Dalrymple has given us some helpful and insightful reports on Pakistan. This is
another helpful formulation of the situation. The real world seems ever to
resist simplicity. RLC
Subject: Where liberals love a dictator
Date: May 17, 2005
> Where liberals love a dictator
> Pakistan's experience of democracy as a kind of elective feudalism is
> a reminder that the ballot box by itself is no panacea
> William Dalrymple
> Tuesday May 17, 2005
> The Guardian
> If it has achieved little else, George Bush's "war on terror" has at
> least succeeded in mating some unlikely bedfellows. Who, a few years
> ago, could imagine the strange coupling of the Labour party and the
> neocons? Or the love-in between the House of Bush and the House of Saud?
> An equally bizarre alliance is now to be found in Pakistan. The
> liberal elite, somewhat to its astonishment, has suddenly found a new
> affection for the military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf. Travel
> through the country today, talk to the journalists and opinion-makers,
> and you will find surprisingly little enthusiasm for the resumption of
> full democracy, which - under US pressure - looks likely to take place
> in 2007.
> Article continues
> It is not that Pakistan's liberals approve of military dictatorships.
> These were the people who took to the streets to resist General Zia
> ul-Haq. But the democratic politics of Pakistan throughout the 1990s
> proved so violent, so corrupt and so socially and economically
> disastrous that Musharraf's rule is now widely regarded as the least
> awful option. Pakistan provides a depressing, but highly significant,
> example of just how flawed a democracy can be in a developing country
> - and a useful reality check at a time when Bush and Tony Blair seem
> to have persuaded themselves that democracy is a magic wand that can
> provide an instant solution to all the ills of the Islamic world.
> Certainly, few middle-class Pakistanis have much relish for the return
> of Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif, the leaders who took Pakistan to
> the brink of collapse in the 90s. There are good reasons for this. Ten
> years ago, at the height of Bhutto's rule, the corruption monitoring
> organisation Transparency International named Pakistan as the second
> most corrupt country in the world. At the same time, Amnesty
> International accused the government of massive human rights abuse,
> with one of the world's worst records of custodial deaths,
> extrajudicial killings and torture. Moreover, Bhutto and her husband
> were charged with plundering the country to buy European estates and
> It was difficult to imagine Bhutto's successor, Nawaz Sharif, making a
> bigger hash of things, but he quickly succeeded, harassing his
> political opponents, dismissing judges and threatening journalists.
> The Friday Times editor, Najam Sethi, was abducted from his home on
> Sharif's orders; the police denied all knowledge of his arrest until a
> series of demonstrations eventually forced them to release him. Such
> was the harassment suffered by the leading newspaper, Jang, that it
> was able to produce editions only one page long. Sharif and his
> brother bussed in hundreds of thugs to ransack the supreme court. Soon
> afterwards the chief justice was forced to resign under a barrage of
> Sharif also moved Pakistan closer to Islamist policies, entrenching
> sharia in the legal system. Meanwhile, Pakistan's ISI intelligence
> agency presided over the growth of jihadi groups, believing them to be
> the most cost-effective way of tying down the Indian army in Kashmir
> and exerting Pakistani influence in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the
> economy teetered towards collapse.
> Behind this succession of crises lay the bigger problem of a
> fundamentally flawed political system where land-owning remains the
> only social base from which politicians can emerge. The educated
> middle class - which in India seized control in 1947 - is in Pakistan
> still largely excluded from the political process. As a result, in
> many of the more backward parts of Pakistan the local feudal zamindar
> can expect his people to vote for his chosen candidate. Politicians
> tend to come to power more through deals done within Pakistan's small
> feudal-army elite than through the will of the people.
> In contrast, Musharraf's record in bringing the country back from the
> brink has been impressive. Under the urbane eye of Shaukat Aziz,
> formerly the vice-president of Citibank and now Musharraf's prime
> minister, Pakistan is enjoying a construction and consumer boom, with
> growth approaching 7% - although some of this has been generated by
> the mass repatriation of Pakistani drug fortunes after the tightening
> of money-laundering regulations in the US and the Gulf. Sectarian
> violence is down, the jihadis have been restrained and the ISI, which
> encouraged them, has been partially reformed. Press criticism has been
> tolerated and the airwaves freed up.
> It has certainly not been an unblemished record. Musharraf has made
> many unwise compromises with the Muslim ulema, and in two provinces
> has entered into an alliance with the hardline Islamist MMM. Musharraf
> has failed even to attempt sorting out the country's disastrously
> inadequate education and health system; instead the army is spending
> money on a fleet of American F-16s. The Pakistani human rights record
> remains abysmal. But few can really dispute that Musharraf's rule has
> brought Pakistan better economic governance and a greater degree of
> stability and press freedom than it has enjoyed for many years.
> The wider lesson to be drawn from this is that while US support for
> democracy is preferable to its previous policy of bolstering client
> autocracies, electoral democracy is not on its own an automatic
> panacea. As Pakistan shows, rigged, corrupt, unrepresentative and
> flawed democracies without the strong independent institutions of a
> civil society - a free press, an independent judiciary, an empowered
> election commission - can foster governments that are every bit as
> tyrannical as any dictatorship. Justice and democracy are not
> necessarily synonymous.
> In Pakistan, democracy has meant a kind of elective feudalism. In
> Lebanon, the eccentric electoral system, rigged in the Maronites'
> favour, has made it impossible for the majority Shia community to
> achieve power. In Iraq, the electoral system fails to reflect the
> popular mandate, and the means by which it was imposed - down the
> barrel of an American gun - has led many of the Sunni community to
> disfranchise themselves.
> It is a similar situation in Afghanistan, where the elected government
> of President Hamid Karzai has as bad a record of torture and custodial
> deaths as any of its predecessors (although much of the worst torture
> is taking place in US bases, outside Afghan sovereignty). As Dr Sima
> Samar, the leading human rights activist in Afghanistan, put it in the
> New York Review of Books, "democracy and freedom are simply
> meaningless without justice and the rule of law".
> · William Dalrymple is the author of White Mughals: Love and Betrayal
> in 18th-Century India
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