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Archive for February 2008

A new course for the US and Pakistan

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A new course for the US and Pakistan
Frederick Barton | 12.02.2008 | The Boston Globe
[link]

AS PAKISTAN faces two near-term crises, parliamentary elections on Feb. 18 and increasing extremist violence, the United States has an opportunity to build a new and constructive relationship with the country. In the past, America has been reactive, driven by fear and uncertainty, with the end-result a military dominated policy. Now, there is a chance to forge a more values-centered partnership.

Pakistan’s champions of democracy are warning that the election will not be free or fair. They cite recent violence, a biased elections commission, intelligence community meddling, and the absence of an independent judiciary. While the major democratic parties are expected to win, the rewriting of the rules by President Pervez Musharraf will probably produce a political stalemate or a public rejection.

Before any US administration or Congress takes further action in Pakistan, there must be a greater confidence in answers to the following questions: How can the political ownership of Pakistan’s people be maximized in the coming days and months? What is the best model for a peaceful and democratic transition in a post-Musharraf Pakistan? What are the sources of extremist violence within Pakistan and how can the United States be of greatest help?

There are three steps that the United States could pursue to set its relationship with Pakistan on a more promising course.

First, the United States should champion the rule of law. For too long, Pakistan’s ruling elites have shaped justice to their own service. It is hard to imagine a successful Pakistani election without the reinstatement of the suspended judges, at all levels of the system.

Reforms of the police, prisons, prosecutors, and corrupt officials will only progress if the judiciary is insulated from political pressures. The recent demonstrations by Pakistan’s lawyers are precisely the kind of opening that America should champion. Once the deposed judges are returned to the bench, an independent review of the judiciary and how it stood up to prior Constitutional violations and corruption should be a top priority. This is consistent with America’s deepest held beliefs and a clear way to align ourselves with Pakistan’s public and its civil society.

Second, the United States must improve its knowledge of Pakistan. At a time when Pakistan is growing and 50 percent of its 160 million people are under 20, the United States has been too dependent on singular leaders, the military and a few designated friends. Washington is more bravado than brilliance and has failed to tap into a huge diaspora of Pakistani-Americans (the largest single group of Muslim immigrants), and others who will extend the official reach.

Accelerated learning should be our concern. This will not happen with more high level, two-day visits – mostly to Islamabad – from top Washington officials, from a bunkered down and overstretched Embassy, or from multiple military scenarios that the Pentagon is designing. The deployment by the National Security Council of several small, integrated, interagency, and interdisciplinary teams, to travel throughout Pakistan for conversations with all levels of society would help develop a strategic and more grounded sense in the coming two months.

Finally, we must develop a trusted partnership with the people of Pakistan. The relationship of the past two decades has been built on events and issues rather than a joint commitment to the long-term well-being of Pakistan’s people. Of the $10 billion of US involvement in the last five years, little has touched the hearts of Pakistanis, such as America’s effective response to the devastating earthquakes of 2005.

Pakistan’s tribal belt may be the place to start. Because of the challenges of the region, from well-armed insurgents to the destruction of maliks, any American approach must complement participatory tribal structures and a freshly engaged Pakistani government. The dangers will require more self-directed projects that combine catalytic US transfers and significant local inputs. Such a combination could speed delivery and capture the public’s imagination.

The benefits of such a fast-flowing initiative would be felt well beyond the 20 million people of the Northwest. Emigration from the frontier areas has made Karachi the largest Pashtun city in the world and others have found gainful employment in Dubai, England, and the United States. The economic center of the region is thousands of miles away and yet there is a strong connection home. If the global Pashtun people see that there is a genuine effort to invest and better the lives of their long neglected native area, a lasting alliance can be started.

Pakistan’s people must be at the center of any national resurgence. By building an informed relationship with Pakistan’s citizens that is anchored by the rule of law, America can be a constructive ally.

// Frederick Barton is codirector of the Center for Strategic & International Studies Post Conflict Reconstruction Program.

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Written by SAC-USA

12 February 2008 at 1:03 pm

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Pakistan’s questionable election

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Pakistan’s questionable election
Editorial | 11.02.2008 | The Boston Globe
[here]

PAKISTAN IS preparing for parliamentary elections Feb. 18, and the auguries for a fair vote could hardly be worse. Given Pakistan’s nuclear capability and its role (willing or not) as sanctuary for Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the United States and many other countries share an interest in pressing President Pervez Musharraf for concrete protections against election fraud and voter intimidation.

Recent suicide attacks and assassinations have provoked fears about public safety, eliminating the mass rallies that are a staple of political campaigns in Pakistan. Although Musharraf has lifted a ban on most private TV channels, his subsequent imposition of a restrictive code of conduct has stifled criticism of his government and outlawed nearly all live coverage of events.

Perhaps most discouraging is the pervasive expectation that Musharraf’s allies will rig the election results, particularly in rural areas controlled by his loyalists. This anticipation of government cheating has led to warnings from the major opposition parties that their followers are prepared to take to the streets to protest any falsification of the vote tallies.

Were this to happen, Pakistan would be saddled with the worst possible outcome from its parliamentary election. The balloting would not produce the democratic legitimacy the country needs, and instead of resolving conflicts by peaceful means, the voting could usher in a violent contest for power.

Although there are limits to the influence outsiders can have on Musharraf, the United States and its European allies ought to be pushing for practical measures that might improve the chances both for an honest process and for post-election stability. The most useful, and perhaps the most feasible, action would be to insist on widespread, credible monitoring of the voting and the counting of votes.

At present, the insecurity induced by jihadist bombings and murders is intimidating voters and activists. It has caused a US observer mission to change its plans and withdraw. At the same time, the Pakistani Army has denied requests from political parties to dispatch their own observers to polling places on election day.

Musharraf, a retired army chief, commonly boasts that his military colleagues can be counted on to guarantee order and stability in Pakistan. President Bush ought to remind Musharraf of that boast and tell him this is the time to show that the Pakistani Army can protect voters and election monitors throughout the country.

A team of monitors from the European Union is in Pakistan now, and independent Pakistani civic groups are hoping to station observers at polls in all the country’s 272 voting districts. If the army protects monitors and the monitors verify an honest election, the struggle for power in Pakistan can be decided in the voting booth, not in the streets.

Written by SAC-USA

11 February 2008 at 7:52 am

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75% of Pakistanis want Musharraf to leave

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Survey shows 75 pct Pakistanis want Musharraf out
11.02.2008 | Dawn – The Internet Edition
[here]

ISLAMABAD, Feb 11 (Reuters) Seventy-five percent of Pakistanis want President Musharraf to quit, according to a survey released by the U.S.-based International Republican Institute Monday. The IRI survey also said Musharraf’s job approval rating had dropped to a new low of 15 percent. IRI said the assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto on December 27 had “greatly impacted the political landscape”, and her Pakistan People’s Party(PPP) was “benefiting from both a wave of sympathy as well as a backlash against the government”. Conducted in late January, the survey showed 50 percent of respondents said they would vote for the PPP, while 22 percent favoured the party of Nawaz Sharif, and only 14 percent backed the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid). Only 33 percent of respondents to the IRI survey supported the Pakistan army “fighting extremists in North West Frontier Province and the tribal areas”. Just nine percent thought Pakistan should be cooperating with the United States in the war on terrorism, though 65 percent recognised that Taliban and al Qaeda’s operations in the country were of serious concern. The survey showed only 13 percent of respondents blamed al Qaeda for Benazir Bhutto’s killing. Sixty-two percent said the government was responsible. The survey polled 3,485 men and women from urban and rural constituencies. Nearly 77 percent of respondents said economic issues would be the main factors determining how they would vote. Asked if there was one leader who was the best person to handle the country’s problems only eight percent named Musharraf.

Written by SAC-USA

11 February 2008 at 7:50 am

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Harvard-MIT Student Debate on Pakistan this Friday (2/8)

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Please join us for a panel discussion on Pakistan’s current state and future prospects. The format will be highly interactive, so active audience participation is encouraged.

— February 8th
— 6:00pm to 7:30pm
— MIT room 4-270 [map]

There will be four panelists:
— Samad Khurram (Harvard student and member of the Student Action Committee)
— Aqil Sajjad (Harvard student and member of the Student Action Committee)
— Ali Wyne (MIT student)
— Saad Zaheer (MIT student)

NOTE: This event is being organized privately by a group of students at Harvard and MIT. PaksMIT is not a cosponsor and bears no responsibility for any of the comments that are made during the discussion.

Written by SAC-USA

6 February 2008 at 11:36 pm

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British Gay Activist Confronts Pervez Musharraf

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London’s OutRage! Leader Blocks Pakistani Strongman’s Limo
Doug Ireland | 01.31.2008 | GayCityNews
[full article here and here]

Britain’s best-known gay activist, Peter Tatchell, confronted Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf this past weekend when the dictator arrived in London on the last leg of his European tour, blocking the general’s car with his body repeatedly to protest “the suppression of democracy and human rights” by the military strongman.

Tatchell, who this year marks the 40th anniversary of his start as an activist, undertook the protest against Musharraf even though he is still suffering the physical after-effects of the severe beating he received last year in Moscow when a crowd of fascist thugs, egged on by the police, violently broke up an attempted Gay Pride demonstration in front of Moscow’s City Hall that Tatchell had gone to Russia to support (see this reporter’s May 31-Jun. 5, 2007 article, “The Agony of Moscow Pride”).

“I’ve still got cognition and physical cordination problems, loss of vision, and memory holes” as a result of the Moscow beating, Tatchell, head of the militant UK queer rights group OutRage!, told Gay City News by telephone from London. He added, “First my doctors told me I’d be alright in a month, then they said three months, and now they’re telling me these problems may never go away.”

The ambush of Musharraf happened outside London’s Hilton Hotel Park Lane on January 25, as the Pakistani president’s motorcade drew close to the hotel, where he was scheduled to speak.

“To avert police attention, I stood inconspicuously at a bus stop reading a newspaper, waiting for Musharraf’s motorcade to arrive,” said Tatchell. “When the police motorcycle escorts drew level, I ran out into Park Lane and straight in front of the president’s car. It screeched to a halt. I unfurled a placard protesting against Musharraf’s massacre of civilians in occupied Baluchistan. The placard read: ‘Stop Pakistan Massacre of Baluch people.'”

Tatchell got his message across to the Pakistani dictator.

“Musharraf could clearly see the placard, and he did not look pleased,” he said. “His driver tried to back up and drive around me, but I ran in front of the limousine again, forcing it to halt once more. I could see Musharraf shouting something at his driver. Perhaps he feared that I was an assassin or a suicide bomber.”

Then, said Tatchell, “The limo reversed again and tried to swerve past me. I blocked it for the third time. Musharraf and his colleagues looked very agitated. Eventually, police motorcycle escorts ran over and dragged me away from the bonnet of Musharraf’s vehicle.”

Pulled across the road by police, Tatchell was pinned against a railing. He was soon released by police, allowing him to join the main anti-Musharraf demonstration outside the Hilton, organized by lawyers protesting the arrest of their colleagues and of Supreme Court judges in Pakistan.

Written by SAC-USA

4 February 2008 at 11:19 pm

Posted in SAC

Adil Najam : Pakistan: Forever In The Eye Of The Storm

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Adil Najam spoke at MIT on Thursday, 31 January, at an event held at MIT. Regarding the current situation in Pakistan, Prof. Najam said it has four main elements:

  • Economic instability: Prof. Najam highlighted the fact that the stock market in Pakistan has done very well, even in the face of bad news. He also mentioned the high level of inequality that exists in Pakistan, which means that some workers can get one month’s salary in one Rs.5000 note, while a middle-class individual can afford to spend that same note in one outing.
  • Political unrest
  • Sectarian unrest
  • Ethnic violence: Prof. Najam noted that ethnic unrest exists between people from different provinces – Balochistan, NWFP, Punjab, Sindh – as well as within provinces – Saraiki and non-Saraiki in Punjab.

Prof. Najam also discussed Pakistan’s “perpetual democratic deficit” in Pakistan in a historical perspective. He highlighted four factors behind this:

  • Inept politicians
  • Zealous military
  • External hegemons
  • Impatient public

He said that, despite the current set of crises in the country – removal of the judiciary, emergency rule, crackdown on the media, arrests of political workers and protesters, murder of Benazir Bhutto, armed battles in Balochistan and NWFP, flour shortage – he is hopeful for the future of democracy in Pakistan. Calling Pakistan a democratic nation under an undemocratic state, he noted how ordinary people have been willing to come out on the streets in protest despite facing attacks and arrest.

Prof. Najam said that he believes the series of crises will bring Pakistan to a tipping point very soon, in the same way that a hike in sugar prices brought about the end of Ayub Khan’s government. He said people will demand change when they become fed up, but he stressed that being fed up is not enough to build a sustainable democracy, since people might forget their anger against autocrats after a few years, and they might be willing to accept military rule again if a democratic government fails.

In particular, Prof. Najam said he was hopeful that telecom technology – such as SMS – would allow Pakistanis to keep themselves informed and to communicate with each other in case of any repression of the electronic media. He stated that more SMS messages were sent on 3 November 2007 – after emergency rule was imposed – than on any other day in Pakistan.

Regarding elections, Prof. Najam said he believes there will be elections at some point in 2008, even if they are not held on the 18th of February, as scheduled. However, he said it is unlikely the elections will be free and fair even if every vote is counted, since rigging is “in the mix,” given the circumstances in Pakistan.

On the “War On Terror,” Prof. Najam said that he believes it is not true that the Musharraf regime has not done enough to fight terrorism. Instead, he said, Musharraf has probably delivered more than any of the other leaders in the “War On Terror,” and the accusations of under-performance made by foreign governments are not valid. However, he said that the Musharraf regime has failed in making the “War On Terror” relevant to Pakistanis and to Pakistan’s interests, resulting in the view that it is America’s war being fought with Pakistani troops and on Pakistani soil.

In response to a question regarding the influence of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Prof. Najam said that he believes if there is one single thing that could be more beneficial to democracy in Pakistan – and elsewhere – it would be the dismantling of intelligence services. He said that the intelligence services create unaccountable and invisible centres of power which act like a shadow government within the country.

Prof. Najam ended his talk with a discussion of how the four factors behind Pakistan’s democratic deficit might be removed in the near future. Regarding inept politicians, he said that it is possible that figures – he named Aitzaz Ahsan, Hamid Mir, and Shahid Masood as examples – who are asking questions of the current government today will be the ones answering questions as leaders in a few years’ time. He said that it is also possible that the military will decide to take a step back from politics for at least a few years to deal with the fallout of the current regime, which has discredited the military in many ways. Regarding external hegemons, Prof. Najam said that new leadership in the global powers could take a different approach towards Pakistan and stop supporting dictatorial regimes. Also, he said that it is possible that the Pakistani people will be more patient with future democratic governments, and be less-inclined to accept military rule as an alternative. He said that, while it is not likely all four of these conditions will be achieved in the near future, any one or two of them will be enough to break the cycle that creates Pakistan’s democratic deficit.

Written by SAC-USA

2 February 2008 at 8:10 pm

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PPP at Amnesty International USA: An Eye Witness Account

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Pakistan People’s Party representatives Ms. Sherry Rehman, Dr. Javaid Laghari, and Ms.K. Palwasha spoke at an event hosted by Amnesty International USA and Washington-Pakistan Forum (WPF) on Jan 24th, 2008. The agenda of the talk was to discuss the current crisis in Pakistan and its implications for human rights. However, the primary topic of the talk by the People’s party leaders turned out to be the demand for UN probe into Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and more importantly the discussion of strategies that Musharraf and his government is using or will use to rig the elections. Miss Palwasha highlighted intricate details of how the election-day rigging will take place. There was also a note of threat in their message (Sherry Rehman said it in so many words at Brookings and as well as at AIUSA) that if they lose the elections, they would not be able to stop their workers from coming on the streets. In short, they talked about different scenarios except for what they will do if they win the elections.

The team had made the same speech at Brookings the day before. At Brookings, PPPs attempts to convince the audience that the elections will be rigged made sense. But at AIUSA and WPF where majority of the audience consisted of Pakistani Americans and Pakistani journalists, these kinds of arguments seemed out of place. We do not need to be convinced that Musharaf and Q-League will attempt foul play in elections. What we want to know is what PPP will do after the elections, in case they win. What alternative to military government are they providing?

So during their speech, we all patiently waited for question and answer session. The first question, of course, was about PPP’s position on reinstatement of judiciary. Sherry Rehman in response to that question explained how judiciary should be appointed rather than answering the question one way or the other. Quite understandably, the question was asked again by someone else and Sherry Rehman’s response was the complaint that the session is becoming a wrangling session. The third question was what PPP is doing to bring political leadership together against the military. Their response to that was again a completely irrelevant discussion of PPP’s recent activities. By that time, everyone in the audience had become quite hopeless. Response to every question was a stream of irrelevant ! PPP team must have realized that also, that they took leave almost 15 minutes into the question and answer session. However, quite a lot of scenes followed after that. A lot of old very ardent Bhutto supporters were present in the audience…people who felt betrayed and showed it.

As a member of SAC-US, I had talked to all the members of the PPP team the day before at Brookings and had told them about the MoU that we wanted PPP to sign with us. The MoU demanded that PPP work towards the reinstatement of the deposed judges, withdrawal of restrictions (Code of Conduct and PEMRA ordinance) on the freedom of print and electronic media, withdrawal of restrictions on the right to assembly and the right to protest. I was told to get in touch with everyone and was duly given contact information of everyone on the team. Having contacted them and not having received any reply (which I expected), I had decided to take this issue up at AIUSA meeting. So after the meeting ended I went up to Dr. Leghari and Sherry Rehman separately and showed them the MoU. They told me to email them the MoU and said that they were eager to sign it. I will email all of them a copy of the MoU. I will also ask them to communicate with us about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in the MoU but I know that we will not get any response from them.

Not just as a member of SAC but also as their constituent, I have a right to know what they will do if I vote for them.

Written by SAC-USA

2 February 2008 at 8:00 pm

Posted in SAC