Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

Governance in Pakistan – 3: More Bad Analysis

March 14, 2009

The previous two posts in this series have described what we think are poor analyses of the situation in Pakistan by William Dalrymple and Moni Mohsin, respectively.

Now the venerable New York Times has entered the fray with another bad analysis (Closer to the Cliff, March 12, 2009). Let us dissect it:

We are especially alarmed to see President Asif Ali Zardari repeating the excesses of his predecessor, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Why alarmed, one may ask? What was the basis for the expectation that Asif Ali Zardari would act any differently? Is this a case, once again, of wishful thinking leading the analysis?

Mr. Zardari is dishonoring his late wife’s memory by following that same path.

So, the expectation is that Mr. Zardari’s prime loyalty should be to his late wife’s memory and not to his self-interest, as he perceives it. Is this a realistic expectation? Or is it a pathetic attempt at emotional blackmail – what would your late wife think Mr. Zardari?

Mr. Sharif is all too eager to manipulate this destructive drama for personal gain.

Surprise, surprise! Any basis for assuming Mr. Sharif would act differently?

The American ambassador in Islamabad spoke with Mr. Sharif, and an envoy, Richard Holbrooke, had a video conference call with Mr. Zardari… They need to press Mr. Zardari now to compromise on the dispute over Pakistan’s courts and to allow Mr. Sharif to run for office. And they need to press Mr. Sharif to work for peaceful political solutions. If there is any hope for democracy in Pakistan, a robust opposition must be allowed to flourish and participate fully in the country’s political life.

Here is the impatient solution – the bad boys have to be told to behave and fix the situation in no uncertain manner. There is no need to try and understand why they are behaving the way they are.

Otherwise: hint, hint!

Already, some Washington analysts are suggesting there might be worse things than a return to military rule in Pakistan.

This is typical of what passes for analysis at the New York Times. More than a year ago, we had highlighted this style of NYT analysis (Ah, New York Times) when the crisis under discussion was the electoral chaos in Kenya. Replace Mr. Zardari and Mr. Sharif with Kenyan names and note the similarity of the advice:

Mr. Kibaki should renounce that official declaration and the embarrassingly swift swearing in that followed. He should then meet with his principal challenger, Raila Odinga, to discuss a possible vote recount, election re-run or other reasonable compromise.

What is wrong with this mode of analysis?

Note that it is entirely top-down. It starts with a desired outcome (democratic governance in these two cases) and then works backwards impatiently to try and ensure that the outcome is achieved. It invariably ends up chastising the bad boys who are misbehaving, informing them that they are acting stupidly, and threatening them with worse consequences.

There is no attempt to understand why the boys are bad in the first place, why they are misbehaving yet again, and what may be the systemic causes that lead to this kind of repeated crises.

It is no wonder that the NYT joins the rising crescendo of lamenting voices from Pakistan who are surprised that Mr. Zardari and Mr. Sharif are behaving badly, who had expected them to have learnt their lessons while in exile, who had hoped that the ‘restoration’ of democracy was itself the solution, who had really lulled themselves into believing that there are dictators and democrats and that they behave differently.

Any meaningful analysis has to work from the bottom-up. It has to look at the forces that operate at ground level and then project what kinds of outcomes are feasible given the interplay of these forces and the changes in them over time.

A bottom-up analysis need not always be right but it creates room for meaningful discussion that can help lead to a better and fuller understanding and more realistic expectations.

This is how an analysis in The South Asian Idea (Helping Pakistan, November 2007) approached the issue with a bottom-up perspective:

Understand that in a deeply unequal society without individual rights, and with extreme dependence of the many on the few, the functions of political representation and social protection are inseparable…

Understand this is still very much a monarchical society in which the ruler, in whatever garb, believes he rules by divine right…

Understand this is a society at a stage of development where political parties are personal affinity groups with lifetime leaders…

And based on the reading of these and other attributes it predicted:

So what does a transition to “true democracy” mean in a situation like this? Understand that representative democracy is not going to emerge any time soon by pressure from below. Democracy will be the name given to a sharing of power amongst the elites holding the wealth, the guns, and the controls over rules and rituals. And, barring anything different, this democracy will go the way of previous democracies, each morphing from “true” to “sham,” each leaving the country more wounded and vulnerable than before. Has this not been the story of the last sixty years?

In 2009, this prediction elicits much less surprise and disappointment than Dalrymple, Mohsin, the NYT or the lamenting chorus in Pakistan. Why?

The bottom line is that one needs to determine the appropriate starting point for analysis. Starting with what one hopes for almost always renders the analysis useless. Starting with the reality that exists on the ground and working upwards may not always yield the correct prediction but it is the most promising approach to an eventual understanding of why things turn out the way they do.

And that understanding is needed as the real starting point on the road to reform. Without that we would continue to cycle endlessly between our rascals and our redeemers, between our unrealistic hopes and our betrayed expectations.

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Idée Fixe

January 14, 2008

The New York Times carried an article on Pakistan (Ghosts that Haunt Pakistan) in its January 6, 2008 Week in Review. It contains some interesting perspectives and unasked questions.

A few quotes can highlight the issues: 

For 60 years since its founding in the partitioning of British India, Pakistan has seesawed between military dictatorships and elected governments, and now new hope for stability is being placed on the chance that democracy there can be revived.

But while attention is currently focused on the failings of Pervez Musharraf, the latest in a long line of military rulers, Pakistan’s civilian leaders, too, have much to account for in the faltering history of Pakistani democracy. Over the decades, their own periods in office have been notable mostly for their weakness, their instinct for political score-settling, and their venality. 

Note the unstated assumption that democracy can work anywhere.  And the thrust of the argument – if only the civilian leaders had been a more decent bunch of characters. (Link this back to our earlier post on Kenya.)

Nowhere does the article turn the proposition around and ask why it is that the system keeps throwing up such lousy civilian leaders. Is it just an unfortunate accident? Or is there a systemic issue to be explored? Why rule out the hypothesis altogether?  

The article ends with an intriguing quote from Irshad Ahmed Haqqani, a former information minister:

“Pakistanis are a normal people and can go as far on the road to democracy as any other nation can. This road we must take; we cannot do without it.” 

What does this mean, the tying of democracy to the “normalcy” of the people? Isn’t this completely without a sense of context? Does it mean that the thousand years that there was no democracy in Europe, it was because the people were not normal?  

Is there any room for a discussion of governance centered on the context rather than just on good and bad people? 

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There we go again…

January 10, 2008

This is really worth pondering over. 

The January 7, 2008 issue of the New York Times has a front-page article entitled “In Musharraf’s Shadow, a New Hope for Pakistan Rises.”

This includes such brilliant gems of analysis as the following:

“Over the last several months, a little-known, enigmatic Pakistani general has quietly raised hopes among American officials that he could emerge as a new force for stability in Pakistan, according to current and former government officials.”

“As he has risen through the military, General Kayani has impressed American military and intelligence officials as a professional, pro-Western moderate with few political ambitions.”

“Kayani throughout his career has shown little in the way of political inclination,” said a senior American military official who has worked extensively with him but did not wish to be identified because of the sensitivities of Pakistani politics. “He is a humble man who has shown a decided focus on the soldier.”

“When he was appointed deputy army chief last fall, his first move was to visit the front lines in the tribal areas. Spending the Muslim holiday Id al-Fitr with soldiers prompted American military officials to praise him as a ‘soldier’s soldier.’”

“He is also an avid golfer and the president of the Pakistan Golf Association. Intensely private, he is the father of two children and spends a great deal of time with his family.”

“In meetings, General Kayani is known to listen intently but rarely speak. He is so soft-spoken that one former American official complained that he mumbled, but he expressed confidence in General Kayani’s ability to lead the army in the fight against militancy.”

“The senior American military official predicted that the Pakistani Army would perform better under General Kayani than Mr. Musharraf, who was often distracted by politics while serving as both president and army chief.”

“If Kayani, in a way, tries to promote democracy and becomes the protector of democracy,” said Mr. Masood, the Pakistani political analyst and retired general. “Then I think Pakistan has a chance.” 

Meanwhile here is what Stephen Cohen, Senior Foreign Policy Scholar at the Brookings Institute wrote on November 5, 2007: 

Why has the US stayed with Musharraf long after it became evident that Pakistan was not an effective partner? There was apparently a belief that he was a truly outstanding leader… 

So, what’s the conclusion? It seems the brilliant American generals have discovered yet another brilliant Pakistani general. 

Or is there more to it than meets the eye? 

In any case, get ready for a re-run. A seven-point agenda, the restoration of true democracy, the supreme national interest…

Here’s to a new dawn, a new hope… 

But is this the dawn we have been waiting for? Faiz would ask from his grave…

And how shall we answer him?  

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Ah, New York Times…

January 7, 2008

“Already, more than 300 Kenyans are dead, 70,000 have been driven from their homes and thousands have fled to neighboring countries.” This is part of an editorial in the New York Times entitled Ambition and Horror in Kenya (January 3, 2008).

First, some hand wringing: “It is particularly tragic to see this happening in a country that seemed finally to be on the path to a democratic and economically sound future.”

Then some advice: “Mr. Kibaki should renounce that official declaration and the embarrassingly swift swearing in that followed. He should then meet with his principal challenger, Raila Odinga, to discuss a possible vote recount, election re-run or other reasonable compromise.”

Followed by a suggestion for some “outside prodding.” “Urgent mediation by the leader of the African Union, John Kufuor, could help bring the two together before the violence gets worse.” 

And finally, a hopeful conclusion: “Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga cannot ignore the chaos around them. No matter their personal ambitions and resentments, they must be brought together and pushed to come up with a solution that will calm their followers and restore Kenyans’ faith in their democratic system — before the damage becomes irreversible.”

Just a nod in passing to a troublesome detail: “Tribal resentments have long played a role in Kenyan politics.”

But that is a minor inconvenience in the NYT’s view of the world from very far away. Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga are two bad boys who must be made to shake hands and persuaded to be reasonable by Mr. Kufuor before some more people die in the “vast and tribally mixed urban slums of Nairobi” where “rival militias have been waging open warfare.” 

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