A dear assumption has been shot down

March 12, 2008 at 6:31 pm (Pakistan, Uncategorized)

I recognize when I have been wrong, and I now know with regard to one issue I was wrong.

My mother and I share a similar attitude when it comes to activities that seek to expose the corruption of Pakistani politics. We believe that these are futile and in vain. Whereas exposes may be made, they will change nothing. Indeed, the usual flurry of disavowals and promises occur but nothing real happens. The people in question simply seek to hide things better.

Before these last elections, there were a number of significant hard-hitting exposes of planned corruption and manipulation of the elections. It was shown that even someone like the Attorney General of Pakistan not only was going along with the expected manipulation but also would do nothing to hinder or challenge this manipulation.

But two events, both involving General Kayani, changed my mind.

First, it is important to understand one aspect of Pakistani politics. Since the army’s rule of Pakistan beginning with Musharraf’s coup against Nawaz Sharif, the army has insinuated itself into all levels of activity in Pakistan. Corporations, political board, ministries – everything had the involvement of generals. And it was well known that these generals must be obeyed or else the entity will suddenly find itself facing significant hindrances.

But Kayani began to take on this problem. He recalled a number of general in the private sector and told them they must return to full activity in the military, leaving these private endeavors. He wanted to diminish if not end the military’s involvement in areas having nothing to do with the military.

Many people were hopeful when Musharraf overthrew Nawaz Sharif because they assumed that the military would rule the country and let the people run their businesses and seek their aspirations. But then the military began to be as corrupt, involved, and ubiquitous as regular politicians. When this began to happen, people lost their trust, faith, and hope in the military. What use it there in a military regime overthrowing a corrupt political regime if the military regime turns into a corrupt political regime? It becomes the same thing, except the new puppetmasters wear uniforms and like shiny things that go bang.

If Kayani’s efforts bear fruit and the private sector truly remains independent of the two meddlesome Pakistani authorities–politicians and the miliatry–then there will be great prospects for Pakistan. Or, at least, public confidence will rise.

The second event has to do with the elections. Just before the elections, there were a number of exposes of proposed manipulation in the elections. Significantly, the Attorney General was exposed as a regime hack.

Now this became important; indeed, it became a vital, crucial issue. The entire reason elections were being held was to add legitimacy and authority to the government of Pakistan (whatever it may be). The military needed this to happen so that the approval of the civilian government of the military and its operations would allow the military to be effective, to boost military morale, and to secure the military’s interests (rather than having civilians slowly pare down the military’s areas of influence and ability to freely operate). A popularly-elected civilian government’s approval of the military could add a major (and much-needed) boost in the military’s standing among the public. Without this approbation by the people, the military would continue to be strongly threatened by the people’s (and subsequently, the government’s) anti-military policies. Then the military will not have to fear doing something and then being punished by the people (or by the government).

Kayani issued an order: there is to be no manipulation of elections. Any disobedience would be dealt with by him. This, obviously, frightened many people and these elections experienced much, much less manipulation than would have otherwise been the case had Kayani not issued his threat.

So, obviously, such acts could (and did) move the movers and shakers to ensure that the elections would be more free and fair than initially planned. This is a good sign. This means that if we just do what we are doing, entrapping inept Pakistani policitians and officials into exposing the Pakistani government’s corruption, the authorities will begin to take serious action in cutting down the corruption rampant in Pakistan.

And we foreigners have to do it. The Pakistani government doesn’t care what Pakistanis say or think. If they get out of hand, they can be silenced, dismissed, or imprisoned. But foreigners cannot be so threatened. And, unlike usually servile Pakistanis, foreigners do not take kindly to being threatened or pressured. Foreigners (especially Americans) simply won’t shut up. It’s always “corruption in Pakistan” this and “oppression in Tibet” that. Yes, it gets us into trouble, but it keeps tyrants and dictators on their toes.

And, importantly, what foreigners think and say matters for Pakistan, and so the Pakistani government pays attention. Because what foreigners think and say will indicate how much confidence they will put in Pakistan and its authorities, which in turn will determine how much they will deal with Pakistan. Less international confidence in Pakistan means less commercial activity with Pakistan, which hurts Pakistan. In addition, what we say and think influences others. Others listen to us and adopt our thinking and speech, which increases or decreases Pakistan’s prospect for prosperity as the case may be.

Now, I used to believe that such efforts were useless. While they may expose corruption, they do nothing to change it. People will simply learn to hide it better. But I have seen some actual progress. Even if it is inspired by fear, progress is taking place.

So, carry on!

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