Pakistan was a nation that was founded based on the radical notion that religion could create a new nation that had never previously existed. Pakistan was the flowering of the dream of a truly pan-Islamic identity. The creation of the country based on religion, as opposed to nationalism, was a truly monumental moment for Muslims internationally. A hope or dream of a country where Islam was the unifying theme, not race, language, or tribe. Alas, this dream has failed.
Pakistan has failed for a myriad of reasons. The country is hindered by extreme poverty, underdevelopment, and misallocation of resources. Add this to the already dominant problems of illiteracy, overpopulation, environmental degradation, internal insurgencies, external threats, terrible political leadership, a shattered economy, a growing domestic Taliban movement and a move towards a more puritanical interpretation of Islam in the public sphere, a selfish middle-class, a still feudal-esque class system and you have a country that is on the brink of disaster.
If one looks objectively at the Musharraf years versus Pakistan’s current situation, there is no doubt that times were better under Musharraf. That’s not to say I endorsed him or his many ridiculous actions—because I did not—but Pakistan was substantively better with him at the reigns than under Zardari. I mean it was under him that the Baluchistan separatist movement grew traction and was brutally suppressed, he took a heavy handed approach to domestic dissidents as was apparent with his sacking of the judiciary, there is the lingering issue of disappeared people from his cooperation with the US in the War on Terror, and a much longer list of failures. But the positives—like consistent economic growth of around 5%, minimal inflation, reducing economic debt, the construction of new highways and other infrastructure, preventing the US from too rapidly expanding the War on Terror into Pakistan—are all things that made Musharraf’s rule tolerable.
Pakistan has always faced cyclical waves of dictatorship followed by democracy. Civilian rule—outside of the first generation of leaders—has always been bad, if not severely unsettling in terms of the country’s best interests. The domestic Pakistani political system is corrupt to the core. The PPP is a feudal party where leadership is dynastic, not democratic. The PML-N ruled over the downward spiral of Pakistan in the late 1990s and Nawaz Sharif continues to unfortunately lead the party. Jamait-e-Islami is a reactionary political force. Imran Khan’s Justice Party has no real following and is still a bourgeois attempt to change the system from within. There is no decent political party that Pakistani’s can vote for; consequently, Pakistan will continue to be led off a cliff by terrible leadership.
On top of all of these problems, Pakistan is increasingly becoming the next theater in the never-ending War on Terror. Many people had hoped that President Obama would try to solve global problems through principled diplomacy; however, as his actions have proven thus far, he is committed to the use of force as a means of achieving peace. President Obama has tried to solve the issue of Pakistan through the use of force. President Bush tried to solve this issue through the ballot box. Bush failed; Obama will fail. President Obama’s actions build upon the failure of the Bush Administration policies and all of these factors taken together paint a bleak picture for Pakistan’s future.
President Bush failed in his approach to dealing with Pakistan. He provided over $10 billion dollars of mostly military aid to Pakistan before having to deal with the ugly aftermath of political trouble that gripped Pakistan in 2008. The crisis in Pakistan during the end of last year exposed both the naivety and fallacy of Bush’s black and white worldview. Bush’s attempts to promote democracy abroad consistently failed and Pakistan was just another in a long-list of foreign policy blunders.
The central problem with Bush’s worldview was that he viewed the world in absolutes. Bush had been a stalwart proponent of exporting democracy; however, his focus had been on promoting procedural democracy where having a round of elections proves that a nation has become ‘democratic’. By promoting procedural over institutional democracy, Bush failed Pakistan and other countries in his grand plan to democratize the world.
In Pakistan, President Bush had pushed hard on former President Pervez Musharraf’s regime to hold free and fair elections. Musharraf, a military general turned statesman, had been forced to accept this Faustian deal last year after facing intense internal dissent over the sacking of judges (some have now been reinstated, including recently the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Iftikhar Chaudhry), heavy handed tactics in the tribal areas, disappearing people, attempts at privatization of state industries such as the Pakistan Steel Mills, and declaring a state of emergency. Bush’s default antidote for these ills was democracy.
The theory was that the Bush Administration would help engineer a new democratic government in Pakistan vis-à-vis a power-sharing agreement between the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and President Musharraf. After Bhutto was assassinated, her Pakistan Peoples Party was elected to rule the country along with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League. These two main parties and Musharraf reached a political impasse after several months of political haggling. Eventually Musharraf was run out of town and replaced by the kleptocrat Asif Ali Zardari, the infamously corrupt widower of Bhutto who is derisively known by the moniker Mr. 10%, to try and save Pakistan. However, comparatively speaking, looking at Musharraf’s reign and Zardari’s current position makes it seem that Bush bet (yet again) on the wrong horse.
Since Zardari has taken power, Pakistan has floundered and gone into a great deal of debt. Just to remain solvent, Pakistan has had to request billions of dollars of conditional loans from the IMF and World Bank. The Rupee is facing a strong inflationary trend, the economy is severely contracting, and Pakistan faces the risk of economic collapse. Add to this toxic mix a growing indigenous Taliban movement and constant clashes with Tribesmen in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and you have a recipe for disaster.
Bush’s failure was that he didn’t understand how to deal with Pakistan. He tried to offer largesse to the Pakistani military for as long as it was politically possible and then he switched over to his tried and true method of supporting elections. Of course this is the same Bush who supported democratic elections in countries only to renege on supporting the results of those elections (The most obvious examples that come to mind are in Palestine and in Lebanon—Hamas was ostracized in the international community and Hezbollah was ignored.). The great irony in Bush’s actions is that his support for elections undermined his goals for Pakistan, just as it did in Palestine and Lebanon. His promotion of procedural democracy backfired and his solution for Pakistan failed.
Obama and the Way Forward
With Obama’s decision to expand unmanned aerial bombardment deeper into Pakistani territory, things can only get worse. By bombing Pakistan, Obama is making a huge mistake. Not only are his actions illegal according to international law they add to the violence in the region. By dropping bombs that kill mostly civilians, Obama is creating even greater animosity towards the US. If Obama—the supposed White Knight who is supposed to rescue America from being loathed internationally—continues and expands Bush era policies, America will permanently lose face in the eyes of millions of people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Obama had the choice to withdraw peaceably from Iraq, gradually withdraw from Afghanistan, and deal with the Pakistan issue through the use of the carrot (i.e. giving development funds for education, for example, is a much more effective use of money than any bomb will ever be); however, he chose to continue the occupation in Iraq until at least the end of 2011, surge the war in Afghanistan, and escalate the War on Terror into Pakistan. Obama has chosen the path of perdition that will not only damn the countries that are on the receiving end of this occupation, but also consign America to lost prestige, power, resource, and efficacy in international affairs. These actions will not address Pakistan’s underlying problems and will fail just as Bush’s attempts at democracy promotion did.
The way forward out of yet another quagmire and possibly a fully failed state is through principled diplomacy and generous developmental funding. Pakistan desperately needs money for basic infrastructure like roads, schools, and hospitals. Pakistan does not need a further militarization of its society and that would be exactly what will happen if Obama continues to attack Pakistan. Pakistan needs stability to attract foreign investment and needs to deal with the crippling illiteracy and poverty that plague the nation. Pakistan received some level of respect in international relations when Musharraf was in power; he helped to improve Pakistan’s economy, built up $15billion dollars worth of cash reserves to insulate the economy (most of these funds have been wasted since he left office), he cooperated in the War on Terror, and did improve Pakistan’s standing in the world. Musharraf is now long gone and Obama has to deal with the kleptocrats that currently rule Pakistan. He needs to offer the carrot to a starving nation that is on the brink of collapse. If there is no radical change soon, Pakistan will fall further into the abyss and the dream of become the leading Islamic country in the world will never be achieved. But if Pakistan fails, the West will deserve some of the blame. Beware a country that has nothing left to lose and Obama must change his approach to Pakistan immediately or else…