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Page last updated at 14:25 GMT, Wednesday, 20 August 2008 15:25 UK

Pakistan's new stage of struggle

Guest columnist Ahmed Rashid in Islamabad takes a look at what many see to be Pakistan's last chance to make democracy work there after the resignation of President Musharraf.

Pakistan newspaper seller
'Pakistan has to start tackling the real problems the country faces'

The resignation of President Pervez Musharraf after nine years in office is a major victory for Pakistan's long battered and still fragile democratic forces.

But effective civilian governance is bound to be hampered by the chaotic meltdown that the country has endured in recent weeks.

And although the US will be expecting things to change speedily, they are unlikely to do so for now.

The most pressing issues revolve around the theme that has bedevilled politics in this country over the years - the relationship between civilians and the military.

'Humiliated'

The government is in the hands of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) now run by Asif Zardari, the widower of the late Benazir Bhutto.

But he runs the country through a complex coalition of parties, the largest of which is the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Most Pakistanis see this coalition government as the last chance for democracy

Ironically, it is the PML-N which currently is the PPP's main protagonist.

Critics say Mr Sharif spares no opportunity to try and pull down the PPP, rather than work with it to consolidate the few democratic gains the country has made so far.

Overthrown by Mr Musharraf in a coup in 1999 and humiliated by the army, Mr Sharif wants no concessions to the army and offers no support to the war against Taleban extremists.

Aware of his right wing vote bank, he has little time for American demands.

Mr Sharif believes that his popularity and the parliamentary seats he controls in the majority province of Punjab will eventually give him the prime ministership.

Pervez Musharraf
'The mess that Mr Musharraf has left behind will haunt Pakistan'

In the next few days these internal coalition battles will continue as key questions arise, such as where Mr Musharraf should live, whether he should be tried in a court of law, how the senior judges that Mr Musharraf sacked last year should be restored and who should become the new president.

Mr Sharif is taking a hard line while Mr Zardari wants to move slowly and not confront the army by further humiliating Mr Musharraf, who was the former army chief.

These internal battles of the coalition are only magnified by the enormous mistrust between the army and both political parties.

There is nearly a 40-year long history of army mistrust of the PPP, while the military over the years has made no secret of its dislike for Mr Sharif.

Over the past six months the army and the coalition government have failed to work out a joint strategy to combat the Pakistani Taleban, who are now spanning across north-western Pakistan.

Nor is there a joint stance at preventing the Taleban crossing the border and fighting in Afghanistan.

The army wants the government to lead and take the political responsibility for going after the extremists, so that the army's present unpopularity does not get worse.

But Mr Sharif has no intention to become the "cat's paw" of the army while Mr Zardari so far cannot hammer out a common coalition position.

Asif Ali Zardari (middle), Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (right) and Nawaz Sharif[left)
For Pakistan's coalition, the challenges are many and complicated

Meanwhile the economy is in meltdown with inflation running at 25% and the government unable to do anything about lifting investor confidence.

The mess that Mr Musharraf has left behind is one that will haunt Pakistan and the world in the months ahead and make the international community even more nervous about the future of Pakistan as the extremists become stronger and more audacious.

The government and the army are also feeling the force of ever escalating US and Nato threats that Pakistan catch Osama bin Laden and do more to stop Taleban offensives from Pakistan into Afghanistan.

The Americans have let it be known that if this is not done, there will be more US bombings inside Pakistan.

Unstinting support

Much of the blame for the country's woes lies with Mr Musharraf's aversion to democracy and his failure to take the opportunities offered by joining the Western alliance in the war against terrorism after 11 September 2001.

At that time he received massive financial aid ($11.8bn from Washington alone) and unstinting international political support - yet failed to use it for the common good.

Last year millions of Pakistanis took to the streets to demand the rule of law and democracy - but Mr Musharraf dragged his feet in allowing such a transition and then imposed an emergency.

Under extreme public pressure he was forced to rescind his measures and hold free and fair elections in February 2008. His political supporters were trounced and his political opponents came to power.

Meanwhile Mr Musharraf's relationship with the West disintegrated as the Taleban gained ground in Afghanistan using their bases in Pakistan.

The Karachi stock exchange
'The economy is in a meltdown'

Last December militants assassinated the one person who could have pulled the country together - Benazir Bhutto, the PPP's leader.

Three of Pakistan's previous four military rulers have been driven from power by popular movements, but the politicians who followed the military have always failed to take advantage of the people's desire for democracy and economic development.

They have all ended up being turfed out by the military on charges of corruption and incompetence.

Most Pakistanis see this coalition government as the last chance for democracy and they want it to work.

The army, the government and the international community have to work together to make it do so, because only then can Pakistan start tackling the problems it faces.

Ahmed Rashid is the author of the recently published Descent into Chaos: How the war against Islamic extremism is being lost in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia.


Here is a selection of your comments

The political situation in Pakistan has been, and will continue to be, a source of concern for everyone in the West. Mr Musharraf has been vilified in the press for his administrative failures. I fear that his removal from office will lead to a serious strengthening of Islamic fundamentalist political presence and a downward spiral in relationships with the rest of the world. I see no leadership presence, currently in Pakistan, with the strength to prevent our worst fears from coming to fruition.
Darrell Messbarger, U.S.A.

Ahmad Rashid has said correctly as 'last chance' for Pakistan's democracy. I would like to add further that, a 'real' democracy is a last chance for survival of Pakistan itself at this critical moment. Unfortunately this coalition does not seem to go for long as they have not yet arrived at the basic question of 'curbing or supporting extremism'. The two parties have opposite views and interests (vote bank) on this issue and may cause an end to this coalition.
Ajmal Khan, Pakistan

I would have expected Ahmed Rashid to become slightly optimistic now but I think he is bound to use only 'negative' part of his brain when the matter comes to his own country. What he thinks is a last chance infact is the first chance to the democratic forces to realise their power. Please stop negative propaganda about Pakistan. It is the root cause of every evil in the country.
Ahmed, Singapore

This is a very biased article. Most of Pakistan is plagued with illiteracy, do people even understand what democracy is? Musharraf did for Pakistan what no "democratic" leader could ever do! If leaders like Zardari and Sharif are the new "democratic" leaders, then to hell with democracy!
Seema, USA

It is a pity that Ahmed Rashid cannot see the real picture. The US policies are all double edged. On one hand they talk about democracy, on the other hand they supported a dictator like Musharraf.
Asaad Kamal, Pakistan

The need of the hour required a singular leader who commands the army and simultaneously nurtured democracy with the single focus of neutralising armed militancy and extremism in Pakistan. Mr Rashid is impressed with democracy which only takes root under certain conditions in any given society. The threats faced by Pakistan cannot be resolved by ouster of one person as we are made to believe. Come to think of it, there is hardly any democracy within PPP or PML-N for that matter.
Mohammed Aatif Khan, Canada

Pakistan need a complete change of government and politicians, a strong judiciary and neutral professional military which does not interfere in political issues. And, most importantly a stable Pakistan is only possible if the West and America stop interfering in the issues of Pakistan.
Fahad Khan, United Kingdom

Yes, most Pakistanis are hoping the government delivers this time around. But to hope for this coalition to stay and govern well together is living in a fool's paradise. We have seen unprecedented steps and events happening in the last few years. If Pakistan is to be put back on a constitutional track of respect for and supremacy of law, there is only one way for that to be achieved. Sharif and Zardari should both reinstate the deposed judiciary who are the real heroes behind Musharraf's ouster. The judiciary should then be the custodians of the Supreme Court and even if that means Zardari and Sharif are tried for corruption, I think they owe it to the nation and to their conscience to come out clear. Ironically if only one thing is ensured in Pakistan, all its problems can be fixed. Justice is the word. Injustice gives rise to all these problems including people resorting to terrorist activities.
Farhan Arif, Australia

The columnist rightly mentioned that masses want to let the coalition government to work, but with every day increasing rifts of both side indicating that leaders would part their ways shortly. Then what next and where the democracy will stand. As far as the matter of humiliation by out going president is concerned, its no matter for masses because the people as well as institutions are never honoured by dictators and politicians. Lets wait for a messiah who would bring harmony in Pakistan.
M Saleem, Pakistan

The resignation of Pervez Musharraf is not a good news for Pakistan. In his reign Pakistan progressed much economically as compared to the previous governments. He did much for Pakistan. Although he took the side of America in the war against terrorism, this was a good policy because if the present government had been there in place of Pervez Musharraf, they could have done the same as Musharraf did. The present government have demolished Pakistan economically. The economy of Pakistan is stepping down day by day.
Hashim Agha, Pakistan

Pakistan's problem from the very beginning has been very weak leadership. A number of commentators have remarked on this (summarized in a series of posts on Pakistan's leadership at http://thesouthasianidea.wordpress.com/). The quality of leadership has continued to deteriorate because each leader desires to find a pliant and non-threatening successor. The probability that the present set of leaders will grasp this 'last chance' is low - the early signs from the kind of key appointments being made to critical positions are not encouraging. Just hoping is not enough. What is needed are institutional innovations that would tighten the responsiveness of the present leaders to the citizens and also ensure an improvement in the quality of leadership over time. Part of the answer is a suspension of support to tinpot dictators by the US but that is only part of the answer. The kinds of problems mentioned by Strobe Talbott in the posts cited above need other remedies.
Anjum, USA

With Zardari as a potential player in politics there is going to be chaos. I do not see any betterment for the coming months or years.
Dr Arshad Kamal Khan, UK

I think Ahmed Rashid must not live in the same Pakistan as most of us do because there were definitely not millions on the streets against Musharraf. There were a few thousand people only out of a population of 165 million. Just because he was part of the group on the roads, is no excuse to distort the truth. As for allegations that the economic mess was created by Musharraf, Again I am surprised that a person of Mr. Rashid's standing can make such false and baseless sweeping statements. Our economy has collapsed due to lack of leadership since January and the lawyers obsession with their agenda instead of keeping a balance with other issues facing the country. The current government has no economic policy nor does it seem to have a plan to make one. Its only agenda, like Mr Rashid, is to criticise the past government. They cannot even generate funds to enable power stations to produce electricity, and more correctly they are not interested. Military governments come into power when civilian ones do not do their job. As for Mr Rashid's obsession with Talebanisation fear and propaganda, I wonder if it is as big a possibility or is it promoted cause that's the story that sells and brings in the bucks.
Mahbina Waheed, Pakistan

With Musharraf gone, I don't see any 'hope' for Pakistan, economically or politically.
Asad, Pakistan / Canada

The whole world, especially the West should come forward and support Pakistan as it is their war on terror which had made Pakistan rather unsafe to do business with, and has resulted in a poor economy. Economy is the issue number 1 to Pakistanis, and if they felt that quality of life was improving, they would support the new democratic system.
Faisal Afzal, USA

I agree with Mr Rashid's views, Nawaz Sharif will try push Zardari and i don't see the both partners together. It should be remembered these two parties are opponents. Nawaz will try his best to pull down the government with his move and it would be dangerous for democracy. If he is thinking for chances of new election wining. I think he will be lest in seats as with PPP. He doesn't have presence in Sindh, Baluchistan and NWFP and also there is no chance to have seats what ever he is planning. In this game the winner will be disintegration not democracy.
Rafiq Mangi, Hyderabad

Its only when so called educated journalists and the middle classes of Pakistan acquire some social responsibility and stop promoting corrupt elitists will the country make any progress. For what its worth I feel General Musharraf was the best President Pakistan ever had, and pretty soon most Pakistanis will realise this fact also.
Hussian, UK

Give it six months and everyone will be crying for Musharraf to come back. These so called democratic leaders ran the country in the 90's and all they did was loot the country.
Arfan, UK

Ahmed Rashid is very good at saying things the west wants to hear. The one factor that contributed most to Musharraf's unpopularity was his decision to join west in the so-called war on terror in which he spared no opportunity to please Washington. Yet Mr Rashid feels that Musharraf missed the opportunity to join the Western alliance in fighting extremism. Only Mr Rashid or his western masters can explain what opportunities were missed to bring more chaos to Pakistan.
Akhter Saeed Khattak, Pakistan

Ahmed Rashid once again providing a fair summary of Pakistanis troubles but a rather simplistic view of things. Firstly, there was no guarantee that Benazir would have united the country. She was despised by religious groups and pro-army middle classes, and, like Karzai, would have had to limit her movements to survive. The analysis of Nawaz Sharif's stance on taking on the militants in NWFP is interesting. Like Musharaf, Sharif has also been playing it both ways. In front of the international media he has publicly blamed Musharraf and the army for past and current adventures in Afghanistan and Kashmir, thus criticising the Jihadi foreign policy. To the Pakistani public he is playing it the other way by acting as a defender of the faith. The army is now under new leadership but we have yet to see what General Kiyani will do. He could surprise us all (like Musharaf) by agreeing to work in accordance with the elected government but this would require a major purge of the military and intelligence agencies. Is this likely? Whatever happens, the alliance leadership need to demonstrate their much-touted democratic credentials by working quickly to fill the void and make some bold committed decisions. This may well be their last chance.
N Khan, UK

Military within Pakistan will always play a big role as long as on the one border you have an economic and military powerhouse like India and on the other side an orthodox Shia-dominated Iran. Any considerations to have the military not intervening in internal and political affairs now or in the near future is an illusion. It's now up to the new government to show to the people and the military that they have been rightfully mandated to bring prosperity to the country and not bring the country to collapse as done so in the nineties by then Prime Ministers Mr Sharif and late Mrs. Bhutto. What the author forgets to mention is that hardly any dictator liberates the media like Musharaf did and resigns without putting a bloody fight to take revenge with his critics. That will always be remembered when we will talk many years from now on about Pervez Musharaf.
Norman, Germany

While I find Mr Rashid's works very insightful, I do have question. Why exactly is this Pakistan's last chance at democracy? The same thing could be said for Pakistan after General Zia, before Musharraf arranged a coup.
Jon Antoy, Philadelphia, USA

Democracy in Pakistan will only survive if the army starts believing in their oath to protect the constitution of Pakistan. Hopefully USA and Britain will stop supporting the dictators and support democracy in Pakistan just like they support democracy for themselves. Any short cuts to good governance will fail till we support democracy. Pakistan has the democratic institutions and USA should support strengthening and Britain will follow. We need strong democracy in Pakistan for Pakistan to survive and escape terrorism.
Zaki Masud, USA

How can you say those in power today are the last chance for a beleaguered democratic system when it was Mr. Musharraf who introduced fundamentals like an open media, women and minority representation in government as well as some degree of reliable accountability. You, as a declared expert of Pakistani history and affairs, should be the last person on earth needing to be reminded of Mr. Sharif's history with following the law and respecting the judiciary. You should be the last person on earth claiming such general statements and placing the great majority of the nations woes on Mr Musharraf's "aversion to democracy". If Mr Musharraf was the true despot you wish he were, he would not have walked away from Army and Civil leadership. It may not mean much to you but there are many people who have great respect for his honesty, good intentions and strong patriotism towards Pakistan.
Nasim, USA

Pakistan does not seem to have a bright future under the present political leadership. All these leaders were tested before. They hardly have any connection with common people of the country and represent only the elites. They repeatedly sacrificed their country and its people for their personal benefits. Such leaders will not hesitate to play the game in favour of Islamic fundamentalists when needed for their own political survival. Army and ISI also can not be controlled by these political leaders, and those two institutions will play a major role in Pak politics and society in future as well. There is no reason to become optimistic regarding any meaningful democracy in Pakistan in near future. Only new generation of Pakistani leaders free from feudal mentality and religious fundamentalism can save that country. But that is a long-term process.
Jay, USA

Ahmed Rashid is a patriot. Democracy is an ideal that every man, woman and child in any country has the right to and yes (to a previous comment above) this includes the illiterate. Sure, democratic leaders in Pakistan have had a tumultuous past to say the least. They have ?led? with little decency, morality and in many cases even humanity. Military leader have been the same ? with the obvious added bonus of the iron fist. It takes a very special kind of person to fight for liberties in a country where you are stepped on by its ?political Nobility? at every turn, put in jail for demonstrating collectively and silenced for standing up to extremists. Yes, Ahmed Rashid is a patriot of which our country would need more of ? put simply ? Ahmed Rashid has never stopped caring. Pakistan has seen trouble since time immemorial and the fact still remains that if you are still looking to point the finger, look into the eyes of the person who has failed this country time and again, friends - we would only need a mirror.
Rafa, London

Pakistan has been given a chance by providence to cleanse its house once and for all and should do so by restoring the judges and prosecuting Musharraf for abrogating the constitution of that country clause 6 of which holds that crime punishable by death.
Babar Khan, Atlanta USA

Apart from the inept and dynastic nature of Pakistan's politicians, the other source of Pakistan's problem is its political system and flawed constitution. Parliamentary democracy does not work in Pakistan. Politicians love it because it avails them unrestricted power to loot and plunder the country without any checks or balances. Pakistan needs a new constitution with a presidential system with checks and balances on each institution, executive, judiciary and armed forces. There is a need for a system to weed out corrupt politicians and prevent them from taking part in elections because the illiterate masses will continue to elect them. Only then can Pakistan progress.
Ali, USA

Unless the Pakistani military steps in, Pakistan as a nation is doomed and sadly the only ones that can be blamed are the Pakistanis.
Amer Hussain, England

PPP and PML (N) were given two chances in the past to lead the country. The people of Pakistan know that they had flawlessly failed. I wonder why the public is again looking forward to them based on the previous experience. What is the guarantee that they will save the country from such chaos? As the saying goes: "A fool does the same thing over and over again and every time expects different results."
Usman, Canada

?Most Pakistani see this as last chance for democracy? absolutely NOT. Almost all Pakistani politicians are from influential families, feudal lords and ruminants of ones who played favour during British rule. Rest of them have gotten their hands on nations wealth and are fat cats at the expense of poor Pakistanis. How can you expect anything good from those who spend millions to be elected and than go to work to convert millions into billions? Mr Rashid need to talk about corruption spread and supported by these politicians and their supporters. Unless you work on bringing honest people to work for people, expecting any good for the country is only a dream.
Mushtaq Ahmed, USA

In a developing nation like Pakistan it is difficult to create a democracy when there are so many versions and interpretations. It also appears to me that, whilst democracy appears attractive, we all know that politicians are usually motivated by self interest of interest of their party, whereas the military are all about fighting for the country and national identity. I am not advocating dictatorship but usually a benevolent military leader will put the armed forces and the country first and I have never seen any democracy where the same could be said of a politician in any country of the world. I do sincerely hope that Pakistan is able to flourish quickly and the Pakistan people are able to promote their country as a place that other people like me will want to return to again and again.
Peter, UK

Now that the future Pakistan has once again placed in civilian hands, we can only hope for an ethical and sustained system of governance to take form and grow. I suggest that the new Government embark on broad consultations with the populace in order to determine the country's future direction. Also, great care must be taken in dealing with the army. They must not be isolated from this process, but at the same time they must respect the tenets of democracy and human rights. This is only but a small step, which is the beginning of a long journey for Pakistan.
Jai Leladharsingh, Trinidad and Tobago

Thank you Musharaf for giving us the best nine years of Pakistan's history what no other democratic government could do. We will certainly miss you
Wasif Qazi, USA

President Musharaf, though not perfect, was a leader who fought with his heart for the country he loves. Perhaps democracy is something Pakistan could have aspired to in time, when the political and social climate was right - not when the West thought it suited them. They have pushed Pakistan to the brink with little regard of the consequences
Zak, London, UK

Pakistan's main problem is rising militancy, the total impact of which, leaders of the coalition are failing to grasp. It is na´ve in assuming that democracy will get a chance in Pakistan now that Musharraf is out. With people pushed economically, more will turn towards a religious ideology for sustenance.
Ambreen Noon Kazi, Duabi, United Arab Emirates

As an Indian Muslim, it occurs to me that Pakistan has still not achieved what India has achieved for the past 61 years. Stable and functional democracy.
Mir Ali, UK

Historically we are a nation thrown into uncertainty, the question is how uncertain are we this time?
Sharuk Ahmad, USA

Right now our priority should be to understand how to curb the terrorism going on. The economy is linked to this.
Ghazan Khan, London/Islamabad

The only way I can see Pakistan progress is for all existing parties PML N, Q, PPP, etc to be abolished as well as their leaders, new parties to be developed that have stringent and transparent structures like the political parties in the UK. Lastly the judiciary is fully independent and empowered, pretty much along the lines that Imran Khan has been pushing for in Pakistan.
Senober Khan, UK

If most Pakistanis view that the coalition government is the last chance for democracy, then I think we are heading for a disaster. Human memory appears to be short. It was about a year ago when Gen Musharraf ordered a military operation against the students of Red Mosque and all three of the main coalition parties: the PPP, PML-N and the ANP had different stances and agendas on it. The PPP supported the movement against radicalism, the ANP asked for dialogue whereas the PML-N was anti-govt. This coalition which is based on 'partnership' has not talked much about infrastructure and development. The only voices heard over the past 100 days are of impeaching the president and re-instating the judges. What's next?
Fahad, Karachi, Pakistan

For a country to not only survive but to flourish, it is imperative that the people of the country are served, first and foremost, in an equitable and just manner. Pakistanis need clean and nationalist politicians and independent judiciary, press, administration and military. The corrupt feudal politicians currently form the elite who, although, unelected by the populace are siphoning off the wealth of the country for their own benefit. Corruption is rife. Army under such circumstances has only one choice - to overthrow the corrupt politicians. But, then and when in power, the army concentrates in meddling with other countries' affairs instead of serving the population who are bereft of freedom from hunger, ill-health, illiteracy. Money spent on serving people rather than 'adventures' in foreign lands will uplift ordinary Pakistanis who will see themselves as stake-holders in a reforming country.
Bharat Dadlani, UK

I think Ahmed Rashid is missing a serious point which he fails to address. How are the party leaders such as Zardari and Nawaz Sharif democratically elected? Why is it that the chairman of the PP was overlooked to allow a corrupt business man to become a leader and his son, still his teens has the opportunity to lead the country, on what basis is this democracy? Has the columnist buried his head in the sand to ignore the so called democratic process, where are the checks and balances to prevent abuse of democratic institutions from the likes of Zardari and Nawaz Sharif. There are none, and this is a point which the columnist has failed to address.
Amjad, UK

The author is wrong about the reasons for the departures of the previous military leaders. Ayub Khan was deposed by his protege Yahya Khan (illegally as it turned out according to the report of the Hamood-ur-Rehman Commission), Yahya Khan was driven out because he lost the 1971 war. Zia was killed in a plane crash, no popular movement there either.
Akram, UK

Unfortunately Mr Rashid is another of the misguided people who have helped create this mess. Benazir and her family have no place in a democracy and should have had the corruption charges not dropped. Pakistan has a feudal system and those in power play musical chairs with only one objective of filling their own coffers. Assisted by an immature media the feudal lords have won to the detriment of the populace.
Sajid , UK

A very simple and truthful description of troubles lying ahead of Pakistan government as well as opportunities. It depends on what they pick. Do they want to fight among themselves and take the country back into military's' hands or do they want to work together for the country's betterment and their own long term future. I am an Indian but I still wish that Pakistan becomes a strong country to live as a democracy because its in everybody's' interest. We definitely don't want another Taleban like monster created in our own backyard. Now we know that it can strike anywhere and doesn't have any geographic limitations.
Atul, US

I do not agree that this is last chance. Pakistan has done so well and survived after so many hurdles from different sources were put in its way since independence. So i think Pakistan will make it through. Look into the history of Pakistan, we have survived from worst then what's happening now.
Arbab Dilawar, New Zealand

For your website's credibility and reputation, take Ahmed Rashid off the panel of writers from South Asia. He has been biased all along the way and does not necessarily reflect the sentiments of ordinary people. I don't have a single friend who opposed Mr. Musharraf's rule and all are in great pain now that he has gone. It's the so-called democratic forces that have ruined Pakistan and not Mr. Musharraf who revived the economy and rid the political domain of many bad deeply rooted norms of the past. Long Live Musharraf!
Ali Jawed, Pakistan

I wanted to read this column, but feel bitterly disappointed at the lack of depth or proper analysis. The whole column, and especially the second part, is based on sweeping broad generalizations, a number of personal opinions complete devoid of any facts and a hatred of Musharraf. Some of what he says might be right, but surely a journalist should have the ability to write better than a primary school kid!
Qamar, London, UK




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