Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, March 16, 2007

Scholars call on U.S. to promote democratic reform in Pakistan

At a Hudson Institute forum today on stability and democracy in Pakistan, leading regional experts argued that seemingly uncritical U.S. support of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and the military-backed government that he oversees in Pakistan – a key ally in the war on terror – has both bolstered anti-American sentiments and undermined prospects for genuine democracy in the nation.

Marvin G. Weinbaum, a Middle East Center scholar and a former State Department analyst for Pakistan and Afghanistan, led off the panel by outlining the unsound nature of the U.S.-Pakistani alliance. According to Weinbaum, the U.S. continues to alter its policy towards Pakistan to appease Musharraf, despite simmering impatience with, what are generally considered, incomplete and insincere counterterrorism efforts. U.S. praise of Musharraf, Weinbaum said, only reinforces a commonly-held view among Pakistanis that their president is serving American interests at the expense of the needs of his people. It also has the added effect, according to Weinbaum, of endorsing inadequate democratic progress and marginalizing the political moderates that offer the best hope for realization of that progress. To counteract this, Weinbaum says that the U.S. needs to make clear to ordinary Pakistanis that they have a sustained commitment to their welfare. This can be achieved through greater U.S. funding for social programs and reduced funding for the Pakistani military, he said.

Husain Haqqani, a Hudson Institute scholar and the editor of the Hudson journal ‘Current Trends in Islamist Ideology’, recounted the circumstances of Vice President Dick Cheney’s recent visit to Pakistan – which coincided with suicide bomber attacks and the testing of a missile capable of reaching, according to Islamabad, “every Indian city” – as a way of illustrating the dysfunctional nature of the Pakistani state. This dysfunction is rooted squarely in military rule – and the billions in U.S. aid that sustain it – which makes the country a “one-legged stool” that stands entirely on the army, Haqqani said. The Pakistani military, he maintained, holds contempt for, and deliberately undermines and stifles other branches of government. A narrow emphasis on military might has also compromised technological innovation and basic service delivery. Haqqani later went on to admonish the U.S. government for their tendency to think in black and white terms in foreign policy, namely “Who can we shoot or who can we go to bed with?” According to Haqqani, the U.S. needs to do neither with Musharraf, as promoting meaningful, open discourse will produce better results for both sides in the end.

Dr. Hasan-Askari Rizvi, one of Pakistan’s most esteemed political scientists and a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, expressed his apprehension as to the fairness of the forthcoming presidential, parliamentary, and provincial elections that are slated to take place in Pakistan later this year. Rizvi acknowledged that these elections don’t necessarily offer the Pakistani people a real choice, as it is likely that the Musharraf administration will severely repress, or completely exclude, legitimate opposition challengers. Indeed, instead of being committed to progress, the Pakistani government is simply attempting to sustain their power and cultivate a false image of effectiveness, Rizvi said.


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