I had intended to wait a while to get some feedback from readers on William Dalrymple’s analysis of the situation in Pakistan (Governance in Pakistan – 1) before starting a discussion on the reasons for its poor predictive power.
My plan was to follow that up with some samples of analysis by Pakistani commentators to reiterate the reasons that, in my view, contributed to the weakness of the analyses.
I changed my mind when I immediately came across one such analysis in the March/April 2009 issue of the Boston Review. This review is by a member of the crème de la crème of Pakistani society, educated in the best institutions, a journalist by profession, and with the benefit of living abroad in a vibrant intellectual environment. The analysis provides a good parallel to Dalrymple’s piece. While Dalrymple brings an outsider’s excusably incomplete perspective, the contributor to the Boston Review is a well-connected insider very familiar with the history of events in Pakistan.
Consider a few examples from the analysis and see whether you agree if they provide a good basis for predicting the future.
The opening optimism is based more or less exactly on the same reasoning as Dalrymple’s:
Though outraged by General Musharraf’s strong–arm tactics, Pakistanis were not despondent. The economy was strong and foreign investors looked favorably upon Pakistan as an emerging market. A national election was in the offing, and Benazir Bhutto, emerging from years of exile the leader of Pakistan’s largest and most popular political party, had returned to contest it. Though religious extremists had dug into the Tribal Areas in the north, Benazir vowed to flush them out and, with American backing, end their reign of terror. Relations with India were calmer and more open than even before. There was everything to play for.
And the verdict a year later is also the same as Dalrymple’s:
Today that optimism has vanished.
But once again, there is no explanation why the analyst was deceived and why her optimism was so misplaced.
Let us look at the article for some clues:
Here are the author’s observations on the elections after the death of Zia ul Haq:
Soon after, Pakistan held elections, and I was glued to the television as results trickled in through the night. The first time Benazir Bhutto—so young, so beautiful, so full of promise—appeared on the screen, I wept.
The basis for the author’s hope was the fact that Benazir Bhutto was ‘so young, so beautiful, so full of promise.’ There was little anxiety that Benazir Bhutto had no training for the job, no prior experience in governance, and no demonstrated competence in managing a complex enterprise.
Are you surprised at the sentence that follows?
But my euphoria was short–lived.
Did the author learn anything from this episode? Here are the author’s responses to the entry of Pervez Musharraf:
I was one of many who expressed quiet relief when Musharraf seized power in 1999…. From my home in London, I anxiously watched the Pakistani news reports. Though relieved to see the back of Sharif, I was initially wary of the new general. By then I knew what military rule could mean. But my worst fears were dispelled when I saw him pose for his first staged photos in the lush lawns of Army House with a fluffy dog under each arm. Since mullahs consider dogs unclean, I took his choice of props as a clear sign of his secular leanings. His talk of accountability endeared him further to a nation sickened by the rampant corruption of its civilian leaders. And when he promised to promote enlightened moderation and economic development, the ghost of General Zia was finally exorcised from my mind.
Once again, there was no apprehension that this was the mastermind of Kargil, a man whose competence in his own field of specialization was so woefully exposed, a man who derailed the peace process with India, a man who overthrew a democratically elected government, and a man with no experience in political governance.
It seems the fluffy dogs and a few promises were enough to dispel all the fears and the apprehensions. That does make it pretty easy for any charlatan to pull the wool over the eyes of Pakistan’s crème de la crème, doesn’t it?
With analysis like that does it surprise you when the author discovers eight years later that:
Musharraf’s doublespeak about “enlightened moderation” was not confined to appeasing Americans alone.
And so on to Asif Zardari:
Whether President Zardari—working against a history of corruption allegations to win the trust of the people—is up to the job remains to be seen.
What is your prediction about what you are likely to see?
You have some clues to work on here. Read the article and decide for yourself if it is possible to make good predictions with this kind of analysis that is so gullible, that falls so easily for youth and good looks and fluffy dogs and empty promises.
Is this analysis or wishful thinking? How would you go about improving on the analysis?