The U.S. Stance and Pakistan’s Political Turmoil
Dr. Muhammad AkramZaheer
Before the Iraq war, the United States might have liked the idea of promoting democracy. But when the war not went well, officials from both the Bush administration and other Democratic presidential candidates were being careful. They were worry that pushing for democracy might lead to instability. Despite concerns about the effectiveness of the country’s military, there was a fear that any change, even if well-intentioned, could put American security at risk. The debate in Washington reflected a cautious approach. Some people from both on the right and the left argued that try to promote democracy in places like Iraq is a repeating the same mistake. They believe it is better to have a strong leader who can maintain order even if it means some level of control. In Pakistan, moderates are puzzled and feel abandoned by the U.S. They argue that the American attitude is confusing and risky. They emphasize that their movement for democracy has been peaceful and unique in the Muslim world.
The U.S. has high stakes in Pakistan, especially because they think Al Qaeda are believed to be hiding there. While General Musharraf has targeted Al Qaeda members in cities, critics say he hasn’t effectively dealt with the tribal areas. Some argue that political and economic approaches are essential, not just military ones, to counter extremism. They believe a civilian government can handle this better than a military one. Experts say that the majority of Pakistan’s population and military remains moderate, reducing the risk of hard-line Islamists taking control. However, General Musharraf’s popularity was declining, and there was a call for democratic reforms. Critics argue that the military’s prolonged governance weakens democratic institutions and the only way for Pakistan to democratize is by practicing democracy.
There is a debate about whether the intelligence service in Pakistan would cooperate less under a military or civilian leader. Some caution that democracy has failed in Pakistan before due to corruption and military interventions. The idea is raised that military and civilian leaders should negotiate a plan to gradually reduce the military’s role in politics while securing its role in national defense, similar to what happened in Turkey and Latin America. Some members of Congress and experts have called for a review of American policy toward Pakistan, suggesting that aid should depend on better performance in the war on terror and increased spending on development and education in Pakistan. However, the U.S. administration has continued to express support for General Musharraf, with some advocating caution. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton mentioned that General Musharraf had become “quite antidemocratic,” but she also said the U.S. relies on him to control the tribal areas where the Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters come from. Senator John Edwards was more straightforward, saying, “Given the power of radical Islam in Pakistan, there is absolutely no way to know what kind of government will take his place.” Perkovich, the Carnegie analyst, emphasized the need for sophisticated American diplomacy to broker an agreement that shifts power gradually from the military to civilians but he noted that neither political party has figured out the right approach to Pakistan, making it a bipartisan problem in avoiding a solution.
When Benazir Bhutto was killed, it happened in Rawalpindi, a historic town near a park named after another Pakistani Prime MinisterLiaquat Ali Khan, who was also assassinated there in 1951.Benazir’s father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, another former prime minister, was executed in 1979 at the city’s central jail, just a short distance away. The killings were different Liaquat Ali Khan was shot by a Pashtun separatist, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged after being found guilty by a court appointed by a military dictator and the investigation into Benazir Bhutto’s assassination is ongoing.Despite the differences, the fact that all three leaders died in the same part of Rawalpindi highlights how violent events have often changed Pakistan’s political landscape. It also emphasizes the fragility of the country’s hopes for a stable democracy. In its 76 years since formation, Pakistan has swung between military rule and elected governments. Now, there’s optimism about reviving democracy. However, both military and civilian leaders have contributed to the challenges.
The United States had urged Pervez Musharraf, the current military ruler, to allow a return to democracy as a way to restore stability. Yet, with the recent death of Bhutto, the prospects for a successful transition have become more uncertain.While the focus is often on the failings of military rulers, civilian politicians in Pakistan have also struggled to bring stability. Many believe that both politicians and generals share responsibility for undermining democracy over the years.Benazir Bhutto despite being a proponent of democracy, raises the persistent question in Pakistan’s history when, or if, the country will truly move towards building a democracy that lives up to its name. The narrative blaming generals for stifling democracy while appealing to Western views also seeks to excuse the politicians’ role in weakening democratic institutions for personal gain or settling political scores.
In April 2022, there was a crisis in Pakistan when the leader of the PTI Imram Khan, lost a vote of confidence and his position as the prime minister. People were also upset about the bad economy. Khan blamed the military and foreign powers for interfering. The opposition took over and Khan wanted a quick election and criticized the military.Later, more than 200 cases were filed against Khan, including serious charges. He was arrested in May, leading to protests by his supporters. The Supreme Court released him but he was arrested again in August and given a three-year sentence for corruption. The Election Commission banned him from public office.Now the PTI party is struggling. Many supporters are arrested and key members left party because of pressure. In July, some parliamentarians formed a new group. The party is targeted by the authorities with Khan’s successor also arrested.The outgoing coalition said a new election can’t happen until the Election Commission redraws electoral boundaries which will take until December. This gives authorities more time to control the PTI.
There is a risk of violence amid the political chaos. In July, the Islamic State killed many people by bombing a conference. More attacks could cause instability, giving the military a reason to get more involved in the election. However, using the internet for political discussions is risky because the government tightly controls it, limiting citizens’ freedom of speech. Internet access is crucial for elections as people use it to learn about candidates, share their views and find voting information. But sometimes, the government restricts internet access like after the arrest of Khan in May 2023, when mobile connectivity nationwide was limited.
The government is also directly punishing those who express their opinions. In February 2023, a court sentenced a supporter of the PTI party to three years in prison for criticizing the military on social media. Social media harassment is common especially against women journalists covering politics often at the encouragement of politicians. Human rights advocates say that social media companies haven’t done enough to moderate content and respond to emergencies, leaving users in Pakistan to deal with the challenges on their own.
The anti-PTI coalition passed controversial bills before leaving office, including the E-Safety Bill allowing the creation of a new authority to monitor and regulate online content. Existing authorities have a history of abusing their powers like blocking Wikipedia for two days in February for refusing to remove content considered sacrilegious. This control over the internet poses a threat to Pakistan’s fragile democracy as authorities suppress the PTI and limit online freedom of expression. To ensure a fair election, the authorities should stick to the constitutional 90 days limit and stop punishing ordinary people for sharing their opinions. The military should not overpower the voice of the Pakistani people in its quest to strengthen its position.
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