COMMENTARY
 
Pakistan and the World in 2005
Weekly Pulse
Dec 30, 2005-Jan 5, 2006
Pakistan under Pervez Musharraf remained a vibrant force in the world during 2005 through pursuing proactive diplomacy over major foreign policy issues. At home, however, the military-dominated regime continued to suffer a legitimacy crisis caused in principle by President Musharraf’s decision to retain his army uniform.

In May 2004, Pakistan was re-admitted to the British Commonwealth only after it gave the assurance that President Musharraf would leave his army uniform by the end of the year. When this did not happen, the Commonwealth reacted, initially in February 2005, by criticizing President Musharraf for backtracking on the uniform issue, and, later, in November, by setting 2007 as a deadline for the President to quit his position as the Chief of Army Staff.

Democratic Governance

The year also saw the holding of local-bodies elections, whose fairness and transparency was questioned by national media and international observers. The International Crisis Group published a comprehensive report on discrepancies involved in the conduct of these elections, including widespread rigging and other electoral frauds.

On the whole, the year saw further erosion of parliamentary politics in the country, as the government of Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz did not show much interest in taking the National Assembly or the Senate in confidence on major issues of domestic politics or foreign policy.

Whether it was the question of managing the earthquake relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation effort, or the nationally divisive issue of Kalabagh dam, President Musharraf did not make any effort to take parliament in confidence. Nor did he pay any heed to renewed public demand in the aftermath of the earthquake to bring back Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, the leaders of the two major political parties in the country; the PPP-Parliamentarian and the PML-N.

Response to Earthquake

The deadly quake of October 8 was nonetheless the highlight of the year, resulting in over 80,000 deaths and rendering over 3 million people homeless. Initial rescue and relief efforts were led by Pakistani civil society and international rescue and relief teams, as the government of Pakistan took days to organize its own rescue and relief campaign by establishing Federal Relief Commission (FRC). Over time, however, the relief effort gained further impetus due to the availability of more UN, US and United Kingdom cargo helicopters; NATO also committed 1,000 military engineers.

The real task ahead pertained to reconstruction and rehabilitation, for which some $3.9 billion was required. According to an Earthquake Damage Assessment Report, about 400,000 houses, 3,837 kilometers of roads and 7,197 schools needed to be rebuilt. Fortunately, at the November 19 UN International Donors Conference on earthquake in Islamabad, international financial institutions and donor nations pledged to give Pakistan $5.8 billion.

In order to handle the post-relief disaster management task, which may take years to reconstruct the devastated region and rehabilitate its traumatic population, the government established an Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA). However, Pakistan's ability to handle this gigantic task even with unexpected financial commitments at the Islamabad conference will be limited by the fact that out of $5.8 billion pledges, only $ 1.9 billion is in the form of grants in cash or kind. $3.9 billion worth of soft loans will only add to the country's existing debt of $36.7 billion.

Far more important than the availability of funds is whether they are spent transparently and effectively. The military-dominated government of Pakistan has repeatedly assured transparency, even offering international sponsorship and auditing of reconstruction and rehabilitation projects. However, such assurance and offers will appear less credible as long as Pakistan's own relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation institutions; namely, FRC and ERRA, remain without any parliamentary oversight.

Given the lack of democratic governance in Pakistan and the rampant corruption in its state and civil society institutions, it will, thus, be upon donor institutions and nations to devise such mechanisms under UN supervision as can ensure that international donations for the relief and rehabilitation of earthquake victims and reconstruction of their homes, schools and public infrastructure are well utilized.

Combating Extremism

The unrepresentative character of the government and the measures it has adopted to deny political space to mainstream parties have often proved to be counter-productive to Pakistani leadership’s commitment to tackle religious extremism at home and its militant ramifications abroad.

Thus, while the leaders and activists of religious extremist outfits may dislike President Musharraf for supporting the American leadership in its ‘war on terrorism,’ the liberal elements tend to criticize him for not doing enough to curb religious extremism in the country. However, the fact remains, that, like the previous years, the Pakistani strongman does not appear to show any strength vis-à-vis religious extremist circles.

Instead of tackling the madrassa malaise through legal and institutional reforms, the preference is to make grand compromises. In this context, the biggest compromise during the year was when the government decided not to question the source of funding of madaris. However, it is widely believed that the funding received by madaris helps them recruit the so-called jihadis for militant operations. It is also believed that militancy in the name of religion, or religious terrorism, cannot be stopped until and unless credible measures are adopted to stop terrorist financing.

Even on the issue of madrassa curriculum reforms, 2005 could not be termed as more successful than preceding years. Like before, a lot was said or promised, but little changed on the ground. Mullahs in the mosque may not be making political speeches on loudspeakers, but their mode of imparting regressive knowledge in the halls of madaris has undergone little transformation.

To be sure, whether it is the revival of democracy or the question of fighting extremism, the track-record of the Musharraf-led regime during 2005 was dismal. On the contrary, Pakistan did score important victories in its external relations. It is this dichotomy between the country’s pathetic internal political reality and its marvelous external diplomatic performance in the past year that shows little sign of changing during 2006.

Peace in Afghanistan

The government’s fight against religious extremism at home is linked essentially to its two foreign policy objectives of stabilizing Afghanistan and securing Kashmiri settlement. Officially, Pakistan remains committed to brining peace in South and South-West Asia. It was with this objective that the government had launched a military operation in South Waziristan, which continued during 2005 as well. Afghan authorities, meanwhile, continued to express concerns that insurgency by the remnants of the Taliban and the militant allies was being fuelled by their hideouts or sanctuaries in Pakistan’s tribal Pashtun belt bordering Afghanistan.

Each time such concerns were expressed by the Afghan authorities, Pakistan responded by expediting military effort in South Waziristan. In September 2005, President Musharraf also proposed to fence sections of the Durand Line in a meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in New York. The proposal has not seen any follow up yet, while Afghan insurgency continues to grow. A stable Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s interest. The Establishment in Islamabad hopes to reap long-term rewards from Central Asian natural gas and oil pipelines flowing across the Afghan terrain and ending in Pakistani landmass or seaport for onward supply to South Asia, East Asia and the Pacific countries.

Settling Kashmir

Like 2004, the process to resolve Kashmir and other unresolved issues between India and Pakistan experienced some progress within the framework of the Composite Dialogue. The Bus Diplomacy brought hundreds of more Kashmiri people from both sides of the Line of Control in contact with each other. Cultural level linkages between the people of Pakistan and India during the year also gained momentum. President Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seemed to show similar personal rapport that had brought the Pakistani leader closer to India’s former premier Atal Behari Vajpayee.

As for the Kashmir dispute, Pakistan did try to use the October earthquake as an opportunity to settle it. India did reluctantly agree to open five points on the Line of Control to facilitate the earthquake relief effort, but it did not respond to Pakistan’s proposals of “demilitarization” and “self-governance.” It was probably on Pakistan’s asking that Mir Waiz Umar Farooq, the head of All-Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), floated the idea of the ‘United States of Kashmir.’

However, again, New Delhi did not bother to respond, while the Pakistan government and pro-independence Kashmiri organizations such as JKLF looked at the proposal in positive light. What was significant about the ‘United States of Kashmir’ proposal was the fact that it was made at a time when a top US Congressional delegation was on a visit to India and Pakistan. It was also a fact that the proposed idea somehow synchronized with a 1997 detailed report on the dispute by the US-based Kashmir Study Group, whose members also visited the region in December 2005.

Muslim World Reforms

Perhaps the foremost foreign policy move of 2005 by Pakistan was Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri’s meeting with his Israeli counterpart in Istanbul on September 1. Then, the same month, at the 60th anniversary session of the UN General Assembly in September, President Musharraf shook the hand of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Non-recognition of the Jewish entity has been one of Pakistan’s principal foreign policy stands ever since independence. Pakistan’s diplomatic overture to Israel had taken place in the backdrop of two developments. First, since 2003, President Musharraf had begun an effort to build national consensus on the matter. Second, in June, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, while visiting Islamabad, had asked the Pakistani leader to send a high-level Pakistani delegation to Palestine. Islamabad had to seek Israeli permission to realize this visit.

There could be one more reason: for the last couple of years, Pakistan had been leading the effort to reform the Muslim world, especially in the context of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). It was on the insistence of President Musharraf that the OIC, at its 2003 Malaysia summit, established a Commission of Eminent Persons tasked to suggest reforms for restructuring the Muslim world’s largest body. At the same time, President Musharraf also announced his twin-pronged strategy of “Enlightened Moderation” to become a basis for Muslim world’s reformation and renaissance.

In June 2005, the OIC Foreign Ministers in a sheer display of unity resolved to oppose expansion of the veto powers of the UN Security Council, a Pakistan-sponsored move that really hurt India’s global ambitions. The Mecca Summit in December proved to be another major success from Pakistan’s point of view, as it approved a ten-year plan of action to meet challenges of the 21st century on a pattern proposed essentially by Pakistani leadership under the ‘Enlightened Moderation’ strategy.