Two weeks from now, former two-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will take the oath of office for the third time, and this time it will be administered by President Asif Ali Zardari, the irony of which should not be lost on anyone.
The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) took turns running the government during the 1990s, creating a rivalry that politicized institutions, allowed personalities to dominate government affairs, and used official resources to settle personal scores. Under Sharif's last government in 1999, Pakistani courts convicted Zardari and his wife Benazir Bhutto of corruption, sentenced both to five years imprisonment, and barred them from holding political office.
The upcoming Sharif-Zardari oath taking ceremony makes the personalized, cutthroat, dramatic, and oft-violent politics of the 1990s seem like ages ago. The first democratic transition of power in the country's history is a solid example of that.
Unfortunately, Pakistan is not that lucky. Just this week in Karachi, gunmen murdered Zahra Shahid Hussain, Vice President of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI). PTI blames the killing on political rival the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), pointing to London-based MQM leader Altaf Hussain's call to party workers to protest election results.
Clearly MQM is still in the business of settling scores, along with a host of other individuals and groups that make up the complicated and powerful network of Pakistan's political elite. With Sharif's return to elected politics, many are wondering if he plans to use his stronger position to do the same thing, especially because there is no shortage of scores for a man known to have a very long memory.
Two men in particular come to mind when imagining Sharif's revenge - Pervez Musharraf and Asif Ali Zardari. Sharif's approach to both men will clearly indicate how "moderate" his approach to politics has become, as many in his party would have us believe.
Former President Pervez Musharraf is still under house arrest in Islamabad for multiple cases registered against him, none of which are actually directly related to the military coup he engineered against Sharif's government in 1999.
From exile in Saudi Arabia in 2007, Sharif claimed he had no interest in settling scores with Musharraf upon his return to Pakistan later that year; but he still emphasized that Musharraf's tenure was unconstitutional and he should step down. On the campaign trail just a month ago, Sharif showed relative consistency in his remarks when he pardoned Musharraf for a "personal vendetta...but the crimes the former military dictator committed against the nation are too big to be forgiven."
Sharif is likely weighing the pros and cons of letting the courts run their course with Musharraf, or stepping in to engineer some face-saving escape for the retired general in order to avoid ire from the military. Much of the work, however, is already done for him. The courts are already very much set against Musharraf for ousting some of their own senior judges from their positions when he was in power.
If Sharif pushes too hard for due process and rule of law in the Musharraf case, he potentially risks relations with the military, which is protecting Musharraf with augmented security and views resolution of the cases as important for the institution's own reputation.
Which power center would Sharif rather risk ties with - an activist Supreme Court or the military? Perhaps the question is more an issue of which problem is more urgent - settling the score with Musharraf under the guise of due process or sustaining relations with the military in order to "overhaul" national security policies, as Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Kayani discussed earlier this week. The decision seems pretty clear, but can Sharif see it?
Sharif must also seek clarity in his relationship with Zardari. After decades of bitter fighting, exile, and imprisonment, PML-N and PPP found common ground in 2006 when Sharif and Benazir Bhutto formed an alliance to end Musharraf's military rule by signing the Charter of Democracy. The partnership was not meant to be. Bhutto was assassinated by the Taliban in late 2007, which eventually won the PPP a large sympathy vote in the 2008 elections and put the PML-N in the opposition.
Sharif could have used his time in the opposition to settle some personal scores with the PPP-led government. But he did not exact the revenge many expected; instead, the PML-N appeared more cooperative and engaged with the PPP than it had ever been in the past. The two sides could not agree on a caretaker Prime Minister for the political transition, but they adhered to the letter of the law throughout the consultation process, and accepted the final decision made by the Election Commission of Pakistan. Of course, as with Musharraf, Sharif did not have to settle scores since the Supreme Court's targeting of Zardari for corruption was doing the job well enough.
In October of last year, the PPP government agreed to write a letter to Swiss authorities requesting that corruption cases against Zardari be re-opened. This seems to have temporarily resolved a three year conflict between the PPP and the courts, but Zardari's vulnerability remains open to legal interpretation. Furthermore, when his presidential term expires in September he will no longer be protected under constitutional immunity.
When Zardari steps down, he could be open to further attacks by the Supreme Court, especially from Chief Justice Ifitkhar Chaudhry, who is known to have his own personal vendetta against Zardari. But Chaudhry himself retires in late December because of mandatory age limits. Between September and December, Zardari will be in a legal limbo that could be helped or hurt by the likes of Sharif. What happens in the Supreme Court after Chaudhry leaves is also a risk factor; it is unclear whether the court will continue the activist agenda laid out by the departing Chief Justice or take a more moderate approach.
Sharif cannot be seen as interfering with the rule of law. At the same time, he must avoid isolating Zardari and the PPP because of their importance to Sharif in the Senate, where PPP maintains a plurality of seats and is needed to pass any legislation introduced by the government.
The unknown factor here is the extent to which the difficult past still shapes Sharif's thinking on Zardari, the PPP, Musharraf, the military, and a host of other relationships. Initial signs from Sharif indicate he has in fact become more moderate, calculated, and conciliatory: his recent meeting with Kayani, visiting political rival Imran Khan in the hospital after a campaign-related injury, and welcoming all parties to join the government.
Perhaps it is better for Sharif to focus on rebuilding these relationships and using them to implement the large mandate he has been given. In the end, victory on these fronts will be the best revenge.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is a South Asia analyst at the Eurasia Group and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. She served as director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the White House National Security Council from 2010-2011.
Warrick Page/Getty Images
As of this year, Afghanistan has experienced ten years of stabilization intervention, but what is there to show for it? Marked by massive expenditure with little to no accountability, and often marred by waste, stabilization in Afghanistan started out with arguably honorable aims. However, as troops prepare to leave in 2014, what legacy will be left behind?
Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) began with perhaps the best of intentions: to fill the vacuum of law and order left by the fall of the Taliban and undertake reconstruction, badly needed in a country devastated by three decades of conflict. The security situation was perceived to be relatively benign, with the major threats being criminals and warlords seeking to reassert power.
PRTs did some positive work, often acting as the only authority in a security vacuum, and were appreciated, at least early on, by Afghans. They were no substitute, however, for the effective governance and security required. PRTs' predominantly military staff received little to no training, lacked the technical skills required to carry out development work and focused more on short term quick impact projects instead of the long term state-and-peace-building work that was so badly needed. Rather than seeking to build Afghan capacity - a central component of their mandate - they often worked around the government. The PRTs also created winners and losers, supporting local strongmen or funneling money through often corrupt construction companies.
Despite early U.S. government acknowledgement of these problems, PRTs expanded rapidly, led by a multitude of different nations that were often unable to effectively coordinate amongst each another. In 2008, the US Congress described the situation as one with "no clear definition of the PRT mission, no concept of operations or doctrine, no standard operating procedures."
As insecurity spread, the dual security and reconstruction roles of PRTs became increasingly schizophrenic. One incident in Ghazni province in 2004 saw PRT officials offering to build a well for villagers just weeks after they had fired rockets into the very same village killing nine children. Unsurprisingly, residents were hardly consoled and Afghan goodwill for the PRTs was quickly eroded.
But the amount of money available for military-led development continued to increase. In 2009, the US Army published the Commanders' Guide to Money as a Weapons System, which defined aid as "a nonlethal weapon" to be utilised to "win the hearts and minds of the indigenous population to facilitate defeating the insurgents." Aid devoted to these objectives rapidly increased: annual funding for the Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP), the primary U.S. PRT funding stream, rose from $200m in 2007 to $1bn in 2010.
No centralised, comprehensive records appear to have been kept on the PRTs, either within the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) or the Afghan government, and rarely even within PRTs. When auditors found CERP project files incomplete or non-existent in 2009, CERP project managers told US auditors that their focus "was on obligating funds for projects rather than monitoring their implementation." Unsurprisingly there has been no comprehensive monitoring and evaluation of CERP-funded programmes; the most thorough examination is a 2011 SIGAR audit of CERP programming in the insecure eastern province of Laghman. It's a harrowing read. Of the $53m CERP funds allocated to the PRT between 2008 and 2011, 92% (or $49.2m) was dedicated to projects found by SIGAR to be "at risk or have questionable outcomes." Funds were not managed in accordance with standard operating procedures, which were finally established in 2009, and none of the 69 projects had sufficient documentation to track outcomes. Again and again, the audit found the Afghan government unable to take over PRT projects.
PRTs were not the only instrument of stabilization. Between 2003 and 2012, USAID obligated $1.1bn in stabilization funding to for-profit contractors but such projects fared no better. One example is USAID's ‘flagship counterinsurgency program' the Local Government and Community Development Programme (LGCD). The budget and timelines for the $400m, five-year project mushroomed despite questionable early evaluation findings and the fact that over half of LGCD's expenditures were on staff costs and security. USAID officials were unable to visit several sites because it was too dangerous. As for its impact, the USAID Inspector-General reported ‘the project's overall success seemed highly questionable.'
Part of the problem is that the goals of stabilization in Afghanistan were never comprehensively, consistently or clearly articulated. Stabilization works on the assumption that conflicts are fuelled by grievances about poverty or neglect, and that development projects that improve governance, opportunities and services can ‘stabilize' conflict situations. But evidence is lacking or discouraging. A 2011 Tufts university study found while there was some evidence some stabilization interventions can work in the short term, there is little evidence of long term security gains and much more indicating a tendency to create local conflict and ‘perverse incentives' to maintain insecurity.
In an world where aid agencies are required to prove their ‘value for money' and aid-receiving governments are pressured to become fully transparent, the lack of systematic, government-led push for accountability for the multi-billion dollar investments is hypocritical and irresponsible - and speaks to an ideological unwillingness to address the problems and pitfalls of stabilization approaches.
The lack of interest in documenting the impact of the stabilization efforts - both what works and what doesn't - does not bode well for the rest of the world. As global focus turns to other complex emergencies in Mali, Yemen and Somalia, stabilization is increasingly the approach of choice. Without recognizing systematic problems, stabilization interventions are unlikely to improve and begin to fulfill their lofty goals. After the troop drawdown in Afghanistan next year, perhaps we'll have a better idea of the true legacy of stabilization. But for now, the future looks worryingly unstable.
Ashley Jackson is a Research Fellow in the Humanitarian Policy Group at the Overseas Development Institute. Before joining ODI she worked for several years in Afghanistan with the United Nations and Oxfam.
Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images
Afghanistan stands at a crossroads. The reputation of our political leadership is under suspicion. Tens of millions of dollars are said to have been received illegally from intelligence agencies of both friends and foes. People are losing faith in the state and the prospects of democracy. The year 2014 looms large in everyone's mind, as does the Taliban's possible reemergence as a real power.
With the April 2014 presidential elections approaching, people around the world are wondering where exactly Afghanistan is headed. Has the threat of al-Qaeda really been eradicated as President Barack Obama recently announced? Is the war in Afghanistan really over? If so, is it over for Afghans, or just the international community?
Few of the promised counterterrorism and state building efforts have been delivered. In all 34 provinces of Afghanistan there are still acts of war and terrorism being committed - in some places incidents occur daily, in others weekly or monthly. Even our highway system has yet to be secured. No one is free to travel anywhere without at least some fear they will encounter the Taliban. Afghans live in fear of everything from targeted killings to suicide attacks and other forms terrorism. Our sisters and daughters have to live in fear that they will be attacked while doing something as mundane and Islamic as attending school.
Meanwhile, our politics are a mess. Our relationship with the United States and their NATO allies has deteriorated to the point where President Hamid Karzai himself is now referring to Afghanistan as a graveyard of empires, and accusing the United States and its allies of supporting rather than routing the Taliban in order to destabilize Afghanistan.
At the same time, Washington and its friends are leaking controversial details about how exactly they have been propping up President Karzai. Yes, the U.S. is now saying, the CIA is funding in unaccounted-for cash payments Karzai's inner circle.
Aside from the non-existent national security and troubled foreign policy, Afghanistan is also facing the possibility of an economic meltdown. Imagine what will happen to our aid-dependent and U.S.-contract-centric economy when the United States withdraws not just the bulk of its troops but its funds as well.
How is Afghanistan going to transition from an economy that has received hundreds of billions of dollars over the past decade-plus of war? What are the tens of thousands of Afghan companies that have come up as a result of this level of funding going to do then? Not to mention the Afghans who work for the many-times-more international companies, or the 3,000 NGOs that have sprung up during this international campaign that is about to end. If we think today's Afghanistan has an unsustainably high rate of unemployment, what will tomorrow's Afghanistan look like when all this funding ceases?
In a country with thirteen million jobless, most of whom are under twenty-five years old, and a raging insurgency with its own foreign sources of funds, training camps, intelligence and strategic support base, it's hard to imagine a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.
To survive as a nation-state resembling anything like the state we envisioned in Bonn in 2001, we have two main solutions.
First, we need to have a stable transfer of power in the form of the 2014 presidential elections. If our political system is too fragile to deliver even that bare minimum, we have much to fear from the still-raging insurgency. And we cannot have a stable transfer of power if all we do is reinstate President Karzai. Presidents for life are not the beacons of the democracy we envisioned in 2001.
In terms of domestic politics and foreign policy we need very specific programs. We need a government that delivers services. We need to change our traditional culture of a master-slave governance model in which civil servants and government officers rule over our people who they see as slaves.
In our foreign policy, we need to build friendships, not just sustain enemies or provide a battlefield for outside conflicts. The global order is transforming into a multi-polar one, we need to build on our already budding friendship with important regional players in the region such as India and we need to salvage what we can from our relationship with the United States, both of which are becoming our strategic allies.
To address our security dilemmas and challenges, we need a combination of solutions framed as a grand strategy rather than only tactical military or reconciliation ones. With the reconciliation strategy the only one being considered as a means to dealing with the insurgents, the Afghan government and the international community are using a risky black and white model. Instead we need to see reconciliation as a sub-tool in a broader political strategy for the stabilization of Afghanistan. We need to recognize that insurgencies take time and need strategic patience to combat -- every insurgency, from those fought in El Salvador to Central Asia, has taught us that. We need to oppose the Taliban not just militarily but by building public confidence through service delivery and good governance; the strengthening and effective functioning of our security establishment; support to our economic sectors; and the reconciliation and reintegration efforts already begun by NATO's counterinsurgency strategy.
And finally, we need to build our economy. We need to follow models of leadership such as General Park's of South Korea, or South Africa after apartheid. And to begin this process the first thing we need to do is get rid of politicians who see their office as the best job Afghanistan has to offer.
2013 is the year that Afghans will make a decision. Either we put ourselves on the path to a prosperous and ideal Afghanistan or we will be back on the path of war and isolation, a country sourced for strategic threats to international security.
Mohammad Arif Rahmani is a member of Central Audit and Rule of Law Committee of Lower House of Afghanistan's parliament.
Recent election violence in Pakistan has been called unprecedented. But Pakistan's 2008 elections were bloodier. The electoral death toll in this election has crossed 100, but in 2008, over 150 were killed and 400 injured.
If Pakistan's experience is like that of other countries around the world, then Saturday, Election Day, will be violent. But when perpetrated by political actors -- candidates, parties, party workers, and supporters -- that violence can be taken as a sign that electoral administration is getting stronger and that democracy is maturing.
While the Pakistani and international press have expressed alarm at the vehemence of electoral violence perpetrated by the Pakistani Taliban and other extremist groups, Islamist parties have never won more than about five percent of the vote in any of Pakistan's elections. This election will be no different.
The apparent increase in the extremists' use of violence in this historic election is a sign, not of their strength, but of their increasing irrelevance in a society that is moving forward with regular, competitive elections between mainstream parties.
As William McCants has argued in reference to the rise in militant violence in the Middle East, when moderate Islamists and other opposition parties begin to compete successfully in increasingly democratic elections, attacks by extremists who could not take power through political participation escalate. It is thus more important than ever for voters and parties to participate peacefully and for citizens, international observers, and other electoral stakeholders to resist the temptation to conclude that election violence implies that Pakistan, or any country, for that matter, is not suited or ready for democracy.
Data on violent incidents collected during Pakistan's 2008 elections show that the dynamics here are consistent with those in many other parts of the world. Electoral violence is correlated strongly with two things: uncertainty and reform. The more uncertainty there is in an election -- whether because of the entrance of new candidates or shifting strength of parties -- the higher the risk of violence. And the more reform -- electoral reforms or strengthening institutions that conduct oversight -- the greater the incentives for competitors to add violence to their tactics as their support bases become less reliable and fraud gets more difficult.
Many transitions to democracy since 1945 have been accompanied by an increase in political violence. This phenomenon, however, is not unique to Africa, Pakistan, or even new democracies. French political scientist Patrick Quantin, for example, compares African election violence with tumultuous elections in 19th-century France in order to illustrate how messy the consolidation of democracy can be.
Similarly, Rapoport and Weinberg document episodes of election violence that erupted during phases of electoral reform and political liberalization in ancient Greece, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Latin America, and the United States. Case study evidence suggests that at least 198 countries or territories and more than 22 U.S. states have experienced at least one episode of election violence at some point in their electoral histories. As a 2001 U.S. Agency for International Development report notes, "some violence is likely in nearly all elections.
Contested, competitive elections have been associated with violence or the threat of violence in polities as diverse as the United States (Colfax County, Louisiana, 1873; Wilmington, North Carolina, 1898; Florida, 1920; U.S. Presidential elections in 1860 and 1876), Costa Rica (1945), Algeria (1991/92), Colombia (1875), and Côte d'Ivoire (2011), to name a few. All occurred not during founding elections, but later in the process, as electoral administration improved, multiple parties were allowed to compete on a more even playing field, new electoral coalitions formed, voter sophistication and participation increased, and other factors made incumbents less certain of winning.
These patterns at first seem counterintuitive, but are plainly logical. Violence is on the menu of options that parties and candidates have to win elections. But there is a natural disincentive to deploy violence. It is easy to detect, makes the perpetrators look bad, and can result in sanctions. So what are the preferred alternatives? Fraud, intimidation, negative campaigning, slander, fear creation -- the quieter the means of coercion, the better.
But reforms disrupt the usual pathways and make fraud more difficult. So throughout history and across countries, reform tends to be correlated with violence.
Take, for example, Kentucky. Prior to the introduction of the secret ballot in Louisville in 1888, the Democratic political machine would pay clerks to mark blank ballots and buy votes from white and African-American voters alike.
In his research on the effects of electoral reform on political violence, historian Tracy Campbell finds that ballot secrecy undercut these strategies and forced the machine to resort to more flagrant means to manipulate the outcome-threatening jobs, using police to suppress turnout in the African American neighborhoods that tended to vote Republican, and moving polling stations after long lines formed. Seventeen years later, when the new Fusionist party, which had multi-ethnic support, entered the scene and threatened its dominance, the machine intensified its use of police violence and intimidation. Those attending Fusionist rallies were "whacked with sticks," Fusionist candidates and voters were thrown out of polling stations, ballot boxes were taken at gunpoint by armed thugs, and those seeking to document the tactics with cameras were driven "off the streets."
When the Democrats won, the Fusionists challenged the results with the evidence they had amassed, and Kentucky's high court ruled in 1907 that extensive fraud and violence had disenfranchised 6,296 voters and overturned the result because it had been "designed in fraud, backed up by vilification and abuse." While Kentucky and other states would still witness both fraud and intimidation, the decision was the first of its kind and would not have been possible had the rise in violence not drawn attention to the problem and bolstered the voices of those calling for reform.
But this example is only one among many, indicating that electoral violence is intrinsic to the process of democratization.
Violence is a symptom and a sign of a strengthened electoral system. At the same time, it creates the outrage necessary for further reform. Violence and reform feed into each other cyclically.
Increased instances of violence in modern elections is not a sign that these countries cannot cope with democratization. Instead, it is because international norms and pressure have condensed the process of democratization for contemporary nascent democracies -- versus in the 1800s when the process could be more incremental -- that we see more electoral violence across the world today.
Thanks to a growing body of research on election violence in a variety of contexts, including data from Pakistan's 2008 elections, the dynamics of violence driven by parties, candidates, and their supporters are well understood. What remains for Pakistan to figure out is what the intensification of militant violence directed at the political process means for the future.
For candidates, violence is a means of winning within the democratic system. For militants, electoral violence is a strategy meant to re-engineer that system or seek its very demise because it is a form of government in which they cannot compete and win based on the merits of their policy ideas and vision for society.
Megan Reif is an assistant professor of political science and international studies at the University of Colorado, Denver. Her work on election violence is based on case study analysis and data collected in Pakistan during the 2008 elections, as well as data from Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Sri Lanka, and the United States (Newark, NJ) during the same period. Nadia Naviwala is Country Representative in Pakistan for the United States Institute of Peace.
The authors are grateful to Mathieu Mérino and the election violence prevention training team at the European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES) for drawing their attention to the work done on this subject by Quantin.
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
Never in Pakistan's checkered electoral history has a parliamentary term been completed and a smooth transition taken place in the capital, as well as the four provinces.
The 2013 elections are being held against a backdrop of dismal GDP growth (3.7 percent) and electricity rationing that lasts up to 18 hours a day. Owing to multiple policy and procedural failures, the country suffered a sharp decline in Foreign Direct Investment, from $8.5 billion in 2008 to a meager $500 million in 2012. Moreover its own currency, the rupee, has steeply devalued against the dollar over the last five years as well. In open market on Friday, one U.S. dollar was sold for 99.7 rupees while the ratio was one to 63.1 after the 2008 elections.
Despite enormous shortcomings at various levels, on Saturday, the Pakistani nation will choose from 104 political parties and will vote to elect 342 members to its National Assembly and 728 members to its four provincial legislatures.
The landmark 2013 election accompanies many firsts, eight of which are listed below, and busts several myths associated with Pakistan's image abroad.
1. Electoral Roll
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA) have developed an elaborate computerized electoral roll, with each citizen's name listed with his or her 10 fingerprints and photograph (exceptions are made for women who cover their faces). Unlike manual lists, the computerized listing of voters not only eliminates multiple entries but has also been published to invite public scrutiny, correction, and transparency. Any of the 86.1 million voters can find out his polling station or booth by sending his Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC) number in a text message to 8300. Moreover, no citizen will be authorized to cast his vote without producing a CNIC (which is nearly impossible to copy with its 20 hidden security features). The returning officer and his staff will then be able to verify the identity of the voter, providing yet another measure to counter electoral fraud.
2. Eligibility of the Candidates
To examine the candidates currently campaigning, the ECP created an Integrated Scrutiny System comprised of the National Accountability Bureau, the National Database Registration Authority, the Federal Bureau of Revenue, and the State Bank of Pakistan whereby criminal, financial, and tax histories could be considered simultaneously. In a country of 3.6 million tax defaulters, the system has applied global standards for informed decision-making and deterred many chronic criminals from taking the risk of exposing themselves before the system. It also disqualified about 20,000 candidates from running due to their questionable histories. Though the scrutiny process has been completed, the aspirants' nomination papers are available online for media and public oversight. For example, key hardline cleric Maulana Fazalur Rahman had to pay outstanding taxes for the past three years to be eligible to run, according to the FBR. Similarly, several mainstream political stalwarts had to pay their defaulted loans to avert obvious disqualification. While much work remains to be done in this realm, the measure has built confidence in the newly adopted scrutiny system for both the public and external observers.
3. Autonomy of Election Commission
Thanks to legislation called the 18th amendment, the ECP has become more autonomous in determining its budget, administrative management, and legal and procedural decision-making. In a rare development, instead of being a handpicked figure, the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) is a widely-respected veteran of the Supreme Court, appointed with consensus amongst political parties. The CEC does not enjoy veto power over four other election commissioners, who are also retired justices of higher courts, allowing for a majority rule on any disputes. Exercising its authority, the ECP overruled objections by President Asif Ali Zardari (who also heads the Pakistan People's Party [PPP]) on the candidates' nomination forms. The PPP felt the ECP was asking too many details about the candidates but the commission argued it had a constitutional mandate to amend the forms as they saw fit. The new election body will draw additional strength from the country's Supreme Court.
4. Three-Party Contest
Instead of being a traditional two-party contest between the right-wing Pakistan Muslim League (PML) and the secular, liberal-leaning PPP, the 2013 election witnesses a third powerful political contender as well. Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI), along with its two older competitors, is reaching out to the people without forming serious alliances. Unlike the past, the powerful military has been overtly and covertly neutral. In a recent address to military men, Army chief General Ashraf Pervez Kiyani not only dispelled rumors of election postponement, but also unequivocally declared that a campaign against terror is Pakistan's war.
5. Transgenders for Public Representatives
In today's Pakistan, transgender individuals are not only eligible to vote but they can also campaign for a parliamentary or provincial assembly slot. In conjunction with last year's court ruling, a separate section allowing a voter to define oneself as something other than male or female was added to the CNIC. As a result, over 1,000 citizens have openly identified themselves as transgender. They are all registered voters and a few are even contesting assembly seats, though there is little chance of victory.
6. Voter Turnout
In 2013, the electorate is significantly more aware of the power of the vote and turnout is expected to be exceptionally high. Though both secular and right-wing Islamist parties have been attacked on the campaign trail, none have decided to boycott the May 11 election. And while terrorist attacks have claimed the lives of 135 political workers and leaders, no high-profile leader has been killed and elections were postponed in only one constituency after an attack claimed the life of one of the candidates there.
7. Youth on Political Agenda
With Pakistan's electoral rolls showing 47.9 percent of eligible voters under the age of 35, youth interests are high on the political agendas of all mainstream parties. Due to widespread use of cellular phones and greater Internet density, Pakistan's youth have really become politicized and are motivated to cast their ballots. They see political engagement as an opportunity to fight corrupt leaders and extremist trends in society. The PTI alone claims 35 percent of its candidates are below the age of 35, an unprecedented phenomenon in traditional electoral politics. On the whole, computerized electoral rolls include 36 million new voters for the 2013 election.
8. Anti-American vote
With the exception of fervor against U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal regions, the election campaigns revolved around ensuring security, education, health, and employment. The religious right failed to create a coalition similar to the United Front for Action seen in 2002, which will likely weaken their showing in the elections. Their usual 10-percent voting block will not only be shared by the right-wing religious parties, but also by mainstream giants like the PML and the PTI. Both parties are unprecedentedly threatening the stronghold of pro-Taliban mullahs and at least eight alleged hardliners are campaigning on the PML platform to exploit greater prospects of winning.
Naveed Ahmad is an investigative journalist and academic focusing on democratization, diplomacy, and security. Besides publishing globally, he is invited to news channels as an analyst. Mr. Ahmad is the co-founder and director of Silent Heroes, Invisible Bridges, a United Nations Alliance of Civilizations award-winning, multi-lingual, free-to-use feature service focusing on human stories of cross-cultural, cross-religious integration and peaceful co-existence. He tweets at @naveed360 and @endprejudice.
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
With just hours left before voters begin casting their votes for Pakistan's next leaders, political posters are plastered across markets, convoys of motorcycles and cars flying party flags clog major thoroughfares, and raspy-voiced candidates make their final appeals to throngs of people.
Election fever runs high everywhere, it seems, but in Rabwah.
The city nestled alongside the Chenab River in Punjab is home to an estimated 40,000 potential voters, but the vast majority of them will not be voting in the upcoming election due to their faith. Rabwah is a haven for Ahmedis, who make up over 95 percent of its population. While Ahmedis consider themselves Muslims, the Pakistani government has officially declared them otherwise.
The groups' adherence to Mirza Ghulam Ahmed, a man they see as a prophet, is heretical to most Muslims, who hold that the Prophet Muhammad was the last messenger of God. This difference of beliefs has made Ahmedis the subject of scorn in Pakistan, where they could be subject to death for practicing their faith since doing so would mean engaging in the illegal act of "posing as a Muslim."
While they aren't officially barred from voting, Ahmedis must sign a statement renouncing their faith in order to cast a ballot.
"I'm 37 years old and I've never voted in my life," says Amir Mehmood, a lifelong resident of Rabwah.
Mehmood says that he follows politics closely, but having to deny his beliefs to vote is more of a sacrifice than he is willing to bear.
"If the state thinks that I'm not a Muslim, that's fine. I can't change the state. But how can I say that I'm a non-Muslim just because the state tells me to? I consider myself to be a Muslim."
A 1974 amendment to the Pakistani Constitution explicitly declared Ahmedis to be non-Muslims, and a few years later separate faith-based electorates were created that forced Ahmedis to vote as non-Muslims. Instead of doing so, most Ahmedis refused to cast a ballot-and have maintained their non-participation in the country's politics ever since.
While President Pervez Musharraf unified the electorate in 2002, he soon bowed to religious extremists by inserting one glaring exception to the rule: Ahmedis would have a distinct voter list. All those who tick the box "Muslim" in the religious affiliation column of their election ballot must sign a statement certifying that they are not Ahmedi.
Due to this requirement, the upcoming election will be the eighth one in which Ahmedis refuse to take part. But Saleemuddin, a spokesperson for the Ahmedi community who uses only his first name, says this does not amount to a boycott.
"We don't approve of the word ‘boycott.' We're not boycotting. We've been so clearly discriminated against that we've been essentially prevented from casting votes in these elections."
Saleemuddin says by phone from Rabwah, "Like anywhere in the world, voting rights should be based on citizenship. In fact, they are in Pakistan too, but one executive order has brought in religion and kept my community from voting."
He says every government has continued to propagate a second-class status for Ahmedis because of the power that religious extremists and powerful clerics exercise over the country's political arena. While this election will mark the first time one democratically-elected government will pass the mantle to another, for Saleemuddin, this milestone is undermined by the state's unwillingness to let Ahmedis vote in a free and fair manner.
And few candidates are willing to address the issue of religious freedom.
Hasan Askari Rizvi, an independent political analyst told the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, "The elections will hardly bring any respite to religious minorities because the societal groups and parties that target them do not get their votes."
According to Rizvi, politicians don't have much to gain from courting the votes of religious groups like Ahmedis, Christians, or Hindus. "These votes which are small and scattered cannot generate enough political clout to pressure political parties effectively."
This amounts to a sort of catch-22 for Ahmedis since politicians do not feel politically bound to respond to their plight, something they cannot address without allies in the government. Saleemuddin says he had some hope that the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan might herald in a new era of religious freedom but Khan overtly declared his accord for the status quo saying in a video statement, "I have read the Qur'an very closely and I know that those who do not recognize Muhammad as the last prophet are not Muslims."
"Imran Khan has claimed that he's going to create a ‘New Pakistan,' but before he's even had the chance to do so, he's declared that Ahmedis will be stuck in the same ‘Old Pakistan' that we've known for too long," Saleemuddin laments.
Many Ahmedis feel that Khan's statements shamed his party's name-Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf or the "Justice Party" -but Bilal Haider, an Ahmedi living in Karachi, says Khan is no different than other politicians.
"All of these parties have written into their agendas that they want equal rights but none of them actually [do away with discriminatory laws] once they get into power," he says.
While there are an estimated four million Ahmedis in the country, most politicians think appealing for their vote will do more harm than good since bias against the sect is widespread-and it isn't limited to election season or political rights, says Haider.
"Each and every Ahmedi family is now connected to someone who was martyred. It's not only about silent discrimination, it's about literal attacks."
One of Haider's uncles, along with his wife's father, was killed in May 2010 in synchronized attacks on two Ahmedi mosques in Lahore, which resulted in the deaths of over 80 worshippers.
Haider is hopeful that when he has children, they'll be born into a more tolerant Pakistan.
But for Saleemuddin, the current situation is vexing enough. "My daughter watches TV and sees all of the political advertisements and news of the election," he says. "She asks me which candidate our family supports. She's only in 6th grade and it's really hard to explain to her why we're not voting. ‘Our town is so big,' she says, ‘So how come there isn't a single political poster or party banner here?'"
He says it's difficult to tell her that no politician is willing to change the laws so that his community in Rabwah can cast ballots without having to cast aside their faith.
Beenish Ahmed is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Islamabad, Pakistan. She is reporting on education there through a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crises Reporting.
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
There seems to be some disagreement between Pakistan's extremists over participation in the May 11 elections. Pakistani Taliban spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan recently told Pakistanis to boycott the elections because democracy is un-Islamic, while Maulana Sami ul-Haq, a conservative cleric who runs a religious seminary that trained many Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, said in a follow-up statement that voting is a religious obligation.
Could it be that the Taliban's brutal attacks on politicians belonging to the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) coalition have actually been detrimental to the wider extremist movement in Pakistan? The attacks definitely handicap religious parties, who often share sympathies and ideologies with the Taliban, at a time when they could potentially capitalize on staunch public disappointment with the outgoing government's performance.
While religious parties lost big in the 2008 elections, they probably anticipated some role for themselves in the next government, which is likely to be led by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, a conservative political party known for its own "special relationship" with extremists. Religious parties were further bolstered by a survey conducted by the British Council earlier this year revealing that 38 percent of Pakistani youth surveyed believed Islamic law is better suited for Pakistan than democracy.
Instead, Taliban attacks have likely increased chances of a high sympathy vote for the secular parties, a dynamic that helped usher in the PPP coalition in 2008 following the tragic death of Benazir Bhutto.
Why is it, though, that the extremists are not speaking with one voice? The commonsense - and most likely - argument is that they are just plain unorganized. Even though many of Haq's students joined the Taliban movement, it's doubtful that he has direct influence over the Taliban command and control structure - hence the very public statements contradicting the official Taliban position.
Let's not forget that Haq is a politician who leads his own political party and previously served in the Senate. His statements are more a warning for his former students than anyone else to not ruin his chances or those of the others who have been sitting on the sidelines for several years. A return to politics means a chance to advance the ideological agenda of the religious right, but it also allows individuals like Haq and his friends to benefit from state resources, foreign aid flows, and other "perks" of being in power.
No one expects the religious right to take over...yet. Religious parties never have much success in Pakistani elections. Furthermore, the likelihood of a General Zia ul-Haq figure emerging on the scene is low. Zia, the military dictator who introduced a conservative interpretation of shariah law in several areas of Pakistani culture and law, began the trend of mixing religion with politics as a tool of state power. The approach engendered a vast network of militants that fought mostly Pakistan's battles while invoking the name of Islam; some were also used by the United States in pushing the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan, while others advanced their own sectarian agendas.
While no one can compete with Zia's quasi-theocratic feat at the moment, religion and politics still mix - and badly. Pakistan's long relationship with militants and its cooperation with the United States in Afghanistan after September 11, 2001 have engendered a new breed of religious right - those against the state, namely the Pakistani Taliban in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
It is because of this shift in the state's relationship with militants that the Pakistani military has a clear interest in strengthening the religious right's political chances. Could the likes of Sami ul-Haq and other religious political parties convince the Pakistani Taliban to stop attacking the Pakistani military, secular politicians, and ordinary citizens? Don't bet money on it, but in February the Taliban did say they would participate in talks with the military if they would be mediated by one of the following individuals: Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz President Nawaz Sharif, Jamaat-e-Islami leader Syed Munawar Hasan, or Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman.
The talks did not happen. Instead, the Pakistani military began an operation in the Tirah Valley where numerous security officials and militants have died. It is becoming harder and harder for the Pakistani military to respond to battlefield challenges by militants who now want access to the ballot box too. In addition to militant leader Hafeez Saeed's new "political career," dozens of individuals with alleged links to militant organizations have filed papers for the elections.
The entrée of such unsavory characters into Pakistani politics would not be a first, but it would be the wrong direction for a country that is still testing a rapidly evolving democratic culture and also trying to clarify the role of religion in politics. Islam, after all, is inextricable from Pakistan's history. The country was formed in 1947 as part of a political push by Muhammad Ali Jinnah to establish a homeland for the Indian subcontinent's impoverished Muslims. General Kayani, Chief of Army Staff, reiterated this point last week when he told the country's premier military academy that "Pakistan was created in the name of Islam and Islam can never be taken out of Pakistan."
Many believed Kayani's remarks justified religious extremism. This can hardly be the whole truth given the losses the military has suffered fighting the Pakistani Taliban. But the skepticism provoked by his remarks illustrates just how damaged religion and politics has become in Pakistan.
If extremists can take advantage of this characterization of Pakistan to advance their violent agendas, then surely the country's secular parties and government institutions can strengthen themselves against the militant threat in the name of Islam as well. But with extremists such as the members of the banned sectarian group, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, fielding candidates in this week's elections, such progress does not appear imminent.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is a South Asia analyst at the Eurasia Group and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. She served as director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the White House National Security Council from 2010-2011.
FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images
It's been a rough month for Pervez Musharraf.
Since returning to Pakistan on March 24 after several years of self-imposed exile, the former president has been disqualified from participating in the May 11 national election; arrested on multiple charges; and targeted by a car bomb that failed to detonate. His travails have garnered little sympathy from the masses. They've either ignored him (his homecoming rally attracted less than 2,000 people), or lashed out at him (a lawyer hurled a shoe at him during a court appearance).
Musharraf's life is in limbo. His political career is on hold (and, following a court decision on April 30 to ban him from elections for life, perhaps over altogether). He also can't leave his Islamabad estate (where, as of this writing, he is under house arrest) except for his visits to court-trips fraught with peril for one of Pakistan's most marked men.
Musharraf has long been aware of the legal problems and security threats he would face if he returned to Pakistan. So why would he give up the relative freedom and safety of Dubai and London to come home?
Some observers point to the deep influence of delusional advisors. Others say he wants to demonstrate his patriotism and loyalty to a nation he ingloriously abandoned. And still others suggest he simply isn't very smart.
Yet the best explanation is his outsize ego.
I won't soon forget the day back in July 2011, just weeks after U.S. Navy Seals apprehended Osama Bin Laden, when Musharraf gave a talk to a beyond-capacity crowd at the Wilson Center. He declared that he had few regrets about his time in power, and insisted that if he were to take power again, "I would not need to reinvent the wheel"-because what he had done while president had been successful.
This breathtaking assertion came from a man who launched media crackdowns, fired the chief justice of Pakistan's Supreme Court, declared a state of emergency, and eventually resigned after becoming the target of a lawyers-led anti-government movement described by some as Pakistan's Arab Spring. So controversial (and unpopular) were these actions that, for many Pakistanis, they overshadow the positive accomplishments that Musharraf made earlier in his rule-including economic growth and media liberalization.
With Pakistan now a fragile, civilian-led democracy, the former military strongman's hubris has apparently convinced him that he can reinvent himself as a very different kind of leader.
It's a persona I've seen him assume firsthand. After his talk at the Wilson Center, as security officers attempted to lead him out of the building, Musharraf mingled with the crowd. He shook hands, slapped backs, and laughed heartily as onlookers chanted "March 23, 2012! March 23, 2012!"-the date on which he was then promising (falsely, as it turned out) to return to Pakistan. It was a command performance for the former leader of an institution known for its contemptuous references to "bloody civilians."
In more recent weeks, Musharraf has gone to extraordinary lengths to come off as a man of the people. He live-tweeted his return to Pakistan, and photos posted on his various social media accounts show him lifting weights and playing with his German shepherd.
Yet even as Musharraf's new image distances him from the military, he continues to embrace that institution's ideologies-including the idea that he can rescue Pakistan from itself. In his very first remarks after returning home, Musharraf proclaimed he had come back to "save" Pakistan. When deployed as an army institutional narrative, this messiah mentality has been used to justify military rule. Yet when appropriated by individuals, it becomes a highly narcissistic claim to legitimacy (it's a tactic also employed by Imran Khan, who has vowed "to launch a jihad to save Pakistan").
Musharraf's bombast may seem ridiculous given his dim political prospects (the latter can be explained, in part, by his unpopular, dictatorial end-of-rule policies; his decision to establish a post-9/11 partnership with Washington, which makes many Pakistanis regard him as a "poodle" of the United States; and his weak and unorganized new political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League). Musharraf's bombast has also prompted some to claim that his decision to return betrays a lack of strategic thinking (the same deficiency seen in his decision nearly 15 years ago to launch an ill-fated military incursion into the Kargil district of Kashmir).
Yet in fact, Musharraf's return was well-thought-out-and, in the narrow context of electoral politics, perfectly rational and even quite reasonable.
His plan was to contest a parliamentary seat in Chitral, a district in the mountainous northern reaches of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province-one of the few pockets of the country where Musharraf enjoys considerable levels of popularity. (Few public opinion surveys have focused on Musharraf in recent years, but a poll released just the other day finds that about two-thirds of Pakistanis support his electoral disqualification.) Early in April, after his nomination papers were accepted in Chitral (he would be disqualified just days later), locals responded with a celebratory procession, and a local journalist reported that people were "ecstatic." Political analysts critical of Musharraf grudgingly acknowledged that other potential national assembly candidates from Chitral were, in deference to Musharraf, opting for provincial seats instead.
Musharraf's popularity in Chitral can be traced to his administration's construction of the Lowari Tunnel-a five-mile-long structure that protects locals from avalanches that buried thousands of people in past years. In the winter months, the tunnel enables isolated, snow-bound Chitralis to travel to other parts of Pakistan without having to depend on a dangerous and more circuitous route through Afghanistan. "I don't care what Musharraf did with anyone else," proclaimed one Chitrali last year, "but if I as Chitrali neglected his services for Chitral, I will never be forgiven in any court in this world."
One candidate running for the Chitral seat has claimed that he, not Musharraf, deserves credit for the tunnel. Yet other politicians-including a chief official with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the party led by Musharraf nemesis Nawaz Sharif that many expect to lead this year's polls-have rushed to Musharraf's defense, crediting him with constructing more than two-thirds of the tunnel during his rule.
In sum, Musharraf chose the only remotely realistic route back to politics-a parliamentary seat in a district where he commands modest levels of support. His vanity enabled him to push forward with this plan while blinding him to the legal problems that have long threatened to snuff out any hopes of a political comeback.
Michael Kugelman is the senior program associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @michaelkugelman.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
Almost twelve years have passed since the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, but peace remains elusive. Four interlocking challenges with internal, regional, transnational, and international dimensions impede Afghanistan's stabilization and reconstruction. Each challenge facing Afghanistan feeds off the others, and together they have engendered a vicious circle that is destabilizing the country.
First, Afghanistan is an underdeveloped country and much of its infrastructure has been destroyed by conflict. Its new state institutions lack the basic capacity and resources to administer their mandates. These structural problems are compounded by the country's expanding population, 70% of which is illiterate and demand jobs that do not exist. Taken together, abject poverty, a lack of basic services, and a demographic explosion significantly contribute to instability in Afghanistan.
Second, it is clear that the Taliban leadership continues to receive protection from the Pakistani military and intelligence establishments. It stands to reason that without an external sanctuary, sustainable funding, weapons supplies, and intelligence support in Pakistan, the Taliban would be unable to reconsolidate its control over Afghanistan. Since 2003, the Taliban and its affiliated networks have gradually expanded their influence in the ungoverned southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan, launching daily terrorist attacks that have injured and killed thousands of innocent civilians.
Third, Afghanistan is vulnerable to transnational security threats, stemming in particular from the narcotics trade and terrorism stand. These security threats feed into and are fed by Afghanistan's internal and regional challenges. Rife poverty and weak governance, for example, are as much responsible for mass drug production in Afghanistan as is the global demand for narcotics; this is not to mention the alliance between the Taliban and drug traffickers, who exploit Afghanistan's vulnerable population to destabilize the country.
Fourth, although the diversity of nations present in Afghanistan demonstrates international goodwill and consensus for supporting the country, each contributing nation has pursued its own aid strategies, effectively bypassing coordination with each other and the Afghan government. Hence, a lack of strategic coordination across international military and civilian efforts to ensure aid effectiveness has so far crippled the Afghan state and left it with no capacity or resources to deliver basic services to its people.
It is important to note, however, that in the face of the aforementioned complex challenges, Afghanistan and its international partners have a number of significant advantages, which must be fully harnessed to regain the momentum necessary to achieve peace in the country.
Foremost among these is Afghanistan's key, untapped asset: its people, who make up one of the youngest, most energetic, and most forward-looking nations in the world. They should be supported in acquiring higher education in technical fields, and their energy and skills must be harnessed to exploit Afghanistan's vast natural resources, worth more than one trillion dollars, to help the country develop a productive economy.
Secondly, Afghanistan's vital location should help it serve as a regional trade and transit hub for easy movement of goods and natural resources to meet the rising energy demands of India and China. Indeed, without this realization and utilization of Afghanistan as the heart of the New Silk Road, achieving regional economic integration will remain impossible. The recent India-China dialogue on how to protect their shared long-term interests in Afghanistan is a welcome development. The more these key regional players, including Russia and Turkey, get constructively involved in Afghanistan through investment in the country's virgin markets, the less space for the region's peace spoilers, whether state or non-state actors, to destabilize the country.
Finally, Afghanistan's friends and allies have gone through the learning curve, and gained invaluable experience in assisting Afghanistan effectively. Together, they have made many mistakes and learned many lessons over the past 12 years, which should be used as a strategic opportunity to avoid more of the same, and to do the right thing henceforth.
In line with the agreed-upon objectives of the 2010 Kabul Conference, which were re-affirmed in the Tokyo Conference last year, Afghanistan's nation-partners should align 80% of their aid with the goals of the country's national priority programs, while channeling at least 50% of their assistance through the Afghan national budget. This is the best way to prevent further waste of taxpayers' financial assistance, which have largely bypassed the targeted beneficiaries.
This means a firm re-commitment to bottom-up and top-down institutional capacity building in the Afghan state so that Afghans increasingly initiate, design, and implement reconstruction projects on their own. Meanwhile, the Afghan national security forces must be equipped with the necessary capabilities -- including capacity for logistics and equipment maintenance as well as adequate ground and air firepower -- to execute independent operations against conventional and unconventional enemies. This way, they will gradually relieve international forces of the duty Afghans consider to be theirs - to defend Afghanistan now and beyond 2014. On the whole, these vital efforts will help ensure the irreversibility of the transition process currently underway.
The Afghan people have placed much hope and trust in the strategic partnership agreements the Afghan government has signed with the United States, India, and other allies to help address the above security challenges confronting Afghanistan. But this long-term and necessary task cannot be accomplished by any one party alone. Every state in the region and beyond has a stake in the stabilization and reconstruction of Afghanistan, knowing that the effects of terrorism and insecurity in one country can easily spill over to affect the rest in a globalized world. Thus, with Afghans leading the way forward, the burden of securing Afghanistan must be shared by the whole international community, both to ensure durable stability in the country and to maintain global peace and security.
M. Ashraf Haidari is the deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in India. He formerly served as Afghanistan's deputy assistant national security adviser, as well as deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in the United States.
Today, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued its 2013 Annual Report, focusing on Pakistan and 28 other countries around the world, including Afghanistan. As an independent U.S. government advisory body separate from the State Department, USCIRF's Annual Report identifies violations of religious freedom, as defined by international conventions, and provides policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and the Congress.
Based on our monitoring over the past year, we have concluded that the situation in Pakistan is one of the worst in the world.
The report found that "sectarian and religiously-motivated violence is chronic, especially against Shi'a Muslims, and the government has failed to protect members of religious minority communities, as well as the majority faith." An array of repressive laws, including the much abused blasphemy law and religiously discriminatory anti-Ahmadi laws, foster an atmosphere of violent extremism and vigilantism. The growth of militant groups espousing a violent religious ideology that undertake attacks impact all Pakistanis and threatens the country's security and stability.
In the face of increasing attacks against Shi'as and consistent violence against other minorities, Pakistani authorities have failed to provide protection and have not consistently brought perpetrators to justice or taken action against societal actors who incite violence.
In light of these particularly severe violations, USCIRF recommends that Pakistan be designated a "country of particular concern," or CPC, by the U.S. Department of State for these systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom. The CPC designation is a special blacklist created when Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed in 1998 the International Religious Freedom Act. Unlike some other ‘blacklists,' the CPC designation does not carry any specific penalties for the countries on the list. What it does do is assign a framework through which U.S. officials can encourage the designated country's government to address the egregious violations of religious freedom. This can come in the form of a binding roadmap of agreed actions, a waiver, or punitive steps if progress is lacking.
Countries currently named by the State Department include: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan. Pakistan represents the worst situation in the world for religious freedom for countries not currently designated as "countries of particular concern," and USCIRF has concluded it overwhelmingly meets the threshold established in the Act.
The facts speak for themselves. As the report states:
The Pakistani government failed to effectively intervene against a spike in targeted violence against the Shi'a Muslim minority community, as well as violence against other minorities. With elections scheduled for May 2013, additional attacks against religious minorities and candidates deemed "unIslamic" will likely occur. Chronic conditions remain, including the poor social and legal status of non-Muslim religious minorities and the severe obstacles to free discussion of sensitive religious and social issues faced by the majority Muslim community. The country's blasphemy law, used predominantly in Punjab province but also nationwide, targets members of religious minority communities and dissenting Muslims and frequently results in imprisonment. USCIRF is aware of at least 16 individuals on death row and 20 more serving life sentences. The blasphemy law, along with anti-Ahmadi laws that effectively criminalize various practices of their faith, has created a climate of vigilante violence. Hindus have suffered from the climate of violence and hundreds have fled Pakistan for India. Human rights and religious freedom are increasingly under assault, particularly women, members of religious minority communities, and those in the majority Muslim community whose views deemed "un-Islamic." The government has proven unwilling or unable to confront militants perpetrating acts of violence against other Muslims and religious minorities.
Designating Pakistan as a CPC would make religious freedom a key element in the bilateral relationship and start a process to encourage Islamabad to undertake needed reforms.
There are a range of issues that should be on the bilateral agenda, whether or not Pakistan is designated a CPC. The U.S. government should include discussions on religious freedom and religious tolerance in U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogues and summits, as well as urge Pakistan to protect religious minorities from violence and actively prosecute those committing acts of violence against Shi'as, Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, and others; unconditionally release individuals currently jailed for blasphemy; repeal or reform the blasphemy law; and repeal anti-Ahmadi laws. The United States can also highlight to the new government how the Federal Ministry for National Harmony is an institution unique among other nations, and maintaining it would keep a partner to discuss ways to promote religious tolerance and freedom. For sure, none of these are easy, so naming as a CPC would cut through the distractions and help create the political will to act.
The situation in Pakistan is acute, with the increasing violence against diverse religious communities and a system of laws that violate human rights. With a new government soon coming to power, there is a unique opportunity to work together to confront these threats to Pakistan. At the same time, negative pressures could tilt the new government in the wrong direction. For instance, the Pakistani Taliban's targeting of "secular politicians" could give traction to their offer from late 2012 to cease violence in exchange for constitutional amendments to install their religious vision over the country. The CPC process would support Pakistanis who want a better future for their country and counterbalance these pressures -- if the Pakistani government fails to address these issues concretely, penalties could follow after a CPC designation.
The United States is Pakistan's only friend that has the heft and desire to encourage it to tackle these difficult challenges. For sure, the U.S.-Pakistani relationship is complicated and designating a CPC would likely complicate things further. However, to protect all Pakistanis, these issues cannot be ignored and must be confronted and addressed.
Knox Thames is the Director of Policy and Research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Any personal views expressed are his own and may or may not reflect the views of the commission. He can be followed on Twitter @thames22.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
The life of a Pakistani politician is fraught with life-threatening situations. In recent years, several high-profile politicians have been assassinated: former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007, and Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti in 2011. The dangerous trend has continued this month with the targeting of lower-profile candidates running for office in the upcoming May 11 parliamentary elections. In these instances, the Pakistani Taliban or religious extremists were the perpetrators, choosing their targets for either "un-Islamic" secular and progressive values or their perceived cooperation with the United States against Pakistani militants and in the war in Afghanistan.
Beyond the tragic loss of life, the assassinations have the added casualty of limiting the space within which Pakistani leaders can safely operate. Taliban attacks have pressured willing and able voices against extremism into silence on issues-such as minority rights, girls' education, and trade with India-that Pakistani society must publicly debate in order to fully embrace and institutionalize them. Those who remain vocal do so at great personal and professional risk: Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman faces charges in Pakistani courts for her support of revisions to the blasphemy law.
In the context of upcoming polls, even more worrisome is that the specter of assassination and violence could affect the election outcome, and potentially the representation of key Pakistani constituencies. Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan announced the group's intention to target candidates and party workers affiliated with the ruling coalition's Awami National Party (ANP), Pakistan People's Party (PPP), and Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM). ANP and MQM candidates and activists have already been injured or killed-fear tactics intended to directly handicap the ruling coalition's chances of returning to power.
Another side effect of the Pakistani Taliban's killing spree is that the specific pressure on the ANP could skew the Pashtun vote. After the 2008 election, many had high hopes for the secular party based in the Pashtun-concentrated Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. But even then security threats from the Pakistani Taliban prevented ANP from fully taking advantage of the mandate the voters had given it. ANP was viewed as a potential counter to the influence of religious parties like Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), which swept national and provincial elections during the Musharraf years as part of a coalition of religious parties known as the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal.
The Pakistani Taliban's renewed targeting of ANP could improve the chances of religious parties who have, in the past, shared common ideological ground with them. The influence of religious parties has typically been downplayed, but what they are selling might have a new buyer. A survey conducted by the British Council earlier this year revealed that 38 percent of Pakistani youth surveyed believed Islamic law is better suited for Pakistan than democracy.
But the Pakistani Taliban has also threatened some religious parties, such as JUI, for cooperation with the federal government. The real worry is not the return of religious parties but the disenfranchisement of Pakistani Pashtuns, who may decide to stay at home on election day to avoid violence. This is the last thing the Pakistani state needs in a province that borders the ungoverned tribal areas and where the notion of a greater Pashtun homeland-"Pashtunistan"-exists in spirit if not fully in practice. ANP also faces threats in Karachi, where the growing Pashtun population has become ensconced in the city's gangland-style political culture. Any handicaps for Karachi's Pashtuns in the upcoming elections could also potentially worsen the security situation there.
The PPP, which led the previous government with ANP as a coalition partner, faces similar challenges in reaching voters. President Asif Ali Zardari has been reluctant to participate in large public rallies during this campaign, and for good reason. The memory of the 2007 assassination of his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, following a rally in Rawalpindi is still fresh among PPP leadership. Fears of assassination have kept Zardari out of the public eye for most of his term and now limit how much his son Bilawal Bhutto, the PPP's heir apparent, campaigns on behalf of the party as well.
Bhutto could have rallied the party's base at a time when the PPP needs it the most. Besides the PPP stronghold of interior Sindh, nowhere else is PPP guaranteed to dominate. Voter outreach is especially critical in north and central Punjab, the traditional domain of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and where Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) has made inroads. Most elections analysts believe that if PTI can continue to tap into PML-N's base of support, especially among urban educated youth, then PPP's chances in Punjab are inadvertently strengthened. It can also benefit from the fact that the strength of PTI's "tsunami" appears to be tapering off. If PPP can access voters who are falling off the PTI bandwagon, it could have a chance in chipping away at PML-N's lead. But PPP cannot rely solely on PML-N's failures or PTI's wane.
For the time being, Pakistani Taliban threats continue to keep the most influential PPP politicians far from Punjab where it matters the most. Even more tragic is the possibility that ANP will be forced to boycott the elections. While much of the elections focus has been on the historic political transition afoot in Pakistan, the threats serve as a reminder of the tough road ahead for whoever manages to survive and come out on top.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is a South Asia analyst at the Eurasia Group and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. She served as director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the White House National Security Council from 2010-2011.
YOUSUF NAGORI/AFP/Getty Images
In Pakistani politics, electioneering and the show of power by organizing sizeable gatherings weeks ahead of polls is a matter of life and death for a political party. No party can hold ground without having a strong, persistent, and pushy election campaign, particularly when one's opponents are busy organizing impressive rallies. Unfortunately, Pakistan's three mainstream secular parties are faced with the unenviable challenge of trying to sway voters from their vocal right-wing rivals while having their campaigning efforts severely restricted as the country moves toward the landmark general elections scheduled next month.
Having borne the brunt of Taliban attacks over the past five years, the secular Awami National Party (ANP), Pakistan Peoples' Party (PPP), and Muttahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM)-the major coalition parties in the previous government-also find themselves at the top of the emboldened Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan's (TTP) hit list. In a video message last month, TTP spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan warned people to stay away from political gatherings organized by these parties. Wary of staging vulnerable, large-scale rallies, these parties are mostly busy with smaller corner meetings. A number of the secular parties, particularly the ANP and PPP, have watched leaders switch over to right-wing parties to evade Taliban attacks and ensure their victory in the general elections in May.
The TTP's first victim this election season was the ANP-backed candidate Adnan Wazir, whose election motorcade was targeted with a roadside bomb in northern Pakistan on March 30. While Wazir survived with serious injuries, TTP spokesman Ihsan stated: "We targeted Adnan Wazir for his support for the secular system and the secular party. It was the beginning of what we said earlier..." Then, on April 14, a local ANP leader was killed in Swat, and two supporters of another ANP candidate were killed in Dera Ismail Khan on April 15. The TTP claimed responsibility for both of those attacks as well.
As a result, the ANP has had to abandon its plans for big rallies and restrict its electioneering campaign to small corner meetings and door-to-door visits. Meanwhile, its right-wing rivals continue to stump all over the country, holding mammoth public gatherings and rallies, the hallmark of Pakistani politics, which are considered to be one of the key factors in converting public opinion.
"This is pre-poll rigging, which, if not bringing the armed Taliban in power, is certainly paving way for elevating their supporters, sympathizers, and well-wishers to the parliament," said ANP leader and former provincial information minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province Mian Iftikhar Hussain, whose young son Mian Rashid Ali Shah was shot dead by the Taliban in July 2010.
The ANP claims that the Taliban have killed more than 700 of its workers and leaders, including two provincial legislators and one senior minister, since the party came into power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in 2008.
The PPP has not received any major blows at the hands of the Pakistani Taliban during this election season, but it was forced to postpone its plan to hold a public gathering on April 4, the death anniversary of the party's founding father and former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Bhutto's government was overthrown by his handpicked general Ziaul Haq in July 1977. The April 4 gathering was intended to kick-start the PPP election drive from Larkana, the hometown of the Bhutto family in Sindh Province.
Despite avoiding much of the violence this time around, the greatest loss for Pakistan's secular political players struck at the core of the PPP in December 2007, when party chairperson Benazir Bhutto was killed during her election campaign. The then-government, led by former president Pervez Musharraf, said at the time that the TTP was responsible for Bhutto's assassination.
Pakistan's third secular party, the MQM, draws support primarily from the country's commercial capital, Karachi, and from urban Sindh. The MQM has also been forced to focus on corner meetings, door-to-door visits, media appearances, and social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube due to the perceived threats from the Taliban.
"Unlike the past, our election drive is all door-to-door visits, corner meetings, telephonic speeches, and media statements," said deputy MQM convener Dr. Farooq Sattar. In their talks with this writer, both the ANP and MQM leaders said they will file formal complaints about the security threats with the Election Commission of Pakistan-the body responsible for organizing and overseeing the polls.
Although the MQM is believed to have an armed wing for protection-an allegation the party vehemently denies-one of its provincial parliamentarians, Syed Manzar Imam, was assassinated in Karachi this January. The TTP claimed responsibility for the murder and issued a warning that they would carry out more such attacks against the MQM. On April 10, an MQM election candidate was killed in Hyderabad, a city neighboring Karachi.
Religious parties, such as Jamat-e-Islami
(JI) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazal (JUI-F), claim they are also facing
security threats. Qazi Hussain Ahmad of the hardline JI, who died of a heart
attack in January, escaped a suicide attack on his convoy in the Mohmand tribal district in
November 2012, while a bomb was detonated near the motorcade of
JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rahman in Charsadda in March 2011, killing 13 people.
However, the threat has never been as imminent to these religious parties, nor to Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI), the political party of former cricket celebrity Imran Khan, or the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party of former premier Nawaz Sharif. In most cases, their public rallies are spared by the militants.
Last year, PTI leader Khan led a massive march from Punjab through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to South Waziristan, the stronghold of the Hakimullah Mehsud-led TTP, to drum up support for PTI's anti-drone campaign. His followers were left unharmed even as they headed into a region of the country that is largely controlled by the Taliban. This year, the PTI managed to hold three massive election gatherings in Lahore, Peshawar, and Swat in the month of March alone. Similarly, PML-N leader Sharif held a public gathering in Mardan on March 8 and Hazara on March 25, while the JUI-F demonstrated its popularity with a large-scale rally at the historical Minar-e-Pakistan monument in Lahore on March 31.
Khan, who is calling his party's popularity among Pakistani youth a ‘tsunami,' is a staunch opponent of U.S. drone strikes and Pakistan military operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). He stopped short of condemning the Taliban by name when the militant group targeted 15-year-old schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai in Swat last year.
Like Khan's PTI, the JI, JUI-F, and PML-N also shy away from openly challenging the Taliban. Nawaz Sharif's younger brother Shahbaz Sharif, who until last month was the chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan's largest province, appealed to the Taliban to spare the province by pointing out that his government was not involved in operations against them.
Additionally, in a recent development, the PML-N entered into a secret electoral alliance (also called a seat-to-seat adjustment in Pakistan) with Ahle-e-Sunna Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), meaning that the two parties agreed not to field candidates against one another in certain districts to ensure that each party wins the seats they are looking for. ASWJ was formerly called Sipah-e-Sahabah, which was the political forefather of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), a sectarian group based in Punjab Province that has claimed responsibility for some of Pakistan's worst attacks against Shi'a Muslims. Many worry that the alliance means the PML-N will refrain from acting against the LeJ in the future.
In the adjacent FATA region, where the Taliban has a very strong presence, militants seem to be allowing these right-wing parties to campaign unmolested. In North Waziristan, however, a Taliban group known as the Mullah Nazeer Group-which has a peace treaty with the Pakistani government-has pledged not to interfere with elections but has laid out stringent guidelines for parties wishing to campaign in the area. Through the distribution of pamphlets across one constituency of South Waziristan, the group has reportedly asked candidates "with no popular vote banks" not to contest the elections. It also warned the ANP, PPP, and MQM candidates about the security threats they might face in the area.
For their part, right-wing parties accuse the ANP, PPP, and MQM of mismanagement, corruption, and failing to improve the living standard of the average Pakistani during their five-year rule, which they believe will be the main reason for the secular parties' defeat in the upcoming polls. Since the PPP and MQM have strong support in Sindh Province, the ANP will lose the most to religious and right-wing parties like the JI, JUI-F, and PTI in the Pashtun-dominated Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and in the adjacent tribal areas.
In the 2002 general elections, it was Pervez Musharraf's government that kept the leadership of the mainstream PPP and PML-N out of the political arena-the leaders of both parties were in exile-leaving an open space for the religious alliance of Muttahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) to come into power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. At the time, the MMA had strong representation in the Pakistani parliament. Now, Taliban threats are performing the same function.
Even if the right-wing parties fail to win enough votes to form a coalition government at the national level, they are going to be a strong voice in what will likely be a divided parliament at a critical moment, as NATO and U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan and the security situation in the tribal areas of Pakistan worsens. A divided parliament is also going to better serve the interests of Pakistan's security establishment, a euphemism for Pakistan's historically strong army that has apparently lost its grip over policy matters during the past five years.
For many political observers, it is heartening that after regular interruption and tightly controlled ‘democracy,' the first elected government has completed its full five-year term and is on the way to a peaceful transfer of authority to the next elected one. However it is unlikely that the next government will have as smooth sailing as its predecessor, mainly because of the hard road taken to get there and the likely presence of uneasy bedfellows in the future parliament.
Daud Khattak is a Pashtun journalist currently working for the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Pashto-language station Radio Mashaal.
During a recent trip to the region, Secretary of State John Kerry decided not to visit Pakistan out of respect for the country's ongoing electoral processes. He made the right choice.
The United States has repeatedly found itself in the middle of Pakistan's domestic politics, a problem partially of its own making. In 2006, the United States tried to broker a power-sharing deal between exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and then-President Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf, who unceremoniously took power in a bloodless coup against the Nawaz Sharif government in 1999, desperately needed domestic and international legitimization of his presidency. Bhutto - the popular scion of a political family from Sindh - could offer the domestic portion of that by participating in national elections that would be sure to put her back into office as Prime Minister. An increasingly unpopular Musharraf could stay on as president.
While U.S. mediation was warranted to some extent on account of the high stakes involved in the "global war on terror," the result was disastrous. After months of secretive meetings with a coterie of high-level American officials and informal representatives, Bhutto returned to Pakistan from exile in Dubai only to be assassinated by the Pakistani Taliban ten weeks later. Ever since, the United States has in some way been blamed for her death and the circumstances following it, most notably the election of Bhutto's widow, Asif Ali Zardari, as President of Pakistan.
If Secretary Kerry had visited Pakistan, he would have inevitably signaled de facto American support for the incumbent Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and co-chairman Zardari, who remains President until September. Zardari and the PPP would have relished such attention given their dismal electoral chances, but the United States did not take the bait.
Maneuvers to elicit U.S. support for legitimacy within Pakistan are not new tactics for Pakistani politicians. Since his self-initiated exile in 2008, Musharraf has diligently sought U.S. government support to anoint his return to Pakistani politics. After all, if the United States did this for Bhutto in 2006, then why not for him - the secular, U.S.-leaning, cosmopolitan general turned statesman who enjoys an occasional scotch?
Musharraf should get credit for trying. He lobbied hard within U.S. political circles, with his Philadelphia-based office regularly releasing photographs and announcements of his meetings with members of Congress. In a slightly disingenuous move in 2011, his office even released a photograph of Musharraf with Vice President Joe Biden at a football game, suggesting the meeting was planned. The Vice President's office quickly covered its bases by clarifying that it was a chance encounter with "no substantive conversation."
In reality, Musharraf tried many times to get meetings at the State Department and White House but failed. Don't look for the United States to change track now that Musharraf is back in Pakistan. U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Rick Olson recently said of his return: "I don't see this as a terribly large or significant event...he doesn't have a great deal of support." The White House later chimed in to say Musharraf's return was "an internal matter." And recall that just the week before, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland clarified in a morning briefing that the United States "has no favorites among Pakistani politicians and we are looking forward to work with whoever is elected on May 11." An unnamed senior State Department official was even blunter, saying the United States "did not want to lead anyone to conclude anything about where" U.S. interests may lie."
It is now clearer than ever before that the United States does not want to get involved in Pakistan's domestic politics. Letting political affairs run their course is the best thing the United States - or any other country, individual or institution - can do. Given negative Pakistani public and government perceptions of the United States, it is extremely unlikely that the United States could effectively achieve its objectives if it chose to get more involved.
No doubt America will find another way to sustain stable and friendly relations with the Pakistani government - too much is at stake. Until the end of 2014, the United States will remain heavily dependent on the Pakistani military's cooperation in keeping NATO supply routes from Afghanistan through Pakistan open. Longer term challenges of Pakistan-based Al Qaeda members and affiliates, as well as Pakistan's nuclear program, demand the United States has a more normalized relationship with Islamabad. Time will tell if the United States can truly go cold turkey on getting involved in Pakistani politics to advance its own interests.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s latest vague and controversial anti-U.S. remarks were puzzling to many people both inside and outside Afghanistan, as they implied that the United States is inadvertently colluding with the Taliban. Despite the fact that he later accused the media of misinterpreting his comments and tried to clarify his remarks during a press conference with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Kabul, his comments generated a lot of noise, confusion, and varied interpretations by political commentators.
The most popular interpretations explained that Karzai’s bizarre remarks were likely aimed at cementing his patriotic image. Others believed his comments were attempts to rebuild his legacy as he nears the end of his term in office. Some speculated that they were a result of “bad advice” from his political cronies.
All of these interpretations may have shades of truth to them, yet there is another unnoticed nuance to Karzai’s remarks. Karzai is displaying his influence over the U.S. because of two important matters: peace talks with the Taliban and the 2014 presidential elections.
With regard to the peace talks, Karzai wants to take the lead on the process, undermine any existing secret negotiation channels that have excluded him, and at a minimum, reduce Kabul’s dependence on Pakistan’s cooperation for the success of any future peace talks. Having felt excluded from the “secret channels” allegedly opened by the United States to hold negotiations with the Taliban, Karzai also wants the Taliban to know that approaching the Americans for peace talks will end up nowhere if his government is not involved.
To be able to dominate the political landscape, Karzai needed to showcase his power and authority to the Taliban and counter the militants’ long-running accusations that he is a “powerless” “puppet” of the Americans and that he does not have authority over major decisions in the country So he staged the recent political drama by ratcheting up his demands on the transfer of the Parwan Detention Facility from the U.S. military to the Afghan government and the expulsion of U.S. Special Forces from parts of Wardak province. He also stepped up his anti-U.S. rhetoric to ensure his demands were met despite widespread opposition from influential political and social groups in the country. To add weight to his demands, he even involved the Council of Religious Scholars, a body widely considered to be a tool for advancing Karzai’s personal political goals. While he achieved both demands, it was a political gamble that brought Afghan-U.S. relations to their lowest point in the last decade. Yet for Karzai, the end result was that he managed to display his authority and influence over a major international player, though it has yet to produce any breakthroughs in terms of holding direct talks with the Taliban.
The second issue on Karzai’s mind is the 2014 presidential election. He is constitutionally barred from running for another term, and the Afghan president knows well that his survival and his family’s and clan’s statuses in post-2014 Afghanistan depend on whomever becomes the next leader of the country. Karzai’s anti-U.S. rhetoric and what it achieved will reinforce his position as a “Kingmaker” in the upcoming elections. This is likely to mobilize powerbrokers around him and make it easier for his handpicked candidate to win the election because in Afghanistan, the perception of power is more important than actual power.
For Karzai, having a handpicked successor who ensures the continuation of his and his family’s interest and political survival is more a matter of necessity than choice. This is because, in the incredible tale of Afghan history, many rulers of the country and their families have either been brutally killed or have faced permanent exile in foreign lands. This unfortunate historical precedent has become even more prominent as five out of nine Afghan leaders and their immediate families have been murdered since the Communist revolution in 1978. For Karzai, the stakes are even higher if he loses power or if he becomes politically irrelevant. After all, members of the Karzai family and tribe have enjoyed incredible riches and political domination of southern Afghanistan over the last 12 years, sometimes at the cost of other tribes and political rivals. Since 2001, his relatives and tribe have ruled the south of the country–where Afghan kings have historically hailed from–more like the Sopranos of Kandahar than the Kennedys of Afghanistan.
With the Afghan election date fast approaching, the United States should expect more such erratic statements from Karzai. But they should also understand that Karzai’s anti-U.S. statements neither reflect nor speak for the wider Afghan public view of the United States. In fact, Karzai was taken aback by the harsh criticism he faced from majority in the country, including members of his own government. This backlash stemmed from the anxiety that has gripped the country over the widespread belief that a premature withdrawal of the U.S.-led NATO troops will mark the beginning of a civil war in the country. Many Afghans see their leader’s frantic and bizarre statements as not only damaging to the national interests of the country, but also further throwing the country into the arms of Afghanistan’s two rapacious neighbors: Pakistan and Iran.
Najib Sharifi is the Director of Afghanistan New Generation Organization—a youth empowerment body based in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Ahmad Shafi is an Afghan journalist and a former NPR producer.
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Image
Last Wednesday night, four members of Pakistan's paramilitary Rangers force were killed when an attacker threw a grenade at their vehicle in Korangi Town, a neighborhood on the east side of Karachi. Despite the Pakistani government touting its historic democratic victory, concern over escalating violence in Karachi, a sprawling metropolis of 18 million people, continues to grow. A permeating sense of instability has only worsened a deteriorating economic crisis, both of which are stark reminders of the failure of the government and security apparatus to maintain law and order in a city that promises to spiral out of control. In light of upcoming elections, it seems likely that the violence will continue to increase.
According to estimates from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, close to 2,284 people were killed in violent attacks in Karachi in 2012. By some media estimates, targeted killings and a string of deadly bomb blasts cost the lives of 500 people in 72 days of this year alone. Victims range from civilians to policemen, the paramilitary Rangers to development workers, journalists to lawyers.
Pakistan as a whole has recently witnessed a sharp rise in brutal attacks by Sunni extremists on the minority Shia group, which constitutes close to 20% of the population. These attacks have been concentrated primarily in the southwestern province of Balochistan, but Karachi has seen its own wave of sectarian killing and ethnic strife. The city came to a standstill when on March 3, a powerful blast ripped through AbbasTown near a Shia Imambargah, destroying two apartment buildings and leaving 50 people dead, more than 200 injured, and innumerable homeless.
Law enforcement agencies remained conspicuously absent for up to four hours from an area engulfed by flames after the attack, raising serious questions about the government's commitment to protecting citizens from militant attacks, and the functioning of the city's security apparatus. The mourning families endured further injustice and humiliation when two men were killed and a dozen injured in armed clashes that occurred at the funeral procession a day later. Authorities continue to arrest suspects, and many believe that Sunni extremist groups Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which claimed recent massive attacks on Hazara Shias in Quetta, Balochistan, are behind such incidents.
On March 6, just days after the March 3 blast, the entire city of Karachi was abruptly shut down in a matter of just 22 minutes, during which seven people were killed in separate incidents of violence, gunshots were reported, and people scurried to safely get home. Social media was abuzz with those transmitting real-time updates on areas that were blocked or unsafe to travel. Amid the violence, Karachi's biggest and most influential political party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), called for all businesses and educational institutions to remain closed until the Abbas Town culprits were arrested. Most Karachiites were disgruntled by the ‘indefinite' strike, which they feared would damage the city's economy even further. Daily wagers like Shahnawaz Shahzad, a fruit seller near Karachi's area of Lyari, complained, "I have a family of six to feed. This daily business of strikes affects us very strongly. If I can't make a selling, my family has to sleep hungry."
Businesses and public transportation closed quickly, and hospitals were put on high alert. For a city that is, unfortunately, used to daily violence such as thefts, robberies, and car snatching, Karachi seems to have sunk even further into abyss.
Earlier this month, an attempted kidnapping of a young girl at Karachi's high-fashion Dolmen Mall raised chilling concerns about the collapse of the security apparatus in even the wealthier urban centers. Social media has also been flooded with rumors about the infamous "Black Prado" that preys in Karachi's affluent areas of Defense, Clifton and Zamzama. Gangs of men, traveling in Black Prados with tinted windows were said to be kidnapping two young girls every day. Though no official complaints have been registered, rumors were rife that young girls from elite families were gang-raped, videotaped and then blackmailed.
Whether actual or rumor, violent incidents and petty crime have made Karachi's citizens more cautious about their movements. Many of those living in affluent areas of the city have resorted to enrolling in self-defense classes, particularly the women. Not surprisingly, many citizens feel that with the run-up to elections, bomb blasts, targeted killings, kidnappings and petty crime are expected to worsen, making the city more unsafe. Following the surge of violence in Karachi, an opinion poll conducted on March 9th by the Express Tribune asked whether citizens considered purchasing a gun given Karachi's law and order situation. From a sample of 1,078 respondents, 69% responded affirmatively
In one of the most recent cases of violence, unidentified assassins shot a prominent Karachi social worker, Parveen Rehman, inside her car at a traffic intersection. Rehman was the director of the Orangi Pilot Project, and dedicated her life to working for the vulnerable and disadvantaged in Karachi's Orangi slum. While no particular group has claimed responsibility, suspicion has fallen on Karachi's ruthless land mafia, against whom she remained a vocal critic. Shortly after her death, students and media outlets paid homage to the courageous worker, hailing her as the "Mother of Karachi."
Just two weeks ago, on March 30, the principal of a Karachi girl's school in Ittehad Town, the Nation Highway School, was shot dead, and six girls between the ages of 8 and 10 were injured, in a brazen attack on the premises during an award distribution. Two militants threw a grenade at the wall and entered while opening fire. Attacks such as this continue to raise concern over girls' education, even in urban centers. While physical attacks on girls' schools are so common that they appear to be hardly even newsworthy in areas considered to be backward and militant-ridden like Swat and FATA, similar attacks in Karachi are on the rise, a disturbing trend in Pakistan's largest city.
Many Karachiites claim that the city, instead of being secured by police and law enforcement agencies, is now a level playing field for criminals and militants. Given the mounting security concerns and lack of a healthy investor climate, many businesses have relocated to foreign countries, while close to 5,000 traders and businesses have completely closed down. Moves such as this can have a devastating impact on what is believed to be the country's economic and industrial hub. According to State Bank figures, Foreign Direct Investment stood at an admirable $5.410 billion dollars in 2008. The PPP's five-year tenure has failed to boost the figures. FDI fell to a mere $820 million during the 2012 fiscal year, and the Pakistani rupee dropped in value by more than 63%.
Citizens have called for a military operation against militants and gangs in Karachi, a move that the government has staunchly opposed. Many feel that the PPP government refused to turn to the Army for fear of admitting its inability to maintain law and order right before elections. And a defense source recently admitted that Chief of Army Staff, General Kiyani had taken note of the deteriorating situation of Karachi saying that, "the situation in Karachi has deteriorated to alarming proportions and violence could get out of control if urgent action is not taken immediately."
Unfortunately, the violence in Karachi does not stem from any one particular root. The city is plagued by militancy, ethnic and sectarian strife, land mafia, gangs and petty criminals, amongst others. The dire situation in Karachi is only made worse by a leadership unwilling to conduct major reforms in governance and enforce prompt accountability. The inadequate training and motivation of law enforcement agencies such as the police, partly composed of persons accused of crimes and appointed/re-appointed on partisan grounds, along with a lack of co-ordination between intelligence agencies and effective, pre-emptive actions has led to a complete failure of law and order.
Pakistanis doubt that the new government elected on May 11 will be able address the rampant and swift deterioration of Karachi's security. Many extremist groups have strong bases in Pakistan's largest province of Punjab. A strong contender to form the next government, Nawaz Sharif's PML-N, has had no qualms about forming electoral alliances with the Ahl-e Sunnat Wal Jammat (ASWJ) organization, a political faction believed to have ties to broader and banned jihadi networks such as the deadly sectarian group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and the Tehrik-eTaliban Pakistan (TTP). Nawaz is currently the frontrunner to become Pakistan's next Prime Minister, and alliances such as this further illustrate the improbability of political parties taking concrete actions against terrorist groups, whether before or after elections.
The escalating violence and disorder has also raised concerns about the likelihood of having free, fair and transparent electoral procedures in Karachi in May. Poor governance will continue to enable disorder, further compounded by the heat and strife of election fever. The interim government, limited by its mandate, will be unable to address the growing crisis. The only alternative seems to be bringing in the Army for a limited period of time to stabilize the situation and reduce violence before polling takes place. However, given the Army's notoriously power hungry history, this, too, seems like an unlikely proposal. Understandably then, most Karachiites feel like they're on their own.
Without a doubt, Pakistan has made history with its first ever civilian government to finish a complete term. However, bad governance and a surge in large-scale violence and petty crime have left many citizens questioning the price they have paid to usher in democracy.
Arsla Jawaid is Assistant Editor at the monthly foreign policy magazine, SouthAsia. Arsla holds a BA in International Relations from Boston University, with a focus on foreign policy and security studies. She can be followed on Twitter @arslajawaid.
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
On Sunday, former military dictator Pervez Musharraf was at last given permission to run in the parliamentary elections scheduled for May 11, but only in the northern district of Chitral. Two other districts rejected his nomination papers, and his application in Islamabad is still pending. Elections officials in Pakistan, acting under directives of the country's Supreme Court, have excluded several candidates -- among them Musharraf -- from running in the elections. This pre-selection of candidates is based on controversial Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution, decreed by military ruler General Zia ul-Haq in 1985 as part of his Islamization agenda. These articles forbid anyone who does not meet the test of being a good Muslim or patriotic Pakistani from becoming members of Pakistan's parliament. Until now, the highly subjective criteria of these provisions have never been implemented in practice.
This time around, the Election Commission of Pakistan has allowed officials in each parliamentary district to vet candidates. The result is a mish-mash of arbitrary decisions. Almost 100 members of the out-going legislatures, many of them deemed popular enough to win re-election, have been disqualified for producing fake college degrees at the last poll, when the generals mandated the possession of one as a pre-condition for membership in parliament. The law was changed by parliament in 2008 and it is questionable why, after serving for five years, these politicians are being challenged now.
Former Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf was disqualified on grounds of unproven corruption allegations. Musharraf was barred from running in two districts while being found sufficiently sagacious in another. The leader of the opposition in the outgoing parliament, Chaudhry Nisar Ali, was similarly found to be lacking in the criteria in one district where he filed his nomination papers, while being allowed to run in another.
The last few days have witnessed the spectacle of Election Officers asking candidates to recite specific verses from the Quran, prove that they pray five times a day, and in the case of a female candidate, even respond to the question "How can you be a good mother if you serve in parliament and are too busy to be fulfill your religious duties as a wife and mother?"
The pre-qualification conditions have adversely affected liberal candidates while favoring Islamist ones. Columnist Ayaz Amir, who is part of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League, has been disqualified from running as a candidate because he wrote articles that were "disparaging" about the ‘ideology' of Pakistan. Militant and terrorist leaders have had no problem in meeting the litmus test of religiosity and commitment to Pakistan's ideology. Nomination papers for Maulana Mohammad Ahmad Ludhianvi, who heads Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a reincarnation of a banned terrorist organization, were cleared even though he has publicly acknowledged his role in the killing of Shias in the country.
In addition to facing discrimination from election officials, liberal politicians must also contend with threats from terrorists - threats that have not persuaded the judiciary or the permanent state apparatus to enhance security for these politicians. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has warned that candidates and rallies of ‘secular' parties like the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement, and Awami National Party (ANP) would be targeted, and the targeting has already begun. The ANP lost one of its finest leaders, Bashir Ahmed Bilour, a few months ago. The TTP took credit for the murder.
The elimination of liberal political figures must be seen as part of the process of creeping Islamization, as well as the permanent militarization of Pakistan, which began during Zia ul-Haq's military dictatorship. Using Islam and a narrow definition of patriotism to limit the options available to voters is nothing new. It is a direct outcome of Pakistan's long history of dominance by unelected institutions of state, euphemistically referred to as the ‘establishment.' In addition to existing under direct military rule for half its life as an independent country, Pakistan has always lived in the shadow of the ubiquitous influence of generals, judges, and civil servants.
No elected parliament was ever allowed to complete its full term until this year. But instead of allowing voters to choose the new government in a free and fair election, the establishment wants to make sure that the voters have only limited choice at the polls. A direct military coup is no longer feasible. The politicians, led by President Asif Zardari, have foiled bids by the judiciary to virtually become the executive. The battle between elected leaders and unelected judges has come at great cost to several outspoken individuals in the country's politics. Now, an election with pre-qualification could ensure the establishment's supremacy without overtly pulling back the democratic façade.
From the establishment's perspective, Pakistan's politicians cannot be trusted to lead or run the country even if they manage to get elected by popular vote. The political system must somehow be controlled, guided, or managed by the unelected institutions who deem themselves morally superior and even more patriotic than those supported by the electorate. This patrician approach is reflected in the assertions of Generals Ayub Khan (1958-69), Yahya Khan (1969-71), Zia ul-Haq (1977-1988) and Musharraf (1999-2008) at the time they took power in coups d'état. It can also be found in the constant efforts by Supreme Court judges and civil servants to second-guess the people by deciding who is and who is not eligible to run in elections.
General Zia ul-Haq created structures for limiting democracy that would outlast him. He drastically changed the constitution and legal regime in ways that have proved difficult to reverse, even a quarter century after his death. The outgoing Pakistani parliament completed its term and amended the constitution to make it closer to what it was originally intended to be. But the Islamic provisions introduced by Zia ul-Haq persist, enabling the establishment to use Islam as an instrument of control and influence over the body politic.
Article 62 demands that a candidate for parliament demonstrate that "he is of good character and is not commonly known as one who violates Islamic Injunctions; he has adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings and practices obligatory duties prescribed by Islam as well as abstains from major sins; he is sagacious, righteous and non-profligate, honest and ameen, there being no declaration to the contrary by a court of law; and that he has not, after the establishment of Pakistan, worked against the integrity of the country or opposed the ideology of Pakistan."
Article 63 disqualifies a Pakistani from becoming an MP if "he has been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction for propagating any opinion, or acting in any manner, prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan, or the sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan, or morality, or the maintenance of public order, or the integrity or independence of the judiciary of Pakistan, or which defames or brings into ridicule the judiciary or the Armed Forces of Pakistan."
Both constitutional provisions provide considerable leeway to an ideological judiciary to influence the electoral process and exclude critics of the establishment from the next legislature. The recent celebration and positive commentary over parliament completing its term should not distract us from an ugly reality. Pakistan's establishment may have refrained from another direct coup, but it is still far from accepting the basic premise of democracy - the supremacy of parliament among institutions and the right of the people to vote for whomever they choose.
Farahnaz Ispahani is a former member of the Pakistani parliament and former Media Advisor to President Asif Ali Zardari, as well as a writer and minority rights advocate.
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
Term limits preclude Hamid Karzai from seeking re-election in the Afghan presidential election slated to occur one year from today (parliamentary elections will follow in 2015). So, for the first time since 2001, Afghanistan will soon have a new chief executive along with a new parliament, a leadership transition that has immense implications for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, yet one that has elicited little discussion in Washington. Here, policy makers and pundits chatter about talking with the Taliban and argue vociferously about the number of troops that should remain after 2014, an argument that is utterly irrelevant if the Afghan elections go badly, particularly the presidential election, and Afghanistan descends into civil war. Whether it's 8,000 or 13,600 or 20,000 or more or less, the post-2014 U.S. and NATO force will be too small to halt Afghan political and military disintegration.
The success or failure of Afghanistan's upcoming elections does not depend so much upon who is elected but rather how they are elected. Regardless of who wins, Afghans must believe the electoral process was reasonably fair and representative or the new government will be viewed as illegitimate, prompting spiraling violence and instability. Despite these existential stakes, however, the United States has shied away from publicly expressing its expectations and concerns about details of the developing Afghan electoral process. This unspoken caution springs from the circumstances surrounding Afghanistan's 2009 national elections, during which the international community roundly criticized President Karzai for presiding over an election marred by significant fraud and Karzai, in turn, accused the international community, particularly U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, of wrongfully intruding upon Afghan sovereignty by supporting opposition candidates.
Given the hour and stakes, the United States should move beyond its circumspect and cautious approach, and instead clearly signal to all candidates and parties that it will use all of its legitimate influence in pursuit of credible elections. If needed, the US should spend more than the roughly 200 million dollars earmarked for the Afghan electoral process by USAID. When totaled, even the most sweeping electoral support costs are paltry when compared to the cost variations associated with the residual troop level debate. For example, even by conservative estimates the choice of 20,000 instead of 8,000 residual U.S. forces in Afghanistan means at least 12 billion dollars in annual additional expense.
Afghans recall the flawed elections of 2009, and many or most Afghans expect no better in 2014. Not only must the electoral process itself be strengthened, somehow public perceptions of the electoral process must also improve in the short time remaining before the presidential election. It would be a tragedy if a legitimate victory by a Karzai-backed candidate were viewed as illegitimate simply because a false public perception existed that Karzai abused his powers when he hadn't. Few besides Al Qaeda and the Taliban should want such a result.
A major public relations campaign is needed to counter Afghan voter skepticism and persuade the Afghan people that neither President Karzai nor his administration will inappropriately tamper with the upcoming elections. To outweigh voter skepticism and insidious rumors, the ideal public relations campaign would be broadly supported by diverse Afghan elites and tout an honest and robust effort to address electoral corruption, including campaign finance issues. And whenever the Karzai regime's use of executive powers could directly or indirectly influence the elections, President Karzai should publicly engage in a broadly consultative process across a credible spectrum of political elites to guide the use of his power. Secretary of State John Kerry's uniquely strong relationship with President Karzai could be critically important in this effort. Not only might Secretary Kerry influence Karzai to engage in such a publicly consultative process, Kerry's credible voice of approval of both the process and the resultant electoral decisions can help sway a skeptical Afghan populous.
Unfortunately, again with only a year to go, Afghanistan's election law has not been finalized by its parliament. Here, too, U.S. officials should weigh in quite frankly concerning their expectations and concerns. Further dithering compresses the time for electoral preparations and lessens the likelihood of publicly perceived electoral legitimacy. Worse, delay heightens the likelihood that President Karzai will fill the void with an executive decree establishing the electoral process. If this occurs, it must be accompanied by an extraordinarily robust and very public consultative process plus broad public agreement by diverse political elites. Again, absent broadly credible endorsements, such an executive decree may fuel false public perceptions that Karzai is trying to manipulate the outcome. The end result could be disastrous whatever the residual US troop levels.
President Karzai has said the democratic transfer of power from his administration to an elected successor is the greatest legacy he could leave his country. He's quite right if Afghans accept the election results as fair. Given the hour and stakes, the U.S. must now act openly to help assure they are.
Former Congressman Jim Marshall is the President of the United States Institute of Peace.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
Sectarian violence is raging in Pakistan, and some commentators are now describing the relentless assaults on Shia Muslims as genocide. Predictably, many observers fear that this unrest-coupled with a dangerous overall security situation-could delay Pakistan's May 11 national elections.
It's an understandable, yet ultimately misplaced, concern. As was recently pointed out, Pakistan has held elections under much more trying conditions-including one in Swat in 2008, during the height of the Pakistani Taliban's insurgency there.
Few commentators, however, are talking about another possible impact of sectarian strife on the elections: Shias-roughly 20 percent of the Pakistani population-mobilizing en masse to vote the ruling political party out of power.
Their motivations would be obvious. Shias-like Ahmadis, Christians, and other religious minorities in Pakistan-are incensed at the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) for failing to protect them, and for taking no meaningful action against those who terrorize them. In the blunt words of Abdul Khaliq Hazara, a prominent Hazara Shia in Quetta who heads the Hazara Democratic Party, "the government doesn't have the will to go after them."
Under this scenario, who would the Shia vote for? Probably not the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)-Pakistan's chief opposition party and the current favorite to lead the next governing coalition. The PML-N's bastion is in Punjab Province, which is also the home base of some of Pakistan's most vicious sectarian extremist groups, including the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). Yet instead of confronting the LeJ, the PML-N is seemingly courting it. Last year, the law minister of Punjab's provincial government (led by the PML-N) campaigned with the leader of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), LeJ's parent organization. And just days ago, the secretary general of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ)-like the LeJ, a splinter group of SSP- bragged: "We have thousands of voters in almost every constituency of the South and Central Punjab and the PML-N leadership is destined to knock at our doors when the elections come."
Rumors have abounded that, with the election in mind, the PML-N is negotiating a "seat-adjustment" agreement with ASWJ. (The Express Tribune, in an article later removed from its website, described the deal as follows: the PML-N will support the ASWJ in races for three National Assembly seats, while in return the ASWJ, "whose votes often play a vital role in helping candidates win," will withdraw its candidates from contesting about a dozen National Assembly seats in Punjab) Last month the PML-N denied the rumors-only to be contradicted just days later by SSP's leader. Regardless of who's telling the truth, the PML-N has done little to dispel the expectation that, if it leads the next government, it will do little to address the Shias' plight.
A more likely choice for the Shias might be voting for Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. The PTI, more so than the PML-N or PPP, has gone out of its way to condemn the country's sectarian bloodshed and its chief instigators. Pakistani analysts have contrasted Khan's strong and unequivocal denunciations with the "obfuscations and meaningless remarks" uttered by the Pakistani government. After an LeJ bombing killed nearly 90 people in a Quetta market last month, Khan declared at a press conference: "I tell you by name, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi...there can be no bigger enemy of Islam than you." He also accused the LeJ of exhibiting "the worst kind of enmity towards Islam." Such strong language is rarely used by the PPP or PML-N. In January, Khan even endorsed Shia demands for targeted operations against religious militants.
Admittedly, the PTI has no plans to take aim at the root causes of sectarian violence. For example, reforming-much less repealing-Pakistan's blasphemy laws (which are often used as a pretext to persecute religious minorities) is a move no political party in Pakistan dares make; the late Punjab governor Salman Taseer was assassinated for merely criticizing them. Nonetheless, compared to the two major parties, the PTI gives the impression of genuinely caring about, and wanting to help, Pakistan's besieged minorities (along with other vulnerable segments of the population; the party recently released a new manifesto to protect the disabled). Tellingly, after an attack on a Quetta snooker hall targeting Hazara Shias left more than 100 dead in January, Khan visited the victims' grieving families-a meeting that occurred before the arrival of Pakistani government officials. Shias in Lahore and other areas of Punjab-home to 148 of Pakistan's 272 national assembly seats-could cause significant damage to the PML-N's electoral prospects if they vote as a bloc for the PTI.
But there's little reason to believe Pakistan's Shias will actually turn out in droves to vote for the PTI. Many Shias are suspicious of Khan because of his support for talks with the Taliban and other gestures perceived as sympathetic to religious militants. Such suspicions intensify when PTI officials (including party vice chairman Ajaz Chaudhry) share the stage with hardline Islamist figures-including members of the ASWJ-during rallies of the Pakistan Defense Council, a collective of conservative religious parties. A recent video produced by the Shia rights group ShiaKilling.com captures the contempt that Pakistani Shias harbor toward the PTI (and toward the PML-N as well). One Shia cleric (who does not appear to enjoy a large following) has even peddled an elaborate conspiracy theory involving Saudi Arabia and the ISI colluding to install Khan as the leader of a new "Saudi-Wahhabi Islamic State" of Pakistan.
There's also little reason to believe Shias will band together and vote en masse for any other political party. Formal research on Pakistani Shia voting patterns is limited, but based on informal conversations and anecdotal evidence, it's safe to say that such patterns are far from monolithic. On May 11, some will vote along ethnic lines. Others will opt for the PPP; in a by-election last year in the Punjab city of Multan, the PPP candidate triumphed-and analysts noted that he earned Shia votes (in fact, according to research by Andrew Wilder, Shias in Punjab tended to vote for the PPP as far back as the 1990s -because of the perception that it was more liberal and tolerant of religious minorities than were other parties). Others still will vote for the MQM. This is a party that has controlled Karachi politics for decades-and has traditionally received many Shia votes (though given Karachi's violent political culture, many of them were probably cast under pressure). Some will simply choose a sympathetic patron. Finally, many Shias-due to fear, apathy, or sheer disgust-probably won't vote at all.
This isn't to say Shias aren't joining forces to pursue political goals. Last November, a top official with the Majlis-e-Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM), a collaborative of Pakistani Shia religious scholars, announced that the organization would be establishing a Shia Solidarity Council "to promote harmony" among the country's Shias. The MWM, he added, "has been making all-out efforts to unite all Shia parties of Pakistan at one platform." (MWM party leaders, incidentally, have also said they seek to "counter [the] nefarious designs of the imperialist forces" against Pakistan, and the MWM has staged U.S. flag-burnings in front of the American embassy in Islamabad.)
Several weeks ago, the MWM registered as a political party with Pakistan's Election Commission, and has now decided to contest elections. Party officials have vowed to field candidates for 100 parliamentary seats (60 of them in the national assembly), mostly representing Shia-majority areas in Punjab and in Pakistan's other three provinces. However, owing to a variety of factors-such as the lack of electoral success of Pakistani religious parties, and the MWM's dearth of political resources-the party's big-picture prospects appear dim.
The takeaway? Pakistan's sectarian violence is unlikely to delay this year's election. And, owing to the strong likelihood of a PPP or PML-N victory on May 11, the votes cast by those in the crosshairs of that violence will fail to delay the inevitable-the arrival in power of another fragile coalition unable or unwilling to protect them.
Michael Kugelman is the senior program associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @michaelkugelman
BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
Diego Cordovez and Selig S. Harrison, Out of Afghanistan: The Inside Story of the Soviet Withdrawal (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995)
Roderic Braithwaite, Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan 1979-89 (London: Profile Books, 2011)
Artemy M. Kalinovsky, A Long Goodbye: The Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011)
The idea that history offers lessons for the present is uncontroversial and common to the point of cliché. Yet, American foreign policy decisions often proceed with barely a look to the past. And so we were informed in 2009 by then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy, likely to return as a fixture in future Democratic administrations, "[T]here's absolutely no valid comparison between the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan" and the U.S.-led campaign to enable the Afghan people to "reclaim their country." Is that so?
In her award-winning book about the Vietnam War, Fire in the Lake, Frances FitzGerald states:
Americans ignore history, for them everything has always seemed new under the sun....Americans see history as a straight line and themselves standing at the cutting edge of it as representatives for all mankind. They believe in the future as if it were a religion; they believe that there is nothing they cannot accomplish, that solutions wait somewhere for all problems like brides.
Just as history's lessons were dismissed as advisers begat brigades in the jungles of Southeast Asia, the Soviet experience in Afghanistan has been discarded as irrelevant to our own war by American policymakers, commanders, and commentators. This has left us, in the words of Lord Butler of Brockwell, "like a driver who commits to some manoeuvre in the road without looking into the rear mirror." Indeed, American leaders believe we are on a different road entirely. While there are significant differences between the two interventions, the road winds through the same mountains.
Two books released as the latest incarnation of foreign intervention winds down - one by Rodric Braithwaite and the other by Artemy Kalinovsky - tell the troubled tale of the Soviet intervention and withdrawal. In doing so, they shatter mischaracterizations that prevent the West from looking to this decade as a source of lessons. The only major flaws of these books, Afgantsy and The Long Goodbye, is that they were published years too late to serve as rejoinders to Undersecretary Flournoy and others who came before her who insisted that Afghanistan, in the words of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, stood "at the dawn of a new day."
Yet, while Braithwaite and especially Kalinovksy draw on previously unpublished Soviet records and interviews, they were not the first to strike at the myths of the Soviet intervention rooted in the Cold War. Almost twenty years ago, Diego Cordovez, the U.N.'s point man on Afghanistan in the 1980s, and journalist Selig S. Harrison produced the insightful Out of Afghanistan: The Inside Story of the Soviet Withdrawal. These three books demand to be read and revisited in combination. They very much complement each other. Braithwaite's Afgantsy provides a vivid, novelistic account of the war in its entirety. Kalinovsky's more scholarly text provides the oft-missing Soviet perspective based on Politburo records, now housed at the Wilson Center thanks to Kalinovsky himself. Cordovez and Harrison give us the ultimate insider's account, bringing readers along for the ride as the U.N. emissary shuttles back and forth between Moscow, Washington, Kabul, and Islamabad, furiously working to get deadly foes to sit down at a table and talk.
The common Western narrative holds that once Soviet forces crossed their southern border into Afghanistan in December 1979, they were modern-day Cossacks waging a war of unmitigated brutality. With U.S. support, the noble mujahideen prevailed. This narrative, rooted in the hostile spirit of the Cold War, tells us we have nothing to learn from the Soviets in Afghanistan because our mission is so different in its purpose, aims and methods. Our very nature is so different that comparisons are useless. Or so we tell ourselves, and in doing so ignore the nuances of history.
The Soviets also had trouble reconciling their mission with Afghan history. In one memorable exchange captured by Kalinovsky, Soviet Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Mikhail Kapista cited the British experience in Afghanistan in the 19th Century. Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko responded, "Do you mean to compare our internationalist troops with imperialist troops?" Kapitsa retorted, "No, our troops are different - but the mountains are the same!"
There are many aspects of the Soviet experience relevant to the current U.S.-led campaign, but none are more relevant to the present day than the Soviet efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement and withdraw their military forces. On these aspects of the war before the war, these three books have a great deal to say, primarily by way of three key lessons: Even a "reconciliation" that promises substantial government concessions may not succeed. Timing is everything. Pakistan is not to be trusted.
By the time Mikhail Gorbachev ascended to power in 1985, the view that the Soviet war in Afghanistan was a quagmire was commonly held in the Politburo and in the military. Frustration with Afghan partners - particularly General Secretary Babrak Karmal - was at an all-time high, leading to his replacement with Mohammad Najibullah in 1986. Gorbachev came to accept that the Soviets would not leave a socialist government in their wake, but he was not ready to abandon their client regime entirely. He pushed a second, internal track on Najibullah: the policy of "National Reconciliation," which was far reaching in its concessions to the mujahideen.
The reconciliation program sought to reach out to biddable elements in the armed opposition, as well as non-Communist political and religious leaders not involved in the rebellion. In doing so, they sought to strengthen the position of the Afghan armed forces. Through a re-tooled aid package, more emphasis on outreach to tribes, efforts to make Afghan officials more independent, and dialogue with insurgent commanders, the Soviets hoped to set the conditions for a durable state as they planned to withdraw. Attempts to make the Afghan government more representative, rather than dominated by the ruling People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), were key. The new policy was announced in December 1986. That same month, Gorbachev called Najibullah to Moscow and informed him that a military withdrawal from Afghanistan was now official Soviet policy. The government, with Soviet advisers over their shoulders, drew up a new constitution that established "an Islamic legal system run by an independent judiciary, greater freedom of speech, and the election of a president by a loya jirga assembly consisting of parliament and tribal and religious leaders."
While sensible, the National Reconciliation program arrived too late. All sides were too entrenched. The Khalq and Parcham factions of the PDPA were still at loggerheads. The "Peshawar Seven" and "Tehran Eight" mujahideen parties were strong and confident in the countryside and the mountains, dripping with a desire for revenge and a hatred of the Kabul-based government. The Pakistanis and the Americans doubted the Soviets and the Afghan government were serious about a negotiated settlement. And they understood that, regardless of Soviet intentions, a compromise on their parts was not necessary. One independent-minded Soviet colonel wrote in a letter: "[O]ne has to keep in mind that the counter-revolution is aware of the strategic decision of the Soviet leadership to withdraw the Soviet troops from the DRA [Democratic Republic of Afghanistan] ...The counter-revolution will not be satisfied with partial power today, knowing that tomorrow it can have it all."
Gorbachev also fumbled the timing of announcing troop withdrawals. In February 1988, against the advice of the Soviet negotiating team in Geneva, Gorbachev announced a full withdrawal would begin on May 15, assuming an agreement was reached in Geneva. He hoped that his announcement and the signing of the accords would induce the United States and Pakistan to cease arming the mujahideen. According to Harrison, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze had warned Gorbachev that "a formal commitment to a specific target date would give the impression of an urgent need to withdraw." Gorbachev was wrong and Shevardnadze was right. The withdrawal timeline was one of the few cards the Soviets had left in their deck and Gorbachev gave it away. Subsequent Soviet efforts to negotiate directly with the Peshawar Seven and Tehran Eight were futile.
In response to Gorbachev's announcement, U.S. Secretary of State George P. Schultz demanded that the the two superpowers take a symmetrical approach to the withdrawal of military aid to their respective proxies. In other words, American aid to the mujahideen and Soviet aid to the government would be withdrawn simultaneously. Early drafts of the accords had not envisioned symmetry. Gorbachev was apoplectic, but it was too late.
Moscow had greater concerns linked to a successful withdrawal from Afghanistan - namely negotiations over American nuclear-tipped missiles in Europe. Success in these negotiations depended on improving relations with the United States. And so, on April 14, 1988, the Geneva Accords were signed. They committed the Soviets to execute a "front-loaded" withdrawal within nine months. The United States and the USSR agreed to "positive symmetry," meaning that aid continued to the mujahideen and the Afghan government alike, rather than negative symmetry, which would have withdrawn aid to both. Besides, the Soviet leadership believed that the Accords, which prohibited Pakistani interference and intervention in Afghan affairs, would mitigate the problem of aid to the mujahideen. At any rate, Gorbachev assured Najibullah that, "Even in the harshest, most difficult circumstances, even under conditions of strict control - in any situation, we will provide you with arms." Like the rest of the world, neither of them anticipated the dissolution of the Soviet Union less than four years later.
Pakistan has three interests vis-à-vis Afghanistan that endure to the present day: blunting Pashtun nationalism, preventing strategic encirclement by India, and maintaining strategic depth against India. Support for violent Islamist non-state actors, from the Taliban of the present to the Peshawar Seven of the 1980s, has allowed them to accomplish all three. With Pakistan under the leadership of pro-Islamist Zia ul Haq, the idea of a socialist state and Soviet forces on Pakistan's border was intolerable.
As early as 1980, the Central Committee of the Politburo in Moscow understood Pakistan was the key, and envisioned, according to Politburo records, "a complex of bilateral agreements between Afghanistan and its neighbors, above all Pakistan, and systems of corresponding guarantees from the USSR, USA." As such, the USSR and the Republic of Afghanistan signed the Geneva Accords, which committed Afghanistan and Pakistan to mutual relations, non-interference and non-intervention as well as to "interrelationships for the settlement of the situation." The Geneva Accords committed Pakistan to cease support for the mujahideen. As Cordovez explains, the whole negotiations process was premised on "international disengagement" that would "allow the Afghans themselves to sort out their differences."
Anyone hoping for Pakistani "disengagement" was disappointed. According to Shultz, when President Reagan asked Zia how he would counter Soviet accusations that aid to the mujahideen continued, Zia responded, "We will deny that there is any aid going through our territory. After all, that's what we have been doing for eight years." The UN monitoring mission - the key enforcement mechanism of the Accords - was an embarrassing failure. Before the ink on the Accords was dry, the Soviets and Afghan government began lodging legitimate complaints against Pakistani violations of the agreements. At one point, President Zia told the Soviet ambassador to Kabul that he would support a coalition that was divided in three between the former PDPA, "moderates," and the mujahideen. We do not know if he was serious, however, because the offer ended with the Pakistani leader's own life when his plane crashed later that summer. What we do know is that Pakistan has always sought to be kingmaker in Afghanistan, regardless of what outside powers do.
In the face of these treaty violations, the Soviet leadership hinted they might keep their military forces in Afghanistan beyond the withdrawal deadline if the accords were not strictly adhered to. The bluff failed. The Soviets continued to withdraw their forces. The last of them crossed back into the Soviet Union on February 15, 1989.
The Nuances of History
History has not repeated itself in Afghanistan, but it has rhymed. There are important differences between the Soviet and U.S.-led campaigns that are worth keeping in mind. Brutal Soviet tactics, particularly early in the war, targeted entire communities. This had a direct effect on how the international community, Pakistan, and the mujahideen responded, particularly in terms of their recalcitrance to negotiate in good faith. The Soviet campaign was more deadly and indiscriminant in its violence, resulting in the deaths of up to a million Afghans - about 9% of the Afghan population at the time (admittedly, this figure is debatable). By the time of the Soviet withdrawal, there were millions of Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan. Since the U.S.-led intervention began in 2001, most of these refugees have returned.
The scholar Louis Dupree described the Soviet strategy as "migratory genocide." In other words, the Soviets sought, in some provinces, to depopulate the countryside, the powerbase of the rebels. Joseph Collins, a longtime observer of Afghanistan, argued that for the Soviets, "[t]here was no talk about protecting the population; Soviet operations were all about protecting the regime and furthering Soviet control." Later in the war, the Soviets became obsessed with connecting the government and the population - but still, the Soviet campaign stands in contrast to that waged by ISAF, which has focused on controlling key rural areas and protecting rural communities. There has been operational success on this front. While there is reason to doubt these gains will endure, in this respect, the West has learned from the Soviet experience. Now, it is time for the West, and America in particular, to learn from how they negotiated their withdrawal so as not to repeat their mistakes.Ryan Evans is a PhD Candidate at the King's College London War Studies Department. His report, "Talking to the Taliban" - co-written with John Bew, Martyn Frampton, Peter Neumann, and Marisa Porges - will be released this month.
DANIEL JANIN/AFP/Getty Images
The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) coalition government is the first in Pakistani history to complete a full term, making PPP well-deserving of the credit many are giving it. PPP receives high marks for its improvements to the constitution, specifically in returning powers to the Prime Minister that were unduly given to the president during Pervez Musharraf's military rule, and devolving powers to the provinces.
But the accolades do not match up with the sentiments of voters. Several pre-election polls indicate that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) will be the clear winner in Pakistan's upcoming general election. The PPP has been hurt by strong anti-incumbency sentiment among the electorate. Apparently, voters do not care that the PPP just made history.
The PPP's record on a host of issues fails to live up to the ambitious framework it laid out in its 2008 party manifesto, a pre-elections document outlining the party's principles and positions on policy priorities. Here we look at successes and failures in two areas - the economy and defense - that have garnered a great deal of attention since the beginning of PPP's term.
Ask anyone in Pakistan and they will tell you that the PPP did not deliver on its economic promises. However, some basic comparisons of the economy since 2008 show more mixed results.
The PPP did follow through on its promise to lower inflation. In November 2008, just two months after President Asif Ali Zardari's inauguration, inflation rose to a thirty-year high of 25%. At the end of 2012, inflation dropped to 6.9%, the lowest in four years. This doesn't mean that Pakistanis can expect price stability for the foreseeable future. The International Monetary Fund warned that inflation could return to double digits in the 2012-2013 fiscal year because of continued government borrowing from the State Bank. This especially bad habit of the PPP government has had multiple adverse economic consequences; as a result, PPP majorly failed in its promise to ensure sound macro-economic policies.
The PPP has followed through on aspects of its promise to bring progress to the doorstep of the workers, farmers and small businesses. Supported partially by the assistance of multilateral and bilateral donors, the government launched the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP). This initiative distributed more than $1 billion in cash transfers to 3.5 million families in poverty. BISP, combined with higher commodity prices and cash from bumper crops, contributed to the economic boom over the past several years in Pakistan's rural areas, where spending on both consumer products is higher than ever before. However, comparisons of household income during the first three years of the PPP's term show a more uneven growth for the rural poor, with incomes of urban households rising by 1.1% annually while those in rural areas declined by 0.8%.
The 2008 manifesto promised to ensure that energy shortages are eliminated. Under the PPP's watch, Pakistanis experienced some of the worst energy shortages in the country's history. Protests over power cuts turned violent. Senior government officials refuse to pay their personal electricity bills, a practice some government agencies also seem to engage in. The PPP attempted to initiate large-scale initiatives, such as the recently launched Iran-Pakistan oil pipeline and Daimer-Basha dam project, but to no avail. These projects require major capital investments and will take a long time to show results; their inauguration was viewed as more political stunt than genuine attempt to eliminate energy shortages. Other efforts to eliminate energy subsidies and increase fuel prices faced challenges in parliament by both opposition and coalition members.
The PPP promised to rid Pakistan of violence, bigotry and terror and to ensure a strong defense. But under its watch, persecution of minorities has gone up. In the past year, Pakistan witnessed an unprecedented number of Shia killings all over the country: in Baluchistan, Karachi, Lahore, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The debate over amending the blasphemy law unraveled, leading to numerous instances of violence against Christians who allegedly engaged in blasphemous behavior. Even Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Sherry Rehman, has been accused of blasphemy.
The PPP's other security problem is the domestic insurgency in northwestern Pakistan, with multiple attempts to negotiate with or pressure the Pakistani Taliban falling flat. In spirit, the PPP does not support persecution of minorities, nor does it have a history of being ideologically soft on militants (in comparison to other political parties). But its unwillingness and inability to challenge the nation's big security demons shows its limitations in a political environment dominated by competing interests. The military's links to sectarian groups in Punjab are well known; it has used them as proxies in its conflict with India. Civilian leaders have been hard pressed to truly challenge such groups, fearing possible backlash from the security establishment.
The PPP should be given partial credit for beginning to normalize security ties with the United States. Regardless of what side you sit on, the cloak and dagger relationship built by former presidents George W. Bush and Pervez Musharraf was politically unsustainable in both Washington and Islamabad. It was only a matter of time before other stakeholders in the relationship angled to get involved. In Pakistan, this was most visible in July 2012 when a parliamentary committee demanded that it review the state of U.S.-Pakistan relations before ending a NATO routes closure that had been triggered by a deadly cross-border NATO attack that killed more than twenty Pakistani soldiers. There was nothing legally binding about the parliamentary review, but the simple act of civilian officials debating sensitive security policy is meaningful on a symbolic level. On Afghanistan policy, the more visible role of Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and Afghan Foreign Secretary Jalil Jilani, especially in conversations with the United States, was also indicative of stronger civilian engagement, if not ownership, on security matters.
But the PPP's strengths on security, few as they were, did almost nothing to win gains against the Pakistani Taliban and its friends, who continue to target the government and its citizens. The ambitions, motivations, and power of these groups are clearly in flux and in many ways getting stronger. No amount of enhanced civilian engagement alone can alter their flight path. Furthermore, any government would have to make similar trade-offs when determining which national security policies to pursue and which ones it knows it cannot influence.
It is exactly this "trade-offs" focused approach, in both security and economic matters, that has limited PPP's implementation of its objectives that it laid out so ambitiously in 2008, meaning its chances of electoral victory are getting smaller by the day.
FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images
In his compelling account in Foreign Policy of his time working for the Obama administration, Vali Nasr portrays his boss, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, as an energetic and skillful diplomat whose efforts to begin peace talks with the Taliban were systematically undermined and sidelined by a White House more concerned about domestic politics and more persuaded by the Pentagon's strategy of sending more troops than a strategy of "patient, credible diplomacy". According to Nasr, Holbrooke died literally with the secret to ending the Afghan war on his lips, unheard by Barack Obama, "the president who did not have the time to listen."
It is to Holbrooke's credit as a leader and as a man that someone as passionate and eloquent as Nasr has taken the task of defending his legacy. But is he persuasive? In reading his article, I often found myself drawing exactly the opposite conclusion than he did from the same anecdote. For example, he vents his frustration at Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, who he says obstructed Holbrooke because Lute "thought he knew Afghanistan better". But since Lute had been covering Afghanistan in the National Security Council since 2007 and had previously served there, he probably did know Afghanistan better than Holbrooke, who was only appointed in 2009. Here, it would be just as easy to perceive Holbrooke as a blowhard, than as the beleaguered victim of a turf war the Nasr portrays. When Nasr describes the "internet start-up" dynamic of Holbrooke's office, with its "constant flow of new ideas, like how to cut corruption and absenteeism among the Afghan police by using mobile banking and cell phones to pay salaries; how to use text messaging to raise money for refugees; or how to stop the Taliban from shutting down mobile-phone networks by putting cell towers on military bases," a reasonable person could be excused for seeing in this frenzied creativity a lack of focus and a dissipation of energy that might be fatal to a complex diplomatic endeavor, rather than the laboratory of the solution to Afghan stability that Nasr implies.
For Nasr, Holbrooke had the diplomatic solution to the Afghan war, but he was actively undermined by the administration in pursuing it. My problem with this thesis is that there was an area where Holbrooke did have carte blanche to use his diplomacy, and in my view he used it rather badly. That area was the 2009 Afghan presidential election.
In 2009, I was the Special Assistant to Kai Eide, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and the head of the UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). I already had some experience in the Afghanistan. I had first visited Afghanistan in 1994 for a French NGO. I returned in 1995, when I spent a year running a humanitarian project for the same NGO, and returned again in the summer of 1997 to do research. From 2001 to 2011, I worked almost exclusively on Afghanistan for the UN, and had been part of the UN team that set up the 2004 elections. By 2009, when I went to Kabul to work for Eide, I had some knowledge of the country, its recent history, and its elections.
Before meeting Holbrooke, I knew of him only by his reputation: he had negotiated Dayton, he was close to Hilary Clinton, he had visited Afghanistan several times, he thought outside of the box, and he attracted talented staff-all of these qualities that Nasr describes very well. In sum, I had an open mind and I looked forward to what his reputed talents might bring to the Afghan imbroglio, which was becoming increasingly complex as the presidential election approached. We knew that 2009 would be a complicated year and the various parts of the international community in Afghanistan would have to work closely together to get through the election in particular.
It was therefore surprising, in terms of the US-UN relationship, that shortly after his appointment Holbrooke made disparaging public remarks about Eide's leadership at the annual Munich security conference. Eide, who read them in the press in Kabul, complained immediately to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and National Security Advisor Jim Jones (with whom he had excellent relationships). They passed them on to Clinton who apparently spoke to Holbrooke. A phone call was set up between Eide and Holbrooke to smooth the waters, but it ended very badly, with the conversation heating quickly and both men hanging up on each other.
A few days later Holbrooke came to Kabul. Holbrooke clearly had no intention to "reset" his relationship with Eide. His first comment on meeting Eide was, "When does your contract expire?" As an observer, I tried to discern the logic in Holbrooke's antagonism. It only made sense, I thought, if Holbrooke was sure he would be able to get rid of Eide, which is what we suspected that he wanted. But until he achieved that, why wouldn't he try work with Eide? After all, Eide had a trustful relationship with Karzai, close relations with most of the cabinet, and was in charge of a formal mandate to support the upcoming presidential election. According to Nasr, Holbrooke practiced "the type of patient, credible diplomacy that garners the respect and support of allies." What I witnessed was an impatience and lack of respect that alienated allies.
When I look back, it strikes me that Holbrooke didn't really have a plan to get rid of Eide. Instead he substituted his will for a strategy, then acted as if he had already accomplished what he had sought when he clearly had not. By doing so, he sidelined allies without removing his enemies.
Never mind the failed removal of Eide, what about Karzai? Holbrooke gave every impression that he wanted to use the 2009 election to unseat Karzai. Holbrooke's second question to Eide during that breakfast meeting was who he thought would be a viable alternative to Karzai. (Eide chose not to respond.)The method he selected was to persuade a number of prominent Afghan politicians to run against the incumbent. This strategy became an open secret and a running joke among politicians in Kabul. In his book about his time in Afghanistan, Eide recounts meeting then-Vice President Ahmad Zia Massoud at a social event. Eide asked how he was and Massoud responded that he was lonely. "I must be the only person in Kabul whom Holbrooke has not invited to challenge Karzai for the presidency," he said.
Holbrooke's decision to encourage a variety of candidates to run was undoubtedly motivated by Afghanistan's two-round electoral system, which requires a candidate to win 50% of the votes in the first round, or the top two vote-getters face of in a second round. Holbrooke surely calculated that a large number of first round candidates would be likely to siphon votes from Karzai, making it more difficult to reach 50%. This was good as far as the political arithmetic went, but it missed several factors that were critical to the Afghan context. First, potential Karzai opponents wanted to be the candidate blessed by America-they wanted to be Queened by America, not to be a pawn among pawns in a grander U.S. strategy to bring Karzai below 50%. Pawns, after all are easily sacrificed once they've fulfilled their purpose. And once these candidates realized that Holbrooke was making the same deals with rivals, some of the more serious ones dropped out. Second, Holbrooke underestimated Karzai's real strength. Just because he didn't like him, and just because many Afghans were clearly frustrated with their president, didn't mean that they wouldn't vote for him in the end.
Again, as with his antagonism toward Eide, I was left wondering whether Holbrooke had a plan, a strategy based on a serious reading of ground truths with options for action based on different scenarios. Or was this like the cell phone towers and the text messaging for refugees-just part of the constant flow of new ideas?
Once it was clear that Karzai would get the most votes, the objective changed: instead of getting rid of Karzai, it became desirable for Karzai to not win the first round, and go to a run-off instead. Two days after the election, Holbrooke, then-U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, and a few advisors came to breakfast at Eide's Kabul residence. The discussion was mostly about how to plan for the release of the election results, the need to avoid statements that were not founded in actual facts, and so forth. Everyone agreed that no public comment should be made until the official results were out. Holbrooke, nonetheless, argued that given the fraud, the election had to go to a second round to ensure the legitimacy of Karzai's win. Eide warned him not to raise that with Karzai, whom Holbrooke was scheduled to see later that day. "You have to understand that he sees you as someone trying to get rid of him," Eide cautioned. Holbrooke dismissed the warnings with a joke. He and Karzai were the best of friends now, he said.
But during his lunch with Karzai, Holbrooke ignored Eide's advice and mentioned the need for a second round. Karzai was understandably apoplectic. Most of the votes were still being counted. Hardly any preliminary results had come in. Yet Holbrooke was already dictating what outcome would be legitimate and what would not. This seriously damaged an already patchy relationship. An election needs winners and losers, but if it is to serve its political purpose, an election cannot be a means of humiliation.
This controversy was soon overshadowed by what became the real story of the election, the massive fraud that had taken place, which as Sarah Chayes pointed out in her article on Nasr's piece , was dismissed by Holbrooke in the run-up to the elections. While the fraud prevention measures set in place by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) had failed, the detection measures had worked. What remained were the mitigation measures. Getting them to work was an incredibly painful process that required much negotiation, cajoling, pressure, and creativity on the part of the international community working with the electoral institutions, some that were more cooperative than others.
The four month-crisis that followed the election began with a courageous order from the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) to the Independent Election Commission (IEC) to reinstate the fraud triggers it had suspended-in other words, to set aside the votes that were deemed to be tainted by fraud. Weeks of negotiations were spent to get the IEC and the ECC to agree to the terms of an audit of the fraudulent votes. Then both campaigns had to be convinced, and the audit's methodology painstakingly explained and defended. When the audit was completed, and the results showed Karzai was below 50%, it took several weeks for Karzai to be convinced that the audit was correct. Every day brought winter closer, and the time in which a second round could be held became shorter. The role of the international community in the audit was crucial, as was its role in keeping the main parties engaged in the process. Eide, in particular, played a central role, and was even able to broker a meeting between Karzai and his primary challenger, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah to see if, face-to-face, they could find a solution (they couldn't). But Holbrooke's actions had taken away or dulled many of the tools needed to solve the crisis. Eide's credibility was badly damaged by his public disputewith Peter Galbraith over how to handle the electoral crisis (Holbrooke had pressured the UN Secretary-General to appoint Galbraith, an old friend, as Eide's deputy a few months before). The U.S. embassy in Kabul had been undermined by Holbrooke's positions. The entire international community was under suspicion by Karzai.
I remember when the crisis finally reached its resolution. I was sitting with Eide and Tom Lynch, a member of the UN election team, in Eide's residence. He was waiting for a former Taliban to arrive for a meeting. Just before his visitor was due to arrive, Eide received a phone call from Eikenberry. "Come to my residence immediately. I think we have news." Eide did not want to stand up the Taliban, so he told Lynch and me to represent him. Eikenberry was there, along with the French and British ambassadors and a few embassy aides, waiting expectedly.
But the person who walked into the room a few moments later, saying that after several long nights of negotiation he had convinced Karzai to accept the second round, was not Holbrooke. It was John Kerry. Senator Kerry, while visiting Kabul that week, had managed to earn Karzai's trust. Karzai asked him to extend his stay while the negotiations over the elections continued. Kerry had become an accidental diplomat, but he played his unexpected role with great skill. Holbrooke, the professional diplomat, had spent all his powder in the early stages of the game. I have no idea where he was when the great Afghan electoral crisis of 2009 was finally resolved, but he was nowhere near the action in Kabul.
It is not surprising that, in his defense of Holbrooke, Nasr focuses on reconciliation - a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. This was the great "what if?" In his defense of Holbrooke, Nasr writes that Holbrooke, just before his death, had "found a way out that just might work", but refused to tell his wife "until he told the president first". Then, of course, he died, taking his McGuffin with him. This is amateur movie plotting, not political analysis.
Obama is a convenient scapegoat for the failed reconciliation effort, and on that Nasr makes a strong case. But there is no scapegoat for Holbrooke's election strategy. Nobody in the White House or the military stood in his way. It was his strategy, which he designed and implemented, on which he took forceful decisions. And yet the end result was to contribute to creating a crisis whose effects still linger. Every time a member of the international community raises with Karzai a legitimate measure that might ensure a better 2014 election, Karzai mentions Holbrooke, and everyone backs off.
Nasr's Holbrooke was a champion of diplomacy. I would argue that his significant talents were less those of diplomacy, and more those of a gifted translator of American power. Diplomacy requires the navigation of hostilities, the building of alliances, and the seeking of leverage. It is more than a pro-consul-like projection of power, even if that power is projected with intelligence and stubbornness, and appears to achieve results. Both the cynical and the serious definitions of diplomacy emphasize the need to often convince actors to act against what they perceive as their best interest, either by deceit (Sir Henry Wotton: "a diplomat is an honest man sent abroad to lie for his country"), distraction (Will Rogers: "diplomacy is saying ‘nice doggy' until you find a rock"), or deception (Daniele Vare: "diplomacy is the art of letting the other party have things your way"). All of these involve subtlety, calculation, strategic clarity, and the husbanding of alliances. Those were the skills called for during the 2009 election. In Holbrooke's way of operating throughout that event, I saw something closer to the opposite of those skills.
The pity is that, if America is indeed weakening-which is Nasr's larger thesis-it will need much more classical diplomacy and much less Holbrookean bluster. But as long as Holbrooke is held up as the model American diplomat, our foreign policy will seem increasingly like empty thunder, and then we'll know what weakness really means.
Scott Smith has covered Afghanistan for many years with the United Nations, including as a special assistant to the head of the U.N. mission there in 2009 and 2010, and is the author of Afghanistan's Troubled Transition: Peacekeeping, Politics and the 2004 Presidential Elections. He is also an adjunct professor at Columbia's School for International Public Affairs. The views expressed here are his own.
Sharing an elevator the other day, a colleague suddenly turned to me and asked: "So, just how much longer does Pakistan have?" My interlocutor is not the first person to pose that question, but coming from a savvy veteran of the international arena, his out-of-the-blue query was jolting.
Pakistan, after all, is not Laos or Sierra Leone. It is a real country, too large and too centrally located to be casually written off. It will soon have the fifth-largest population in the world, with 40 million more people than Russia. It already has the seventh-largest army in the world, and is closing in on the United Kingdom to become the fifth-largest nuclear power.
Yet Pakistan gives the appearance of a state not merely in decline, but in terminal decline. Its institutions are broken, its economy lagging, its government finances slipshod, its social indicators deplorable. Corruption is rampant, while tax evasion is the national sport; a Pakistani investigative reporter last fall discovered that two-thirds of federal lawmakers paid no taxes in 2011, nor had the president. Journalists are regularly detained or murdered because their reporting has come too close to truths those in power prefer to obscure-the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom index has found that for the second consecutive year, Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Assassination is also an ever-present danger for politicians who espouse progressive views or challenge the authority of extremists. Political and civic leadership is absent, while sectarian violence against Shi'as and other minorities is all too present - witness, for instance, the anti-Christian rampage in Lahore earlier this month.
To be sure, Pakistan has faced even graver crises in the past, most notably when the country split apart in 1971 and the eastern half of the state broke away to form the separate country of Bangladesh. But the systemic decay one sees in Pakistan today surpasses even the breakdown that preceded the 1971 crisis.
Pakistanis-many of whom will hate this article-will correctly point out that the Pakistani people are extraordinarily resilient. (They will also, quite properly, retort that an American should be the last person to be lecturing them on political gridlock or fiscal probity.) Indeed, that quality of sheer plodding resilience is inescapable to anyone with more than the barest familiarity with Pakistan.
Resilience, however, is not rejuvenation, and it is far more difficult to find convincing evidence that Pakistan is capable of genuine rejuvenation.
Not all is lost; Pakistan's present ills need not be terminal. History offers examples of floundering states that have turned their fortunes around. Not many years ago, informed observers described Colombia, which was riven by narcotics mafias, multiple guerrilla forces, paramilitary groups, and surging numbers of displaced people, as a failed state in waiting. Yet in the last 15 years, Colombia has witnessed a profound transformation: the security situation has vastly improved, the economy is growing smartly, and the army and police are professional and operate within the bounds of the law.
Indonesia offers the example of a Muslim-majority country that has dramatically revitalized itself in recent years (although Indonesia was never as seriously troubled as Pakistan is today). Other countries-Germany, Japan, or somewhat earlier, the Ottoman forerunner to today's Turkey-have parlayed the catastrophe of military defeat to reverse their fortunes and build a successful polity.
What (besides the sting of defeat) did these countries have that today's Pakistan does not? Surely Pakistan does not lack for talented, entrepreneurial individuals, idealistic youth, or a core constituency for creating a modern, rules-based state. And in recent years it has developed a feisty media and a judiciary willing to challenge traditional power brokers.
But Pakistan has failed abysmally in cultivating leadership, vision, and a national commitment to turn around the fortunes of an ailing state. Equally bad, the people of Pakistan have for too long tolerated shoddy governance, venal politicians, failing institutions, and second-best performance. The equanimity with which Pakistanis accept bad governance and reward those culpable with new terms of office remains astonishing. One current minister, for instance, the official whose portfolio includes law and order, is credibly reported to have blamed Karachi's abominable history of sectarian murders on angry wives and girlfriends. Rather than incensed indignation, his eccentricities have inspired little more than amused tolerance.
How to explain this collective shrug of indifference, this fatalistic acceptance of conditions and behaviors that ought to be unacceptable? That is a complicated question that defies easy answer. Part of the explanation might lie in a feeling of powerlessness that reflects the daily experience of most Pakistanis, who see themselves as having little control over the decisions and processes that shape their day-to-day lives. Hence the widespread belief in Pakistan in the ‘hidden hand,' in conspirators hiding in the shadows.
Can Pakistan continue to muddle through? Will Pakistan exist more or less in its current manifestation ten years from now? In all probability, yes.
But is muddling through good enough? Decay is a cumulative process and not easily reversed. Equally to the point, today's Pakistan displays few signs that any of its current power centers are serious about trying to reverse the country's rot. There are exceptions, to be sure. But that's precisely the problem: they are exceptions.
So what does all this mean for Pakistan's friends and well-wishers? In fact, one need not even be a friend of Pakistan to hope that it succeeds; the consequences of a wholesale Pakistani collapse-terrorism, poverty, loose nukes, refugees, deteriorating human rights, especially for women and girls, heightened tensions with its neighbors-are too fearful to wish on even an adversary. Think of a nuclear-armed Lebanon, where violent extremists wield more power than the formal government.
Yet the sad reality is that outsiders can do precious little to staunch Pakistan's slide to disfunctionality unless Pakistanis decide to seize control of their own destiny. The United States-and the rest of the international community-can be only bit players in this drama. America's influence in Pakistan, for reasons good and bad, is vastly exaggerated. As Pakistan confronts its challenges, foreigners can make a difference only at the margins.
Ultimately, Pakistanis must do this themselves. They must demonstrate an unaccustomed willingness to face hard realities, to make difficult choices, to accept short-term pain in the hope of laying the groundwork for longer term success. In other words, they must do all those things that we Americans find it impossible to do.
This is a troubling conclusion, if for no reason beyond the fact that most people find it easier to tolerate the status quo, no matter how unsatisfactory, than to jump off a cliff into an unknowable future. Until that moment when a fed-up Gdansk electrician runs out of patience, a charismatic ayatollah unexpectedly emerges to rally his fellow aggrieved, a spontaneous protest takes on a life of its own. At which point anything can happen, and not only in ways that are constructive or beneficial.
That's a risky strategy for reform in Pakistan, if it's a strategy at all. Perhaps more prudently, Pakistanis (and Americans) should start by demanding accountability from their political leaders-and be prepared to fire those leaders when they fail to deliver. Pakistanis must no longer be content with observing some of the forms of democracy-periodic elections, multiple political parties, a parliament. Instead, they must demand the realities of good governance-honesty, transparency, and accountability. Until that time, outsiders can do little more than stand by as horrified spectators, watching a train wreck in slow motion.
Robert M. Hathaway is director of the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
Everywhere you turn these days in Pakistan, there seems to be a personality, institution, or issue threatening to delay, steal or sweep this year's national elections. The impending return of former President and military ruler General Pervez Musharraf, announced last week, is just the latest in this series.
With elections so close, there's no time left for ambiguity about who has the power to influence and who does not. In the case of Musharraf, who plans to run in the elections, the impending return from self-imposed exile has been announced previously on several occasions. But, like all the other times, he walked his intentions back just days later, noting that he might not have enough "political support" to return.
He's right about that one. While there is some appreciation for the strong economic growth during his tenure, no one inside Pakistan believes in his chances of electoral success. Even his home institution of the military has distanced itself from him; some say it would rather he not come at all, to avoid being in a position where it must offer him protection while in Pakistan. Furthermore, Musharraf's political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, was formed just three years ago and is simply not a major political player. One final thing: if he returns to Pakistan, he could be arrested for his alleged involvement in the death of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
Another group that's more bark than bite for now when it comes to votes is the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC), an umbrella organization of religious parties. It includes plenty of pro-Taliban, Shia-hating, and anti-U.S. political personalities, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed, who plan to become more political engaged above and beyond their day-to-day militancy. After a major "coming out" rally in 2012 that condemned drone attacks and U.S. operations in Afghanistan, the DPC has sustained its focus on this agenda. Recently, it filed a petition at the Peshawar High Court challenging drone strikes in the country.
But the newfound organization and street power of religious parties should not mislead. Very few Pakistanis will be convinced of their ability to save the nation. Religious parties have never governed Pakistan, nor are they likely to do so after this year's elections. In 2008, Pakistanis voted them out of power because they failed to deliver results on socioeconomic issues more so than anything else.
Some of DPC's right-wing "social welfare" groups like Jamat-ud-Dawa, however, have the attention of national and provincial governments due to their access to large constituencies in critical voting areas, such as southern Punjab province. This makes speculation that candidates could potentially run under a DPC ticket in the elections all the more feasible. Despite the DPC's zero chance of coming into power, its increased political activity could have a "spoiler effect" on certain policymaking, similar to 2007, when President Musharraf refused to reform problematic blasphemy laws because they were backed by the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) alliance of religious parties in his government.
Meanwhile, a demographic that does represent a true unknown in terms of its power in the elections is the youth vote. The numbers suggest that youth could make or break this election. With 35 million new voters this year, Pakistani politicians will have to figure out how to court those under age 40, which represent over half of that number. This has been the strategy of the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), which is banking on the fact that Khan's non-dynastic legacy, corrupt-free reputation, and star power will appeal to disenchanted middle-class youth who are looking for a third option to the Sharif and Bhutto family legacies that have come to define politics in Pakistan.
Still, the many uncertainties about the youth vote prevent anyone from knowing just how effective of a kingmaker it can be right now. How many will actually cast ballots? If U.S. voting behavior during the 2008 election is any indication, capitalizing on the huge potential will require an extremely focused campaign and unique candidate built upon an agenda of change. Khan and PTI no longer fully embody this expectation, but neither does anyone else. Another potentially influential, but similarly unknown, aspect of youth voting behavior is how they will vote. In traditional Pakistani politics, votes typically go to the most generous patron/candidate or the one that shares an ethnic or geographic affiliation. New youth voters could simple adhere to this unofficial principle, a presumption further bolstered by the fact that most of the youth come from rural areas that rarely shift their political allegiances.
There is no good indicator of how elections will go, likely driven by the fact that there are so many individuals, groups, and issues that currently shape election politics. What we do know is that no single one of them will dominate. Pakistani politics is much too complex for that. In the wake of the government's dissolution, in the midst of the first-ever democratic transition of power in Pakistan, and at the beginning of the formal elections cycle, we are about to see just how complex it can get.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
The long agony for Afghanistan's women ended with the fall of the Taliban in 2001. This past January, Ms. Saira Shikeb Sadat, whose husband disappeared under the Taliban rule, assumed office as Afghanistan's first female district administrator in Jawzjan province. She recently told media that one of her top priorities was to empower women and girls. She said this can be achieved through the development of her district, Khawaja Do Koh, which is home to a population of 5,000 whose access to education, healthcare, and employment assistance, such as income-generation schemes, has been very limited. But she is determined to address these problems during her tenure in office, and the Afghan government supports her in these efforts.
Like Ms. Sadat, thousands of women are politically and socially active in Afghanistan in various capacities. The first female provincial governor and district mayor in Afghan history are currently in office. The key ministries of public health: women's affairs, and labor, social affairs, martyrs and disabled are led by women, as is Afghanistan's Independent Commission on Human Rights. At the same time, the Afghan Parliament continues to convene with a higher percentage of female representatives, 27.3 percent, than the legislative bodies of many of the most established democracies, including the U.S. Congress (15.2 percent) and British Parliament (19.7 percent).
Yet despite these important advances, the condition of women in Afghanistan is in need of urgent attention. One woman dies every 29 minutes in childbirth, the second-highest maternal mortality rate in the world (1,600 deaths per 100,000 live births). Mountainous terrain and weather conditions prevent timely medical attention to patients and pregnant women. Severe food shortages have resulted in chronic malnourishment among children, and 48 percent of Afghan women are iron-deficient.
Millions of girls cannot attend school because of security concerns or restrictive social norms. Just 12 percent of women 15 years and older can read and write, compared to 39 percent of men. The overall literacy rate for women between the ages of 15 and 24 stands at 24 percent, compared to 53 percent for men in Afghanistan.
This troubling situation is a legacy of decades of war and state collapse in the country. During the past 30 years of conflict, the needs of women stood neglected because Afghanistan did not have effective state institutions that could provide services to the people. Under the Taliban, women were relegated to the confines of their homes and deprived of education and basic human rights.
Afghanistan today is making efforts to recover from the effects of decades of utter desolation and destitution. Improving the condition of women is a priority in our national development strategy. In 2008, we launched a national action plan for the women of Afghanistan to provide a comprehensive, cross-ministerial approach to improving the condition of women. Indeed, we have a long way to go before we can catch up with the rest of the world, but we are working hard.
In the past eleven years, schools and universities have opened their doors to a record number of women. Of nearly 5 million children in grades one through six, 36.6 percent are girls. The number of girls in high school almost doubled from 2007 to 2008, from 67,900 to 136,621 students. Some 8,944 university students graduated in Afghanistan in 2008. Of them, 1,734 were female students. These numbers have continued to rise in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012, despite a spike in the number and frequency of terrorist attacks across Afghanistan, often targeting schools, teachers, and students, with most victims being girls.
Public health also has seen tremendous improvement over the past eleven years. Up to 80 percent of the Afghan population has access to basic health care, a massive increase from just 8 percent in 2001. More than 1,650 professional midwives are employed by the ministry of public health, providing health care and childbirth services across Afghanistan. This has helped reduce infant mortality rates by 23 percent, saving 80,000 newborn lives each year.
In addition to taking these concrete steps, we are working to change societal mind-sets. In some parts of Afghanistan's most traditional areas, attitudes hamper the progress of women. Unlike most governments in the world, the Afghan government not only makes and implements policies, but also functions as an agent of social change, working to ameliorate the traditional views that hold women back from fully developing their abilities and contributing to society. We are partnering with local elders and religious figures to ensure that attitudes change through a community-centered approach. Through the National Solidarity Program, more than 22,000 Afghan women are actively participating along with men in more than 10,000 community development councils to assess local needs, receive and implement grants from the ministry of rural rehabilitation and development and lead project design and implementation.
Slowly, we are seeing progress. As the success story of Ms. Sadat and others reminds us, women are the pillars of Afghanistan. With enhanced attention to women's issues, more than half of the Afghan population can be socially, economically and politically empowered to make a significant contribution to Afghanistan's long-term development. The international community must help the Afghan government approach the task of empowering Afghan women as a continual process rather than as a single benchmark, for international experience shows us that even legal equality does not translate into equal treatment.
M. Ashraf Haidari is the deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in India. He formerly served as Afghanistan's deputy assistant national security adviser, as well as deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in the United States.
As the United States and other NATO member countries gradually withdraw their troops from Afghanistan, a discussion is taking place on how to support the country after 2014. But the most important voice is missing: that of the Afghan people.
More than a decade of Western involvement has created an enormous industry of alleged experts who claim to have studied Afghanistan from top to bottom. But their authority belies a simple truth: these experts often have a surprisingly limited understanding of this complicated country. This is because even when these experts make it to the country they are writing about, they are sequestered to secure areas with limited access to ordinary Afghans, have little opportunity to travel outside Kabul, and are rarely given the time or resources to study the local languages beyond a few words. Put another way, the majority of the experts we rely on for advice in crafting policy and spending hundreds of millions of dollars have rarely had the experience of simply walking down the street and buying a piece of bread at a local bakery.
This has created a closed conversation loop, which has driven countless millions of dollars into research and initiatives designed to help Afghanistan, but is far removed from the realities of Afghan life and the needs of the country.
This may appear counterintuitive given the reams of literature prompted by this war. Since 2001, sociologists, political scientists, anthropologists, economists, historians, and even retired civil servants have made the trek to Afghanistan in large numbers to work and write. Hundreds of books and countless reports have emerged on a myriad of topics intended to benefit reconstruction, along with reprints of every text ever written by any military that has engaged Afghanistan, going all the way back to Alexander the Great.
This research has been aided by an unlikely partner: the military. Academia and the application of violence have rarely mixed well, but in the name of applied research to support reconstruction efforts, they joined forces in Afghanistan. In striking contrast to the Iraq War, academics were flown in to inform the decisions and actions of operations personnel. Suddenly anthropologists and sociologists were thrust to the forefront of a gargantuan military effort, led for a time by an Ivy League, PhD-wielding general who encouraged them at every turn. On the civilian side, funding by USAID alone for initiatives and research related to democracy, governance and elections skyrocketed, with spending reaching more than one billion dollars between 2007 and 2011.
Yet this cadre of experts was increasingly called upon to explain a country they were rarely able to see and experience, and therefore understand. The literature that followed, published overwhelmingly only in English and consumed and discussed by peers in similarly restrictive environments or overseas, slowly began to pull away from reality. Afghans watched as unfathomable amounts of money were spent on projects intended for their benefit, but about which they had rarely been consulted.
Now, as Afghanistan moves toward its post-2014 existence with fewer resources, it is more essential than ever that rigorous research be conducted to support achievable policy objectives that will benefit Afghanistan for years to come. But for this to happen, the Afghan voice must re-enter the discussion in a meaningful way. A few steps would go long way in ensuring they are heard.
First, donor agencies and other funding bodies should consider funding for the findings of any unclassified research to be published and disseminated through various media in the languages of Afghanistan, Dari and Pashtu. This inexpensive gesture would provide a steady stream of material to the local media, which, with more than 50 TV channels and 100 radio stations, is well suited to launch any discussion about what is good for the country.
Second, letting the researchers head out into the field would have an immediate impact, grounding them by exposing them to the ways Afghans live. With this, a more honest security assessment, rather than perpetual paranoia, would do wonders. But if we cannot let the researchers out, presumably because of security concerns, we must invite key elements of Afghan society in. Instead of listening to the Afghan diaspora who often serve as advisors but who are not intimately tied to the fate of Afghanistan, we should call on the increasingly educated and eloquent youth, whose relatively unexamined views on the future are remarkably different from the ruling elite.
Perhaps most importantly, ask Afghans what kinds of changes they would like to see in their country beyond 2014. In the hundreds of focus group and panel discussions our organization has conducted with thousands of Afghans from all walks of life over the years, we have been struck by their pragmatic interests in maintaining newly constructed infrastructure, ensuring continued access to education and health services -- even for their daughters -- and in pursuing some sort of viable peace agreement with insurgents. We sometimes do not get the answers we would like to hear: Afghanistan remains deeply traditional, patrimonial and skeptical of change. But this makes asking Afghans - and sharing what we learn - all the more important: to ensure funds are spent on programs and initiatives that Afghans have concluded are beneficial, and not wasted on projects Westerners assume they should appreciate.
With foreign forces drawing down, Afghans are preparing to once again shoulder the burden of running their country. By seriously engaging Afghan society and working with them to create policy to help them achieve their own goals, we can support the gains that have been made over the last decade and ensure that the missing Afghan voice is brought back into the debate over the direction of the country.
LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistani Finance Minister Hafeez Shaikh resigned last week - a curious move since the government will soon dissolve in the coming weeks after it announces a date for national elections. It has been speculated that he left because of economic policy disagreements with the government, but Shaikh himself told several sources that he left because he is under consideration for the post of caretaker prime minister. If so, he joins a well-respected group of professionals considered for the post; Supreme Court Bar Association President Asma Jehangir, Pakistan People's Party (PPP) politician Raza Rabbani and former Supreme Court justice Nasir Aslam Zahid are among the names that have already floated.
The caretaker prime minister will assume charge of an interim government as soon as the PPP coalition announces an election date, at which point the caretakers have up to ninety days to govern before elections.
Much ado has been made about the candidates and the process to set up a caretaker government, perhaps even more than the elections date itself. There are two reasons why such emphasis is warranted: because of its importance to the future of procedural democracy in Pakistan and because of the possible impact on the country's short-term economic stability.
First, the current procedure to establish a caretaker government requires agreement between the sitting government and the opposition, as mandated by the historic 20th amendment passed in 2012. Given the acrimonious past the PPP and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) share, this is no small feat. So far the two sides seem to be committed to cooperation, if not full reconciliation.
In the event the participants cannot reach agreement on a candidate - still a very real possibility - the 20th amendment has delineated specific steps to resolve the gridlock. The process would involve each side forwarding two names to a parliamentary committee that includes equal representation from the government and opposition. The committee can then take up to three days to settle on a name. If the committee is also unable to reach agreement, the Election Commission, as the final arbiter, must decide on a candidate within two days.
Unique to this process is the required engagement and opposition approval throughout, as well as the finite amount of time allotted for decision-making. The 20th amendment is a truly historic piece of electoral reform legislation that, if implemented correctly, can help begin to course-correct a democracy that has been off the rails since the country's inception.
Second, the caretaker government could be leading the charge to reinvigorate discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a new program to help Pakistan manage some of its macroeconomic challenges. Depleting foreign reserves combined with almost $2 billion in loan repayments due to the IMF by May foreshadow tough times ahead. Staying afloat remains too dependent upon uncontrollable factors such as lower oil prices, remittances from overseas Pakistanis staying at record high levels, and external aid like the U.S. Coalition Support Funds program, which periodically helps to offset low revenue generation elsewhere.
The Pakistani government has plenty of credible and internationally recognized economists who foresaw the current situation as unsustainable, and acknowledged the eventual likelihood of a new IMF program. But the political leadership would not commit to anything before elections. It now appears to believe discussion of such a program can begin through the caretaker leadership, which will likely be comprised of technocrats familiar to the IMF. Moeen Qureshi, a former Vice President of the World Bank who also worked at the International Finance Corporation and IMF, led the 1993 caretaker government that assumed charge between the tenures of Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. Former Finance Minister Shaikh, if nominated, would fit into the same category given his World Bank credentials.
If, and it is a big "if," the government can get all political parties to agree to the terms of a possible program, the IMF has indicated it would be amendable to some kind of arrangement. This makes the question of who leads the interim setup even more important to Pakistan's short-term economic stability. It must be someone who has the support and backing of all political actors and, to an extent, institutions with vested interests, such as the military, Supreme Court, and business community. Under these circumstances, a caretaker Prime Minister could potentially be a credible go-between for the IMF and a government in transition.
There is one obvious challenge - the caretaker government will not be in a position to follow up on or enforce any commitments made by political parties once its tenure is over. Beyond this specific obstacle, there is broader political uncertainty surrounding the potential caretakers. For several months now, political analysts in Pakistan have been warning of indirect military support for the extension of the caretaker government beyond the legally mandated 90-day term, postponing elections indefinitely. While such a scenario is unlikely, the persistent rumors swirling around a possible "soft coup" show the pervasiveness of the military's influence in Pakistani politics. Clearly, no amount of engagement with the opposition, electoral reform or credible technocrats has been able to fully challenge that narrative just yet.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
The current Pakistani government, led by the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), ends its term on March 18. The government is expected to announce a date for elections before the end of its term. Once the election date is set, the National Assembly will automatically dissolve and a caretaker government will assume charge for up to ninety days before the election.
On polling day, Pakistanis will elect 272 representatives to the National Assembly and 577 representatives to provincial assemblies in Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, and Balochistan. The political party that secures 172 seats in the National Assembly, either independently or in coalition with other parties, will lead the next government.
Politics is a riddled and opaque game in Pakistan, a point driven home by former politician-turned preacher Tahir-ul Qadri, who despite his absence from Pakistani politics for eight years, was able to lead a 50,000-strong march into Islamabad last month pushing for electoral reforms - and actually won the government's commitment on some counts. Things are about to get even more complicated as the country prepares for national elections.
The campaign landscape is littered with the typical coterie of political party stalwarts, children of political dynasties, technocrats, and current and former army generals looking to shape the elections outcome. But three individuals stand out as possible leaders of Pakistan's next government - Asif Ali Zardari, Nawaz Sharif, and Imran Khan. Zardari and Sharif represent the old guard of politics - Zardari the widower of a political dynast and Sharif an industrialist from the country's breadbasket of Punjab. Khan claims to represent a new political wave, seeking to capture the desires of roughly 18 million new voters, young people who grew up watching Khan win cricket matches for the Pakistani national team. The profiles of the three men who would lead Pakistan promise elections that will be as entertaining as they will be historic.
Asif Ali Zardari, President of Pakistan and Co-Chairman of the Pakistan People's Party
Who is he? Asif Ali Zardari has been a fixture in Pakistani politics since 1987, when he married Benazir Bhutto, the country's first female Prime Minister in 1988 and again in 1993. He hails from Sindh but is originally of Baloch ethnic origin. Because of his complicated past, checkered with imprisonment, exile and allegations of corruption, Zardari was viewed as an "accidental president" when he came into power in 2008 following his wife's assassination. As a result, his emergence as a masterful strategist of a complicated coalition was a surprise to many. He shares the PPP chairmanship with son Bilawal.
What does he want? Zardari's presidential term ends in September, several months after the national elections are expected. It is only fair to presume he wants to serve another term as President. The PPP's strength in the Senate, where it won a majority in the March 2012 elections, will help but Zardari won't be able to take home the prize so easily. An electoral college consisting of the Senate, provincial assemblies and the National Assembly actually elect the president. Zardari's chances will be determined by both national and provincial assembly elections taking place this year. He also likely wants to keep benefitting from the financial opportunities available to Pakistani politicians in power. But beyond personal power and money, Zardari also seeks to maintain PPP's strength so that his son, Bilawal, can eventually assume charge and continue the Bhutto family political legacy.
Pro: Zardari's number one strength remains his ability to make deals in a tough coalition environment, which is expected to continue in the next government. Whether it was meeting Muttahida Quami Movement demands to reverse fuel price hikes in order to stay in the coalition, the unanimous passage of the historic 18th amendment devolving power to the provinces, or re-opening NATO routes closed after a NATO airstrike killed several Pakistani soldiers, he wasn't too proud to beg to get what he wanted.
Con: Everyone seems to be working against him. Among his "enemies" are the military, judiciary, opposition parties, the Saudis - and the list goes on. Another five years of Zardari could also mean another five years of attempts to unseat him with corruption cases at the Supreme Court, soft coup attempts by the military, and gridlock on economic reform.
Nawaz Sharif, President of Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz
Who is he? Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif is the President of the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N). A former two-time Prime Minister, Sharif is also a Punjab-based industrialist whose family's real estate and agriculture holdings are valued at over $100 million. Like Zardari, he has strained ties with the military and judiciary, institutions that aided his eventual ouster in 1999, ironic since Sharif got his start under military dictator General Zia-ul Haq in the 1980s. His two tenures as Prime Minister (1990-1993 and 1997-1999) each straddled the governments of Benazir Bhutto, making for an intense rivalry between the PML-N and PPP that continues to this day, despite recent collaboration between the two parties.
What does he want? The third time's the charm - or at least Sharif hopes. Another go at Prime Minister would not only allow Sharif to make history - no one else has held the position three times - but it would also bring him back into the mainstream political fold. After Musharraf removed him from power in 1999, Sharif remained in political exile in Saudi Arabia until 2007. Since then, under his leadership the PML-N opposition has criticized the current government's policies but within apparently self-imposed boundaries, probably to avoid being viewed as "derailing democracy" at a time when disruptions to civilian rule are extremely unpopular.
Pro: Sharif brings along with him the most organized party structure in the country. Even though it lacks the national base that PPP boasts, the PML-N has focused on improving internal governance, strengthening development projects in key constituencies, identifying electable candidates to run on the PML-N ticket, and engaging new young and middle class voters.
Con: He talks to terrorists - sort of. One of the largest vote banks for the right of center PML-N is southern Punjab, a hotbed of violent extremist activity in madrassas run by jihadist and sectarian outfits such as Sipah-e-Sihaba Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Muhammad, and Lashkar-e-Taiba. The PML-N cannot ignore the massive base these groups yield in Punjab, which elects 148 out of 272 National Assembly members. In 2010, PML-N Provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah reportedly visited the Sipah-e-Sihaba madrassa and met with its leader while campaigning in by-elections. Such relations suggest that a PML-N-led government could be more inclined to offer unsavory characters various concessions in exchange for votes, keeping the peace or achieving other objectives for that matter.
Imran Khan, Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf
Who is he? Imran Khan is a former captain of the Pakistan cricket team, philanthropist, and now chairman of his own political party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). His claim to represent a new style of politics is somewhat disingenuous. He follows a long line of South Asian celebrities turned politicians whose personage offers unquestionable advantages in an otherwise complicated political landscape. But his popular appeal is legitimate. Khan has managed to deliver thousands of people at numerous countrywide rallies around the 2013 elections despite the fact that PTI only ever held one seat in the National Assembly..
What does he want? The PTI's meteoric rise in popularity over the past couple of years has raised suspicions that it enjoys some kind of support from the security establishment, and therefore would simply serve as a mouthpiece for military interests in domestic and foreign affairs. But a simpler answer is perhaps more logical - that Khan has truly tapped into a desire for change in Pakistan, similar to the circumstances surrounding the Qadri march on Islamabad in January, and is keen to see how far it will take him.
Pro: Khan's call for an overhaul of status quo politics in Pakistan is a welcome one, particularly among urban, educated middle class voters in Punjab. The party manifesto calls for an end to "VIP culture" in Pakistan, noting that corruption at the highest levels has made democratic institutions "the focus of public scorn and ridicule." It is hard to disagree with PTI's message when Pakistan consistently ranks among the world's most corrupt nations.
Con: Despite PTI's existence as a party for almost sixteen years now, both the party's manifesto and its leader are untested. Rumors of its internal leadership challenges, weak presence at the provincial level, and Khan's periodic media stunts (i.e. the march to Waziristan), should raise questions about PTI's ability to deliver on its ambitious agenda for change.
As the competition between Zardari, Sharif and Khan unfolds over the next several months, other personalities and institutions will also contend to shape and influence the electoral outcome. Let's not forget the likes of Tahir-ul Qadri, activist Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, the military, and even the media, all of whom have a say in who leads the next government. In a place where personalities dominate politics, Zardari, Sharif and Khan clearly stand out, but vested interests combined with the rise of new forces of change can put a serious spanner in the works.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images; KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images
It has been a complicated week for the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) government. Out of the blue, Tahir ul Qadri, a retired politician and Canada-based preacher led thousands of people on a long march from Lahore to Islamabad demanding immediate regime change. If that wasn't enough, the Supreme Court ordered Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf arrested on corruption charges. All of this after the PPP dismissed the provincial government in Balochistan over a militant attack that killed 100 Shi'a Muslims.
Before all of this, most Pakistan watchers had assumed that with just two months left, the PPP was on its way to making history as the first civilian government to complete a full term. It appears, however, that the recent confluence of events has introduced a pressure too great for the PPP to withstand. After a lengthy negotiation, Qadri and a team of government ministers issued the Islamabad Long March Declaration. The government offered several concessions to Qadri, the most significant of which are that "the National Assembly shall be dissolved at any time before March 16, 2013" and that the government "in complete consensus with Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) will propose names of two honest and impartial persons for appointment as Caretaker Prime Minister."
Did Zardari and the PPP lose? Yes and no.
No one expected a government led by Asif Ali Zardari to make it this far. The former prisoner, alleged kidnapper and extortionist, son-of-a-cinema-owner, secret stroke victim, and Cheshire cat-grinning widower of a two-time Prime Minister doesn't necessarily match the profile of a deft politician. But the man is a survivor, with instincts that have translated into an unexpected political ability to build coalitions, offer concessions, and broker agreements that have taken the PPP government further in its term than any other government in Pakistan's history.
Despite this ability, the government still managed to make enemies. While not uncommon in Pakistani politics, the mudslinging during the PPP's term has been especially dirty. Supreme Court efforts to unseat Zardari on corruption charges proved unsuccessful last year but the judiciary got its way with the removal of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on contempt of court charges. This week, the court went after Ashraf for a different issue - alleged corruption in rental power projects when serving as Minister for Water and Power. Ashraf hasn't been convicted of any crime yet and can remain in office until found guilty. The PPP coalition, with its majority in the National Assembly, could simply elect another Prime Minister from its ranks, just like it did when Gilani was dismissed.
But the Qadri march has shifted the political balance by providing an opportunity for the judiciary, and other critics of the government like Imran Khan and the military, to either jump on the regime change bandwagon or to tacitly support it by watching from the sidelines. All of them want a say in who heads the caretaker government. Until now, as mandated by the 20th amendment, the government and the main opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), have been negotiating the caretaker government framework, which must be in place up to ninety days before elections if the government calls elections before its term is up. Qadri's very specific demands echo the views of other political actors who believe they have a stake in the PPP-PML-N discussions, regardless of whether the constitution mandates their participation or not. They will now have their say through Qadri, whose political party will help determine who leads the next caretaker government.
Always the strategic dealmaker, Zardari weighed the two options in front of him: keep fighting or accelerate the elections cycle. He could have continued to ignore Qadri's demands, claiming the PPP is a victim of a military-judicial conspiracy. Playing the "political martyrdom" card would resonate well among the PPP base and with critics of both the military and Supreme Court. But the government likely felt too bombarded from all sides to make the same bold moves it has in the past; the perception that Qadri is backed by the security establishment also may have factored into Zardari's decision making.
Instead, Zardari chose to accelerate the elections cycle. The National Assembly and Senate are now scheduled to meet on January 21st to discuss next steps. Doing so would still offer the government some influence in the caretaker setup but exactly how much influence remains to be seen. It would be naïve to assume that the Supreme Court, Qadri, and the military would automatically drop their anti-government efforts once elections are scheduled. Surely such stringent critics of the PPP would only call it a day when they get what they want - which seems to be ensuring that the country's ruling political party has zero chance of leading the next government.
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
Tahir-ul Qadri, a Canada-based Pakistani preacher and former politician leads a massive protest today from Lahore to Islamabad calling for regime change in Pakistan. If it is electoral change Qadri is looking for, he won't be the one to get it. Qadri's been politically irrelevant since he departed the scene in 2004, when he resigned from his post as a Member of the National Assembly. Qadri himself does not even occupy a seat in Parliament, nor does anyone in his party, Pakistan Awami Tehreek.
However, his religious organization Tehrik Minhaj-ul-Quran, is a force to be reckoned with. The organization has an expansive school network in Punjab and maintains massive support among Pakistanis attracted to his meshing of modern values with conservative Islam. But this following was not enough for Qadri to deliver the "millions" of protesters he promised.
Could Qadri be another Imran Khan prototype, informally sponsored by the military? At least Khan can deliver the people. Despite the lackluster showing at today's march, we should not overlook the meaning behind Qadri's interestingly timed, well-organized and well-funded return. He says he wants to put "true democracy on track," but Qadri comes at a time when the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) led government and the main opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), are near agreement on the timing of elections and the caretaker government setup, a process bolstered by the 20th amendment that mandates the government's cooperation with the opposition in setting up a neutral caretaker government in advance of elections.
In addition to seeking specific changes, such as ensuring electoral candidates pay their taxes before running for a seat, Qadri's push for a caretaker government in lieu of the current regime resonates with some in the security establishment who had been rumored to be informally floating the idea last year of installing temporary leaders a la Bangladesh in the mid-1990s. Supporters of the idea believe such moves are justified on by the PPP's poor performance and corruption.
Today's atmosphere is also reminiscent of the period before Senate elections in March 2011, when speculation arose that Pakistan's military was working to deny the PPP control of the upper house. This time, with elections expected before June and with the military openly displeased with both of the possible winners - the PPP the PML-N - there is a strong perception among political analysts that the military is up to its old tricks again. While we can't prove it, and the military claims to be just as surprised as the rest of us with Qadri's return, it has intervened in politics numerous times. The country has experienced over 30 years of military rule since independence in 1947. No reason it cannot happen again.
Or is there? Real regime change through Qadri, or through the military for that matter, is highly unlikely at the moment. He does have the ambition, political network and wealth to bring the long march into existence. But if Qadri has made a deal with the military, he may be overestimating its depth of interest and capability in shaping the election outcome in the current political environment. Political engineering by the Army and other branches of the military could exacerbate considerable domestic frustrations about the military leadership's failure to address Pakistan's growing terrorism problem. Furthermore, key foreign partners like the United States would be hard pressed to look the other way if Army chooses to meddle. Finally, the Supreme Court has been sending warning signs to the military to stay out of the elections process. Last year, it ordered legal proceedings against former intelligence and army officials, alleging they bankrolled politicians to prevent the PPP from winning the 1990 election.
Speculating on the military's connections to Qadri is unavoidable, but it is not the only issue Qadri brings to the fore. Something else much more tangible and visible is at work, and that is the desperate desire of ordinary Pakistanis for change - the change that Americans saw in 2008 when they elected their first African-American president; the change that the Arab world experienced when their military dictatorships collapsed; and the spirit of change infused within the international Occupy movement against social and economic inequality.
Qadri's message is appealing because it taps into the international sentiment of change associated with these and other developments over the past several years - sentiment that is clearly alive and well in Pakistan. But instead of potentially delaying the elections cycle, Qadri's ability to mobilize and influence would be more helpful after the PPP government completes its term this year in a historic moment for the entire country: the first time a government in Pakistan finishes a complete term.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
As Afghan President Hamid Karzai visits Washington to discuss a bilateral strategic agreement between the United States and Afghanistan, policymakers and the public are debating the pace of troop drawdown and the residual force post-2014, when the security handover to Afghan authorities finishes. Missing from these discussions is a focus on the political and economic transitions underway in Afghanistan - areas that will serve as greater determinants of Afghan stability than whether there are zero, 4,000, or 9,000 U.S. troops. Politics ultimately drive the Afghan conflict, and its resolution will require a broader political consensus and stronger economic foundation than currently exists.
President Karzai's visit offers an opportunity for the Obama administration, members of Congress and others to drill down and express support for a number of political and economic priorities, which could assist in strengthening the legitimacy and competence of the Afghan state as the United States and NATO drawdown. The current Afghan state is deeply flawed and has alienated many Afghans due to its exclusive and predatory nature. The constitutional system, which vests great power in the hands of the executive without real checks and balances, lends itself to abuses of authority. Officials often use formal state institutions to support their patronage networks, fueling high levels of corruption, cronyism, and nepotism on the national and local levels. What's more, the dependency of the Afghan government and its security forces on high levels of international assistance for the foreseeable future, especially in a time of global austerity, threatens to undermine a sustainable transition.
Creating a stronger political consensus and a more solid economic foundation for the Afghan state will be required for long-term stability in Afghanistan. In their meetings with President Karzai and his team, senior U.S. officials must state their expectations about these political and economic processes, clarifying that long-term security support is contingent on Afghan progress on these efforts. Expectations should include the following:
First, a free, fair, inclusive and transparent presidential election is required in which President Karzai transfers power to a legitimately elected successor. President Karzai must work to ensure that the electoral bodies, including the Independent Electoral Commission and an electoral complaints mechanism are independent and credible. The United States hopes to see parliamentary approval of the electoral laws and the implementation of a plan to ensure a successful election.
Second, the United States supports an inclusive political reconciliation process, led by Afghans. The United States supports outreach by President Karzai to more Afghan stakeholders, including the political opposition, women, and civil society groups, in addition to Taliban insurgents. The United States and Afghanistan should create a bilateral mechanism to coordinate their peacemaking, public statements regarding negotiations and outreach to stakeholders, as well as to establish a venue, where representatives of the parties to the conflict can meet outside of Afghanistan or Pakistan to discuss a political settlement.
Third, the United States remains committed to the agreements made at the Tokyo conference in July 2012 by the Afghan government and the international community. In addition to agreeing to provide $16 billion in civilian assistance through 2015, the international community committed to improving the effectiveness of its aid, aligning its assistance with Afghan priority programs, and providing more aid through the Afghan government's budget rather than through outside contractors. However, the disbursements of these dollars depends on the Afghan government progressing on its own commitments, including:
Fourth, the United States supports the development of Afghanistan's mineral sector, in a way that benefits the Afghan population and not a select few. While Afghanistan is already a candidate member of the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), the Karzai administration should develop an Extractive Industries Development Framework that governs Afghanistan's natural wealth through an "accountable, efficient and transparent mechanism which builds upon and surpasses international best practices", as agreed to in Tokyo. The Ministry of Mines should continue to engage with civil society in order to increase transparency in the mining sector and to respond to the needs of communities affected by mining.
The Obama administration must focus on political and economic priorities during President Karzai's visit. Military aspects-troop numbers, training of the Afghan forces, and financial support to the security services-won't be enough to ensure Afghanistan's security and stability over the long term. Leaving behind an unprepared and expensive force to battle an insurgency that NATO has struggled to contain is more likely to create instability than lasting security. Instead, U.S. efforts must be focused on building a more sustainable Afghan state.
John Podesta is Chairman and Caroline Wadhams is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.