ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Failed State or Failure of Pakistan's Elite?

Pakistan's economy has been growing rapidly and earlier this year it held its freest elections ever. Why then the new and growing description of the country as a failed/failing state? The United States continues to influence policy decisions and the military goes along with that country. It is the failure of Pakistan's elite to break free of the US that is preventing the completion of the transition to democracy and the establishment of full civilian control over state institutions.

LETTER FROM SOUTH ASIAEconomic & Political Weekly EPW july 12, 200811democratic transformation (particularly in getting rid of president Musharraf and re-instating the Supreme Court judges) and the various consequences of the “blow-back” on account of supporting the US war on terrorism against Al Qaida and the Taliban on Pakistan’s Afghan border (now manifest in the way the Pakistani army is involved in extensive military operations against Pakistanis). Clearly, these two fea-tures, albeit critical, do not classify Paki-stan as a failed state – as yet, anyway – but do suggest that Pakistan’s political elite has failed quite miserably at its responsibilities.Banana Republic?What is more interesting is the link between these two failures – one, the incomplete transition to democracy and a complete civilian control over all institutions of the Pakistani state, and, two, the war on terrorism. And the link is theUS and its excessive involvement and pressure on Pakistan’s supposedly sovereign institutions. In the period between early February and end June this year, US state department officials have had more meetings with the two most important unelected Pakistani civilians – Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif – than they probably had with Pakistan’s quasi-civilian leadership between 2002 and 2007. These meetings have been held not just in Pakistan, but apparently in London and in the Gulf states as well, whenever the two Pakistani leaders were abroad. Moreo-ver, more substantive quantitative research would also support the impression that the number of meetings that the two leaders have had with the US ambassador to Pakistan and her excessive public presence in the media has seldom been as high as it has been in the last five months before, during, and after the February 18 elections. While Pakistan has always been considered an “ally” of the US, this latest phase of influence, involvement and force, relegates it to a status far more to that of a banana republic.What does not concern me here is the duplicity of US foreign policy regarding its hypocritical stand on democracy. The evidence of what theUS accepts as demo-cracy and the type of democracy is quite clear: as long as a party or a group of parties which accept or favour US hegemony and in-fluence win an election, then that democracy is acceptable; all other forms are unacceptable despite the fact that the people of Lebanon may have voted for Hezbollah, those of Palestine for Hamas, and so forth. What concerns me is Pakistan’s political elite.Why is the retired general, Pervez Musharraf, still president of Pakistan, after his party lost the February 18 elections? Moreover, many political actors agree that Musharraf remains president unconstitu-tionally and that he should be impeached and tried for his role in the 1999 coup. It would be fair to say that there is a fairly large consensus on at least the first point and that most peopledobelievethat Musharraf should go. Not the US, however. TheUS, rather than support the process of further democratisation, backs one man, not even an institution, who is unpopular and probably illegally in power. The needs and requirements of the US administration and the desires of the Pakistani peopleseem to be at odds. But themainquestionhereis, why does Pakistan’s politicalleadership succumb to US pressure?US InfluenceOne would have thought that the main coalition partners in government in Pakistan today would have risen on the great popular vote that they won and moved the process of democratisation further. They could have done this at least on one of the two fronts regarding the presidency, even if there were some reservations the Pakistan People’s Party had about the Supreme Court judges. Yet, they have given in to US pressure. It is understandable that the US wants Musharraf to stay, but what lever-age does the US have on Pakistan’s political and democratic leadership? This is a ques-tion which continues to be unanswered in Pakistan’s media and in more informed circles. Why does the new leadership need the US to the extent that it continues to keep an unpopular and unwanted president and that it fights a war on terrorism which has caused considerable damage to the Pakistani state itself? Tied to the USWhether it was the military in office or some form of electoral democracy, Pakistan has always been a client state of theUS, except possibly for the brief period during Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s regime in the early 1970s. It is the inability of the current Pakistani political leadership to break free from this path dependence (now structur-ally institutionalised), which prevents Pakistan from becoming a sovereign state. What is strange is that in an era of the rise of other regional and perhaps even global powers in this period of globalisation, Pakistan’s elite still keeps itself tied to Washington rather than explore diverse linkages, economic, political and strategic. The consequences of this subservience to the US by Pakistan’s elite undermines not just democracy but also the foundations of the state itself, as domestic military action shows. We have been there before, inthe 1980s, when support for the US’ firstwar in Afghanistan damaged both democracy and the Pakistani state as well, which was infilt-rated and compromised by fundamentalism. Even more recently, since 2001, support for the US has caused further damage to Pakistan, and the military’s current operation is only an extension of the earlier policy. The Pakistani generals in power in both cases were ably supported and abetted by Pakistan’s elite in following their policies. The inability of the new political leadership to take independent stands only reinforces the impression that it is not just the military leadership which has failed, but that the malaise runs far deeper than we are willing to accept. While Pakistan may not have failed as a state as yet, it is fair to say that its elite continue to lead it down that path.Open Review Several international journals are moving away from closed "Peer Review" of research papers, towards an "Open Review" process. In open reviews anyone can com-ment on a paper submitted for publication. This will increase transparency in reviews as well as enhance participation and involvement of the research community. EPW occasionally posts a submission on its web site and invites comments. Visitors to the EPW web site and readers of the journal are encouraged to offer detailed comments. EPW will discuss the comments with the author and a revised version will be processed for publication.Please visit the Open Review section on our web site ( to read and comment on the paper currently submitted for Open Review.

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