Sunday, November 25, 2007

The next phase in Pakistan

And so it begins. It seems the dance is over. The military and the politicos have each tested the waters and each other, discovered their strengths, and been shown their weaknesses. All that remains is the consummation which will take place in the form of elections. The people who could have complicated the bargaining have been released now that the bargaining is over. To sour Bhutto's game a bit Sharif has been permitted to return. There is the usual talk of boycott, but those threats are almost routine. Bhutto is already backing off from an earlier statement of support. So now with their backs covered, the military is finally making its move against the Jihadis. The regular army is now fighting the Jihadis in Swat which is probably the first time since Hashtnagar that the military is (militarily) fighting its own citizens. The next few weeks will be crucial as they will show (a) whether the Pakistani military is capable of this kind of campaign, and (b) if the public will accept the civilian casualties which are bound to mount as the campaign progresses. It is for the sake of the latter that the military needed the accommodation with the politicos. The press may be free in Pakistan in the sense of being able to present anti-government views, but as in the US it can be "influenced" quite heavily by the establishment.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Let's try to say it again.

I posted this over in comments at the American Footprints website. It is slightly less rambling then my post below so I thought I would put it up here as well.

The only time I recall the Pakistan military easing out one of their own from the top post was when Yahya was removed from office after losing half the country. Kayani is well respected but he is only one of nine corp commanders. All of them have been groomed and brought to their current state of prominence by Musharraf. I think it will take much more than US patience running out for a majority of the corp commanders to move against Musharraf. One scenario would be a nationwide uprising against Musharraf. In which case as you point out the army would not want to be in the position of putting down its own people. But, unless the economic situation turns dire I really don't see that happening. There is no organized institution in Pakistan that could lead such an uprising. The availability of multiple sources of information - a relatively free written press, independent TV channels etc. allow for a bottom up mobilization but even for that there has to be a prize after the struggle. If the prize is another kleptocratic government lead by Benazir or Nawaz Sharif or some combination I think the chances of an uprising are very slim.

On the other hand the military needs the political parties badly right now. The jihadi challenge is very real. Fazlullah's challenge in Swat and the Lal Masjid uprising are deadly serious. And the power they are challenging is that of the military. Musharraf's attempt to reach an understanding may have been helped along by the US and UK but even without them Musharraf would have gone this route. The military needs the backing of the only other power center in the country which is represented by the political parties so that they can focus on what will be a bloody and not entirely popular fight. And Bhutto represents the largest faction by far. If not support from the political parties the military at the very least need their acquiescence. So that when the inevitable "collateral damage" takes place the parties don't use them to mobilize the populace against the military. And so that the fight can be portrayed in the "proper" manner. The powers represented by the political parties also need the jihadi challenge to be met. The jihadis are not your daddy's islamists like the old jamaat'e islami who look positively moderate nowadays. These guys are, to use a scholarly term, nuts, and their ascendance is going to be horrible for all established groups. And the only group that can meet their immediate challenge is the army - and not a demoralized army. So the political parties need a compromise right now as well - not a victory.

What we are seeing is the dance of the incompetents.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

And so it goes

It would be funny to watch the dance of the incompetents now taking place in Pakistan if it was not so depressing. There are not too many options available. The jihadis have moved into the Swat valley and and have been able to hold out against the military. To move against them in force requires that the power centers of the military and the political parties present a united front. The obvious way to do this is through power sharing between Bhutto and Musharraf. The fact that Bhutto is corrupt and venal and Musharraf seems a caricature who does not have any discernible strategy and some difficulty keeping his word is neither here nor there. They represent the power centers which are both threatened by the jihadi challenge and who will both suffer if the challenge is not answered. And unfortunately neither is dispensable. Bhutto leads a party that does not have any mechanism for challenging her leadership. And the military cannot afford to have Musharraf humiliated. I am sure at least some in the military must be furiously trying to come up with some way of removing him without losing face but I don't see what that would be. It is not as if they both don't realize they need the other. While Musharraf put real threats like Hamid Gul in solitary confinement Benazir was allowed to stay in the comfort of her own home - sallying out from time to time to make heroic speeches. On her part Bhutto, at least initially, kept her criticism of Musharraf relatively indirect - blaming those around him rather than him directly. But instead of coming to an agreement and moving on they keep stumbling around while the jihadis consolidate their power and the people who will in the end pay with their blood and treasure for the fight against the jihadis lget more and more disgusted. The support that these two are bleeding away will not easily come back, and it is a support that will be badly needed in the days to come.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Whither Pakistan (moved)

(This post had been sitting in draft for a while so when I finally published it, it appeared way down on the blog. I don't know how to move it so I am cheating and republishing it)

I had originally intended to write this the new media way - chock full of links to corroborating sources. But it has been sitting in draft for so long that I am afraid that by the time I do that Pakistan will have already gone wherever it is going. With the recent imposition of Martial law I suppose I should update this post. But I am too lazy to do it and I don't think my fundamental take has changed. And anyway I don't think either of the two people who read the intermittent outputs of this blog will mind. To any third person who might wander and actually suffer through this in I hope you will excuse the rambling sloppy nature of my writing.

A common misconception is that democracy empowers people. In truth, empowerment is not a result of democracy, democracy is the reflection of empowerment. Governments reflect power balances in society, and if people either collectively or individually have power this is generally reflected in some form of democracy. The reflection of power in the form of democracy is best illustrated by that oldest (with apologies to Iceland) of democracies, Britain. In Britain from 1780 when less than 3% of the population could vote to universal suffrage in 1918 the power of the vote closely followed economic power. From the rule under Henry VI that in order to vote you had to possess land worth 40 shillings to 1884 when to vote you had to be a male house owner the right to vote was explicitly tied to economic power. And what does that have to do with Pakistan and its future? This, that when we talk about democracy in Pakistan we should not confuse it with democracy in Sweden. Or if we do it should be in terms of understanding that just as in Sweden democracy reflects the power balance so in Pakistan will democracy reflect the power balance. Just that in Sweden the average voter due to their economic clout may actually possess some power while in Pakistan, for the same reason, the average voter will possess very little. The political structure will reflect the accommodations and conflicts of the power centers in the country.

Power exists in a number of different ways. The two principal ways are through the ownership of resources, and through organization. Labor unions may not own resources but if they are well organized they can exert power. And it is clear that ownership of resources - money, land, - usually goes hand in hand with power. In Pakistan there have been two groups that have had power through most of its history, the moneyed classes (feudal landlords and "industrialists") through their ownership of resources and the military through its organization.

Things seemed to be changing in the late 60's as a newly emerging middle class in the cities distinct from the landlords started demanding a share of the power. Actual political parties with actual mass participation began to appear. One of them was the Pakistan Peoples Party led by Bhutto the father of Benazir and very much a member of the power elite. Despite his wealthy (very wealthy) background Bhutto actually was a real honest to goodness populist politician, and was soon immensely popular in what was then West Pakistan. He campaigned under the slogan "Islam is our faith, democracy is our policy, socialism is our economy. All power to the people." After he came to power he, more or less, tried to keep his promises, and embarked on a policy of economic redistribution involving nationalization of industrial sectors and banks. He set up a policy of low interest loans to farmers and small business and there was a push to increase exports. One can argue over the long term viability of his economic policies but at least initially they led to an increase in the size of the middle class.

A bit off the subject but relevant nonetheless, in the late sixties in Pakistan there was also a developing (reviving?) communist movement which had come into its own after a split with the Soviets after the 1965 war with India. I hesitate to call them Maoist because that label brings to mind the Naxalites in India and the Shining Path in Peru and perhaps the PKK in Turkey. These guys were Maoist in the sense that they believed that the peasants were the vanguard of the "revolution." They had some success in the NWFP, actually setting up a liberated zone in an area called Hashtnagar in the early seventies. The army tried to break them but, in a scenario repeated lately in Waziristan, were not able to quell them and a de-facto "liberated zone" existed for quite a while (I am not sure about its status now). After Bhutto took power the communist advance was stopped cold. Wherever the communists had succeeded in getting the peasantry organized a government minister would show up and sign over land deeds to them. End of revolution. Bhutto used to boast that during his tenure he had not killed a single communist and they had not gained an inch.

Bhutto had the misfortune of ruling during a period of global inflation. As the price of food went up so did the temperature of the populace. Also there was the matter of the nuclear program which did not endear him to the US. And then, in what seems to have been a favorite activity of all megalomaniacal leaders, Bhutto engaged in vote rigging to guarantee an election he would most likely have won anyway (shades of CREEP) and lost more popular support. With the tacit approval of the US the military took power and thus began the long dark period of Zia. I don't know how long Zia would have lasted. The increase in the size of the middle class had resulted in a demand for more power from the people and the military in Pakistan, unlike the military in say Burma, is not separate from the people. In time, it was possible that there would have been a movement towards democracy.

But it was not to be. Fortune smiled on Zia, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and Brezinski saw an opportunity to bleed the Soviets. Money poured into Pakistan from the US directly and through Saudi Arabia. The drug lords of Afghanistan moved to Pakistan and drug money (along with drugs) also appeared in large amounts, bringing a phenomenal rise in drug addiction and an increase in corruption. Much of this money was funneled to religious groups which were best positioned to recruit the fodder required for the bleeding of the Soviets. And thus arose a third power center in Pakistan, what for the want of a better word we will call the jihadis. Initially they were under the control of the military, and the military made use of them in a number of different ways. The fodder went to fight and die in Afghanistan. The money also went to empower the military resulting in a vast expansion of military owned businesses. And the money benefitted and enhanced the power of those in the military most closely tied to the bleeding operation giving them an added incentive to keeping the jihadi operations alive. After the Soviets folded the military used the jihadis to acquire "strategic depth" in Afghanistan by training and backing the Taliban. In Kashmir the military tried to use the Brezinski strategy against India. However, it was becoming clear by the end of the millenium that the jihadis were on their way to becoming a power center in their own right. In 1999 in the seesaw between the two established power centers the military again took power in the person of Musharraf. Early in his tenure Musharraf had recognized the problem posed by the Jihadis but was thrashing about for a solution.

And then came 9/11 and the supposed U turn of the Musharraf regime. At first glance it seems that this was the perfect opportunity to get rid of the jihadi problem. And so Musharraf seems to have thought. With 9/11 a true shock to the conscience the support for jihadis from the non-militant religious segment of the population had been dealt a severe blow. The US was providing financial support which used properly could cut the ground out from under the jihadis in their centers of power. I have written earlier about one Musharraf attempt to do so which foundered on the rock of the arrogant stupidity of a Republican congressional staffer. Another was informal discussions between the military and groups in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas to regularize the status of FATA - treating them like any other part of Pakistan and including them in the distribution of resources. Whatever the wisdom of these actions and whoever is to blame for thwarting them they were not successful in eliminating the Jihadi power. This year the Jihadis felt comfortable enough in their power to openly challenge the government - first in Swat and parts of NWFP and finally in the capital Islamabad itself. At the same time the old enemy inflation was increasing the frustration level of the populace. Economic development has increased the rich poor divide. Some of this frustration was vented in the Chief Justice incident.

Which brings us to today. The military has provided reasonably efficient government for a while. But the economic development has not been enough to get them strong support and in any case it has been uneven, increasing the rich/poor divide. If the military is to win against the jihadi challenge they need allies. And the only available allies are the wealthy and the political parties which represent them. Among them the PPP is the most reasonable choice. Its leader is one with whom Musharraf does not have a personal vendetta. It is reasonably popular and would provide the legitimacy the military needs to operate in todays globalized information society. The next step will probably be an agreement between the military and the PPP where the PPP, after winning the parliamentary elections leads the country into "democracy" while preserving the perquisites of the military. The military then settles down to the task of getting rid of the jihadis. Whether they will succeed will depend on how well the PPP can govern and whether they can provide some measure of economic and social relief to the populace and whether the military can subdue the jihadis without arousing nationalist sentiments in the NWFP and Baluchistan. In order to keep the public on its side the Military-PPP alliance will have to do something to alleviate the economic stress on the people. Rising inflation in Pakistan will severely hamper their efforts. In the best of worlds improving the economic condition of the people will lead to conditions where with more economic clout the people of Pakistan will be able to demand and get a voice in their governance - democracy as we know it. In the real world such a transformation requires leadership of a caliber that I don't see in Pakistan today. So the prospects are not that great.

On the international front one of Musharraf's contributions has been a gradual de-emphasis on the Kashmir issue. If this emotionally charged issue is taken off the table then given the globalization trends one would normally expect a gradual normalization and increasing trade with India. However, there is an axis developing with India and US on one side and China and Russia on the other. If Pakistan tilts towards China which has been close to Pakistan through fair times and foul it is not clear how far normalization can go.

They say trying times call out great leaders. They are clearly wrong. In these trying times when the future of the planet itself (in terms of its human population) is in jeopardy we have Bush. And Pakistan has Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto. But we go through history with the leaders we have not the leaders we want.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Musharraf's speech

Musharraf's speech today announcing the state of emergency was interesting. Unlike most speeches on occasions of this nature it was not just flag waving and martial music. Musharraf tried to make a case for his action and he was actually trying quite hard to convince the audience. He realizes his future is on a knife's edge and the reaction of the public in the next few days will literally be a question of life or death for him. His argument basically was that the rule of law had broken down and he had to take action. For the breakdown of the rule of law he blamed first the extremists who he said were trying to shove an alien version of Islam down people's throats. Second perversely he blamed the supreme court which he said had become so intrusive that the government had become paralyzed. He referred to the more than a hundred suo moto cases brought forward by the supreme court. As I understand it a suo moto case is where the supreme court independently without someone bringing a case to the court takes up a particular issue and orders investigations and decrees remedies. That seems a bit strange to me because it seems to provide the supreme court with an inordinate amount of power with no checks. (When I google suo moto I get a definition and then a lot of links to the supreme court actions in Pakistan, so maybe it is an idiosyncrasy of the Pakistani legal system). Musharraf's argument was that the Supreme court's intrusion into executive function had upset the balance between the branches of government, paralyzed the executive and severely hampered law enforcement activities thus promoting lawlessness. He also mentioned that the Supreme court had still not ruled on the legality of his election while pursuing cases that it itself creates. All this he said had lead to an atmosphere of uncertainty which was effecting the economic health of the country. He claimed that after seven years of growth the economy was showing signs of stalling as investors stayed away because of the uncertainty. The emergency he said was a minimalist emergency. None of the governments, provincial and federal would be dissolved and the transition to full fledged democracy would continue.

All in all it was a surprisingly effective speech. There was no soaring rhetoric, not much god and country. Rather it was presented as the complaints of a man trying to do his job and being frustrated by officious busybodies. The question is whether the people of Pakistan will buy it. If they do he has bought himself a few more months to handle the jihadi problem. If not I am sure the military will find someone else.