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No Big Victory for Pakistani Democracy: John R. Schmidt, The National Interest, Apr. 22, 2013—Pakistan’s ruling Pakistan People’s Party government recently became the first in the country’s history to complete a full five-year term in office. Every previous civilian government had ended before its time, some deposed by the army acting behind the scenes, others through outright military coups.


Is Pakistan a Failing State?: Gustav Ranis, Real Clear World, April 28, 2013—On May 11 Pakistanis are expected to go to the polls and celebrate transition in what's been a rare five-year civilian rule. The election may or may not usher in another period of civilian rule. Fundamental reform is required of the political system that functions under the shadow of military power and religious extremism. Otherwise, Pakistan is destined to drift as a failing state.


Losing Pakistan: An Insider’s Look at How the U.S. Deals With its Ally: Omar Waraich, Time World, April 14, 2013—One evening in June 2009, Richard Holbrooke paid a visit to Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari at the presidential palace in Islamabad. It was one of his first visits to the region as the Obama Administration’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan.


On Topic Links



How Pakistan's Best and Brightest Flock to Terror: Sebastian Rotella,  Real Clear World, Apr. 13, 2013

Fleeing Pakistan Violence, Hazaras Brave Uncertain Journey: Declan Walsh, New York Times, April 27, 2013

The Afghanistan-Pakistan Peace Talk Tipping Point: Shamila N. Chaudhary, Omar Samad, The Daily Beast, Apr 26, 2013

Pakistan Taliban Using Violence as Election Strategy: Affan Chowdhry, The Globe and Mail, Apr. 29 2013




John R. Schmidt

The National Interest, Apr. 22, 2013


Pakistan’s ruling Pakistan People’s Party government recently became the first in the country’s history to complete a full five-year term in office. Every previous civilian government had ended before its time, some deposed by the army acting behind the scenes, others through outright military coups.


During the current era in Pakistani politics, beginning with the death of military dictator Zia ul-Haq in 1988, three successive civilian governments (two led by Benazir Bhutto, the other by Pakistan Muslim League party leader Nawaz Sharif) were brought to premature conclusions due to army interference in the political process. In all three instances, the army persuaded the largely figurehead president of Pakistan at the time to dismiss the sitting government, taking advantage of a constitutional amendment introduced by Zia giving the president such authority.


When this amendment was repealed by Nawaz Sharif in 1997, at the beginning of his second term as prime minister, the army had no choice but to let him serve out his full five-year term or remove him from office through a coup. It ended up opting for the latter. The army chief who carried out the coup, Pervez Musharraf, ruled the country until the 2008 elections that brought the PPP-led government, headed by Asif Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, to power.


Many observers, including those inside Pakistan, have hailed the success of the Zardari government in serving out its entire term as a significant victory for Pakistani democracy. But though there are genuine grounds for optimism, it is important to recognize that the Zardari government did not survive because it did a better job of governing than its deposed predecessors. Each of those governments ran into serious economic trouble early on in their tenure and frittered away most of the popularity that had brought them to power. It is no accident that their removal by the army acting behind the scenes attracted strong popular support. The Pakistani people may be long suffering, but they are also impatient. Thus, the opposition party succeeded in easily winning the elections that were held after the army interventions. The 1999 Musharraf coup was, if anything, even more popular.


It appears that even if given a full term to carry out its electoral mandate, an elected Pakistani government is incapable of delivering anything remotely resembling good government. That may be due to the very nature of Pakistani political culture. The current Pakistani political system is dominated by wealthy landowners, popularly known as feudals, and their rich industrialist counterparts. Together they practice a distinctive form of patronage politics: their goal in seeking public office is to gain access to state resources, which can then be shared among their members.


When in power, feudal Pakistani politicians are so narrowly focused on the dispensing and consumption of patronage that they have little time or interest in dealing with the myriad systemic problems that plague the country. Their lack of interest in the long-term welfare of their country is reflected, for example, in the fact that hardly any of them pay income taxes. Their political default setting is to kick serious problems down the road. The situation is so bad that, despite the fact that Pakistan spends hardly any money on public education or health, and possesses no social safety net to speak of, it is still deeply and chronically in debt.


So how did the Zardari government manage to serve out its full five year term? The bottom line is that the army, although sorely tempted on several occasions, was not prepared to carry out another coup. Since early 2004, the army has had its hands full combating a major Pakistani Taliban insurgency in the tribal areas and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. It apparently had little stomach for adding the running of the country to its current list of woes.


Even more importantly, the army’s last experiment in governance during the Musharraf era was widely perceived as an unmitigated failure, including within the army itself. Not only did Musharraf end up doing just as bad a job of governing as his civilian predecessors, his decision to ally with the United States in the war on terror proved to be highly unpopular with the Pakistani public. This has made the current army leadership, which places great stock in its public image, extremely reluctant to try its hand again anytime soon. In addition, ordinary Pakistanis seem to have finally recognized that, however incompetent their civilian rulers might be, the army is not the answer.


The current favorite to win the upcoming elections, scheduled for May 11, is the PML party of Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister whom Musharraf deposed in 1999. Nawaz unfortunately combines the worst instincts of a narrowly focused patronage politician with a ruthless authoritarian temperament. During his previous tenure in office, he made the mistake of firing two army chiefs within a single calendar year. This makes him the odds-on favorite for the title of future Pakistani prime minister most likely to be removed by an army coup. The army may have decided that it is prepared to live with bad governance, but it is unlikely to sit still at any renewed efforts by Nawaz to destroy its institutional independence.


The biggest wild card in the May 11 elections is the emergence of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, led by Imran Khan. The handsome, charismatic Imran is a former cricket star and by far the greatest sports hero in Pakistani history. His party, which had languished in the wilderness during the first decade after its founding, suddenly emerged on the national scene following massive rallies in Lahore and Karachi in late 2011 that attracted legions of young people. Imran promised to unleash a "tsunami" that would sweep away the corrupt and incompetent patronage-based parties that have dominated Pakistani politics since the death of Zia.

Despite the big crowds, however, it is unclear how well the PTI will fare at the ballot box. Recent public-opinion polls suggest that it enjoys a level of nationwide support comparable to that of the PML and PPP. But it lacks the elaborate and well organized patronage networks of the traditional feudal parties, which are highly effective in turning out the vote. This has long been the primary difference maker in the hardscrabble of Pakistani politics.


However well or poorly the PTI does on May 11, its emergence into the political mainstream illustrates that a significant number of Pakistanis, particularly among the young, have become fed up with patronage politics as usual. It is this, rather than the success of the Zardari government in serving out a full five-year term, that offers some small hope for the future of Pakistani democracy. This could either result in the political tsunami Imran talks about or generate only a small and temporary ripple in the Pakistani body politic—only time will tell.


Imran has already felt the need to bring feudal politicians into his ranks in the hope of tapping into their patronage vote banks. And even if he did someday manage to win power, it would be a herculean task for anyone to break the stranglehold on Pakistani political and economic life enjoyed by the landowning and industrial elite—much less implement anything resembling meaningful systemic change. Even the army, whose constant interference in Pakistani politics has made a bad situation that much worse, has never tried to destroy or otherwise dispossess the traditional landowning aristocracy.


If Pakistan were just another Podunk third world country choking to death on its economic and democratic failures, that would be one thing. But unfortunately, Pakistan is also a nuclear weapons armed state that both supports, and is at war with, a variety of radical Islamic groups. What happens there clearly matters. And in this respect even Imran Khan offers very little to root for. He is openly hostile to the United States, has flirted with fundamentalist Pakistani religious parties who share his antipathy toward the feudal political establishment, and appears to favor a conciliatory policy toward the Pakistani Taliban and other radical Islamic groups.


Unfortunately, there is probably very little that the United States or any outsider can do about all this. It can threaten or cajole, offer or renege, all of which it has done many times in the past, to little or no avail. Unfortunately but perhaps inevitably, it is the Pakistani people themselves who will determine what kind of political system they live under and what kind of figure they cut in the world. Viewed against this backdrop, the success of the Zardari government in finishing out its full five year term of office constitutes only very modest grounds for optimism. It could easily end up being little more than a speed bump on Pakistan's current one-way trip to Palookaville.


John R. Schmidt teaches at the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University. 


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Gustav Ranis

Real Clear World, April 28, 2013


On May 11 Pakistanis are expected to go to the polls and celebrate transition in what's been a rare five-year civilian rule. The election may or may not usher in another period of civilian rule. Fundamental reform is required of the political system that functions under the shadow of military power and religious extremism. Otherwise, Pakistan is destined to drift as a failing state.


I first entered Pakistan in September 1958, two weeks before the civilian government of Iskander Mirza gave way to Muhammad Ayub Khan who turned out to be a benevolent dictator – until he went astray by encouraging war with India in 1965. Indeed, Pakistan has had 40 years of military rule out of 65 years since independence.


The coming election will put to test the Pakistan People's Party leadership of Asif Ali Zardari, who succeeded his murdered wife, Benazir Bhutto. Polls indicate that Nawaz Sharif of Punjab's Muslim League is likely to take over, though the uncertainty over the return of previous dictator Pervez Musharraf and the efforts of Imran Khan, the cricket legend, cast doubt on the outcome. The reception for Musharraf on his return from self-imposed exile abroad was underwhelming, and he was has been arrested on a court order on a charge of violating the constitution. But his ego remains intact. Khan had a tumultuous rally in Lahore recently, but even though the military may be supporting him, questions about the sustainability of his appeal are being raised.


Regardless of who takes over, Pakistan continues to teeter on non-governability. Its own version of the Taliban with ties to the Afghan Taliban, are complicated by the strong mysterious influence of the ISI, the country's intelligence service. Any prognosis of the political economy future of the system is hazardous. Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, seems to be virtually in the hands of the local Taliban, and northern Waziristan, at the border with Afghanistan, is but one target under frequent attacks by militants. The Pakistan military continues to carry a big stick, but seems not particularly anxious to intervene in the election, partly out of concern about losing US aid, which could be automatically cut off in the case of a military coup. The strength of the Supreme Court, which has repeatedly and successfully challenged the executive branch, leading to dismissal of a prime minister, contributes to the signs of a failing state.


It should be noted that in the late 1950s and 1960s Pakistan was generally admired as a development paradigm and attracted the attention of development economists, in contrast to India which then lagged behind. But after 1990 when India's reforms began to take hold, the situation completely reversed, with India en route to middle-income status and Pakistan, in the absence of reform, exhibiting an economy which continues to be creaky and in the doldrums.


For decades, Pakistan has refused to tax its feudal landlords, leading to a 12 percent tax/GDP ratio and a high dependency on foreign donors, with 99 percent of the population reporting attendant corruption. Only 860,000 of the 183 million population pay tax. Amnesty offered in December 2012 to the richest tax evaders to pay a 40,000-rupee penalty on undervalued income and on assets of as much as 5 million rupees has had little response. The current account has turned to deficit with higher prices for imported oil accompanied by lower prices for exported cotton. Foreign-exchange reserves are consequently currently under $13 billion, below 2 months of import requirements, and the rupee has depreciated by more than 40 percent since 2007.


Pakistan's education lags behind Bangladesh's. Only 0.7 percent of the Pakistani GDP is spent on health. The literacy rate is at 53 percent and poverty at 24 percent, with a Gini ratio of .41, a measure of income disparity, with zero indicating no disparity. Population growth, though declining since the late 1980s, is still at the highest level in the subcontinent. Budget deficits are at 7.5 percent of GDP, above the government's target of 4.7 percent. Infrastructure is lagging, especially power, short by 4000 megawatts if blackouts lasting as long as 18 hours a day are to be avoided. Indeed, energy shortages are estimated to cut growth by 4 percent , bringing it down to an average of 3 percent from 2008 to 2012.


The neglected agricultural sector provides 23 percent of the GDP and 44 percent of the country's labor force, and non-agricultural activity in the rural areas has been lagging. Textiles and apparel provide 16 percent of the country's exports, and 40 percent of its employed labor force, with small and medium enterprises comprising 80 percent of the total non-agricultural employment. The official unemployment rate, as reported by the International Labor Organization is 6 percent, but this does not take into account the large percentage of the underemployed in both agriculture and the large urban informal sector.


To add to the problem, several provinces are restive and the overall system lacks what economist Simon Kuznets called organic nationalism, pulling together groups separated by language and culture. Fiscal decentralization with grants from the center is based on population size, favoring the large provinces and ignoring differential poverty and revenue-generating capacity.


The only favorable features are the size of remittances by Pakistani workers in the Gulf and elsewhere, currently at $13 billion, and the large number of NGOs, up to 12,ooo in all. Remittances end up in the hands of the rural population, allocated to consumption and housing, thus avoiding government controls. And NGOs, which do the bidding of wealthy international donors, pursue different goals, offer varying and at times contradicting advice, and tend to get in one another's way.


While foreign aid remains plentiful, there is a growing uncertainty of its usefulness in generating growth. Pakistan ranks third among recipients of US foreign aid, with more than $2 billion, and two-thirds of that goes to the military, not very productive.


On the economic front, the relationship with the US, still the major donor, is sufficiently frayed that the ideal arrangement – leaving decisions more in the hands of the recipient under self-conditionality rules – is unattainable. Instead, aid spending is inefficient, moving up and down with foreign-policy objectives of the donor, the importation of inappropriate technology, distorting income distribution and encouraging corruption in official elite circles. In 2012 foreign aid was $2.5 billion out of $240 billion nominal GDP or approximately 1 percent.


Pakistan's obsession with India has meant military resources deployed along the border and budgets heavily skewed towards a possible confrontation with Indiaover Kashmir. Indeed, Pakistan's economy is on a presumptive war footing which renders it difficult to pursue liberalization and diversification in the globalization context. Ironically, though, Pakistan has been more welcoming to business than its more successful neighbors. The World Bank's "Ease of Doing Business" ranks Pakistan in 85th place, above China's in 89th place and India in 133rd place. But insecurity and misgovernance nullify the impact of that welcoming mat.


China remains a close ally and provides aid without visible strings attached. There is a marked contrast with India, which mainly plays the traditional aid game with traditional Western OECD donors. In the absence of fundamental change, political as well as economic, unlikely under present circumstances, there is little hope Pakistan can emerge from the category as a failing state.


Gustav Ranis is the Frank Altschul Professor Emeritus of International Economics at Yale University.

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Omar Waraich

Time World, April 14, 2013


One evening in June 2009, Richard Holbrooke paid a visit to Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari at the presidential palace in Islamabad. It was one of his first visits to the region as the Obama Administration’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. In that role, Holbrooke — who died in December 2010 — wanted to broaden and deepen engagement with the country many had come to see as the most dangerous place in the world. And Zardari had his own ideas about how Washington could help.


“Pakistan is like AIG,” Zardari told Holbrooke, comparing his country to the U.S. insurance giant that was bailed out in 2008. “Too big to fail.” Washington, Zardari keenly recalled, had given AIG “$100 billion. You should give Pakistan the same,” Zardari said. Holbrooke smiled throughout the meeting.


Sitting with Holbrooke was Vali Nasr, then his senior adviser. Nasr recalls the episode in his new book, The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat, a searing critique of how the Obama Administration has been too timid to transform American foreign policy. Holbrooke, writes Nasr, was troubled by Zardari’s display of dependence on the U.S. and the sense of entitlement that went with it. “Holbrooke didn’t like the image of Pakistan holding a gun to its own head as it shook down America for aid,” writes Nasr, now dean of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.


Holbrooke did agree, however, with Zardari that Pakistan was important and the U.S. had a long-term interest in its stability. For the next year and a half, Holbrooke and his team pursued a policy of diplomatic engagement with Pakistan. It went beyond the traditional approach narrowly based on security concerns. The idea was to try and address Pakistan’s strategic calculus — an ambitious target that may have underestimated how far Pakistan was willing to go without changing its ways. “What Holbrooke wanted,” Nasr tells TIME in an interview, “was to engage big and try and change the course of this country and its relationship with Washington once and for all.”


But from the very start, President Barack Obama and the White House never really bought into the idea. “The White House tolerated Holbrooke’s approach for a while,” Nasr writes in the book, “but in the end decided that a policy of coercion and confrontation would better achieve our goals in Pakistan.” Washington was less interested in working with Pakistan, Nasr says, than pressuring it into compliance. That strategy, he says, has failed. And now, he warns, the U.S. risks pivoting away from the region at the cost of abandoning vital interests that remain there.


“When you look at Pakistan today,” says Nasr, “it is nuclear-armed, in near conflict with India, has a dangerous civil war with its own extremists, is now subject to one of the most brutal terrorism campaigns against its population, that is now coming apart along sectarian lines.” If the U.S. does not maintain influence in Pakistan, he says, it won’t be able to have a positive impact on the direction of the country. “Looking at it from an American perspective,” Nasr says, “we’re just going to be basically saying, ‘We’re going to sit on the sideline and look at this roller coaster go off this rail.’”


Holbrooke’s approach was ambitious. A strategic dialogue was established between the two countries. Nonmilitary aid was tripled. Washington began to reach out to civilian centers in Pakistan for the first time. “There was a discussion on energy and electricity and water and women,” says Nasr. “These were ways of laying out for Pakistan a longer road map with the U.S., and alternately trying to put on the table for Pakistan interests that would gradually wean it away from its strategic outlook and bring it in a new direction.” There would be no quick fix. It was a longer strategy aimed at slowly undoing decades of alienation and mistrust.


In the first two years, Nasr insists that there were rewards. The U.S. got more intelligence cooperation, he details in the book. “More agents, more listening posts, and even visas for the deep-cover CIA operatives who found [Osama] bin Laden.” Long-strained relations between Islamabad and Kabul improved enough for it to help U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan. The Pakistanis also finally moved against the Pakistani Taliban in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan, in military offensives that helped the war across the border. “The Pakistanis didn’t cooperate 100%,” says Nasr. “But they did cooperate 50%.”


But the Obama Administration didn’t have the patience to stick with it. As Nasr acknowledges, there was a rival school of thought that said, “It was too difficult, too time-consuming and wouldn’t work anyway.” When Holbrooke died, their view won out. Nasr resigned from the State Department soon after. In 2011, three major incidents brought the relationship crashing to its lowest-point ever: a CIA contractor, Raymond Davis, allegedly killed two people in Lahore; U.S. Navy Seals carried out a raid to get Osama bin Laden without informing the Pakistanis; and toward the end of the year, 26 Pakistani troops were killed in a cross-border incident.


The security relationship, Nasr says, worked better when there were other efforts alongside it. “The Pakistanis said, ‘O.K., you have security interests. We have economic interests and we have civilian interests,’” recalls Nasr. “We always got much further with the Pakistanis in those first two years when the conversation was not just about drones and terrorists, but it was also about energy and water.”


The CIA and the Pentagon saw the benefits of the cooperation, Nasr notes in his book. But at the same time, he writes, they applied constant pressure that “threatened to break up the relationship.” At one point, Holbrooke turned to him, shaking his head, and said: “Watch them [the CIA] ruin this relationship. And when it is ruined, they are going to say, ‘We told you, You can’t work with Pakistan!’ We never learn.”


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How Pakistan's Best and Brightest Flock to Terror: Sebastian Rotella,  Real Clear World, Apr. 13, 2013—Imagine a terrorist group that recruits tens of thousands of young men from the same neighborhoods and social networks as the Pakistani military. A group whose well-educated recruits defy the idea that poverty and ignorance breed extremism. A group whose fighters include relatives of a politician, a senior Army officer and a director of Pakistan's Atomic Energy Commission.


Fleeing Pakistan Violence, Hazaras Brave Uncertain Journey: Declan Walsh, New York Times, April 27, 2013—Stranded in a dingy hotel in the heart of this port city, waiting for the smuggler’s call, Hussain felt at once trapped and poised for freedom. Behind lay his hometown, Quetta, the city in western Pakistan that has become a killing ground for Sunni sectarian death squads that hunt Shiites.


The Afghanistan-Pakistan Peace Talk Tipping Point: Shamila N. Chaudhary, Omar Samad, The Daily Beast, Apr 26, 2013—U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s diplomatic initiative to host talks between Afghan and Pakistani leaders in Brussels this week was a timely step meant to reset tense relations between the two South Asian neighbors, and revive stalled talks with the Taliban as the 2014 deadline for the U.S. and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan approaches.


Pakistan Taliban Using Violence as Election Strategy, Killing 46 Since Campaign Launch: Affan Chowdhry, The Globe and Mail, Apr. 29 2013—Pakistan’s latest milestone in its democratic development should be historic national elections on May 11. But already there is concern of prepoll rigging – except not the kind that involves stuffing ballot boxes.


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