Sunday, October 21, 2007

Marcus Gee on Pakistan Now

Depressed about the car-bomb that killed over 100 people at a welcoming rally for returning Pakistani politician Benizar Bhutto, Marcus Gee now wonders why Pakistan never seems to be able to get things right.

Born in turmoil, raised in war and division, Pakistan is the country where things always seem to go wrong. With a resourceful people gathered under the green flag of Islam, the country of 164 million should be one of the developing world's success stories.

Instead, it finds itself embattled, divided, misruled and perpetually on the doorstep of catastrophe.
Headline writers call it a nation "on the edge." Scholars debate whether it will join the ranks of failed states, spewing out loose nukes and Islamic militants.

Why doesn't Pakistan work?

What follows is a relatively (for a Gee editorial) inoffensive description of Pakistan's troubled history. Many of Pakistan's problems do have their roots in the domestic dictators and corrupt politicians of its own political system. Where Gee goes wrong here is in removing any contribution of the West in aiding and abetting this corruption, oppression, and failure.

In the first place, Benazir Bhutto's return wasn't the unmixed triumph of democracy that Gee painted it to be:

A joyous throng cheers the returning opposition leader as she heads home after years in exile. Then, suddenly, an explosion shatters bodies and hopes.

Great expectations, blasted dreams.

Benazir Bhutto created many enemies in Pakistan for her strong faithfulness to the demands of US foreign policy, and for her government's corruption.

The massacre in Karachi had been widely predicted. Benazir Bhutto herself has stated that she was aware of the dangers. The government pleaded with her to delay her return. Jihadi leaders, angered by her slavish support of US foreign policy, had publicly threatened to kill her. She survived but a few hundred people have been killed without reason.

More trouble lies ahead. Benazir may be the preferred politician of Washington and the EU, but the Supreme Court is considering five separate petitions to reject the Ordnance that pardons corrupt politicians. Were the court to accept these petitions, Ms Bhutto would have to serve time in prison.

Furthermore, as my last post showed, Gee wouldn't know what makes a country successful if the rules were tatooed upside down (for ready reference) on his stomach.

India, its great rival next door, is going from strength to strength, with a thriving democracy and a booming economy.


It seems that the point of Gee's column is to present Bhutto (the friend of the West) as a necessary component of Pakistan's future success. Being a friend of the West is, for Gee, a sign of being one of the "good guys/gals." In Gee's world, the West (especially the United States) only wants what is best for the world. Western puppets, enforcing economic policies that benefit the wealthy few, are the best thing for the nations of the Global South, because such policies cannot fail to produce a world full of Marcus Gees. Urbanized, educated, and free to think, say, and write whatever they want (so long as it supports neoliberalism).

The tragedy is that Pakistan could do so much better. Its urbane, educated elite can hold their own with any in the world. ... Pakistanis, for all their divisions, have a strong sense of national pride, visible whenever its cricket team takes on India.

A vibrant free press has grown up to challenge government views. Various non-governmental groups, from women's organizations to the lawyers guilds that challenged the government in street protests earlier this year, are coming together to form a vital “civil society.”

Gee overlooks the British incompetence in the partition of 1947 which produced so much violence. Gee overlooks US meddling in Indo-Pakistani relations during the 1960s and 1970s, including US support for Pakistan's military government's massacre of anywhere from 500,000-3,000,000 Bangladeshis (in what was then known as East Pakistan), because Pakistan was friendly with China, which US President Nixon was wooing for purposes of Cold War realpolitick.

Still, it seems that most of Pakistan's corruption and lack of democracy have domestic roots. But neoliberalism and sucking-up to the United States isn't the answer to Pakistan's problems. It certainly doesn't look like Benazir Bhutto is going to deliver for Gee:

The tragedy of Pakistan is that the People’s Party of Bhutto and its rivals offer no real alternatives to the policies currently being pursued. The State Department notion of Bhutto perched on Musharraf’s shoulder parrotting pro-Washington homilies was always ridiculous. Now there are doubts as to whether she will even reach the General’s shoulder. (From Tariq Ali, "A Massacre Foretold," cited above.)

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