Student Action Committee-USA

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.

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Written by SAC-USA

2 February 2008 at 8:10 pm

Posted in SAC

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