees the fight over Kashmir as obscuring the core issue in South Asia: the institutional meltdown in Pakistan.[4] As was true of Yugoslavia, it is the bewildering complexity of ethnic and religious divisions that makes Pakistan so fragile.  As it is, the country is bedeviled by sectarian conflict. The Sunnis are divided into the Deobandi and the Barelvi schools of thought. The former are anti-Shia and want them to be declared infidels through an amendment of the constitution. They also consider sectarian killings as jihad. The ethnic-religious divide has been exploited by vested interests in promoting Islamist political parties in order to marginalize moderate forces.

The dichotomy between Pakistan the state, which is internal, and Pakistan the nation as giving sanctuary to aggrieved Muslims in the outside world should be solved once for all. Pakistan cannot play the role of mother to Muslims elsewhere and must control its jihadi and extremist Islamists regardless of their political importance domestically. Leon Haaders of the Cato Institute advises Washington to view Pakistan as a reluctant supporter of US goals at best and as a potential long-term problem at worst.[5] In the ultimate analysis, condemnation of Pakistan’s present political course would be counterproductive and all help should be given to Islamabad so that peace and security of the region and the world are not put in jeopardy.

Increased Taliban attacks on NATO and Afghan forces, Hamid Karzai claims, would not have been possible without sanctuary and assistance from the areas not fully under Pakistan’s control.   Basically both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, along with many others, believed that Musharraf’s authoritarian rule under American patronage was responsible for the current mess. The US, however, was dissatisfied with Musharraf’s deal with the tribal leaders offering status quo ante if ties with the Taliban were cut and cross-border raids were stopped. John Negroponte told Congress last year that the tribal authorities were not honouring the agreement and that the cross-border incursions into Afghanistan had doubled.

Political analyst Matt Thundyll compared the US policy of cooperation with Pakistan as an alliance with a lesser evil against a greater evil. In reality, wrote Thundyll, like the Soviet threat in 1945, the Pakistani threat is extant. While the former centered on Communism, in Pakistan’s case it is Islamic extremism. Since the partition of India in 1947, Pakistan has been largely dictated by the politics of religion. Except for some feeble attempts to promote secular values, both civilian and military rulers alike exploited the religious sentiments of Pakistanis to gain legitimacy and to ensure their own political survival.  According to a report by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, the mullahs and the military worked together against common foes during the Cold War period and have identical views on Kashmir and towards India. [6]

Any discussion on national affairs impacting on international relations cannot even begin without reference to 9/11. The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington were strongly condemned by all Islamic countries, as by the rest of the world, but led to the invasion of Iraq, the assault on Afghanistan and the subsequent ouster of the Taliban regime.  But unfortunately, to some Western analysts the convulsions emanating from the Islamic world are prompted by intolerance of the “abode of the unbelief” i.e.,   Christendom, which is regarded as a competing world religion and civilization. Closer to the truth is the probability that these convulsions are within Islam and are caused by the struggle between Muslim extremists and moderates to capture the soul of the Islamic world. It is, therefore, inaccurate to conclude that there is an incipient movement of neo-Islamic conservatives out to destabilize the world as a prelude to a clash of civilizations.

The events of 9/11 convinced the Bush administration that Pakistan, albeit under military rule, had to be supported as an important partner in its war on terror.   US policy makers, who had initially insisted on the continuation of Pervez Musharraf,  ignored his recognition of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a combine of Islamist parties, as the main parliamentary opposition although Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples’ Party had more members in the National Assembly at the time. Musharraf’s purpose probably was to impress upon the West that his pseudo-civilian government was indispensible if Islamists were to be stopped from gaining power in Pakistan. This was an obvious deception because no Islamic organization is in a position to politically or militarily challenge the role of the one and only center of power in Pakistan: the army.

Thus Baluch nationalism, which was spurred by the belief among Baluchis that they were being deprived of their resources and exploited by what they regarded as Punjabi colonizers, was portrayed as Islamic terrorism by the intelligence services. This was reminiscent of unified Yugoslavia where the slogan that what is good for Serbia is good for Yugoslavia ultimately led to the separation of Montenegro which was the last bastion of the old Yugoslav republic. Baluchistan, which accounts for 43 percent of Pakistani territory, 36 percent of the country’s total gas production and has substantial quantities of other minerals, is also a potential transit route for gas pipeline from Iran and Turkmenistan to India. However, the province’s gas and mineral deposits are being expropriated as a result of which the Baluchis feel marginalized and dispossessed.

A troubled Baluchistan can have negative consequences not only for Pakistan but also for South Asia and the international community. Contemporary Pakistan, writes Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment,[7] is clearly both a part of the problem as well as the solution to the terrorist threat perceived by the United States. Some analysts also believe that the 9/11 Commission had more or less highlighted that international terrorism was rooted in Pakistan and recommended a long-term US commitment to provide comprehensive support to the Pakistan government. The choice for Pakistan, it has been said, is not between the military and the mullahs but between the military-mullah combine and the civilian and secular political parties.

The democracy deficit tolerated by successive US administrations because of Cold War compulsions, resulted in dictatorial regimes in many Muslim countries where dissent among ordinary citizens invited repression and imprisonment while the pro-west, but morally degenerate, elite lived in comfort. This ultimately militated against the interests of the West. At the other end of the spectrum the belief among liberal thinkers, also espoused by the neo-cons,  was that democracies do not go to war against one another because that would require the approval of different branches of the administration. Furthermore democracies, unlike totalitarian dictatorships, are ultimately accountable to the people and decisions such as war and peace have to be taken with public support. This argument can be equally extended to non-state actors who do not tolerate dissent and have made terrorism their religion. The western world, therefore, is preoccupied with Islamic fundamentalism and political Islam. There seems to be a realization that the policies hitherto followed had given birth to post-Cold War failed states which had become breeding grounds for terrorist outfits of the al-Qaida variety. In the panic following 9/11, hawks of the Cold War mould have wrongly equated Islamic fundamentalism with political Islam. While Islamic fundamentalism encapsulates the emotional, spiritual and political response of the Muslims to the acute politico-economic crisis in the Middle East and the Muslim frustration over the political failure of pan-Arab nationalism; political Islam aims at establishing a global Islamic order through challenging the status quo within the Islamic states and creating a transnational network for the implementation of its agenda.

The presumption that democratization of Muslim societies would reduce terrorism and prevent fresh recruits to the extremist outfits has been seriously questioned. Vermont University’s Gregory Gause[8] believes that in the absence of data demonstrating a strong relationship between democracy and reduction of terrorism, the problem appears to stem from factors other than regime type. He argues that since terrorist groups such as Al Qaida are not fighting for democracy but for the establishment of what they believe to be a purist Islamic state, the assumption that democracy is an effective counterpoint is, therefore, untenable. Other Middle East experts suggest that as the mainsprings of al-Qaida-like outfits lie in poverty and educational deficiencies in countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan as a consequence of authoritarian rule, terrorism can be tackled through political reform.  Liberal thinkers, notably, Paul Berman, however, are convinced that this approach cannot succeed because al-Qaida ideology and radical Islam are driven by a fear and hatred of liberal Islam which they regard as the product of decadent western thought which separates the state from religion and promotes individual freedom. A similar strand of argument maintains that modernity, rather than democracy, is the best way to fight global terrorism. Since modernity involves more than improved material conditions and entails a transformation in beliefs and philosophies, extremist groups such as al-Qaeda, with their narrow and simplistic interpretation of religious doctrines, based on fear and retribution, would lose their way in the labyrinths of sophisticated reasoning.

A Pakistani scholar, Pervez Hoodbhoy, has posed a fundamental question: can Pakistan work?[9] This question is relevant to countries on the brink of failure. Such states are defined as unable to provide security, justice and basic necessities to their people. But does Pakistan fall into this category even if the most expansive definition of a failed state is taken into account?   Stephen Cohen has quoted Pakistanis who acknowledged Pakistan’s failure as a state several times in the past, notably, in 1971 when East Pakistan became Bangladesh. Cohen considered Pakistan as a case study of negatives. He maintains that the state seems incapable of establishing a normal political system. It supports radical Islam, and has mounted jihadi operations into India while its own economic and political systems were collapsing amid sharply escalating religious and ethnic violence.[10]

Hussain Haqqani, (previously of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace – The role of Islam in Pakistan’s future), currently Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington saw his country’s weakness as being embedded in disproportionate focus on ideology, military capability and external alliance since its emergence in 1947.[11] Pakistan’s progress has been faltering not only in its inability to build institutions supportive of democracy but also in other areas, compared to its nemesis, India. The country’s economy, the smallest among the nuclear powers, is beset by massive urban unemployment, rural underemployment, illiteracy and low per capita income. But perhaps its greatest weakness is its inability to acquire a clear national identity bereft of transnational Islamic ideology. Stephen Cohen finds the history and future of Pakistan rooted in this duality, a complex relationship between Pakistan the state and Pakistan the nation whose mission is to serve as a beacon for oppressed and backward Muslim communities elsewhere in the world.[12] It doubtful whether Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, described by Pervez Hoodbhoy as an impeccably dressed westernized Muslim with Victorian manners and secular outlook, had thought of Pakistan as a cradle for oppressed Muslims in global terms. This role of Muslim leadership, if any country can appropriate such a role at all, can perhaps be claimed by Saudi Arabia as the guardian of the holiest places of Islam.

John Foster Dulles, way back in 1946, stressed rededication to religious faith and the propagation of the western political system in order to protect and defend freedom through the containment of communism as of utmost importance. Accordingly several defense arrangements were created. Paradoxically, however, while western members of NATO (except Turkey) and ANZUS were expected to practice democracy, the non-western members of SEATO and CENTO were allowed to remain deviants. The reason was obvious. Regardless of membership of defense alliances, the Third World countries received western assistance for combating communism and this, it was believed, could be more effectively done by military-dominated autocracies than by democracies.

Consequently the West encouraged military rule, and in some cases kleptocracy, in many Third World countries as long as communism was denied political space in these underdeveloped societies. Pakistan was no exception. At a time when the intensity of the Cold War was on the wane, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan came as a God-sent blessing for General Ziaul-ul-Huq. He restructured Pakistan’s educational and legal systems on his perception of Islamic tenets and formalized Islamization as official policy. Zia thus made Pakistan an important ideological and organizational center of the global Islamist movement which included support to the mujahideen to reverse the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The mujahideen operated from bases in Pakistan and after the Soviet retreat, Islamabad sponsored the Taliban who dislodged the Moscow-backed post-occupation regimes. Little did the Americans realize at that time that they were instrumental in creating a Frankenstein who, several years later, would be responsible for the 9/11 carnage. The fallout of 9/11 for South Asia was that the Bush administration continued to help the Pakistani military which was the dominant force in the Musharraf regime. As a consequence, comparatively secular political parties such as Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League and Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party were marginalized till the autumn of 2007.

Some analysts believe that religions extremism is an irreversible process in Pakistan and that its anti-west and anti-American emphasis will remain. They argue that the agenda of Islamizaiton will continue to influence decision making in the Pakistan government and assert that, till recently, the two provinces bordering Afghanistan were governed by Islamist parties. Therefore rewarding countries such as Pakistan, despite the A.Q. Khans nuclear proliferation episode, with enhanced military support is likely to boomerang in the long run.

Opposed to General Musharrf’s policy of nursing various Islamist guerrilla groups back to health in order to continue to use them against India while pursuing the so-called war on terror, the PPP-led coalition government has banned the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) under the Anti-Terrorism Act for several suicide attacks, including the twin blasts outside the Pakistan Ordinance Factory at Wah killing at least 78 people. The emergence and consolidation of the Pakistani Taliban in FATA happened when the country’s forces were fighting the foreign Taliban and, in the process, ignored the transition of the indigenous elements from Taliban sympathizers to a force fully subscribing to the Taliban ideology.  Hasan Abbas, a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, wrote that during this process (of Pakistani forces fighting foreign terrorists) the Pakistani Taliban effectively established themselves as an alternative leadership to the traditional tribal elders. By the time the Pakistani government realized the changing dynamics and tried to resurrect the tribal jirga institution, it was too late. The Taliban had killed approximately 200 of the tribal elders under charges of being Pakistani or American spies. The disparate Taliban elements banded together in December last year under the banner of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).[13]

The TTP has announced a programme which includes: defensive jihad against the Pakistan army, enforcement of the Sharia, and fight against NATO forces in Afghanistan. Their ranks are now dominated by a younger generation of more violent radical leaders who are in a hurry and have no patience for compromise.  Stephen Cohen writes that the Taliban grew out of a generation of leaders who had received their education in Pakistan’s religious schools in the NWFP and Baluchistan. They sought to gain power in Afghanistan and then purify it of contaminating elements. Their success was due, in part, to support received from Pakistani intelligence and various militant groups, as well as political parties, especially the Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI).[14] Unfortunately for Islamabad, the Taliban began to see Pakistan itself as a ripe fruit to be plucked. The defeat of the Taliban at the hands of the western powers had a fallout on Pakistan in the form of sectarian violence, appearance of a drug culture, easy availability of guns and general social breakdown.

Neo-conservative Robert Kagan dismisses the possibility of a cataclysmic struggle between modernization and Islamic radicalism on international affairs because Islamic resistance to westernization is not a new phenomenon and is the same as the struggle between traditionalism and modernity.[15] Earlier in the year, the New York Times revealed that in July 2008 President Bush had authorized US troops in Afghanistan to carry out ground assaults in Pakistan. Under the new policy the US would only inform Islamabad but would not take permission for the incursions. The reason for the order was US disappointment over the failure of joint operations. A case in point was the Bajur operation which sought to capture Osama bin Laden and his Deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who were both reported to have been in the area. But two days before the mobilization of troops from the corps headquarters in Peshawar, the news of the impending attack was leaked to the two al-Qaeda leaders thus enabling them to escape. .

In late August, during the meeting between Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, and the Pakistani army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, it was admitted that the Bajur operations had failed. The US became even more convinced that the Pakistani military was not doing enough in the war on terror. Washington was also disappointed with Islamabad’s decision on a ceasefire during the Holy month of Ramadan because, the Americans believed, the Taliban had no such moral compunction. The influential Pakistani daily, The Nation, in its editorial of 12 September 2008, observed that seven US attacks in FATA had taken place in 12 days and unless this was stopped, Pakistan was likely to suffer the fate of Cambodia. The US and the militants needed to be confronted with a policy that had the support of all major political parties. Despite the assertions of the Pakistan ambassador in Washington, Hussain Haqqani, that the US respects Pakistan’s sovereignty and that media reports about American cross-border incursions were incorrect, the State Department spokesman did not contradict the New York Times report.

Another Pakistani editorial considered the war on terror the country’s own war, because the Taliban were waging a rebellion against the state and had killed, mutilated, and injured thousands of Pakistani men, women, and children.   Pakistan was later to regret that the coalition forces did not have their heart in the fight against the Taliban and were casualty-conscious.  According to the Christian Science Monitor of 15 September 2008, officials of the National Intelligence Council briefed the Bush administration’s national security team on the potentially dire consequences of US actions that could destabilize a government armed with nuclear weapons. The paper added that precedents of the Bush order authorizing attacks on the terrorist heavens  could be found in Bill Clinton’s authorization of retaliatory attacks  in 1993 on Iraqi intelligence facilities and on terrorist camps in Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998 as well as Ronald Reagan’s bombing of Libya. US patience was tested again by the alleged complicity of the ISI in the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul and the 13 July 2008 attack on a US outpost in eastern Afghanistan by the Taliban who, the Americans believe, had crossed over from Pakistan. But the situation could become dangerous if the US actions in Pakistan were to evolve into a repetition of Cambodia where the Americans initially covered up their attacks on Vietcong sanctuaries but by 1970 these were being openly carried out.

Pakistan’s emphasis on its sovereignty and territorial integrity has to be analysed in the context of changing concepts. State sovereignty is said to decline when a government is unable to enforce its writ on its territory.  Hamid Karzai’s threat to send troops across the border is perhaps based on the assumption of a country’s right of hot pursuit for self-defense. Despite Pakistan’s condemnation of Karzai’s comment as irresponsible and illegal under international law, some analysts compare it with the Turkish hot pursuit of Kurdish rebels into northern Iraq. But Jim Denslow of Kings College London, refuted the argument on the ground that at the time of the Turkish incursion, northern Iraq was not sovereign territory since 1991 due to the imposition of a no-fly zone and the establishment of the Kurdistan Regional Government as an autonomous entity.

Nich Grono of the International Crisis Group has doubts about the application of the doctrine of hot pursuit in Afghanistan because the concept originated from the law of the seas which authorized pursuing offender ships that crossed into the territorial waters of another country. But the behavior of the superpowers during the Cold War and of Colombia’s pursuit of FARC rebels into neighbouring Equador, Israeli incursions into Gaza strip, and Uganda’s request to the ICJ to grant it the right of hot pursuit against militants in Congo makes a mockery of the claim that hot pursuit can be justified on the grounds of invitation, peace time reprisals, protection of a country’s own citizens and humanitarian intervention.

Despite this bleak picture, it is undeniable, that the presidential election of 6 September 2008 in Pakistan has resulted in a degree of political stability. Though former President Musharraf had projected himself as indispensable for the war on terror and, therefore, to the interests of the US and the West, his departure sought by the people of Pakistan should have convinced the world that such a war cannot be effectively pursued without the support of the people. They had reposed their trust in their elected representatives as demonstrated in the National and the Provincial Assemblies elections held in February. In the civilianization of Pakistani politics, Asif Ali Zardari played a crucial role in concert with his late wife,  Benazir Bhutto,  along with the Pakistan Muslim League (N) of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the Awami National Party of Afsandyar Wali Khan. The process was backed to the hilt by the lawyers’ movement, civil society and the people. In this transformation of Pakistani politics the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a party composed of migrants from India, and the Jamjiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) of Maulana Fazlur Rahman also played a role though both parties had benefited during the rule of General Pervez Musharraf.

Asif Zaradri, whose election as president was certain, had spent 11 out of the past 22 years in prison fighting corruption allegations. He has shown remarkable political ingenuity in persuading the mainstream political parties to participate in the February elections and thereafter in effecting the ouster of General Musharraf. On the February elections, William Dalrymple wrote to widespread surprise, the elections in Pakistan were free and fair; and Pakistanis voted heavily in favor of liberal centrist parties opposed to both the mullahs and the army.[16] Here, in a country normally held up in the more Islamophobic right-wing press of western countries as the epitome of what went wrong in the Islamic world, a popular election resulted in an unequivocal vote for moderate, secular democracy.

The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, which had won about 12 percent of the votes and had 56 members in the 2002 parliament,  thanks to their closeness to the military government of the time, won only five parliamentary seats in the February 2008 elections. It was comprehensively defeated by the overtly secular Awami National Party (ANP) in the NWFP led by the grandson of the legendary ally of Mohatma Gandhi, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan. The ANP victory demonstrated that, contrary to their image as bearded bastions of Islamist orthodoxy, Pashtun tribesmen are as weary as anyone else of violence, extremism and instability. Asif Zardari, along with Nawaz Sharif and Asfandyar Wali Khan, have to be credited for the transformation of Pakistan, ruled by the military for most of the time since its birth in 1947 and described in the Western press as “on the way of becoming a failed state or the most dangerous country in the world… almost beyond repair,” to a democratic country.

The world has been irreversibly transformed by 9/11. The US lost its innocence regarding its invincibility and realized, to its horror, that even small states can cause as much damage to the most powerful nation on earth as can big states. The other lesson was that non-state actors can also cause immense harm as the terrorist attacks in Bali, Riyadh and Morocco, among others, have demonstrated. It is therefore essential that Pakistan-India differences be resolved peacefully, as the Europeans have done, by moving away from centuries of conflict-laden history. In this conflict-resolution endeavor, all South Asians have a stake. In the event of a nuclear conflagration none will escape unscathed. Peace and prosperity will benefit the entire region. Both India and Pakistan would be well advised to abandon their respective entrenched positions. They need to demonstrate flexibility and try to reach a realistic solution. Clinging to the tension-ridden past can only have negative consequences. In sum, South Asia has more urgent wars to fight, focused on the eradication of poverty, ignorance and disease. To emancipate more than a billion people from the stranglehold of poverty and under development, South Asian leaders have to shed their politicians’ robe and adorn the garb of statesmen. The heritage of love or hate they leave for the future generation will affect the fate of teeming millions in the years to come.

[1] Kazi Anwarul Masud is a former Secretary and Ambassador of Bangladesh.

[1] Markey, Daniel (of the Council of Foreign Relations, Foreign Affairs, July-August, 2007.

[2] Siddiqa, Ayeshah; Military INC. Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy, Oxford University Press, Karachi,2007.

[3] Moreau, Ron and Hirsch, Michael; Newsweek, October 29, 2008.

[4] Kaplan, Robert; “Was democracy just for the moment,” December 1997.

[5] Haader, Leon; “Pakistan in America’s war on terrorism,” 8 May 2002.

[6] International Crisis Group Report no. 49.

[7] Tellis, Ashley; “South Asian Seesaw – a new US policy on the subcontinent.

[8] Gause, Gregory; “Can democracy stop terrorism?”; Foreign Affairs, September/October 2005.

[9] Hoodbhoy, Pervez; Foreign Affairs, November/December 2004.

[10] Cohen, Stephen; The Idea of Pakistan.

[11] Haqqani, Hussain; The Nation and State of Pakistan.

[12] Cohen, Stephen; The Idea of Pakistan.

[13] Abbas, Hasan; A Profile of Tehreek-e-Taliban, January 2008.

[14] Cohen, Stephen; The Idea of Pakistan.

[15] Kagan, Robert; The return of history and end of dreams.

[16] Dalrymple, Willian; The New York Review of Books, 3 April 2008.