Pakistan – a banana republic?

February 19, 2008 at 12:30 am (Culture, Pakistan)

Someone I am very close to was telling me of a conversation he recently had with a senior advisor to the Pakistani government (part of a group of people who directly advise the prime minister and president). He was lamenting what America was saying about Pakistan, and he made a remark along the lines how stupid the Americans are: they’re calling Pakistan a banana republic. Which is stupid and shows they know nothing about Pakistan, because Pakistan in fact has to import bananas. How could it be a banana republic?

PJ O’Rourke made an amusing comment somewhere that Pakistani president Musharraf insisted Pakistan was not a banana republic. Whereupon he put on his uniform, declared martial law, and suspended elections.

And then the news breaks that Human Rights Watch has on record that the Pakistani attorney general admits the elections will be massively rigged. Let us not forget the many killings and attacks over the past few weeks.

When people go off on this, I have only one reaction: Meh.

See, Pakistan has always been a corrupt banana republic. The past few prime ministers were puppets. The new prime minister will also be a puppet, controlled by the true wielders of power and influence, be it Nawaz Sharif or PPP’s senior leadership or the military or whatever. Anyone who expected anything different is blind, deaf, and dumb.

And, yes, Benazir’s government would also have been corrupt, except this corruption would have benefitted us and Musharraf and other entrenched authorities.

The elections will be rigged. They always have been. So, deal.

So why the insistence of being democratic when they’re not? They are for internal and external purposes.

The restless masses want to believe they have a say; they want lip service paid to democracy. And at the same time they demand, perhaps more than their desires for democracy, the perpetuation of the corrupt nepotistic system they are used to. Because with full and actual democracy, the patronage system will disappear and, Heaven forbid!, they would have to actually work and prove their worth.

Other states tailor their policies based on how democratic they view Pakistan. Pakistan’s lip service to democracy is not only a matter of prestige in the international state system (“prestige” in the sense used in international relations) but also of furthering Pakistan’s economic interests. The legitimacy it derives from appearing democratic helps it to remain in power as people then believe that ousting them would unravel the goodwill accumulated by the regime.

But the truth is there for anyone to see. The issue is not elections or parties or the fact Pakistan has no primaries or College of Electors.

Here’s a symptom of the problem: how does Pakistan treat the constitution? To Pakistan, it’s a plaything. It is amended to support certain agendas and deprive support for others. It is even completely disregarded when convenient. Benazir was barred from running again but that did not stop her nor did it stop Pakistani authorities from granting an exception in her case. Nawaz was similarly disqualified and he got no dispensation from the rules.

No, Pakistan’s problems are deeper and worse than free and fair elections. And no elections will be free or fair until the underlying disease is rooted out.

That disease is corruption. So be smart and expect less from Pakistan because Pakistan can’t help it. It doesn’t want to get rid of corruption and never will do so.

We can bomb Pakistan to the stone age, and the surviving tribal chief, Ug, will stand, hold a baton, and declare that elections will be delayed three months and the newsrock scribblers are going to the cave with iron bars and shackles.


1 Comment

  1. nicedeb said,

    Can we depend on the new government to fight terrorism?

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