Winter is descending on the highlands of northern Pakistan,
delaying the transition from earthquake relief operations to the
longer-range efforts of rebuilding.
But in Islamabad, the early outlines of the reconstruction are
being sketched out, and there are fears that the military will
dominate the process. Two agencies have been put in charge of the
effort, each headed by a general.
With the reconstruction expected to be a three to five year
national project, some Pakistani political observers argue that the
government's promise of a democratic transition from military rule
has been dealt a setback. While the Army insists that final
decisionmaking powers rest with elected leaders, critics see little
chance for crucial local input to shape the recovery effort.
"Reconstruction is a matter of economic management, of social
issues - these are civilian subjects," says Afrasiab Khattak, a
board member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, based in
Observers like Mr. Khattak say that only a participatory approach
- comprising the affected communities themselves, representative
governments, and civil society actors - can ensure that
reconstruction adequately serves the communities in need.
Their concerns were echoed by a European Union delegation at last
month's donors conference, where international governments pledged
$5.9 billion to assist Pakistan. "The EU delegation calls attention
to the need for the decentralization of decisionmaking."
The critique helps underscore that October's earthquake, while
forever changing Pakistan's history, has done little if anything to
shake up the centralized power matrix that has defined Pakistan
since the 1999 military coup by President Pervez Musharraf and
indeed, for much of its history.
The Army disputes claims that it will dominate the
reconstruction. "The Army is not leading the effort. The
reconstruction and relief agencies are under the prime minister's
office," says Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shawkat Sultan.
But critics point out that both government relief agencies were
created unilaterally by President Musharraf, and their military
heads appointed without consultation with parliament. It is a
telltale sign, they say, that both the prime minister and the
civilian government are subject to the ultimate authority of
Musharraf, who has reneged on past promises to step down from his
role as a military general.
There is broad consensus that the Army has the capacity and skill
to execute the reconstruction process. It enjoys a reputation for
efficiency in a country where civilian governments and civic
institutions have been bogged down by bureaucratic lethargy and
"In everyday terms, as an institution, it has demonstrated high
levels of professional capacity," says Javed Jabbar, a former
information minister and former senator. "One should not say they're
at the wrong place at the wrong time."
But execution is not the point, critics say. Decisionmaking is,
and that is where the Army's role is most questioned.
"The Army will be thinking on the basis of their own
understanding of what is good for these communities," says Rasul
Bakhsh Rais, a professor of Political Science at Lahore University
of Management Sciences. "I'm not putting any negative connotation on
what the Army might think. …