February 24, 2008

The Peshawar Spring?

There has been a lot of euphoria about Pakistan's election results- see for example here. And there is lots to be euphoric about- the extremists have been routed as have the military and liberal democratic parties seem to have won the polls. But lets not get over exuberant. Pakistan still has a long way to go before it becomes a liberal democracy- and furthermore we have been here before with all the parties involved. Both Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto (now dead whose husband, Asif Ali Zardawi, nicknamed Mr. 10% for his corrupt activities when she was last Prime Minister) had had goes at ruling Pakistan and neither made a particularly good fist of it before. It was under Benazir that the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, it was under Sharif that they cemented that power. Furthermore both parties have until now, hated each other, accusing each other, rightly, of corruption. We should not imagine such attitudes are going to be dropped.

Pakistan's problems go much further than a one-off election can resolve. Good government is a part of liberal democracy as well democratic institutions. Take one example, last year when the earthquakes hit northern Afghanistan, the effort, as File on 4 (the radio 4 documentary program) found to help many of the poor caught in the tragedy was organised by religious charities with political connections to terrorist organisations. Radical Islam was being spread by aid. That's a function of the fact that the Pakistani state is weak in many parts of its territory. Under 50% of the population are literate and under 40% of women are literate (according to the CIA). Debt is still over 50% of GDP. Its terrifying to think of the prospects for a democratic regime where only 49% can read election literature and in some regions that will be far lower. Furthermore the government to come faces real problems- how to diminish public debt, how to cope with a fall in the US economy (a fifth of Pakistan's exports go to the US, a twentieth go to the UK, so a fall in those two economies could prove disastrous), how to cope with the Taliban and the tribal areas? Furthermore what will any future administration's relations be with the army and with President Musharraf? Sharif was not a success as Prime Minister- and the leadership of Bhutto's old party is still confused.

I'm not saying that the elections in Pakistan weren't a good thing- they were. But lets reign back on the euphoria. Pakistan is going to need a hell of a lot of luck and help and aid to acheive a proper stable democracy any time soon. Furthermore its going to need patience from its allies- should we as Senator Obama reccomended invade to kill militants, then we could risk making any government in power even more unpopular. Pakistan is a vast place. There are areas which are incredibly peaceful. There are other areas where it is less so. Part of the problem for us as Westerners looking at Pakistan is to remember how vast and how complex it is- and also to try and keep sober. Not everything in as disastrous as it seems, not everything is as great as it seems. There are signs of hope in Pakistan, but to turn this into a real Peshawar Spring will require many more years of luck yet.


Bretwalda Edwin-Higham said...

Pakistan still has a long way to go before it becomes a liberal democracy...

For a start, they can stop trying to bring down the worl's YouTube on Sunday evenings just because someone drew a cartoon in Denmark.

Gracchi said...

Tee-hee- weren't the feminists right, sometimes the personal is political!

Seriously for a second I completely agree with what you say- there has been too much hysteria. Yes the election is a step in the right direction- but it isn't a new heaven and earth!