Posts Tagged ‘President Zardari’

Generation Green: Connecting the Pakistani Lawyers Movement to the Iranian Green Revolution

Monday, June 15th, 2009

I’m struck by the similarities between the spirit of the Iranian election – and the subsequent protests – and the Lawyers Movement in Pakistan this March. In both cases, the government promised to honor certain principles and then went back on its word – in Iran, by holding an election; in Pakistan, as President Zardari promised to reinstate Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry to the Supreme Court.

Then both went back on their word – and the people, to their credit protested. They were cynical about the motives of these leaders – but they refused to react with world-weary cynicism. They knew hope – and in their hope, they gained strength.

The elite power brokers in both nations believed they could get away with whatever they wanted – apparently believing that elections and campaigns and laws were merely a cover for their power politics. But the people took these ideas seriously.

In Pakistan, President Zardari made a campaign promise to reinstate the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court known for his independence. Justice Chaudhry had been removed from his post when he appeared to be preparing to declare President Musharaff’s declaration of martial law illegal – and this act by Musharaff was considered the final straw by many in Pakistan frustrated by how the Rule of Law was constantly subverted by the elites in their power games, thus holding their entire nation back. So began the Lawyers Movement which fought to restore the Rule of Law, to remove Musharaff from power, and to reinstate the Chief Justice. After achieving some measure of the first two objectives, forcing Musharaff to resign and electing a new president, Zardari, having promised to uphold the Rule of Law and reinstate Chaudhry – the movement seemed to have won. But after months of stalling, it began to seem as if Zardari had no intention of restoring Chaudhry. Rallies continued – led by different groups across the country – building in intensity – and in a dramatic series of events, a key opposition leader broke out of house arrest to participate in a massive protest to force the reinstatement of Chaudhry. As a final show of determination, a series of rallies was supposed to culminate in a march to the Pakistani capital from all directions as the people took back their capital. In the midst of this chaos, the police and military for the first time in Pakistani history refused to control the demonstrators and stood aside. On the verge of this demonstration, Zardari gave in – reinstating the Chief Justice this March.

In Iran, the extemist mullahs panicked as the people rejected their hardline, isolationist views in favor of the offer of rapprochement with the West offered by Obama. Despite the fact that only candidates hand-picked by the Guardian Council were running – and that the reformers were led by a candidate described as an Iranian Michael Dukakis – and despite the fact that state organs and the Supreme Leader clearly favored Ahmadinejad – a grass roots movement took root on Twitter, on Facebook, in text messages, in blogs, in enormous rallies held by Mousavi in the weeks leading up to the election, and in shouts from the rooftops after the election when all other methods of communication had been cut off. And in all liklihood, according to polls by the Iranian government before the election, and leaked results after it, Mousavi won a resounding victory. And so far, the people have not backed down – as they continue to rally and agitate. After declaring the results of the election “divine,” the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamene has begun to show signs of relenting as he has ordered an investigation into vote fraud. Couple this with the rash of resignations and unprecedented public protests by top Iranian leaders and clerics, and there is the potential for real change.

It seems hard not to connect these two demonstrations for political rights in Pakistan and Iran. And to note that leading them is the exact young generation of Muslims whom we were so afraid of after September 11. One of the recurring themes of Osama Bin Laden’s rhetoric – and one of the key sources of his legitimacy – is his outrage at the corrupt dictatorships ruling the Middle East – which makes these demonstrations of the people on the edges of the Middle East reminding their leaders that they cannot tread lightly over the consent of the governed all the more significant.

And perhaps, Obama saw this before most – as he called in his Cairo speech for “a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals” that “government [should be] of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power.” Obama explained that legitimacy is gained “through consent, not coercion.”

It remains to be seen if the Iranian protests will be successful – though the fact that Ayatollah Khamenei has ordered an investigation into vote fraud is a slight sign to be hopeful. A stronger sign is what forced him to call for the investigation – as over this weekend in the streets of Tehran we saw a largely peaceful and determined insistence by the Iranian people on a government by consent, not coercion.

[Image from Andrew Sullivan’s blog.]

Pakistan: The Edge of the Abyss

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

Today, as the President Zardari of Pakistan is scheduled to meet with Obama, the news about Pakistan is growing worse and worse.

A nation with nuclear weapons seems on the brink of collapse. Yet it often seems as if the country’s leadership is still more focused on the threat from its historic rival, India. As the New York Times editorial board explained last week:

If the Indian Army advanced within 60 miles of Islamabad, you can bet Pakistan’s army would be fully mobilized and defending the country in pitched battles. 

The Pakistani Taliban is now within that distance – 60 miles – of the capital. It’s advance has not been halted and it continues to destabilize and then take over large portions of Pakistan. You can see the strong position the Taliban is in by reading the story published just a few days ago by Jane Perlez and Pir Zubair Shah also in the Times telling the story of a Taliban strategist who gave them an inside look at the Taliban’s regional strategy – which focuses in a large part on exploiting the border between Afganistan and Pakistan over which the Taliban move without qualms, but which U.S. forces generally respect. The Pakistani army and intelligence agencies are both said to be sympathetic to the Taliban and islamist extremism in general – and U.S. strategists believe their goal is to wait out America’s interest in the region and then use these Taliban forces to exert control over Afghanistan and to destabilize India, which they still consider the main threat to their national security. This is why – despite the billions of dollars in funding given to the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies since September 11 for the purpose of aiding them in their war against the Taliban – their forces they have arrayed against the Taliban are ill-equipped and too few in number – as they have used most of these funds to build up their military for a more conventional war against India. David Sanger, speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations some weeks ago told a story he described as telling you “everything you need to know about the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.” It is a story, essentially, of a leadership that is friendly with the Taliban – even as they tell the Americans they are doing everything they can to stop them. 

President Zardari meanwhile tried to assure American lawmakers – who he met with yesterday – that the money they were sending to Pakistan was being used wisely by likening it “to the government’s bailout of the troubled insurance giant, American International Group” according to the Times. 

The fall of Pakistan to the Taliban is perhaps the worst case scenario national security experts can imagine. The Taliban is allied with Al Qaeda – who have planned to use weapons of mass destruction against America. Pakistan has nuclear weapons in numerous locations throughout the country – and is already responsible for more nuclear proliferation than any other nation on earth. It is, what Dick Cheney might call, the nexus of America’s worst fears. And worse yet, none of America’s policies in the region seemed to have had the desired effect – former President Musharraf seemed unable to truly take on the Taliban and terrorist elements, despite his being motivated their attempts to kill him – and America, by continuing to support Musharraf in the face of his desperate bids to hold onto power, alienated many Pakistanis and was finally removed from office due to the pressure from both America and groups organizing for a civil society; Benazir Bhutto, martyred running for office, said all the right things and seemed to recognize that the fundamental enemy of Pakistan was no longer India – but the religious extremists within it’s own borders; but she never had an opportunity to lead Pakistan again; her widower, the current President Zardari has followed too much in the path of Musharraf and had likewise angered many Pakistanis by using his power to undermine political rivals  (leading to massive destabilizing protests until he backed down due to pressure from America and groups organizing for civil society) – while at the same time, despite fine words, he has been unable to make progress in combating the Taliban. Instead, he signed a deal with them to allow the Taliban to impose their extremist religion on a large region of the country. Despite the glaringly self-interested actions of Pakistani leaders – and the fact that even today with the Taliban encroaching upon the capital, it is not clear that the government is yet committed to rooting out these insurgents or terrorists – America has been forced time and again to double down in our support of Pakistan’s leaders. What other choice do we have? Pakistan is too important to allow it to fail – and it has nuclear weapons. 

Which is why we can longer accept the constant refrain from Pakistan’s leaders that “Everything’s fine; please send helicopters.” Pakistan is “ground zero in many of the worst-case scenario exercises gamed out by national security officials [and seems] on the verge of spiraling out of control.” General Petreaus is apparently saying privately that “the next two weeks are critical [in] determining whether the Pakistani government will survive.” David Kilcullen, an Australian counterinsurgency expert advising the Obama administration, expressed a related point:  “We have to face the fact that if Pakistan collapses it will dwarf anything we have seen so far in whatever we’re calling the war on terror now.” 

This is where we are – at the edge of an abyss. And it seems there is nothing for us to do but to trust that our government is properly trusting the ineffectual (or perhaps conflicted) Pakistani leadership to control the situation.

Or is that all we can do? Wendy Chamberlin, a former ambassador to Pakistan suggested another idea: “We have to make clear that our relationship is with the people of Pakistan and not with [any] one man…” I don’t this is what she meant – but it seems to me that the best way to make this clear is for Americans to begin communicating with Pakistanis. And I don’t just mean the government.

Remember the Obama campaign – which encouraged tens of thousands of volunteers to call or email or knock on the doors of millions of citizens – in a grass-roots effort to change the nation? We should start that. Here. Today. Go on Facebook. Find someone from Pakistan. Send them a pen-pal letter and ask them what’s going on – so each of us can do our part to figure out what is going on in what we are being told is a very dangerous situation. Be humble; be curious; be respectful. But reach out. It seems kind of silly, but what other choice do we have?