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'Pak democracy means Afghan peace'
May 10, 2006 17:00 IST
'Truth is, Afghanistan will never be stable unless Pakistan's military government is replaced with a democracy.'
So says former EU commissioner for external relations Chris Patten in a recent column in the The Wall Street Journal.
Noting the rising spate of deadly attacks 'on school children, aid workers, or local or international security forces' by the Taliban, Lord Patten, chancellor of Oxford University, says that this 'is a grim return on the outside world's huge investment in Afghanistan.
'Yet while the international community has done an enormous amount to help the country recover from its failed-state condition, it has resisted tackling the problem at its very root -- Islamabad.'
Most of the attacks, including suicide bombings, in Afghanistan 'are planned and prepared at Taliban training camps across the border. Islamabad claims to be doing all it can to stop this infiltration. But President Pervez Musharraf's protests ring hollow when he has done so little to address the concerns raised by his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai, that Taliban leaders are operating out of sanctuaries in Pakistan,' writes Patten, who is chairman of the International Crisis Group and the last British Governor of Hong Kong.
Pointing to the Pakistan military's close relations with religious radicals, he says: 'Militant Islamist groups that Mr Musharraf banned under the international spotlight following 9/11 and the 7/7 London bombings still operate freely. Jihadi organizations have been allowed to dominate relief efforts in the aftermath of the October 2005 earthquake. The military has repeatedly rigged elections, including the 2002 polls, to benefit the religious parties over their moderate, democratic alternatives. In short, Pakistan is ruled by a military dictatorship in cahoots with violent Islamist extremists.'
'The military has no interest in democracy at home, so why does the outside world expect it to help build democracy next door?' he asks. 'If we are really going to get to the core of Afghanistan's instability, therefore, we must tackle Pakistan. Above all, this means returning the country to democratic rule.'
While admitting that this 'is not an easy task,' he notes that some institutions, like the judiciary, 'are still surviving -- just. The judiciary, for example, has been badly degraded under Mr Musharraf and his army colleagues; but there is enough left to give hope for some kind of gradual resuscitation.'
Moderate political parties in Pakistan too are 'down but not yet out,' he believes. Those who justify Musharraf's 1999 coup by pointing to large-scale corruption among the political parties refuse 'to condemn or even acknowledge the military's large-scale, institutionalized corruption.'
'So much has been grabbed by the military that it will take years just to catalog it,' he says, noting that apart from acquiring 'vast tracts of state-owned land at nominal rates; its leaders dominate businesses and industries, ranging from banking to cereal factories. Their control of the economy has grown so great it will present an enormous challenge to any future democratically elected government.'
But he is hopeful that a civilian government, 'when it comes' ,will be a moderate one, one that is far more inclined and eager to tackle 'the scourge of Islamic radicalism.'
A totally transparent, fair and free election in Pakistan would 'squeeze out radical forces that have thrived under military rule and which play havoc with Pakistan's weak neighbor to the northwest. In addition, unlike the military, which always thrives in a hostile environment, a civilian government will have a stronger interest in peace with India. And who wouldn't sleep safer knowing that Pakistan's nuclear bomb was in democratic hands?' he asks.
Democracy would also bring an opportunity to revamp the country's education system, which has 'consistently failed young people for decades.'
This, writes Patten in his Wall Street Journal column, 'gave the madrassas the chance to 'take up the slack, with the most extreme religious schools helping to radicalize tens of thousands of Pakistanis -- and Afghans -- filling heads with intolerant visions of Islam, far from the mainstream of South Asian Muslim society. The country needs a properly funded, state-run, secular education system.'
While it was an 'enormous task, but demilitarizing and deradicalizing Pakistan is truly the key to bringing about stability in Afghanistan and the wider region. Governments now working so hard to support Afghanistan will only be spinning their wheels until they make Pakistan a top priority and apply maximum pressure on Islamabad to ensure the 2007 elections are actually free and fair, by applying clearly defined benchmarks and insisting on competent international observers.'
'As long as the military and the madrassas rule just across the border, Afghanistan will never find peace,' Patten concludes.