Magazine article Newsweek International

Pakistan's Self-Defeating Army

Magazine article Newsweek International

Pakistan's Self-Defeating Army

Article excerpt

Rather than serve as a bulwark against chaos, the Army has helped destabilize Pakistan. For far too long, the myth that Pakistan's army is the only thing holding the country together--and keeping the terrorists at bay--has held sway in Washington. Now two bills making their way through Congress suggest the United States is finally starting to reconsider these assumptions. Both bills would set benchmarks that Pakistan has to meet in order to keep qualifying for U.S. economic and military assistance. But the two measures don't go far enough. Pakistan will never be saved from the threat of religious extremists until it fundamentally restructures its deeply dysfunctional government. And that will require addressing the overwhelming influence of the military on Pakistani politics.

In four critical ways, the Army has undermined constitutional governance in Pakistan ever since Mohammed Ali Jinnah led it to independence some 60 years ago. First, repeated coups have ensured that civilian governments never developed firm roots. Second, successive military rulers, in attempts to boost their legitimacy, have promoted religious radicalism, either directly (as in the case of Zia ul Haq, who did this over the span of a decade) or by marginalizing mainstream political parties and allowing the religious right to fill the vacuum (Pervez Musharraf's strategy before his ouster last year). Third, the Army became and remains a parasite feeding on the body politic by extracting "rent" in the form of land, bureaucratic appointments and other spoils of office in exchange for supposedly keeping Pakistan safe.

Finally, in a misbegotten quest for "strategic depth" against India, the Army has promoted the radicalization of Afghanistan, which has now spilled back onto its own territory and spun out of control. All of these missteps point to the same conclusion: rather than serve as a bulwark against chaos, the Army has helped to destabilize Pakistan. There's only one way to turn things around today: demilitarize Pakistani politics.

Doing so won't be easy. While there is significant popular support for democracy in Pakistan, the country's mainstream civilian parties have hardly distinguished themselves in their brief periods at the helm, and the current government of Asif Ali Zardari is no exception. Still, the military bears most of the blame for blocking the evolution of a true democratic process. And such a process--for all its inevitable flaws and inefficiencies--is the only way Pakistan will ever get a government truly responsive to the needs of its ordinary citizens, and one likely to crack down on the Taliban, which most Pakistanis disdain.

So how can Pakistan's government be "civilianized"? Useful lessons can be drawn from the democratization of other Praetorian states. …

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