Posts Tagged ‘Sharif’

Chaos in Islamabad

August 26, 2014

By Kabir Altaf

For the last ten days, Pakistanis have been fascinated by the sit-ins occurring in Islamabad.  Led by Imran Khan (of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf) and Tahirul Qadri (of the Pakistan Awami Tehrik), the movement is calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif, the Chief Minister of the dominant Punjab Province.  The PTI is also calling for election reform and for the holding of midterm elections under a new caretaker government.  This anti-government movement has deeply polarized the country, particularly on social media.  Many young Pakistanis are supporting Khan’s demand for Sharif’s immediate resignation, arguing that the May 2013 general elections were massively rigged and that the PML-N does not have the people’s mandate.  Others argue that Sharif is the legitimately elected Prime Minister and that he cannot be forced to resign simply because a mob of 55,000 people demand it.  They worry that the prolonged sit-ins may force the all-powerful “third force”, the Pakistan Army, to step in and declare Martial Law.

While most reasonable people would concede that the 2013 elections were rigged to some extent, it is questionable whether this rigging substantially changed the results.  Nawaz Sharif’s party won by a landslide– especially in Punjab (the dominant vote-bank of the PML-N).  Observers called the elections the fairest held in Pakistan’s history (not that this is high praise, given Pakistan’s shaky grasp on democracy).  Asides from the issue of the possibly tainted mandate, it is highly unlikely that either Nawaz or Shahbaz will resign. The PML-N has the support of most of Pakistan’s political parties.  This past Saturday, former President Asif Zardari, the Chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party, had lunch at the Sharif estate in Raiwind, outside Lahore, after which he declared that he was fully in support of Nawaz Sharif.  Rumor has it that Nawaz offered Zardari the post of President of Pakistan, which the latter is said to have declined.  In any case, the PPP and other major parties are in agreement that the demand that the sitting Prime Minister resign is “unconstitutional” and cannot be countenanced. Cynics may argue that this seeming solidarity is simply members of corrupt political dynasties protecting each other. However, unless there is much more public pressure on Sharif (or perhaps pressure from the Army), his resignation seems almost impossible.  At the time of writing, the Army also seems remarkably uninterested in intervening; saying only that the parties must settle the issue through negotiation. Perhaps, if the standoff continues or the situation turns violent, the “third force” may be forced to take matters into their own hands.

Imran Khan wants Sharif to resign. Suppose he does. What then? Khan wants new elections held under a caretaker setup as well as electoral reform.  Since systemic reform cannot happen immediately, it seems likely that any new elections are likely to be as flawed as the most recent one is said to have been.  Suppose the new elections do not bring Khan to power.   Will he accept the results as legitimate?  Or suppose that Khan does succeed in becoming Prime Minister. What is to say that a year down the line, mobs will not be protesting in Islamabad demanding his resignation?  Forcing a sitting Prime Minister to dissolve his own government sets a bad precedent and would derail democracy in Pakistan.

Imran Khan could have pursued the alternative course of focusing on governing in Khyber-Pakthunkhwa (KPK), the province where his party did receive a mandate and formed the governing coalition.  If he had succeeded in addressing the issues of the province, he would have been in a stronger position for the 2018 general elections and perhaps would have succeeded in winning power in Punjab.  However, Khan seems to have had little idea of how to address the challenges of KPK, the province that has borne the brunt of the “war on terror” and the instability in Afghanistan.  Rather, he found it was easier to lead agitations and hold protests.  There is a section of opinion in KPK that feels that Khan has ignored the province in an attempt to win power in Punjab, the locus of power in Pakistan.

A final point needs to be made about those young Pakistanis who are advocating for some kind of French or Russian Revolution or even for an “Arab Spring”.  These people seem to be discounting the fact that revolutions are bloody and often lead to civil war.  The French Revolution led to the executions of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.  The Russian Revolution caused civil war between the Bolsheviks and the “white Russians” who supported the Czar.  Even the example of the “Arab Spring” is not exactly salutary.  Though the Egyptian people did succeed in removing Hosni Mubarak from power, the legitimately elected government of Mohammad Morsi was itself removed through a military coup. Khan has repeatedly labeled Sharif the “Hosni Mubarak” of Pakistan, suggesting that he sees himself as Morsi. If so, than has he considered the real risk of being summarily removed by the Pakistani equivalent of General Sisi?  As for his young supporters, the prospect of sending the Sharifs to the guillotine may seem attractive, but they should remember that revolutions often cause entire societies to turn on each other. With the Sharifs go much of the Pakistani establishment, the business community, and the landed classes.  It would seem difficult to believe that the prospect of civil war in Pakistan is something that would be acceptable to many of PTI’s young supporters. Revolution may be necessary, but at what price?

At this point, the best one can hope for is that some accommodation will be reached between the government and the protestors, perhaps through the formation of a national unity government.  If the success of the sit-ins does force Sharif to implement needed electoral reforms, they will have had some positive impact.   At worst, the impasse may lead to prolonged instability in the country, forcing the Army to impose Martial Law, an outcome that very few Pakistanis—whether PML-N or PTI supporters—want.

Kabir Altaf attended the Lahore University of Management Sciences and graduated magna cum laude from George Washington University.

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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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