Last week I published an article in Foreign Policy.com titled “Why We’d Miss Musharraf” that has generated pushback from Benazir Bhutto’s political party and the PR firm she hired, none other than Mark Penn’s Burson-Marsteller.
Every democratically elected official has been overthrown by the military, not out of the army’s sense of loyalty to the state, as Mr. Lalwani suggests, but because of the army’s thirst for power. In fact, the dictatorship in Pakistan has used any and all mechanisms, including discrediting past government work, and manufacturing fallacious corruption charges against anyone who opposes them – be it Mrs. Bhutto or most recently, Chief Justice Chaudhry. It is no wonder that none of these charges have ever been proven.
Despite consistently overthrown by military regimes, democratic governments have seen marked successes in Pakistan. Under PPP leadership, for example, Pakistan became one of the ten emerging capital markets of the world: the World Health Organization praised government efforts in the field of health; and tens of thousands of primary and secondary schools were built; these are only some examples.
Compare that to the current situation where the author claims that regime has succeeded. Poverty has increased, with 60 percent of Pakistanis living on $2 or less per day; there is rampant government corruption (now at 67 percent, and according to Transparency International, higher than any previously elected government); and the drastic resurgence of political madrassas.
When I wrote this piece, I did not seek to defend the Pakistani military and the Musharraf government every step of the way. I agree from the outset that the political climate has made it untenable for the Musharraf government to continue in its current form and a power sharing deal may be the best interim step.
The purpose of my piece was twofold: first to dispel the presumption that civilian government will be Pakistan’s democratic savior; and second to show how the military has played a pivotal role in Pakistan’s historical trajectory and how it is primed to continue this legacy as one of if not the most important institution for governance and strategic rationale even if a civilian government were to take the helm. (Another good article that takes a more critical look at the military but essentially concludes my way on its importance in Pakistan is Joshua Hammer’s “After Musharraf” in The Atlantic). It is the first one the PPP spokespersons take issue with — the second contention is never disputed.
It is certainly in the interests of the PPP and it’s hired lobbyists, for which it pays a handsome quarter of million dollars, to perpetrate the myth that its tenure over the country was inherently less corrupt, more democratic, and more apt to cooperate with US strategic interests in the region by virtue of being run by civilians. After all, American politicians and the public are more inclined to believe this given our own history. But taking more than a cursory glance at the evidence in Pakistan reveals this notion to be patently false, and sometimes the opposite.
Though the lobbying firm alleges poverty has increased in recent years, it was under civilian governments in the 1990s that exacerbated Pakistani poverty. The executive summary of a 2002 Asian Development Bank report begins:
It is generally accepted that the declining trend in poverty in Pakistan during the 1970s and 1980s was reversed in the 1990s. The incidence of poverty increased from 26.6 percent in FY1993 to 32.2 percent in FY1999 and the number of poor increased by over 12 million people during this period.
Meanwhile, as a leading Pakistani daily DAWN reports, according the World Bank’s most recent development report, it was in fact this military dictatorship managed to bring down poverty by five percentage points earning the title of “one of the top 10 global reformers.”
On Human Rights
And the PPP can campaign all it wants on democracy and preserving the fabric of society but they can’t bury the Amnesty International reports such as the one published towards the end of Bhutto’s rule in May 1996 titled “Pakistani Government Fails to Live Up to Human Rights Rhetoric” that reveals severe human rights abuses, extra-judicial killings, torture, and most importantly genuine disinterest of Bhutto’s government in these issues.
I’ll concede corruption cuts both ways and, as documented by Ayesha Siddiqa’s Military Inc., the military has in recent years sought to lay a firmer hold on the economy, disproportionately enriching itself. But a dose of perspective must be offered.
The spokesperson for the PPP claims the perception of corruption was the highest ever in 2006 but neglects to mention that there was no Pakistan specific survey done during the Bhutto and Sharif years (the reports specific to Pakistan only date back to 2002) or it might have inconveniently probed in greater depth what Transparency International’s flagship index revealed — that Pakistan ranked near the bottom of the corruption perceptions index during Bhutto and the PPP’s rule in 1995 and 1996 (actually second from the bottom, just above Nigeria).
And the corruption charges against Bhutto were proven. The New York Times ran a special report in early 1998 by John F. Burns titled “House of Graft: Tracing the Bhutto Millions — A special report.; Bhutto Clan Leaves Trail of Corruption.” It traces the money trail of the Bhutto family corruption that eventually culminated in her trial and conviction for money laundering in a Swiss Court. (Though the Times Select requires a password, the series is also posted here.) Further charges still await her in Pakistan.
At least under the military corruption that Siddiqa explores, the money still circulates inside the national economy amongst the rank and file unlike the capital flight witnessed under Bhutto to finance London and Beverly Hill estates.
The evidence does not even support the claim that civilian government would do more to distribute resources away from the military. Based on World Bank data (world development indicators), during the Bhutto years, the government spent 6-7% of GDP and 30-35% of central government funds on military expenditure. Under the Musharraf government, these figures have dropped to averages of 4% and 25% respectively. This might have something to do with this military government presiding over a growing economy averaging an annual 7% a year as I mentioned in my article or it might have to do with bloated procurement costs so that Bhutto’s husband– Asif Ali Sadari or “Mr. 10%” as he was known — could skim off the top.
Because madrassas are an effective boogeyman (though their significance has been challenged), the PPP’s lobbyists don’t hesitate to deploy it. But the madrassa boogeyman has been continually invoked and found to be quite dubious, again with a look at the data as some World Bank and Harvard scholars sought to do. The degree of hyperbole is shocking given that the data shows madrassas only constitute 1% of enrollment in Pakistan and no evidence of dramatic increase in recent years. Moreover, madrassas are a byproduct of an institutional deficit — that is the government’s inability to provide good universal education — and this is something that pre-dates military rule.
If Musharraf should fall, the point is the military will prevail as a critical institution. Bhutto’s PR firm might be able to create a climate that gets her back in power but she cannot simply buy her way out of the strategic quandaries that surround Pakistan nor the straitjacket of incompetence and corruption that has plagued her party and feudal politics. In order to govern, she will need to depend heavily on the military (not to mention the US’s own strategic dependence on them). More than democratic charlatans and feudal politics, Pakistan needs a healthier civil-military balance and perhaps a power-sharing deal can pave the way for this.