[Reader-list] "The way the world sees us" (Arif Nizami on Pakistan)

Kshmendra Kaul kshmendra2005 at yahoo.com
Sat Jun 26 14:57:46 IST 2010

"The way the world sees us" 
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Arif Nizami
During the course of the week, three surveys have been released in the media that do not show Pakistan in a good light. The so-called Failed States Index 2010, ranks Pakistan as the tenth state amongst the ten states that top this year's Failed State Index. The survey is being published for the past six years by the US Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace.

The Washington-based Pew Research Center's survey of 22 countries has been conducted basically to judge President Obama's popularity, or lack of it, amongst the participating countries. Only eight per cent of Pakistanis approve of the US president's foreign policy, in sharp contrast to India where 73 per cent approve it. Understandably, 56 per cent of Pakistanis oppose US anti-terror efforts and 65 per cent are opposed to the presence of US troops in Afghanistan. 

Amongst the countries surveyed, people in only four--China, India, Brazil and Poland--say economic conditions are good. All these four countries weathered the global recession well. Only 14 per cent of Pakistanis are satisfied with national conditions and a mere 18 per cent think the economy is in good shape. Although no fewer than 69 per cent in Pakistan worry that extremists could take control of the country, support for suicide bombings has slightly gone up in the past year. It had declined from 33 percent in 2002 to five per cent in 2009, but has risen to 8 per cent in 2010.

It is no revelation that according to this survey President Zardari's popularity has plummeted by half and the obvious beneficiary is opposition leader Mian Nawaz Sharif. 

Of the three surveys, the most surprising results on Pakistan are contained in the Freedom House survey for 2009. It places Pakistan in the company of Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen where, "violent Islamic extremism" continues to plague the countries.

We might pride ourselves on our incipient democratic institutions, a free and vibrant press and an independent judiciary, but according to the model devised by Freedom House, barring Afghanistan, Pakistan fares the worst in the region. The 2009 freedom status bases itself of categories of "not free," "partly free," or "free," with 1 representing the most free and 7 the least in terms of political rights and civil liberties.

According to this criterion, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh are declared as electoral democracies while Pakistan is not even considered an elected democracy. In the categories of political rights and civil liberties India scores 2 and 3, respectively. Pakistan gets a rating of "partly free" with a score of 4 and 5, in the same categories.

Giving reasons for Pakistan being rated poorly, the report states that the country has remained mired in official corruption and extremist violence. However, it notes as positive signs "initial reforms of the tribal areas and the peaceful resolution of the judicial crisis, including the reinstatement of the chief justice if the Supreme Court and restoration of a large measure of judicial independence." 

The common thread among the surveys conducted by the prestigious institutions is that none of them have little to about Pakistan that is positive. But is the situation is really so bad, or is it being portrayed as such? 

Few will disagree that the country is a chronic case of poor governance. Successive governments have refused, or are unable, to do anything about this. Apologists for military regimes, especially those who collude with them, argue that military strongmen are better than civilian rulers in governance. But they ignore that it is the military, by virtue of its repeated interventions, which is responsible for the destruction of most institutions of the Pakistani state. 

Endemic corruption and lack of transparency in governance has been cited in all the surveys for Pakistan's poor standing. The present government has been singled out for criticism on this count. Tales of corruption, misuse of power, squandering of public funds for personal or political gains, and cronyism and nepotism adorn the columns of newspapers and dominate the airwaves virtually everyday.

Despite the fact that various parliamentary committees and the superior courts are increasingly asserting themselves and taking note of these shenanigans of the powerful, the trend produces little effect in practical terms. The present government has completed half of its tenure. Yet, not a single minister or government functionary has been shown the door on charges of corruption or misuse of power.

The other day, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani complained to the US president's special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, that world "inaction" was accentuating Pakistan's financial crisis and extremist elements were taking advantage of the delay in delivery of assistance to Islamabad. Holbrooke assured the prime minister that Washington would do everything to expedite assistance for its ally, and play its role in the forthcoming Friends of Democratic Pakistan meeting.

However, unless Islamabad gets its act together by fulfilling the US agenda in the region, as well as bringing a modicum of transparency in its financial dealings, funds will remain hard to come by. Hence, Pakistan's merely going around with a begging bowl for more assistance will not produce improvement in our economic situation.

Bold and structural changes in our economic policies are the need of the hour. Not only do we have to get out of the vicious circle of debt, we also have to spend a greater part of our GDP on improving indicators like health, education and other areas of social development. Increases in the defence budget alone cannot solve the problem of extremism. Alleviating poverty by improving the economy and drastically increasing social spending can deal with the problem in the long run.

President Zardari, speaking on the occasion of the 57th birth anniversary of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, correctly enumerated the achievements of his government for strengthening democracy. These included the passage of the 18th Amendment for the restoration of the supremacy of parliament, the NFC Award, the Balochistan Package and the renaming of NWFP to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He also vowed to defeat real or perceived conspiracies against democracy. 

He can rightly claim that in a relative sense democratic culture has flourished on his watch. There are no political prisoners in the country, the media is free and assertive, the judiciary is fearlessly independent and, despite periodic shouting matches between them, politicians by and large are practising consensual politics. The biggest saving grace is that the military has studiously kept itself out of politics.

Despite these pluses, why is it that the world sees Pakistan as "the most dangerous place" and as a failed state? Over the years our optics have become so bad that labels like "failed state" no longer seem to bother us. Pakistan got this label in the late nineties, during Nawaz Sharif's tenure as prime minister. He correctly retorted that perhaps there could be some truth to the charge in the previous few decades but this was no longer so. Perhaps Nawaz Sharif failed to perceive that the rot had already started. 

One way of dealing with the problem is to recognise it and start dealing with it. In terms of demographic pressures, internally displaced persons, the fragmented elites and external intervention we are placed close to Somalia, the most failed of the failed states. Simply put, we are in a state of war with the very elements which successive governments, military and civilian, have nurtured over the years. Now the chickens have come home to roost.

This may seem somewhat unfair. But the right course to follow for our ruling classes, primarily the feudal-military-industrial elite, is to do some introspection about the direction the country should be taking. Another military intervention would lead us further down a pit that is already bottomless. However, in order for democracy to work the stakeholders need to drastically reorient their present bearings. Especially those in power. 

The writer is a former newspaper editor. Email:arifn51 at hotmail.com


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