Democracy and Its Discontents in Pakistan and Elsewhere
Benazir Bhutto has been pretty cautious and cagy in her dealings with President Musharraf, avoiding outright calls for his ouster.
In an interview with the Times of London, Bhutto stated:
“[Musharraf’s] two trump cards were the international community and the army. Now he’s losing both. The only option he has is to step aside and hand over power to an interim government of national consensus that will oversee elections. His time is up.”
But, in an example of the bold equivocation that dogs Bhutto, well, maybe not.
According to Reuters, on the same day:
But [Bhutto] has not ruled out further talks with Musharraf.
“We haven’t shut the doors to negotiation,” she said. “To move forward, Musharraf should retire from his army post, restore the judiciary, release the political activists and restore the constitution.”
Let’s get back to bold talk with the Times:
“I face a difficult predicament,” she said. “I’ve long been worried about creeping Talibanisation in Pakistan and if I don’t take the lead there may well be extremist elements that come out. So I have no choice. First because we believe in democracy and second otherwise I will leave a vacuum that someone else might fill.”
Sounding tired but elated, Bhutto vowed to go ahead with the three-day Long March planned for this week, despite government insistence that it will be blocked. The event will bring her into all-out confrontation with the regime.
However, I don’t quite buy Bhutto’s claim that, after 9 years as a self-exiled émigré and three weeks back inside Pakistan, she is the pivot upon which the destiny of Pakistan must turn.
And, contrary to her assertions, as yet neither the international community nor the army have racked up any points on the Bhutto side of the scoreboard.
The backing of the United States, her key overseas constituency, has been less than inspiring:
In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said it was a positive sign that Musharraf had set the stage for elections, but urged him to lift the state of emergency as soon as possible.
She said the role of the United States should be to persuade Pakistan that “it has to get back on the democratic road.”
President Bush earlier described promises to restore civilian rule as “positive,” throwing Washington’s support firmly behind the Pakistani leader, who is considered to be a close ally in the so-called war on terror.
It looks like, despite what Bhutto might have hoped or been told about U.S. support, an overt tilt toward the Bhutto camp by the Bush administration is not forthcoming at the present time.
The problem for her is that Musharraf sees it, too, and will be encouraged to redouble his efforts to isolate Bhutto, quash the protests, and ride out the crisis.
Bhutto is staking her chances on her Long March (from Lahore to Islamabad, concluding with a sit-in at parliament) to force the choice between her and Musharraf for Pakistan’s middle class and the United States.
We’ll know soon enough if it is a victorious triumph, glorious martyrdom, the last gasp of an ambitious politician who got a little too far in front of the parade and found herself isolated and vulnerable—or just another episode in the interminable maneuvering between two unscrupulous rivals who can’t seem to prosper either with or without the other.
Jane Perlez had a good take on Bhutto in the New York Times:
…skepticism… swirls around her here, less than a month after her return from eight years in exile to avoid corruption charges. And it has added to the speculation that, tense as the situation remains, she and her old nemesis, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, may yet have enough ambition in common to run Pakistan together.
Ms. Bhutto, 54, returned to Pakistan to present herself as the answer to the nation’s troubles: a tribune of democracy in a state that has been under military rule for eight years, and the leader of the country’s largest opposition political party…
But her record in power, and the dance of veils she has deftly performed since her return — one moment standing up to General Musharraf, then next seeming to accommodate him, and never quite revealing her actual intentions — has stirred as much distrust as hope among Pakistanis.
She also faces deep questions about her personal probity in public office, which have resulted in corruption cases against her in Switzerland, Spain and Britain, as well as in Pakistan.
Saturday night at the diplomatic reception, Ms. Bhutto showed how she could aggrandize. Three million people came out to greet her in Karachi on her return last month, she said, calling it Pakistan’s “most historic” rally. In fact, crowd estimates were closer to 200,000, many of them provincial party members who had received small amounts of money to make the trip.
Benazir Bhutto: Pakistan’s Ghandi, Joan of Arc, Parnell…or Ahmed Chalabi?
The United States seems to be revisiting its once-promising and potent strategy of regional transformation through democratization, but in a half-hearted and dangerous way.
Belatedly and in the midst of the crisis, the Bush administration may be deciding that wielding this powerful weapon on Pakistan, an ally in the volatile Middle East, is too risky a step.
If the Bhutto challenge fizzles, the United States—which decided to impose her on Musharraf—will suffer some major embarrassment.
Bhutto is clearly a U.S. client, with her injection into the Pakistan scene orchestrated by the Bush administration to provide Washington with an alternative to a military regime that kisses up to China, defines its mission, identity, and legitimacy by confronting India, and has little interest in squandering its resources of men, money, and prestige in bloody, inconclusive, and thankless counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism activities in the Northwest.
She is using the tactics of the color-coded revolutions–exploiting Pakistan’s partial democracy, non-state media, and Musharraf’s political difficulties and near-suicidal clumsiness with destabilizing demonstration, media relations, and psyops–to turn her political campaign for power into a mass movement.
But now it looks like Washington is letting her twist in the wind, instead of giving her the official and sub rosa support that might put topple Musharraf and put her over the top.
Makes you wonder if the Bush administration really thought this thing through.
Without question, the United States wanted Bhutto to re-align Pakistan’s politics toward civilian rule and a closer, more enthusiastic working relationship with the United States.
And, one would like to think, there was a strategy that included a riposte to the possibility that the power-sharing relationship might falter and Musharraf would escalate the struggle with Bhutto by declaring a state of emergency.
Or maybe, in the best style of dysfunctional organizations, we went ahead without a plan and there’s currently a behind the scenes cage match going on between Zalmay Khalilzad and David Addington to determine what our Pakistan policy actually is.
In any case, what makes this effort in U.S.—abetted democratization unique and dangerous is that Pakistan is our ally, not an ex-Soviet satrapy run by some strongman beholden to Moscow.
I think the U.S. public official ambivalence toward deposing Musharraf is not motivated by any tender feelings toward him per se—after all, we pushed Bhutto on him and pretty much created the crisis.
The reason that President Bush is not spreading the word that Musharraf must go from the Rose Garden podium and through his proxies in the media, and by systematic assistance to Bhutto and the lawyers in perpetuating their opposition is because he doesn’t want to admit to our other undemocratic allies—most conspicuously Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, and Jordan—that he repaid a client’s explicitly pledged fealty with treachery and subversion.
How could President Bush look Hosni Mubarak, King Abdullah, King Hussein, and those other emirs in the eye and ask for their trust and support for our risky and destabilizing policies in the Middle East if he openly threw Perez Musharraf to the democracy wolves?
And what would happen if U.S. support for democracy in Pakistan energized democracy advocates inside our other allies, leading to a “Clean Break” of catastrophic democratization sweeping through the Middle East despotisms linked to us but leaving our enemies untouched?
Interestingly, events in Pakistan are coming to a head just as America’s other achievements in supporting democratization are being revealed as partial, transitory, and even counterproductive.
This report torn from the AP newswire today (November 11) much says it all as far as the U.S. sponsored “Rose Revolution” in (ex-Soviet) Georgia is concerned:
Georgians looking to the TV for information on the country’s worst political crisis in years are out of the luck these days. They’ll find soap operas and comedies but no independent news programs.
Four days after being put into place following clashes between police and demonstrators, President Mikhail Saakashvili’s ban on news broadcasts has deprived most Georgians of their primary source of news about the unrest.
The decision to pull the plug has also deprived the opposition of a platform before presidential elections and raised questions about Saakashvili’s commitment to democracy.
Saakashvili — a pro-Western leader whose own rise to power was fueled by independent media — ordered a 15-day state of emergency to defuse a standoff with the opposition. Government troops had used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon to disperse thousands of protesters.
Though Saakashvili has been praised as one of the few post-Soviet leaders to champion democracy and freedom of speech, many Georgians say the media under Saakashvili are less free than under his predecessor, Eduard Sheverdnadze.
Great power exploitation of progressive political movements a.k.a. subversion is an interesting—and awkward—question.
Indeed, the most successful practitioner of communist subversion wasn’t the Soviet Union; it was Imperial Germany, which plunked Lenin on a sealed train to St. Petersburg with the intention of destabilizing Tsarist Russia and forcing its withdrawal from World War I, with spectacular results.
On the other hand, the Soviet-controlled Comintern, purportedly the gold standard of international subversion, was unable to do much more than foment transitory instability at enormous cost to its organization and adherents until the Red Army was added to its toolkit after the Second World War and Stalin switched to a strategy of conquest instead of subversion.
The great power that has been able to roll up a significant number of wins, particularly in the Great Game with Russia in the postwar era, has been the United States.
The U.S.pro-democracy effort operates like the Comintern wishes it had done—if it had a potent combination of attractive ideology, unattractive opponents, charismatic adherents, brains, money, and the freedom to operate freely and openly in its target countries with the explicit support of the World’s Only Hyperpower (TM).
The uneasy democracy coalition of patriots, opportunists, and fellow travelers works through an alphabet soup of “Gongos” ((government funded NGOs) and “Quangos” (quasi-non-government NGOs) dating from the Reagan era as described by journalist Sreeram Chaulia:
The watershed that brought INGOs to the forefront of global democracy promotion was the Reagan administration’s decision to create the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in 1983 to roll back Soviet influence. With a stated raison d’etre of “strengthening democratic institutions around the world through nongovernmental efforts”, NED was conceived as a quasi-governmental foundation that funnelled US government funding through INGOs like the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI), International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), and Freedom House.
These INGOs in turn ‘targeted’ authoritarian states through a plethora of programmatic activities.
NED’s first President, Allen Weinstein, admitted openly that “a lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”32 The organisation was a deus ex machina in the face of scandalous Congressional investigations into the CIA’s “soft side” operations to destabilise and topple unfriendly regimes that embarrassed the government in the late 1970s. “An NGO helps to maintain a certain credibility abroad that an official US government agency might not have.”33
97 percent of NED’s funding comes from the US State Department (through USAID and before 1999, the USIA), the rest being allocations made by right-wing donors like the Bradley Foundation, the Whitehead Foundation and the Olin Foundation.34
Since its conception, and despite the bipartisan structure, “neoconservatives have held tight control over NED’s agenda and institutional structure.”35 Senior George W. Bush administration figures who are signatories to the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), which wears aggressive US foreign interventions on its sleeve, have officiated in NED.
Notwithstanding its claims to “independence” and “nongovernmental status”36, the US State Department and other executive agencies regularly appoint NED’s programme personnel. As one ‘Project Democracy’ (codename for NED in the Iran-Contra scandal) advocate put it, “These ‘private’ agencies are really just fronts for the departments they serve; the agency may prepare a report or a research project that it then gives to the private firm to attach its letterhead to, as if it were really a private activity or initiative.”37
A survey of NED’s partner INGOs reveals a similar pattern of public priorities forwarded by private agents. Freedom House, a neocon hub which succoured the Colour Revolutions, has a history of being headed and staffed by ex-CIA high-level planners and personnel.38 NDI is dominated by ‘liberal hawks’ or right-wing Democrats who find their way to prime foreign policy slots when their party is in power. IRI comprises a herd of far-right Republican politicians and representatives of major financial, oil, and defence corporations.39 IFES top brass belong to conservative Republican ranks, the CIA or military intelligence.40 IREX, the training school for Colour Revolution elite protagonists, is peopled by political warfare, public diplomacy and propaganda specialists from the news media, US Foreign Service and the US military.
The most signal successes of U.S.-supported democratic movements were scored in the nations of the ex-Soviet Union and Soviet bloc: the Orange (Ukraine), Rose (Georgia), and Tulip (Kyrgyzstan) Revolutions.
In each case, a half-hearted commitment to democracy by the local government led to a disputed election, allegations of fraud fueled by U.S.-funded NGOs, pollsters, and media, then mass protests and the installation of a pro-U.S. regime.
The United States made no secret of its participation—while defending its actions as imbued solely with the altruistic democratic spirit.
In the case of Kyrgyzstan, the U.S. embassy openly pitched in:
[A] handful of opposition newspapers that have been rolling off a truck-sized printing press marked “United States Government Department of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor,” housed at a former laundry on a remote stretch of road in the capital, Bishkek.
The press has operated since November 2003 under a program of the New York-based rights and democracy group Freedom House. The project has received more than $1 million in U.S. government funding.
At least three of the printing press’ 60-odd clients, project director Mike Stone said, were opposition papers that fueled growing public anger at Akayev amid the campaign for the late-winter parliamentary elections — a vote whose flaws fueled the opposition push for his ouster.
Those publications embroiled the printing press in a dispute with Akayev’s government, which responded with a power cutoff, police surveillance, the confiscation of a truckload of papers and suggestions of censorship from board members close to the president.
The press, meanwhile, received generators rushed over by the U.S. Embassy after the electricity was cut off, allowing it to print 182,000 copies of an opposition paper ahead of the first round of voting Feb. 27.
The democratic movements in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan were to a certain extent genuine and received external assistance from genuinely philanthropic entities, but also there is no question that they were egged on by the United States, directly, and through our NGOs.
The sometimes heavy U.S. hand is more easily seen in places where democratic movements falter because the local strong man is doing a pretty good job.
Our ineffectual harrumphing on behalf of democracy in Belarus is described by retired Indian career diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar in the virtual pages of Asia Times Online:
The Guardian commented in the run-up to the Belarusian election: “Europe and the US are pouring in money. According to the New York Times, cash is being smuggled from the National Endowment for Democracy, Britain’s Westminster Foundation, and the German Foreign Ministry directly to Khopits, a network of young anti-Lukashenko activists.”
But as Dimitri Simes, president of the Nixon Center in Washington, explained to the Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta, “Despite all the flaws in the Belarusian political system, it’s clear that the criticism of Minsk isn’t based on its domestic policies, but on the fact that Lukashenko isn’t oriented toward cooperation with the West and the US – not even as a formality. He’s more focused on an alliance with Russia.
How things going since those revolutions?
Well, not so good. Apparently, in many cases they brought opportunistic U.S. clients to power who exacerbated public dissatisfaction.
I came across this charming post about Kyrgyzstan datelined November 2006 on the blog of a world traveler:
When I travel for long periods of time (I’m almost at five months now), some places and even countries fade from my memory quickly. When I left Bishkek in September, and then again in early October, it was a peaceful place. But today I got an email from Nargiza, the girl who posed as my translator at the Uzbek embassy:
hi Megan, i stady in university, nou im not working, today is not good because revolition. do you have pictures?
Now, I never said she was the best translator, but she got the job done. Notice how she casually mentions revolution? The Kyrgyz “Tulip Revolution” was only a few years ago and it seems that the current government isn’t cutting it.
Bhadrakumar notes dyspeptically that the anniversary of the glorious Tulip Revolution is known by many as “Looter’s Day” for the street justice that the protesters meted out to the goods and furnishings of the presidential palace.
At Antiwar.com, Justin Romaindo asserted in 2006 with blowtorch rhetoric that after the democratic hubbub died down in Ukraine, the result has the same mixture of corruption and repression but with a democratic tinge replacing the previous Soviet hue:
In any case, the so-called Orange Revolution has faded to a pale pinkish hue, with the color almost completely washed out of it. Ukraine is still corrupt, poor, and owned lock, stock, and barrel by a nomenklatura of unusual avariciousness. All that has changed is the likelihood of NATO membership, and that’s all the U.S. government ever cared about anyway.
According to Wikipedia, it looks like Ukraine’s democracy is certainly not in a good way:
In late March and early April 2007, the Ukrainian political system dealt with another constitutional crisis. President Viktor Yushchenko dissolved the Ukrainian parliament and ordered an early election to be held May 27, 2007. Crowds of about 70,000 gathered on Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the central square of Kiev, and supported the dismissal of parliament, with 20,000 supporting Yanukovych‘s plan to keep the parliament together. On April 3, 2007, President Yushchenko signed the bill into existence. Two hours later on Kiev’s Maidan, it was announced to the crowds that Parliament no longer existed.
The Verkhovna Rada immediately called an emergency session and voted against Yuschenko‘s decree (255 votes in favor; opposition didn’t participate). A group of members of the parliament took the case to the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, challenging the validity of the president’s decree, but the court closed the case without opinion. A political struggle ensued between the parliamentary coalition and the opposition. Later, a compromise between Yushchenko and Yanukovych was reached to hold early parliamentary elections.The elections were held on September 30, 2007 and the coalition of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc and Our Ukraine–People’s Self-Defense Bloc gained the majority of votes.
The legal status of the previous parliament is unclear. Formally, the parliament has been dismissed, because more than a third of its members have resigned, and their parties cleared the reserve deputies lists. According to the constitution, this rendered the parliament inoperative. On the other hand, the Constitution states that the existing parliament is valid until the new parliament is sworn in.
How ‘bout that.
Add to that the Georgia situation described above, U.S. record in successful democracy promotion (as opposed to successful subversion of hostile regimes) is pretty dismal.
In other words, the Bush administration has been happy to stir the democracy pot to discommode the Russians, but unwilling or unable to fix the stew after it curdled.
U.S.-promoted democratization is perhaps a poison best given to our enemies rather than an elixir suitable for our friends.
Wonder how we’ll be looking at Pakistan a year from now.