Friday, December 18, 2009

Back in the Game

Okay, so I sidelined myself for a while from the Pakistan action.  No excuses except we all need a break sometimes and in my case, desperately would be an accurate description.  So to Nepal I went to detox and imbibe an atmosphere less inclined toward distrust and paranoia, to breathe the sweet alpine air instead of exhaust fumes and listen to the sound of birdsong rather than car horns.  Much needed and much enjoyed.

But now I'm back and the paranoia is back and the horns and fumes along with everything else that goes with working and living in a dysfunctional country.  I'm not complaining, just setting the scene.  The world I've re-entered has taken another interesting turn - the much anticipated axing of the National Reconciliation Ordinance.  The NRO, many Pakistanis will tell you, was a thinly-veiled attempt by Pakistan's former General Pervez Musharraf to create a space for his political ambitions.  It basically swept clean in one miraculous sweep all the dirt and grime from decades of political corruption, freeing up men like Pakistan's current President, Asif Ali Zardari and Interior Minister Rehman Malik for another run in the vaunted halls of power.  The cases against them have been resurrected, which of course is a good thing.

Nonetheless, there is a downside.  Or rather, there is the reality: Pakistan is struggling toward a responsible democracy but it is doing this in a time of war.  The judiciary is enjoying more freedom than at any other time in its history.  It is at the forefront of the housecleaning.  But the army and security services are still powerful, too powerful for a democratic system to function properly.  The political playing field is still dominated by self-interested elite who place their own interests ahead of the national interest.  So when the judiciary tightens one string, it loosens another.  In this case, the army, which has been at odds with the ruling government, is the winner.  As the dirty laundry of Pakistan's politicians is hung out for all to see, the people will naturally retreat back into the protective embrace of the army.  As corrupt politicians are replaced by more corrupt politicians, the people's trust in the system will again erode.

So is the death of the NRO a good thing?  It is, I think, but only if the cases against the men and women accused of corruption proceed openly and honestly.  If this turns into a witch hunt, if Pakistan's opposition politicians try to turn this into political capital, the system will suffer, the progress toward a real, functioning democracy will be lost.  The PML-N, the largest opposition to the ruling PPP is already demanding the resignation of Zardari.  This is not the way it works.  The cases against him were re-opened yesterday.  They remain allegations and must be proven in a court of law.

The alternative is the endless repetition of Pakistan's political history, where one corrupt party is replaced by another in what can best be described as a keystone cops parody of democracy punctuated by the periodic imposition of military rule.  Pakistan has the opportunity to break that destructive cycle.  But is it up to the task?


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