Home > Asia, Politics > >Does the International Crisis Group understand Pakistan at all?

>Does the International Crisis Group understand Pakistan at all?

>I’ve commented before on the International Crisis Group’s inept policy positions on matters of global importance. For those not familiar with it, the ICG is a left-leaning, Brussels-based think tank headed up by Australia’s most over-rated foreign ministers of all time, Gareth Evans.

ICG analysts seem to have missed the change that has occurred in the world since 9/11, the associated rise of Islamic militancy and the lessons of history.

There are probably few better examples of US State Department incompetence than what they have tried to achieve in Pakistan. Like the ICG, the State Department is a 9/10 organisation that operates almost as an independent authority, particularly so if there’s a Republican in the White House.

Pakistan now is not the Pakistan of five years ago. It is under serious threat from Al Qaeda and Taliban-like forces that have taken over the northern part of the country in a deal done with Musharraf and turned it into an Afghanistan style state when the Taliban ruled that country.

It is surely true that Musharraf has played both sides of the game in his post-9/11 ‘support’ of the United States’ War On Terror and that the results have been less than effective. This, however, is now reason to throw him overboard.

The lesson of history that should be remembered by the ICG, US State and those wishing to see and end to Musharraf (or even military rule in Pakistan) is that of Iran, as the parallels are clear for all who wish to see them.

Through the mid-70s, the position of the Shah of Iran became less tenable in the eyes of its major ally, the United States, mainly due to the increasingly brutal activities of Iran’s security services in dealing with its opponents. We conveniently overlooked the fact that those opponents were not your brave, morally well attuned group like Solidarity in Poland but were mainly agents of the Islamic radicals who went on to gain power. The worst ever President, Jimmy Carter, chose to cast the Shah adrift, which led to the Iranian Revolution, the rise of Iran’s state-funded terror groups around the world (Hezbollah, Hamas and others) and the weakening of the economy not to mention a war with Iraq in which over a million soldiers perished.

Supporters of a plan to oust Musharraf point to the fact that the majority of the people support a secular democracy in Pakistan. They seem to forget that this is the same situation as in Iran before the revolution and that the Iranians were even more pro-Western and pro-democracy than the population of Pakistan is now.

The power vacuum and political mayhem that followed the Shah’s fall paved the way for the Ayatollah Khomeini who presented himself and his followers as moderates seeking to restore the state to the people. As Time wrote in its 100 most influential people of the 20th century comment, “…it is enough to say that Khomeini presided brilliantly over the overthrow of a wounded regime. He was merciless and cunning. His well-advertised piety complemented a prodigious skill in grasping and shaping Iran’s complex politics. Most important, he knew how to exploit the feelings of nationalist resentment that characterized his time.”

Resentment is a word that well describes the average Pakistani’s feeling about the political mess that afflicts the country and, given the poor quality and corrupt leadership of Pakistan’s established political parties it’s not at all clear that a move to democracy, as recommended by the ICG, is achievable in the current environment.

It’s very possible that the fall of Musharraf could see the rise of a radical Islamist party in Pakistan. With its nuclear arsenal in the hands of these people the much sought after stability in the region will be shattered.

The overview to the ICG’s analysis on Pakistan is as follows:

Gravely damaged by eight years of military rule, Pakistan’s fragile political system received a major blow on 27 December 2007, when former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. Her murder, days before the parliamentary elections scheduled for 8 January 2008 and now postponed to 18 February, put an end to a U.S. effort to broker a power-sharing deal with President Pervez Musharraf which the centre-left Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader had already recognised was unrealistic. Her popularity and the belief Musharraf and his allies were responsible, directly or indirectly, have led to violent countrywide protests.

The fact that the ICG sees Bhutto has popular shows how much they’ve missed the changes on the ground in Pakistan. Opposition to her was palpable and it was clear that her opponents would not stop trying to kill her until they succeeded. The crowd numbers she pulled to her rallies were not that great for someone who was supposedly returning to popular adulation, as the Western media seemed to report it.

Stability in Pakistan and its contribution to wider anti-terror efforts now require rapid transition to legitimate civilian government. This must involve the departure of Musharraf, whose continued efforts to retain power at all costs are incompatible with national reconciliation; an interim consensus caretaker government and a neutral Election Commission; and brief postponement of the elections to allow conditions to be created – including the restoration of judicial independence – in which they can be conducted freely and fairly.

A legitimate civilian government is certainly the ideal for Pakistan. The ICG makes no comment on the possibility of a ‘legitimate’ government such as happened in Gaza with the election of Hamas. They need to make an assessment of this possibility given how high the states are.

Bhutto’s death has drawn the battle lines even more clearly between Musharraf’s military-backed regime and Pakistan’s moderate majority, which is now unlikely to settle for anything less than genuine parliamentary democracy. Many in Pakistan fear that the federation’s very survival could depend on the outcome of this struggle.

Belying his reiterated slogan of “Pakistan first”, Musharraf is placing regime survival and his personal political fortune first, just as he did in November. That month he imposed martial law, suspended the constitution, imprisoned thousands of lawyers and politicians and sacked the judiciary with the sole objective of preventing the Supreme Court from challenging the legitimacy of his re-election as president by a lame-duck and stacked Electoral College.

Musharraf gave up his position of Army Chief on 28 November under U.S. pressure, but the legitimacy of his presidential election remains contested. He withdrew martial law formally on 15 December, ending the emergency and reviving the constitution. At the same time, however, he not only did not restore the dismissed judges or void the repressive decrees he had issued but also unilaterally and without any legal basis proclaimed amendments to the constitution purporting to deny the courts and the parliament their constitutional prerogatives to challenge his changes.

Bhutto’s PPP and the centre-right Muslim League (Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, PML-N) of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had reluctantly agreed to participate in the 8 January elections, motivated primarily by the desire to expose Musharraf’s intention to rig the vote. Stacked courts, partial caretaker governments, a subservient Election Commission, the gagging of the media, curbs on political party mobilisation and association and the actions of the security agencies all undermined the essential conditions for free and fair elections.

Anyone who has followed Pakistani politics for any length of time would understand what a disaster it would be for Nawz Sharif to regain power…

The regime’s international backers, particularly the U.S., continue to give signs of wanting to retain Musharraf in the presidency in the belief that he and the military (his sole support base) are the only guarantors of stability in a crucial country. But after Bhutto’s murder, and with the extent of popular anger now evident, elections that are not seen as free and fair would have disastrous consequences. The person of Musharraf has become so unpopular that his continuation in a position of power guarantees increasing domestic turmoil. By continuing to back him, Western governments might not just lose the battle for Pakistani hearts and minds, but could also be faced with the nightmare prospect of a nuclear-armed, Muslim-majority country of 165 million descending into violent internal conflict from which only extremist forces would stand to gain.

Assassination is par for the course in Pakistan of which Bhutto’s own family in non-living proof. The country gets over these things quickly and sorts itself out. The ICG’s assessment of ‘popular anger’ wildly overstates the reality and is not a reason for uncontrolled change.

Bhutto’s party will survive her demise, and will, should her successors act wisely, remain a force for moderation and stability in Pakistan. Sharif’s party has vowed to work with the PPP to restore democracy, peace and stability in the country. The U.S. and its Western allies must recognise that Musharraf is not only not indispensable, but he is now a serious liability. Instead of backing a deeply unpopular authoritarian ruler who is seen as complicit in the death of Pakistan’s most popular politician, they must instead support democratic institutions and the people of Pakistan. It is time that the West acknowledges that only a legitimate elected government, led by one of the moderate parties, would have the authority and the popular backing to return Pakistan to its moderate democratic moorings.

Someone should remember that Bhutto’s party is hardly democratic with her 19 year old son now being appointed to head it up, with a co-head until he comes of age, which was a part of Bhutto’s will. The way Bhutto ran Pakistan when she was Prime Minister is not dissimilar to the way Putin now runs Russia – as a personal cookie jar for her and her cronies.

In summary, the policy outcomes that need to happen over the next two months, and which should be strongly and consistently supported by the international community, and particularly those like the U.S. most capable of influencing them, are:

– Musharraf’s resignation, with Senate Chairman Mohammadmian Soomro taking over under the constitution as acting president and appointing neutral caretaker governments at the national and provincial levels with the consensus of the major political parties in all four federal units;
– postponement of the polls, accompanied with the announcement of an early new election date. The Election Commission announced on 2 January a postponement until 18 February. This is reasonable in and of itself but it said nothing about the other crucial changes discussed in this Briefing and which are needed if this step is to contribute to restoration of democracy in Pakistan;
– full restoration of the constitution, including an independent judiciary and constitutionally guaranteed fundamental freedoms of speech, assembly and association and safeguards against illegal arrest and detention;
– reconstitution of the Election Commission of Pakistan, with the consensus of all major political parties; and
– the transfer of power and legitimate authority to elected civilian hands.

Everyone hopes for a good outcome in Pakistan. The ICG’s proposal creates more problems than it solves. Perhaps they’re looking to generate more crises and more work for themselves?

Categories: Asia, Politics
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