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Haass: Pakistan Faces ‘Prolonged Difficult Future’

Interviewee: Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations
Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor
January 2, 2008

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Richard N. Haass, an expert on the Middle East and South Asia from years in government, says that the latest developments in Pakistan lead him to see that country heading into a period of instability. He says that President Pervez Musharraf gets credit for recognizing his government’s lack of credibility and inviting Scotland Yard to help in the investigation of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, but he says that “we need to anticipate considerable drift, by which I mean you will have constant political jockeying and skirmishing, lower economic growth, and probably a messy security situation.”

Please summarize what you see happening in Pakistan since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto last month.

There have been at least four important developments. The first is that the government of President Pervez Musharraf seems to have reacted to the domestic and international criticism about its handling of the assassination, including the continued uncertainty on exactly what was the cause of her death, and more importantly who was behind it. The fact that it now looks as if Scotland Yard will be involved is an important development because there is precious little domestic or international confidence in the ability of the government to carry out a fair and impartial investigation. So potentially this is a good development.

Secondly, you had the meeting of Ms. Bhutto’s PPP [Pakistan People’s Party] and the emergence of a new leadership, which, in fact, is not terribly new. This is in many ways a disheartening reminder of how little democracy there is in Pakistan. This is an indication that Pakistani politics are more familial and feudal than they are representative.

You are talking about the naming of her 19-year old son, Bilawal, as the new titular head of the party and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari—who has the nickname of “Mr. 10 Percent” for the kickbacks he allegedly received when he was in government—as the real leader?

Exactly. This is again a disquieting reminder of how distant party politics in Pakistan are from democratic politics.

The other two points?

Thirdly, the decision by President Musharraf to deploy the army around the country in the run-up to the elections, and possibly beyond, is interesting for several reasons. It tells us that both Musharraf and the leadership of the army are worried about internal security. This deployment is not something they would do lightly because it puts the army precisely in the position the army has tried to avoid, which is to be the provider of order. It’s risky for the army not simply because it has not fared terribly well against the terrorists to date, but also because it possibly puts it in a position where it has to deal with civil disturbance. Therefore, it potentially places the army in positions where both the loyalty of its troops and its legitimacy in public eyes could come into question. So for Musharraf to do that or to agree to it is a great risk because if things begin to deteriorate it’s quite possible that the army would decide it was better to oust Musharraf than to allow its own legitimacy and unity to be compromised.

The fourth development is the announcement that elections will be postponed for some six weeks until February 18. My view is that that is a reasonable decision, given the need to provide security, which is an essential prerequisite for an election campaign. I also think that having a specific date set is a good thing rather than leaving the date open-ended.

So if you were writing a memo now for the Secretary of State would you suggest that Washington should give a positive evaluation of the speech and such specifics as the elections postponement?

To me the question is not so much whether the United States should have a positive or negative take on it so much as the United States essentially not having much influence over what was announced or over what will come. That to me is the larger truth of Pakistan, for better or worse—and more often for worse. The future of Pakistan will be determined by Pakistani rather than by American policy. But I take your question. Musharraf deserves conditional support and the United States ought to endorse the decision to hold elections by mid-February; it ought also to state its definition of what would be free and fair and legitimate elections. Independent American organizations, I believe, should offer assistance to the Pakistanis. And at some point, the United States also needs to make clear it is ready to continue aid and to reorient the aid so that it’s more closely connected to the anti-terrorist mission rather than to a general buildup of the Pakistani military.

On the question of the terrorists in Pakistan: They are linked to the terrorists in Afghanistan, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda groups. There doesn’t seem to be much progress in coordinating efforts since the two countries dislike each other so.

You’re right to say there is little love lost between the two governments. But Pakistan’s problems in confronting the internal threat go way beyond any lack of coordination with Afghanistan. What you have in Pakistan is a fundamental lack of state capacity. Pakistan, even though it is sixty years old, faces some of the same nation-building challenges that far younger, less mature countries do. This recent talk about the creation of a Frontier Corps in the western part of the country resembles the challenges we are facing both in Iraq and in Afghanistan, which is the building up of relevant paramilitary capacities of a state. It’s further proof that the Pakistani army is not well-suited to this mission and much of U.S. aid up until now has not contributed significantly to Pakistan’s ability to deal with its real challenges.

Crisis Guide: Pakistan

Pakistan’s army has really been built to fight a war with India, hasn’t it?

Too much of what motivates Pakistani military officers is preoccupation with India, when the reality is that India is not a strategic challenge to Pakistan. Pakistan does not face an external threat in any meaningful way. On a day-to-day basis, the real threat to Pakistan’s sovereignty, to its viability, and to its security and prosperity, comes from within. To the extent that disorder is fed from without, it is not coming from Delhi but from places like Afghanistan or from so-called ‘volunteers’ from other places in the Muslim world.

Prior to Ms. Bhutto’s assassination, the polls seemed to predict her party gaining a plurality and no party winning a clear majority. How do you think the new government will work out after next month’s elections for the parliament?

My guess is that we’re heading toward an electoral outcome in which it is quite possible there is no clear winner. We could be facing a future in which you have a coalition government with two or more parties, which means you would have shared power both within the parliament and between the parliament and the presidency, i.e. with Mr. Musharraf, as well as among the parliament, the presidency, the military, and the courts. My sense is that we’re looking at a period of more distributed or shared power within Pakistan. My prediction is that with or without President Musharraf in place, we need to anticipate considerable drift, by which I mean you will have constant political jockeying  and skirmishing, lower economic growth rates, and probably a messy security situation in which any progress vis-à-vis the Taliban or al-Qaeda or local extremists is at best fitful. That to me is the most likely scenario. One wouldn’t describe as reassuring. It is also possible to imagine worse scenarios in which public order breaks down. Initially, if that were the case, the army would probably decide the time had come to retire President Musharraf.

But even in a post-Musharraf situation, one could imagine where public order deteriorated and the real threat to Pakistan became a version of state failure, or one in which the extremists or terrorists could gain even more sway. That to me is the more troublesome possibility. I would say, however, it is less likely than what I described as “drift.”

You don’t see democracy emerging as a result of all this.

The best and arguably most likely course is a degree of messiness: what would politely be called shared political power and potentially a government of national unity, but in reality, what would be contested political power and a government of national disunity. In those circumstances it is hard to see effective action being taken against those who readily use force against the government. But to answer your question, no, I don’t see Pakistan likely to come together in a form of a highly efficient democracy. I just don’t see the building blocks there at present.

I see a prolonged difficult future in a country that is quite messy. That is bad for the struggle against terrorism; it is bad for Afghanistan; it’s bad for Indians if they have an unstable neighbor; and obviously it is bad for the United States for all of the above.

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