Sunday, June 10, 2007

"Pakistan's Dictator" - New York Times Gets it Right

I am extremely encouraged that increasingly the American press, led by the New York Times, is getting it right. In another editorial today titled "Pakistan's Dictator", the paper forcefully calls on the Bush administration to support an orderly transition to democratic, constitutional rule in Pakistan rather than blindly standing behind the singularly disastrous and dictatorial government of General Musharraf. With its short sighted policy focused on a myopic view of the war on terror, America is squandering a golden opportunity to stand with the people and their democratic aspirations in a strategic Muslim country. The movement against military dictatorship and for the rule of law is being led by lawyers, journalists and members of the liberal civil society and is refreshingly free of religious sloganeering or hate mongering. This is the kind of grassroots democratic spirit that the administration has been purporting to support since 9/11 but America is busy doing severe damage to its reputation and little remaining credibility in Pakistan by clinging to a dubious ally.

I would encourage all those who are able to write to the New York Times to write and express approval of the newspaper's stance supporting the restoration of a rule of law-based democratic government in Pakistan. Instructions of where and how to send the letter here.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Evolution of Larry Summers

The New York Times Sunday Magazine has a remarkably interesting profile of Larry Summers discussing the evolution of his thinking on economic matters but also touching on the development of his personality since his stint under Robert Rubin at the Treasury. Summers is an impressive intellect who, at 52 years of age, has accomplished more in three different careers than many talented people do in a lifetime.

Larry Summers's name has been in my memory ever since my undergraduate days when, always fond of trivia tidbits, I found out that he was the youngest tenured professor at Harvard, nephew of two Nobel Prize winners (Robert Samuelson and Kenneth Arrow) and the son of two Penn economics professors, Robert and Anita Summers. I admit to experiencing a tinge of genetic envy. As an aspiring PhD in economics at the time (a path never taken) I remember looking up to Larry Summers and Paul Krugman as inspirational young stars with exceptionally fine minds and a penchant for writing and arguing clearly, concisely and logically.

An aside: Paul Krugman's excellent writings on economic issues, accessible to laymen, are collected here and are well worth the read. I still recommend "In praise of cheap labor" (in the International Trade section of the site), particularly to knee-jerk opponents of globalization. Even though this piece was written in March 1997 and lot has changed since then, the fundamental argument for free trade in that essay still holds.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Government of the Generals, by the Generals, for the Generals

Deciphering the underlying reality from official proclamations is always a risky business, but if we take at face value the statement issued by the Corp Commanders and Staff Officers of the Pakistan Army after discussions with President/COAS Musharraf, the signs for the republic are indeed ominous. The statement loudly proclaims fealty to Musharraf, applauds his great dual role accomplishments, threatens the media and civil society and demands respect on the point of a gun for an institution thoroughly compromised by its taste for economic and political power. Here is a most shameless display by the army's leadership of besmirching its own honour and a violation of their oath of allegiance to the constitution and the country. No amount of browbeating of the public will force it to respect an individual or an institution. As the American civil rights leader Eldridge Cleaver aptly said: "Respect commands itself and it can neither be given nor withheld when it is due."

The army hierarchy clearly seems irritated by the increasingly direct criticism of the military's central role in the political and economic spheres in Pakistan. But this is a debate that is long overdue. The military's chokehold on the affairs of state have resulted in weak political institutions, enriched the officer corps at the expense of the nation, distorted national priorities and shifted the military's focus away from professional matters. The presence of all intelligence heads (MI, ISI and IB) in the meeting to persuade the CJP to resign was an egregious illustration of how far the military has moved away from its primary responsibility of national security and instead become the full-time guardian of its corporate and political interests. Civilian control of military affairs is the established norm in every civilized democratic government (including our neighbor) and, as distant as that may seem today, it is the desired end state in Pakistan as well. The code words for suppressing this legitimate debate on the military's role in Pakistani society are "respect" and "politicization". It is laughable that a COAS/President instructs the nation not to politicize the army when he controls all the levers of political power, uses his political and ethnic surrogates to create mayhem in Karachi, holds meetings at the Presidency and Army House with his political cronies, pressurises his presumed judicial opponent in uniform surrounded by senior military personnel and then huddles with his military leadership to issue a threatening statement to the country to preserve self-rule. Mr. President, it is hard to imagine how the army could be any more politicized!!

The CJP's forcible removal was just a catalyst for this current conflagration but the truth is that the underlying malignancy of this regime was eventually bound to be exposed. Musharraf's liberal supporters have often forgotten this in the past that in a dictatorial polity without democratic representation and legitimacy, it does not matter much whether the government happens to promote liberal or fundamentalist behavior. The ultimate yardstick is always self-preservation and the perpetuation of one man rule. It has taken this crisis to expose the regime's fragility and to strip it of its faux-gentle facade. How often did Musharraf talk about the "true democracy" he was establishing and touted the freedom of the press that "he had granted" so magnanimously! Of course, it turns out that the media is free as long as it does not tell unpleasant truths that threaten his hold on power. At the first signs of trouble we have Geo and AajTV off the air, promulgation of the media-gagging PEMRA 2007 ordinance, hounding of the courageous scholar and author of Military Inc. Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa and explicit threats to respected journalists all over the country.

Musharraf's end will be similar to all the other khaki saviors in Pakistan's sordid history ("they leave themselves no other options") but how much more damage he does to the country before he is consigned to the dustbin of history is still an open question. If the escalations of the past few days are any indication, Musharraf will not go without causing a lot more pain to the fragile Pakistani state.