3 Problems Pakistani Politics has to Resolve after Grisly School Attack

By Juan Cole | —

Pakistan politics has been mired in stagnation for some time now. In September of 2013, Pakistan undertook the first successful civilian hand-off of power in its entire history. Then-president Asaf Ali Zardari was succeeded by the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Despite this milestone, Pakistan’s politics have been full of tumult ever since.

Small but significant political forces refused to accept the legitimacy of the victory of the Muslim League in the fall, 2013 parliamentary elections. What is odd is that on the whole it is not the previous ruling party, the Pakistan People’s Party, that charged electoral fraud but rather the Pakistan Tehrik-i Insaf (PTI or Pakistan Movement for Change) of former cricket star Imran Khan. Also disgruntled are elements on the Punjabi religious right, the neo-Sufi movement of Tahir Qadri. These two political tendencies have staged big rallies all over the country and in the capital of Islamabad demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Sharif, which is a little unlikely to happen. Meanwhile, some politicians and economists have complained that Imran Khan and Qadri are taking points off economic growth because of the turmoil they are fomenting.

Ironically, Nawaz Sharif himself set the precedent here, inasmuch as he led an effort to unseat President Zardari, with a long march from Lahore to Islamabad, and he gave speeches threatening revolution and pledging that Zardari would not serve out his five year term (he did).

So the first problem Pakistani politics has to resolve is losing elections gracefully. Al Gore probably actually won in 2000, but decided not to put the country through a highly divisive process by contesting Bush’s victory. Both Zardari and Sharif actually did win their elections in 2008 and 2013, but rivals refused to acknowledge it, undermining the legitimacy of the state. In a good sign, Imran is keeping politics out of his mourning for the dead children of Peshawar.

The military in Pakistan has been too interventionist in the country’s affairs. It was the branch of government that backed the Pakistani Taliban and the Haqqani Group terrorists. The officers believed that such paramilitary terrorist groups would protect Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

For years now, there has been large-scale blow-back from Pakistani military’s unhealthy obsession with extra–judicial means of power, including backing the Taliban and the Haqqani group even when they hit US interests in the country. Since July, the military has been fighting its former allies among the Pakistani Taliban, producing profound resentments among the neo-Taliban.

So the second problem in Pakistani politics is achieving a political culture in which the military is subordinate to elected officials, and in which the military ceases cooperating with paramilitary groups.

The third problem is that the Federally Administered Tribal areas or FATA need to be made a province and integrated into the Pakistani state. The standard of living of people in Waziristan is extremely low. Maybe some of the investment of China in Pakistan could be slotted for FATA. This is an area where some 800,000 people have been displaced by the Pakistani military campaign against militants in North Waziristan. There are torture facilities and bomb-making workshops. These need to be rolled up and FATA needs to be developed.

Related video:

AFP from last summer: “Pakistani army confident after North Waziristan offensive ”

5 Responses

  1. Will there ever be justice for the ISI figures who have cultivated extremists for use against India, Afghanistan, US?

  2. My impression was that Nawaz Sharif did not want Zardari’s government to fall. I recall that even in opposition, he made statements that he wanted the current government to serve out its full term.

    It get the feeling that leaders of the two main political parties actually have learned lessons of the 90s and that this type of all out war/leg pulling harms both parties.

  3. The people of the tribal areas, like many peripheral Muslim tribal groups, tend to be very zealous in their love for freedom and autonomy. For hundreds of years empires and nation states have tried to “subdue” them. As Akbar Ahmed presents in The Thistle and the Drone, perhaps they would be better served by having their autonomy respected, with development guided by elders and indigenous scholars. This could help heal the cycles of revenge, fanaticism and militarism that have caused so much misery in the region. The “steamroller” actions of Musharraf and the military create much misery and desperation among the tribal peoples, who have suffered 35+ years of trauma. The scourge of ignorance-fueled psychopathic fanaticism adds fire to fire. The real question is whether or not tribal peoples can remember the best of what makes them who they are, while adopting the best of what comprises modernity and what is beneficial from the nation state. Let’s hope and pray it’s not too late for that.

  4. The following is from “Magnificent Delusions” by Husain Haqqani: United States “aid for military regimes in Pakistan had not only undermined Pakistani democracy; it had also inadvertently helped foster religious extremism….Pakistan had become a rentier state: it lived off payments from a superpower for its strategic location and intelligence cooperation rather than on the strength of the productivity of its economy.” A preferred “option for Pakistan would be to normalize relations with India and Afghanistan” and pursue normal economic development. Just “as China did not give up its rights over Taiwan” as it engaged in commerce with Taiwan, “Pakistan need not give up its claim on Kashmir” as it engages politically and economically with India. “In the case of Afghanistan, Pakistan should befriend the government in Kabul instead of trying to impose one of its choosing.” link to detailedpoliticalquizzes.wordpress.com

  5. To add, the different militant groups the Pak military appealed/appeal to were/are generally religious fundamentalist or extremist groups on both sides of the border.

    Imran Khan has seriously disappointed and been detrimental…

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