Today is a new dawn in Pakistan - not a perfect dawn, but a dawn nonetheless. As millions celebrate the reinstatement of the twice-deposed Pakistani Chief Justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, doubts about the country's democratic experiment are being cautiously laid to rest amidst economic and security woes. Pakistan's adolescent democracy is heading toward its rite of passage. But growing up is never easy. Pakistan continues to face impervious Islamist insurgents in the north and intransigent ethnic separatists in the south, and is surrounded by domineering Indians to the east and ambivalent Americans and Afghans to the west. While its unique ways and means beckon U.S. support, Pakistan is considered a bankrupt nuclear-armed tinderbox. Will this new dawn push political parties, lawyers, students, journalists - and yes, the historically skeptical military - to reset the system and salvage Pakistan?
Yes it will; and it should. A mentor of mine in Islamabad told me recently that he had protested against dictators in the sixties and eighties, but had never imagined a day when Pakistan - at the brink of a breakup, economic collapse, and military losses - would then almost suddenly pull back and reunite in unprecedented ways. He reinforced the dictum buried deep in the Pakistani creed: dictators steal dreams, politicians steal hope, and the people steal power from both. For more than sixty years the Pakistani people have been stuck in a tug-of-war between ineffective politicians and towering generals; between democracy without governance and autocracy without law; between a state strengthening a nation and competing nations weakening it; between Islam as a unifying identity and a national identity crisis; and between countries we learn to hate (India) and countries we can't learn to love (the United States).
Today, more than half of 175 million Pakistanis are living under undemocratic or extra-constitutional rule in Punjab and the Swat valley. The International Monetary Fund is providing life support to a high-prices-low-jobs economy showing little signs of recovery. A counterinsurgency policy process tainted with divergent security interests - good Taliban vs. bad Taliban - has led to poor planning, implementation, and evaluation. Perplexed, the United States has all but given up on joint intelligence and military operations in Pakistan's tribal areas - Al Qaeda's sanctuary. Instead, frequent drone attacks, despite the political outcry in Islamabad over collateral damage, continue as Washington completes a U.S.-Pakistan/Afghanistan policy review, focusing on military aid, training and equipment.
This dawn brings hope to end this cycle of state failure and ephemeral stability. While millions are placated by Islamabad's decision to free politicians, journalists, and students, time is not on the side of the current Pakistan Peoples Party government. The following political, military and economic steps must be taken with judicious speed.
First, President Zardari should unilaterally and unequivocally give all powers back to Prime Minister Yusuf Reza Gillani that was consolidated unconstitutionally by his predecessor, President Musharraf. Second, Gillani's efforts to reconcile with the second largest political party in the largest province, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz of Punjab, should be encouraged and expedited. The federal ministers for defense, information, foreign affairs, interior, and finance must form the backbone of the upcoming offensive against the wars on poverty, terrorism and ethnic and sectarian strife; free from partisan pandering, their selection should reflect experience, expertise and innovativeness.
Third, an overhaul of the counterinsurgency policy process is needed to dwarf demands from the United States for more trainers and equipment. Pakistan national security policy, while traditionally under the domain of the military, was unnecessarily and completely ignored by the current regime. This policy pause must resume and put on fast forward. The Prime Minister announced last year that the National Counter Terrorism Commission may be a good place to integrate the vast variety of intelligence, diplomatic, judicial and military efforts amongst local, and with U.S. and Afghan agencies. Questions about troop morale, peace deals with local Taliban, and military's reluctance to hold and build an area after clearing it must be at the center of any security policy reform. Moreover, parliamentary committees on intelligence and defense should be given oversight and appropriations authority to truly own the war against insurgents, and deter Islamabad from signing blank checks to Washington. Beyond institutional mission statements, pragmatic metrics of success must determine review and outcome.
Fourth, and perhaps the most important, the economy must be fixed in tandem with decreasing physical insecurity. This can be achieved by effective counterinsurgency and securing foreign aid and loans in the short term, enhancing comparative advantage of prime exports such as textiles and technology services in the medium term, and building human capital by large investments in education in the long term. The ultimate goal ought to be a coalition government partnered with the military and intelligence agencies on national security interests, as well as a government supportive of an independent judiciary and a viable economy.
After last year's national elections, Pakistan's transitional democracy has entered a second phase. Not everyone who has fought for change is praise worthy: judges have abused power, lawyers have joined corrupt political parties, and sanctimonious politicians from both sides of the aisle have coerced Supreme Court justices and ratified military coups. But I can say this with certainty: this week, the good and the bad defeated the ugly.
Haider Mullick is a Senior Fellow at the U.S. Joint Special Operations University, focusing on U.S.-South Asia Relations.. He can be reached at www.haidermullick.com
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