Magazine article The Spectator

What Pakistan Needs Now Is a Franco or a Pinochet

Magazine article The Spectator

What Pakistan Needs Now Is a Franco or a Pinochet

Article excerpt

Pakistan's history is a depressing spectacle. Much more homogenous than India, it should therefore be easier to govern, yet it has made almost no political progress since independence. Every day, India seems to provide renewed evidence for Adam Smith's dictum that there is a lot of ruin in a nation. Yet the pullulating chaos of Indian political life which both amuses and appals the visitor - there is no more infuriating or absurd creature than the average Indian petty bureaucrat - disguises a deeper stability. Its political structures have survived adversity, largely because they rest on twin indispensable foundations: civil society and - to an extent - the rule of law. Pakistan's deficiencies in both those respects explain its failure in constitutional evolution. Hence the need for another military coup; hence also the fatuity of Western condemnation.

Any British politician with a sensitivity to irony might have recoiled from condemning the Pakistani generals on the eve of Jiang Zemin's visit to this country. The Chinese leader is to be accorded every respect that official Britain can bestow, including an interview by Lord Rees-Mogg in the Times of a grovelling obsequiousness unmatched since the days when Robert Maxwell was cultivating his publishing links with the Soviet empire. Where was your sense of shame, William? On a par, it would appear, with Robin Cook's sense of irony.

The government, as opposed to the Times, is right to treat Mr Jiang in this way; China is far too important to be subjected to an ethical foreign policy. But even without a Kantian insistence on absolute moral standards, we should at least clear our minds of cant. Pakistan has been condemned by a Commonwealth ministerial group chaired by a Zimbabwean, Stan Mudenge; if he is so concerned about democratic standards, why does he not start at home? The ghost of the British empire sitting crowned upon the grave thereof, the Commonwealth is hardly a serious organisation any more than Robin Cook is a serious Foreign Secretary.

It would be insane to treat Pakistan as a pariah state; it could easily become one, while equipped with nuclear weapons and in one of the world's more unstable regions. Here, the Indians are by no means the wisest custodians of their own self-interest. They enjoy nothing more than playing diplomatic one-upmanship with their neighbour, and in their eagerness to induce international forums to condemn the Pakistanis, they often lose sight of the need for peaceful co-existence. We should be less excitable - but with Mr Cook at the FO? Even by his own standards, his visit to the subcontinent was ignominious, and he seems to have learned nothing from the experience. But who ever thought that he would?

The Pakistani public's reaction to the coup demonstrated that they understand the limitations of their democratic politicians, even if Robin Cook does not. We should also be impressed by Imran Khan's response. An honourable man and a patriot, he also made the Pakistan cricket XI play as a team rather than as a group of talented but warring individuals; there are worse qualifications for political leadership. If he gives the generals his cautious approval, he might be proved right.

The Commonwealth is not only guilty of hypocrisy. It is fatuous to prattle on about democracy as if it were a simple answer to every country's problems. Admittedly, Pakistan's recent pseudo-democratic rulers could have been worse; they were not as bad as Robert Mugabe or Julius Nyerere. But this only proves that democracy can cover a multitude of sins. …

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