Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Dangers Of Expecting Too Much

Just a quick post before I exercise my right to have a life on the one day in the week I happen to take off. I was reading this article in the New York Times and, frankly, I couldn't get past the second paragraph, which reads thusly:
The nationwide parliamentary elections are intended to usher in an era of democracy in Pakistan after months of political turmoil and nearly a decade of military rule under President Pervez Musharraf.

Hands up if you think that sentence even remotely resembles the truth. That's funny, I see no hands.

Listen, it's great we're having elections. Honestly. But let me tell you right now what the elections won't do:

1. The elections will not "usher in an era of democracy". Democracy rests on, and can be equated to, secure property rights, an independent judiciary, an independent media, legal-constitutional respect for minorities, and the ability to freely and fairly choose one's rulers or representatives in a legislative body. Pakistan currently has, uh, none of those. Furthermore, these elections will not change any of these structural factors overnight.

2. The elections will not end, or even necessarily help, the fight against militancy. No matter how much some Pakistanis may sympathize with their aims - yes Hameed Gul, I'm looking at you - no one can argue that militants exist within the framework of democratic politics. In other words, militancy and the political process exist on two entirely separate planes. It is no coincidence that the last few acts of terrible violence in the country have been aimed at election rallies (two attacks over last weekend against the ANP, and one against the PPP yesterday; the three attacks combining to kill close to 75 people). The militants simply don't think electoral politics is a good idea, so to expect them to go into hiding after the elections is simply foolhardy. Even if one is to grant the extreme notion that their goals are political, it is plain to see that their means are military. So to those blinkered in the West by dreamy ideas concerning the potential for elections to quell violence, I ask that you think again. If anything, we should expect an upsurge in violence immediately after the elections, as the militants attempt to destabilize the new government. Such an upsurge will be perfectly in keeping with the militants' modus operandi thus far: to shatter the foundations of the Pakistani state - its military, its political parties, and the confidence and security of its people - to as great an extent as possible.

3. The elections will not lead to wheat being cheaper. They will not lead to petrol being cheaper. And they will not lead to sugar being cheaper. Irrespective of who wins, these facts are patently true.

Sorry if any of this is a downer. It really shouldn't be, because nothing I've said is particularly new or original. But it's striking how many people - both in Pakistan and in the West - think that these elections are going to be our version of the Berlin Wall crashing down. They won't be.

1 comment:

onix said...

altho maybe there is a goal in violence, i dont expect it immediatly. This is why there is all this consensus talks, and attempts to overstep biases in partys? The more dangerous thing i foresee is when inevitably partiality and (foreign) influence, would pop up again, in some evil shape or another. I wonder if the alternatives will provide better answers then 'Mushi'. For now that pakistan is quite secure is partial to Musharaf, you make it seem.
It's always a good idea to raise the price of petrol..
The whole nation feels united and all had their election victory, now remains if politics will live up to that, not a beautifull case, with so much personal history though.
Otoh, what course do you expect really besides partys working towards reinstitution of chaudry, etc.?
And will either ppp or pml-n be able to make some essentially sane decissions about the greater threat of security that the war on terror is? And how will they answer this call on the street? Will it turn into yet one slightly different police state system?
Seems to me consolidation is among the wiser things to decide, what a strange voting system and surprisingly low turnout btw. Can a party be in the assembly without winning a province?