March 24, 2007Foreign AffairsSecurity

So you like a democratic Pakistan?

Know that it is a leap of faith

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Barring a miracle, it is the end of the road for the Indian cricket team in World Cup 2007. But let’s look at the bright side. Public attention can turn to genuine matters of national importance, of which there are many. First, the myth—created by clueless political pundits and equally clueless Congress party politicians—that reforms are not helping the poor has been blown. If the Congress party leadership and supporters know what’s good for them, they should use the rest of the UPA government’s tenure to build political capital on how much reform they have delivered, in comparison to the previous NDA government.

Second, it is time for a re-assessment of India’s policy positions vis-a-vis Pakistan and Gen Musharraf. Even the United States is changing is approach, going to the extent of naming Musharraf’s successor (poor sod, he) and making it known that the CIA has sent head-hunters to Pakistan to recruit that country’s next head of state. As Amit Varma wrote in his column this week, finding a successor is not as important as changing his incentives. Just how this is to be achieved is a million-dollar question. It should be a five crore-rupee question too.

Rohit Pradhan argues that the United States must now focus on nurturing democracy in Pakistan.

While Americans cannot directly intervene in Pakistani politics, they can certainly do two things: First, hold Musharraf to his own promise of giving up the uniform and becoming a full-fledged civilian president. Second, ensure that the 2007 elections are absolutely free and fair. For the elections to be truly representative, the participation of Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto is essential. It would only be possible if they are allowed to return to Pakistan without the Damocles sword of past court cases hanging over their heads. [UPI Online]

Those are the necessary conditions. But the big question remains whether the Pakistani military establishment has sufficient incentives to allow everyone to live happily ever after. While Islamist parties are still unlikely to secure enough votes to ride to power, they are quite likely to do much better than ever before. It is a different world now in 2007. A democratic government, even with Musharraf-in-sherwani as president, will need the army’s support to face down the Islamists. For all his much touted liberal achievements, Musharraf has so entrenched it in the corridors of power—at all levels in the civil bureaucracy—that the military is unlikely to return to the clichéd barracks. And why would it support a democratic government against the Islamists when the democratic government is committed to bottling up the military genie?

Realists will argue that what really matters is the balance of power. Where it is in India’s favour, Pakistan is unlikely to initiate conflict. Yet as a practical matter it is impossible for India to tilt the scales in its favour at all times and at levels of conflict. Who rules Pakistan is not as important as to how stable the balance of power is. From this perspective, there is little reason to be excited about the prospect of elections, democracy and an ex-serviceman as president of Pakistan.

This is not to say that a return to elections and civilian governments is unimportant. Elections offer an infinitesimal amount of hope that Pakistan will one day become a normal, stable state. But we must acknowledge that our preference for democracy is primarily the result of our biases, which in turn arises from our values and experience. In other words, supporting democracy in Pakistan is a leap of faith. Nevertheless, it is a leap that India must take.

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