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Pakistan and MENA on the Cusp of A New Political Order
Author/Source: Muzaffar K. Awan  Posted by: admin
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By Muzaffar K. Awan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA


The moment of truth is fast approaching in Pakistan on May 11, when close to 50 million voters will elect a new national assembly. The outcome, preceded by a sharp rise in extremist’s violence, is likely to reverberate far and wide.


Pakistan’s post 9/11, poorly planned and hurried, participation in war on terror and its homegrown terrorist groups know very well by now that the country is on the verge of a real change, and they are attacking candidates and voters who according to their choice favor a soft secular democratic state rather than a radical theocratic state. Hundreds of people have already been killed, and more will undoubtedly die before the Election Day, being targeted because, if they prevail, they would push for what is commonly called the founding father’s idea of Pakistan to its logical – and Islamo-democratically balanced conclusion.


About seven decades ago, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founding father, launched the movement to create an independent state for the Muslims of British India. The British colonial administration finally acquiesced, creating a country out of Muslim-majority areas. The population of what is now Pakistan was about two-thirds Muslim; the remainder were mostly Hindus, Sikhs and other minorities.


That demography had changed dramatically with the partition of the new states of India and Pakistan in 1947, when close to 15 million people moved across the newly drawn borders. About 9 million Muslim refugees fled India and entered Pakistan, and about six million Hindus and Sikhs moved in the opposite direction entered India. By the time this unfortunate “ethnic cleansing” was over, Pakistan’s population was 95% Muslim.


Over time, a proportion of this population (with sectarian orientation) began to demand the creation of an “Islamic state” in the areas that were now Pakistan. In the upcoming election the same sectarian groups (never a majority) would like to take the country along that uncharted course.


Pakistan is not the only Muslim country seeking to redefine its political and economic future, but similar processes have also been playing out in other countries of the Islamic world. By contrast, far Eastern Muslim countries like Indonesia and Malaysia have already succeeded in establishing political pluralistic orders that serve all segments of highly diverse populations reasonably well. That is bound to eventually happen in the rest of Islamic world as well, only after ongoing struggles for true democracy presently occurring in Pakistan and MENA (Middle East and North Africa) succeed.


The large countries in a part of the Islamic world – most notably Egypt, Pakistan, and Turkey – have been attempting to address these issues, the most challenging of which is redefining Islam’s role in the modern day political system. Turkey is actually way ahead of other two and truly owes its Islamo-democratic homeostasis to the softening and reconciliation of Ataturk’s hard (laic) secular tradition, brought about by men such as Adnan Menderes in the ’ 1960s, Turgut Ozal in the ’1980s and in the last decade Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the current prime minister of Turkey.  Faith based civil societal transformational (not faith-based politics) Hizmet movement in Turkey has been contributing effectively over the decades and is presently  seizing worldwide attention.


Turkey also seemed to have found an answer, prodded in part by its wish to join the European Union. A conservative ruling political party with deep religious convictions is content to have religion as a personal and collective observance in public sphere, with no direct influence on State policy. This issue of reinterpretation of true Islam in politics remains chaotic in Libya, Yemen and Syria .It is the least talked about in Saudi Arabia and Gulf states, and still less settled in Egypt and Tunis thus far. In Pakistan a small but highly motivated part of the population (with Wahhabi / Salafi mindset) has embraced religious extremism and violence as a form of political expression.


Political science literature in Turkish, Indonesian and true Islamic context argues that via electoral participation, radical, extremist (Islamist and secularist) and even anti-system political ultranationalist or Islamist parties do eventually moderate their agendas in order to benefit from opportunities created by a pluralist democracy. The opportunities provided by the pluralist truly Islamic tradition and the democratic experience of Turkey from Ottoman times to present has helped Turkish Islamists and secularist to transform their ideologies into post-Islamism and post-secularism. Thanks to these pluralist experiences, Turkish /Indonesian Islamists have not only participated in elections, competed for voters, and even democratically came to power but have also discursively and physically interacted with various secularists, Muslim groups, intellectuals, scholars, businessmen, communities and so on, in a pluralist setting. As a result, Turkish/Indonesian Islamists/secularists have been able to modify their ideologies in tune with pluralist and democratic ideals. Other Muslim nations can and would learn important lessons from these experiences to achieve their own democratic ideals without necessarily copying exactly the Turkish or Indonesian models.


The role of the military in politics also needed to be resolved. Once again, Turkey and Indonesia have taken the lead in this context also; while in both Egypt and Pakistan, the men in uniform have presently returned to their barracks, but they have not yet lost their influence over public policy.


The sectarianism and violence in Pakistan that was restricted early on to Sunni-Shia-Ahmedi and has taken on a new dimension as other than the Ahmedi and Shia, now the Barelvi sect (Sufi saint mausoleums and Eid Milad un-Nabi) is also being targeted while religious scholars (the ulema), who have passed injunctions against suicide bombings have been killed irrespective of their schools of thought. Since 2001, a total of over 2,600 citizens have been killed while over 6,000 have been injured in sectarian violence alone, triple the casualty figure of 1989-2000. The sectarianism may also  be exacerbated by the outcomes in Syria. If Sunnis triumph there, they could  become more assertive in countries that have large Shia populations. It is not often recognized that Pakistan has the world’s second-largest Shia population, after Iran, with roughly 50 million adherents. They have been mercilessly attacked in Karachi and Quetta in recent years, with more than 400 killed.


An urgent change in Strategic Depth policy is essential for Pakistan’s internal stability at this point in time. While Pakistan Army as an institution is skilled in the comprehensions of international relations, as it forgoes its ideological partners when faced with a territorial threat; It closes down and reforms sections of the ISI when faced with internal threat and insubordination; still it fails to realize that its strategic policy framework is certainly flawed and badly hurting the country. An important factor in this regard is the civil military power imbalance and a lack of trust between the two institutions. The army has managed the Afghan and Kashmir policy since Zia’s time leading to a lack of rethinking and reassessment for the last 30 years, as policy change is primarily an outcome of pluralism, opposition and peaceful transfer of power, the beauty of true democracy. It is also perfectly understandable for a military institution to be strategically trained in a zero sum game with its archenemy, but for that to be unchallenged State policy for decades is anathema to growth and progress of any nation. This can be judged from the fact that all democratically elected leaders over the last 30 years have either extended or accepted peace overtures towards India and Zardari’s foreign policy agenda too included peace with India, no Taliban safe havens in Pakistan and good and mutual-interest relationship with America. But the civil political leadership has yet to gain the confidence of the powerful security establishment and lacks the institutional strength to forcefully make a case for policy change, thus the strategic policy role stays still with the military.


As the end game in Afghanistan is nearing, Pakistan would be well advised to understand that the root of its current predicament lies in its undefined borders in the West and East and thus its leverage should be used towards these ends. Although Pakistan is in a strong position to gain strategic space in Afghanistan, the Pakistan military should understand that this leverage is an outcome of excessive internal costs and its unaccountability. Pakistan should not confuse this short-term leverage with long-term influence, which is dependent on internal strength and strong diplomatic relations based on mutual interests.


For this, Pakistan would need to bury the Strategic Depth policy framework to explore and exercise the following set of policy options: First, make a clean break from using ideological non-state actors for its policy objectives. Second, enhance its diplomatic relations (in the region, Muslim nations, US, and China), which were built on the foundations of security arrangements with security agenda usually trumping economic interests, to encompass a broader development focus.


Third, Pakistan desperately needs to put its internal chaotic house in order and to that end seeking peace with India, which is involved in proxy wars with Pakistan and can exploit its internal troubles, would be a desirable goal. Finally, Pakistan needs to evolve a comprehensive counter terrorism and extremism strategy, foremost being integration of FATA with the rest of the country and strengthening its public institutions to create the 2 million yearly jobs required for its current demographics.


This demands a paradigm shift and a new military doctrine, which is not possible with a war in its own neighborhood that has caused over ten thousand civilian and   over four thousand security agencies fatalities while displacing several million of people from their homes. Pakistan continues and could leverage in Afghanistan in strategic terms, however, time is running out and it has already lost the entire and the very 1st decade of the 21st century with about  $43bn as the cumulative cost of war to the economy and additionally reduced public services spending (due to higher spending on security) leading to Pakistan most likely and unfortunately missing out on its Millennium Development Goals targets to 2015. Thus there is a growing realization in Pakistan that a continuation of war in Afghanistan does not at all serve its national interests and well being.

On the other hand America has yet to come up with a regional solution to allay Pakistan’s security concerns vis-à-vis India and Afghanistan. It is pushing ahead with combat troop withdrawal date to 2014 buying itself more time. Pakistan still has time and opportunity to re-strategize and devise an innovative policy towards Afghanistan combing regional and bilateral approach, whereby Afghanistan and India are seen as part of the solution to dismantle and disrupt terrorism in the region and have stake in peace and sustainable development of the entire region. Such a vision demands broader internal consensus, which implies that the civilian government and the Pakistan Army must act in absolute unison and concert, supplementing and supporting each other fully and pursing shared goals through permanently abandoning the flawed, failed and nationally injurious policy of Strategic Depth.


Finally, there is the question of the Muslim word’s relations with the West, particular the United States. The old post-Ottoman “grand bargain” – Western acceptance of authoritarianism in exchange for the secure flow of oil, use of sensitive sea-lanes, and some tolerance for the existence of Israel – has already broken down. The shape of the new political order that finally emerges in the western and Islamic world will determine what replaces it. In other words, more is at stake in Pakistan’s upcoming election than just the future of Pakistan.


There is growing recognition, some of it grudging, that the coalition led by the Pakistan People’s Party has managed to create a political structure built on some stable foundations. This is an accomplishment in a country that was on a political roller coaster for most of its history and the army had ruled Pakistan for a total of 33 years (where crises of much lesser intensity had consistently brought the military rushing onto the political stage, as happened in military coups of 1958, 1969, 1977, and 1999) since independence in 1947. This time (despite crises of much higher intensity) the soldiers have remained in their barracks, for the simple reason that an awakened populace, an active civil society, and a free and vibrant media would not tolerate another venture into politics by the army. After five years of democratic rule, Pakistan is on its way to establishing a durable and representative political order. While it has not produced clean and efficient government and the coalition proved unable to translate political success into strong economic performance. There seems to be considerable comfort in the popular belief that, by working together, Pakistanis will eventually find a way out of the mess in which the country finds itself.


For the last five years, Pakistan’s annual GDP growth has averaged just 3% – half the rate needed to absorb two million new labor-force entrants every year. If growth does not pick up, the ranks of the unemployed and underemployed will swell, increasing the size of the pool from which extremist groups find fresh recruits.


The upcoming election has both nurtured hope and generated anxiety among Pakistanis. It could go either way. And, for good or bad, where Pakistan goes some other Muslim countries could follow.



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