Pakistan: Dream Deferred or Denied?
‘American trade policy discriminates against Pakistan’ – Robert Hathaway
‘Subdivide Pakistan into 16 provinces’ – Shuja Nawaz
By Rana Fawad
Posted February 26, 2009
This view, expressed by Prof. Stephen Cohen, was shared by all speakers at an event held in honor of the late Pakistani-American journalist, author and translator Khalid Hasan (1934-2009), who died of cancer on February 5.
Organized by nine Washington-based nonprofits, the event (Pakistan: Dream Deferred or Denied?) was held on Wednesday (February 25, 2009) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Prominent among the cosponsors included the Brookings Institution, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Heritage Foundation, Middle East Institute, United States Institute of Peace, and Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Ambassador Teresita C. Schaffer, Director South Asia Program CSIS, and Stephen Cohen welcomed the guests.
The speakers included Stephen Cohen, Senior Fellow (Foreign Policy Studies, the Brookings Institution), J. Alexander Their (Senior Rule of Law Adviser, United States Institute of Peace), Shuja Nawaz (South Asia, Atlantic Council), Robert Hathaway (Director, Asia Program, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars), and Marvin Weinbaum (Scholar-in-Residence, Middle East Institute).
The proceedings were divided into two panel discussions. First session was moderated by Lisa Curtis.
Prof. Stephen told the audience that Khalid Hasan would write what was right in his view and added that when an Iraqi journalist threw shoes on President George Bush, Khalid took a position which was highly unpopular in Pakistan.
The professor referred to Khalid Hasan’s column in which he criticized the Iraqi journalist for breaching the trust that gives journalists proximity to presidents and other high officials so that they could carry out their journalistic duties. “Journalists should use their pens and cameras not their shoes to express themselves,” the professor quoted from Khalid Hasan’s column.
Elaborating on Pakistan’s situation, Prof. Stephen commented that the United States ignored Pakistan’s domestic problems as well as nuclear program in the past. He regretted that the Bush administration missed an opportunity to help set things right in Pakistan after 2002. He said unfortunately the American policy was focused on one person, General Pervez Musharraf, who was not up to the task than Ayub Khan (Pakistan’s former military ruler in the 1960s).
Referring to the last sentence (is it too late for Pakistan) of his book The Idea of Pakistan, Prof. Stephen remarked, “I can’t give you an answer for that.” He explained that the book dealt with several scenarios of Pakistan’s future.
He expounded that although parts of Pakistan seem to be turning into radical Islamic sub-states, he doesn’t think it’s going to become an Islamic state. In his view chances of a functioning democracy are also slim, though parts of the country operate under democratic norms and values.
As for the possibility of military dictatorship, Prof. Stephen said it was possible again and it could be an incompetent but benign government like General Musharraf’s rule. He added that it could also continue as an elite dominated coalition of military and political forces.
The senior analyst commented that the possibility of Pakistan continuing in the future as a stable, benevolent elite dominated country is probably less than what I thought it would have been five or eight years ago.
Enumerating Pakistan’s problems, Prof. Stephen remarked that “Economy under Musharraf did not prosper” and added that “Pakistan is ill-equipped to deal with the modern globalization.”
In his opinion Pakistan’s army is facing three challenges at present: India, tribal areas, and domestic radicalism.
However, he termed Pakistan’s non-government organizations and moderate youth as a positive sign for the future of the country. Similarly, he believes that Pakistan’s neighbors including India do want to see Pakistan a stable country. He pointed out that it is the time for American diplomacy to align other nations like China, India, and Saudi Arabia to promote stability in Pakistan.
The professor concluded that in the end, it is up to Pakistanis to decide what kind of Pakistan they want?
Paying tribute to the late journalist, J. Alexander Thier, Senior Rule of Law Adviser, United States Institute of Peace, said journalists like Khalid Hasan were the only conduits of information on emerging problems in Afghanistan in when the western media was not covering this region.
He told the audience that Khalid Hasan employed humor in his columns to express his view on various issues and read out an excerpt from his column he had written against a proposed Sharia bill in the previous provincial assembly of the North-West Frontier Province. Khalid Hasan wrote, “The adopted bill in the NWFP assembly for the second time is a slap in the face of the vast majority of the people of Pakistan who abhor the mullah’s Islam which is a travesty of Islam’s inner spirit of rationalism, decency and tolerance.”
Alexander commented that the excerpt was striking to him over and over because this perspective was shared by so many Pakistanis that he had come to know.
Referring to the current situation in Pakistan, he remarked, “I think we all are deeply troubled by the combination of political fragmentation and radicalization that is occurring there.”
“The story of political fragmentation is an old one,” he said and added that unfortunately in some ways it has contributed over and over to the swing of pendulum between democracy and totalitarianism.
Explaining the radicalization, particularly in the frontier region, he was of the view that basically there was no outlet for politics. He said that the absence of possibilities of actively participating in economic development of Pakistan could create an enormous potential for people to support political movements which take advantage of their frustration.
Alexander pointed out that loose nukes or the threat of loose nukes, jihadists, and economic meltdown have made Pakistan a high priority on the US security agenda. He told the audience that the Obama administration was extremely concerned about Pakistan.
He suggested that to address the fears about Pakistan the policy should be geared towards how to engage Pakistani society. Referring to his own visits to different Pakistani areas and meetings with Pakistanis, Alexander remarked that at human level I think Pakistani society is fundamentally a tolerant society.
He termed the explosion of free media in Pakistan a positive development and said that it helped engage the society in an informed debate.
Remembering Khalid Hasan, Lisa Curtis (Heritage Foundation) said most of us were deeply shocked at the news of his passing.
She remarked that Khalid was a professional journalist and always asked questions that would put you on the spot. “He never threw soft balls,” she recalled. Plucking from her memories about Khalid Hasan, she told the audience that he attended almost every Pakistan related event. As for his opinion, she said many a time he would not accept our viewpoint on certain issues but knew how to agree to disagree.
Commenting on the current situation in Pakistan, Lisa commented that the country was facing a incredible challenges including economic problems that threaten to bankrupt Pakistan and an increased threat from the Taliban in its North-West Frontier Province. “And ongoing political instability fuelled by the reality that the military retains primary control of the country’s national security decision making and on those issues that are prime importance to the US namely the policy toward Afghanistan and India,” she added.
Lisa also mentioned that the Obama administration’s was reviewing it strategies in Afghanistan and Pakistan displaying a welcome recognition that terrorist threats in these two countries cannot be viewed in isolation. “And there has been a particular focus on the Swat agreement,” Lisa informed the gathering.
She was skeptical about the recent Swat deal between the local Taliban and the Awami Nation Party’s provincial government. “We are all want peace and reconciliation in Pakistan but neither do we want to see Talibanization of Pakistan and there are valid reasons to believe that this deal can contribute to strengthening the hands of Taliban in Pakistan,” she opined.
Lisa Curtis said she was very skeptical about the pact because of her past experience and observation about the Taliban. She said when the Taliban took over most of Afghanistan they became radical and used repression of women as a tool in consolidating their power and the same thing is happening in Swat.
She mentioned that during her visit to Pakistan last December she met with many people and discovered that people in Swat were scared and felt helpless that the federal government did not have any strategy to deal with the situation.
Responding to a question about the Obama administration’s policy as compared to the Bush’s policy toward Pakistan, Professor Cohen commented that the Bush administration focused on the Islamic extremism and used a military instrument (predators) which in some cases was appropriate with minimal collateral damage. He added that it may have Pakistani sensibilities but they are effectively killing the right people and not killing the wrong people most of the time.
He pointed out that the Bush administration paid a little or no attention to the future of Pakistan itself which was seen as a problem it could deal with down the road and added that obviously the perspective of a government is what’s going to happen tomorrow. He explained that both administrations are driven by the threat of a terrorist attack from Pakistan and Afghanistan area.
As for the Obama administration, he told the audience that it concerned on the issue and the Biden-Lugar Bill, which is now Kerry-Lugar Bill, really addresses the questions of Pakistan’s integrity, stability, and development, though it won’t take effect in a short time.
Replying to a question about the drone attacks inside Pakistan’s border, Professor Cohen stated that he talked to several officials in the NWFP province in the course of last six months and they believed the predator attacks were quite effective in killing the bad people without much collateral damage. He said they didn’t like it but they didn’t seem to be upset either.
To a question about the collaboration of the Taliban factions under Baitullah Mehsud J. Alexander Thier responded that there was a worrying sign that operationally the Taliban had become more sophisticated in their attacks across the Afghan-Pakistan border. He said many people show a great concern about the talk of a pushtun insurgency in the sense that the individual groups that have grievances may coalesce into something broad.
Referring to someone else’s views Alexander commented that the alliance of the Taliban could also present opportunities either in the shape of making their leadership an easy target or engaging them in negotiations.
However, Professor believed that like the communists in the past it would be hard for the Taliban groups to work together due to differences of ideology and tribal ethnicity. He said even if they succeeded in forming a coalition and for instance took Peshawar (capital city of the NWFP) for a day –that’s where I think we are heading to not in the distant future – ultimately it would be a Punjab effect and the Punjabis would have to deal with it.
Responding to a question about the stability of Pakistan, Professor Stephen Cohen mentioned that there was a poll in India Today in which almost 80 to 90 percent Indians expressed their will to invade Pakistan militarily. “But of course when you remember that Pakistan is a nuclear state you quickly look on to other solutions,” he added.
The professor stated that it was the purpose of the Mumbai attackers to create anger among Indians and derail the process of normalization between India and Pakistan. He suggested that India should address the issue of what kind of Pakistan it wants to live with down the road. He commented that India has to decide whether it wants to play cricket with Pakistan, wants to destroy Pakistan, or wants a nuclear war with Pakistan.
He recommended that India should take the lead in shaping the future with Pakistan because of all the countries including the US, India is the most influential nation.
To a question about the Supreme Court’s decision to disqualify the Sharif brothers from elected office and President Zardari’s decision to impose governor’s rule in the Punjab province, Ambassador Teresita C. Schaffer termed it a crisis of the state.
She told the audience that during her recent visit to Pakistan she came across this general view that the federal government was composed of people who were good at manipulating politics and were little interested in day to day boring things of making and implementing policies.
She added that it also answered the question which was being asked in the past 24 hours that President Zardari is going to destabilize the Punjab government. “Technically it seems to be an act of the courts. There seems to be a very widespread view that the courts were at least egged on by the government. And I think this is a very troublesome decision. It poses a serious threat certainly to the democratic credentials of the present government but more generally to the efforts to give democracy deeper roots,” she said.
She said from the civilian-military relationship perspective, the military does not want to rule Pakistan, at least for now but at the same time it wants to have upper hand in security policy, sometimes contrary to the government’s approach.
The ambassador mentioned that the third consequence of the developments would be economic destabilization whereas the fourth manifestation of the crisis would be problems for the domestic insurgency Pakistan is facing at present.