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Home > India > News > Interview

The Rediff Interview/Pakistan expert Daniel Markey

'Elections in Pak quite flawed'

February 18, 2008

Daniel Markey
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Daniel Markey, a senior fellow at the Council for Relations, is a long-standing expert on India, Pakistan, and South Asia, specialising in security and governance, international conflict, theories of international relations, and the US foreign policy in the region.


From 2003 to 2007, he held the South Asia portfolio on the Policy Planning Staff at the US Department of State, where his responsibilities included analysis and planning for the Secretary of State on regional and global policy issues, participation in departmental and interagency South Asia policy formulation, articulation of regional policy for senior-level speeches and print media, and acting as a liaison with academic, think tank, and diplomatic communities.


Prior to government service, Markey taught courses on US foreign policy and theories of international relations in the politics department at Princeton University, and served as executive director of Princeton's Research Program in International Security. In 2000 and 2001, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University's Olin Institute for Strategic Studies. Following the December 27, 2007 assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto [Images] in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Markey has been much in demand by think tanks and the media, who have sought his insight into the aftermath. An interview with Markey:  


How do you read the situation now in Pakistan in the aftermath of the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto?

I think it has not been as bad as it could have been. There was a lot of doom and gloom after her killing, related to the possibility that the assassination would spark a level of violence in the country and in fact, we saw a few days of that. Obviously, it was the venting of anguish from her party, and an anti-government backlash. But because the leadership of her party came together, and her husband in particular spoke out against that violence, and tried to bring party activists back to the election process, the situation did not unravel in the way that people were most concerned that it might. Now, we are in a situation where everyone is focused again on the elections, and obviously there is this potential that these elections could be very flawed, but if the elections are minimally acceptable to her party, then many in Pakistan would have dodged the bullet so the speak, and come back to more normal kind of politics that we have not seen for quite some time.


I note what you said about the possibly flawed elections.  Imran Khan [Images], the Pakistani  cricketer-turned politician who was in the US  last week,  said when you do not have an independent judiciary to monitor the election, democracy does not make sense. Comment?


Let me make sure that I understand your question. You are saying that Khan was raising some deeper questions about the elections being free and fair and being representative, right?




I would say that at one level he [Khan]  makes a valid point, which is that elections in Pakistan until now have been, as history shows, typically quite flawed. And these elections have already been in some ways, a managed one because of the limits or controls that have been placed on the judiciary or the media or the campaigns as you mentioned, and because of the security circumstances. So it is very right to be very skeptical about the nature of the Pakistani political process. But I think realistically, Khan is able to speak in these terms and so to speak take a more principled position in terms of his rhetoric, in part because he is a very small force politically, and he does not need to make a decision whether a flawed election is better than a non-election. And in that respect he is different from the PPP [Pakistan People's Party], which has to think about making those kinds of compromises, and has recognized at least under Bhutto that participating even in a flawed election is better than sitting outside, because sitting it out is not going to bring a more democratic process, but [help] others to court a more destabilized country or to see the army assert itself once again. When you recognise that those are the relevant alternatives, then the elections process starts to look more appealing. So there is no ideal situation but relatively unpalatable alternatives.


As a long-time Pakistan-watcher and an analyst, what are in your view the most important issues to come up in this election?


I think it is important to recognise that the most of Pakistani politics, unlike say the politics of western European countries or the United States, tend to be less an ideological affair and more of a party identification, of regional and ethnic division. So we should be aware of it. That determines someone's vote far more. But I think many Pakistanis, if you look at the level of concern or the negative feeling about the ruling party and [President Pervez] Musharraf, has to do with economic conditions These are the things where you essentially go and vote against the incumbent party because you feel you are not doing as well economically as you should. Pakistan has actually done pretty well at the macro-economic level during Musharraf, significantly better than when he took charge. But for the average men and women, especially at the lower levels of the economy, their increase in wages or income has been outstripped by inflation. So they are not seeing an increase in their living standards. That leads people to be unhappy with everybody in office and so anti-incumbency factor is very important.


Any other issues?


I think the other issues would be that in many parts of the country, the government's association with the United States directly or indirectly is a liability and politically, at least on a rhetorical level, it is much more popular to be anti-American or at least staunchly nationalist. That is also an area where the PML-Q [the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League-Q] is hurt, and other parties may be better off. .


Talking about the anti-US perception in Pakistan, what is your take on President Bush's reference to Pakistan in his latest State of the Union address? What is it that the US should do, from your perspective, to dispel that perception in Pakistan?


First of all, in terms of the President's speech, he only very briefly touched upon Pakistan. He did not even mention the name of Bhutto, when saying that Pakistanis are in a state of mourning because of the killing. I do not think that message would even permeate into the Pakistani political context. I do not think that Pakistanis are predisposed to taking much notice of what President Bush said; I do not think that is going to matter much. I think the broader question is how Pakistanis understand the broader relationship with the United States, an area where Pakistan's leaders -- it is hard for the US to do much to change that � will hopefully come around to recognizing not just the US as a friend, but more importantly that the threat of militancy, terrorism, extremism within Pakistan has nothing to do with US or is far less a product of the US than they currently believe. It is a real threat and it will be there, whether or not the US is there, and it threatens the existence and foundation of the state and institutions. Once they turn to the understanding of the problem, then at least they would be inclined to see the United States as a country that can provide them resources and help them.

That understanding could clear away some of the problems that they see now � of not wanting to work with the US. First of all, it is the recognition of the threat that they face. And then alternately coming around to recognize what the US can bring to the table. But the problem is that the US has been more eager to help than the Pakistanis have wanted.


A lot of people within Pakistan are believed to feel that the way the war against terrorists has been fought within Pakistan and also in Afghanistan, as Dr Abdullah Abdullah, former foreign minister of Afghanistan, indicated here last week during a speech at the Asia Society, has a lot to do with the proliferation of terrorist activities. Do you see any validity in this line of thinking?


[You are talking about] the idea that essentially the way insurgency has been attacked in Afghanistan and also in Pakistan is making more enemies than friends, and that Musharraf is not well suited to fighting this, right?


If that was what they were saying, there is certainly a certain amount of truth to it. On the Pakistan side, the army is not traditionally trained or equipped, or has developed expertise to fight insurgencies that they face now. They have been trained and equipped to fight India. So, whether or not President Musharraf understands the nature of the battle, he is not well-equipped to deal with it. On the Afghan side of the border, the state of Afghanistan is small and weak and it is only now that the Afghan National Army is being turned into a force that is actually capable of giving security. So, first of all there is a capability gap that has made these countries far less able to fight militancy than they would ideally.


Is that assessment equally true of Pakistan?

On the Pakistani side, there has also been a gap in terms of the civilian governance side of things. Had the State of Pakistan been more capable in terms of civilian governance in places like Swat, there would be far fewer people who would want to rise against the state. So it is a long term problem of lack of investment and lack of skilled and capable leadership on the civilian side. So when you combine these things � that the tools on the military side and the civilian sides are not as strong �these are precisely the things that you need to effectively counter an insurgency. So at some level, it is partially the fault of Pakistan's leadership in the person of Musharraf, but at the same time it is a matter of fact that they simply do not have what it takes to be effective. Even if they are moving to develop those capabilities, they are not moving fast enough and that is the problem.


To move away from Pakistan for my last question, it appears as though the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal is not likely to materialize. What do you think is going to be the long-term impact of this in terms of the US-India relationship if it does not ultimately come through?


I think there is still a chance that we could see the passage of this deal. I am still not willing to give up on that. Hopefully, the ruling Congress party (in India) would pull it out at the last moment. If as you suggest the deal does not come through, I think it would not be debilitating on the Indo-US relationship, but it would put a damper on the ties.

The whole idea of the deal was to take the issue of the bilateral agenda and to make that less of a sticking point in the relations. There are also some other benefits in terms of energy etc., but the real issue was the political one. The problem is I think on the American side there would be a loss of interest in investing in terms of political capital in the Indo-US relationship, if it is seen that the American payoff did not politically match up.


I think a message will be sent or a lesson will be learnt for the next administration. Although it is hard to predict what the next administration would do    you do not who that would be � there are good reasons to think that the next administration would not like to invest as much energy � the energy put in by the Bush administration was massive � and almost any plausible candidate, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John McCain or anybody else, will all think very highly of India but after watching this process play out, they may also be less inclined to take an enormous amount of their time and their senior officials to do it. That will be a real loss. India will become one of many states, rather than one that deserves special attention. I do not think we are going to fall apart in terms of our relationship. I think it would flow, but this is going to be a missed opportunity.

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