Can Pakistan become a democracy?

Hussain HaqqaniThe prejudices of an “ideological state” like Pakistan cannot be swept away by one democratic transition and it will take many years before attitudes change and militancy is curbed so that the country sees entrenched democracy and a pluralist society, says Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani envoy to the US. ”The democratic transition (after the 2013 elections) and development of parliamentary democracy is a welcome step but the deep-rooted prejudices of an ideological state cannot be swept away with one democratic transition,” Haqqani told IANS in an interview at the Jaipur Literary Festival. In a first for Pakistan, the Pakistan Peoples Party government, which came to power in 2008, completed its full five-year term in office – albeit with two prime ministers – and handed power to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) after losing the 2013 elections.

“It will take many years before militant elements adapt and change…,” said the 57-year-old former journalist turned diplomat and author. He is now director of the Center of International Relations and a professor in international relations at Boston University. Haqqani called for the ideological basis of the Pakistani regime to be replaced with a government which can solve the shortcomings of the administration and society, including declining school enrolment, the dismally low proportion of exports in the country’s GDP, the shortfall in tax and revenue collections and other such problems.

“Pakistan doesn’t need any more ideology in its governance but instead needs to become a functional government,” stressed Haqqani, who identifies himself as one of the 95 percent of the Pakistani population born after the Partition, and thus “not needing raison d’etre” for their existence and deem. Haqqani said schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai, who was shot and critically injured by the Pakistani Taliban for advocating education for girls, was a role model for the country, and not Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafeez Saeed.

“I hope all democratic forces work together so a pluralist Pakistan emerges, excluding the terrorists and jihadis,” he added. Asked how he saw the future of his country, Haqqani asserted as a Pakistani, he had “no option but to be optimistic about its likely prospects.”

Haqqani, who has written “Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding” on the long-standing but difficult ties about the two countries, to a query on how these had affected relations between Pakistan and India, stressed he had used the word “delusion” in the plural because there were delusions on both sides.

“The alliance never met or fulfilled the expectations of the US, nor did they meet the needs of Pakistan.

He said the relations, and the delusions, had three consequences.

“Firstly, they made Pakistan dependent on the US. Secondly, they prolonged the hostilities between India and Pakistan due to the high levels of military assistance Pakistan received from the US… and India, in turn, from the then Soviet Union,” he said.

Third was that it led to dysfunctions in the internal dynamics of Pakistan and helped the rise of jihadis, which has had direct consequences for the relations between the two neighbours.

He pitched for good ties between the neighbours, pointing out that the two countries shared the same subcontinent as well as 5,000 years of common history and just 66 years as two independent nations.

“There are six million families in Pakistan with relatives across the border in India,” said Haqqani, who resigned as his country’s ambassador to the US in 2011 following the “Memogate” episode in which a Pakistani-American businessman alleged Haqqani had given him a memo for Admiral Mike Mullen, then chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, soon after the raid in Abbottabad in which Al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden was killed, seeking the US government’s help in preventing a military takeover in Pakistan.

At a JLF session earlier, Haqqani had advocated that India should tell Pakistani leaders who make a litany of complaints over unsettled issues to instead look inwards and solve their country’s and society’s own shortcomings in its polity, society and economy.

“Any time Pakistani leaders make complaints over unsettled issues, India should tell them to look inwards and solve their own issues – the sharply declining school enrollment, the falling level of exports which are just 10 percent of its GDP, its low tax collections and so on,” he said.

Making Pakistan insecure is not a solution, he maintained, but noted that Pakistan must also realise that as a nuclear weapon state, its existence is not in danger.

Apart from serving as envoy to the US (2008-11), the Karachi-born Haqqani, who began his career as a journalist and worked with Pakistan Television, has also served as advisor to Nawaz Sharif in his first term as prime minister and then to Benazir Bhutto in her second term as prime minister.

Source: IANS