Archive for the ‘military government’ Category

Two Paths In Pakistan: Security and Democracy

March 10, 2008

By Henry A. Kissinger
The Washington Post and
Tribune Media Services
March 10, 2008

The elections in Pakistan, far from calming the political crisis, have opened a new phase of it, and the world has a huge stake in the outcome. Pakistan is at the front line of the assault by Islamist radicalism on moderate elements within the Muslim world and on the institutions of the West. But it is far from clear how firm that front is and, indeed, in which direction it will ultimately face. Pakistan is America’s ally in the war on terror, yet a significant part of its people are opposed to that war; Pakistan helped fight al-Qaida in Afghanistan, yet part of its western frontier is occupied by al-Qaida and the Taliban.

Pakistan’s choices will have a significant impact on the 160 million Muslims living in India, as well as on the prospects of peace on the subcontinent, which has already erupted into full-scale war on three occasions.

Most critically, Pakistan is a nuclear power. Athwart strategic crossroads and possessing strategic weapons, Pakistan might lose control of both if its institutions are radicalized or deadlocked as a result of internal conflict. A state occupying strategic terrain but incapable of maintaining control over it could turn into the wildcard of international diplomacy.

The stakes are generally recognized. The remedy has proved elusive. U.S. policy has been to urge President Pervez Musharraf into forming a coalition government with one or more civilian parties, which would then pursue the anti-fundamentalist war in a more coherent and determined manner. That outcome was what the election was supposed to produce.

The goal was laudable. But the results of the election — as in Gaza — show that theoretical preconceptions do not necessarily provide practical remedies, especially in the short run. The challenge for policymakers arises when vital national security objectives are threatened and no viable democratic framework exists. The choice America faced in Pakistan in the aftermath of 9/11 was that Musharraf had taken over less than two years earlier and that the two main political leaders, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, both deposed prime ministers, were in exile. In an ideal world, political and security goals would move on parallel tracks.  In many actual cases, the tracks, even if parallel, may operate by different time scales.

In Europe, the nation and a functioning civil society preceded the formation of democratic institutions. In almost every successful democracy, the constitutional framework is treated as more important than any conflicts within it and guides the process of settling disputes. The opposite is the case in the crescent from the border of India to the shores of Africa. In the absence of a civil society, the losers in a political contest have few motives to subordinate their convictions to the general good, since the definition of the “general good” is precisely what is at issue. In such circumstances, democratic pluralism lacks a social basis — especially in states proclaiming the identity of church and state in the name of a universal religion. Crises are more often sharpened than solved by elections. Political cohesion being forever precarious, coalitions are fragile and authority oscillates between being tenuous or all-pervasive — even in Europe, as in ethnically divided parts like Yugoslavia or Belgium, if the latter in attenuated form.

It surely has been the case in Pakistan. Formed in the partition of British India in 1947 because the Muslim minority rejected rule by the majority Hindu population, its eastern borders the dividing line between the Hindu and Moslem religion, its western borders those of the British raj, Pakistan reflected not a common history so much as a common fear. Until 1971, an East Pakistan region existed — also defined by its Muslim religion — but separated by 2,000 miles of Indian territory from West Pakistan.

Even after East Pakistan seceded to form the new state of Bangladesh, Pakistan was beset by regional conflicts. Punjab’s predominance was resisted in the Sindh region and Baluchistan. The northwest frontier territories remained, as they had under British rule, autonomous; no government, civilian or military, has ever succeeded — or even seriously attempted — to establish its own direct control there.

These circumstances produced the special character of Pakistani foreign and domestic policy. In international affairs, Pakistan allied itself with the United States during the Cold War, if with a special perspective. It received American arms as part of the geopolitical conflict with the Soviet Union, even while it perceived India as its principal security concern. Pakistan proved enormously helpful in facilitating the opening of American relations with China but more for the purpose of creating an additional obligation than devising a common global strategy.

Though elections were held periodically, they usually reflected regional populist loyalties. Governed by feudal principles, the parties were organized for no-holds-barred political contests not mitigated by the restraint imposed by a sense of community. Civilian and military government alternated with each other. No elected government has ever served out its term.

Of the major groupings, Bhutto’s party represented the large landholders of the Sindh province around Karachi; Sharif’s party the commercial classes of the Punjab. Both parties practiced a rampant populism, with Bhutto leaning to left-wing secularism; Sharif relying more on an appeal to Muslim fundamentalists. The feudal organization of the parties is demonstrated by the fact that, within 48 hours of Bhutto’s assassination, her husband, in exile in Dubai after eight years in prison, was appointed de facto head of her party. Sharif, who recently returned from exile, had been overthrown after what Musharraf, then commander of Pakistan’s armed forces, alleged was an assassination plot against him in which he claimed Sharif was implicated.

With populism as the dominant method — if required, tinged with anti-Americanism — the temptation to use radical Islamist movements was ever present. In the 1990s, the Bhutto and Sharif governments cooperated with the fundamentalist Taliban in Afghanistan and jihadist groups in Kashmir. The military intelligence service used similar methods when the military controlled the government. A government-tolerated “private” network facilitated nuclear proliferation to a number of rogue states.

In such an environment, the relation between Pakistan’s three feudal-type organizations, the military and the major political parties, has more of the character of those among Italian city states during the Renaissance described by Machiavelli than of the party politics of traditional democracies. They have occasionally made temporary alliances — as they appear to be doing now — for tactical purposes, but these have always proved preludes to new confrontations with the military appearing as arbiters in the end. The difference between feudal leaders who wear uniforms and those in civilian clothes is in their constituencies, not in their commitment to a pluralistic process as we understand it.

An alliance between Bhutto, whose father was executed by the military, and Musharraf, who hated the Bhutto family, was destined to be precarious. It was doomed by the impatience with which it was pursued. The unforgivable atrocity of the Bhutto assassination ended the original design.

At this point, any attempt to manipulate the political process that we have urged is likely to backfire. A wise policy must recognize that the internal structure of Pakistani politics is essentially out of the control of American political decision-making. Construction of a centrist coalition is a commendable goal, but the conditions for it can only be nurtured by Pakistani political forces and, in the absence of a center, require patience over a period of time.

The future of President Musharraf will undoubtedly become a major issue as the potential coalition partners seek his removal. It is his task as president — not ours — to manage the consequences of the election. At the same time, it behooves us to remember the valiant support Musharraf gave the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan after 9/11 and his confrontation with jihadist fundamentalism at home. Conspicuous American dissociation would only compound our risks in Pakistan — not to mention the message it would send to other leaders in the region allied to America.

In dealing with the emerging Pakistani leadership, American policy should focus on national security objectives (control of nuclear weapons, counterterrorism cooperation and resistance to Islamist radicalism). Our democratic principles should be clearly conveyed, but we should have learned by now that the evolution of the immediate political process is beyond our reach. Common approaches on the security issues are necessary, including an end of ambiguity toward terrorist enclaves. For most of its history, Pakistani leaders, whether civilian or military, have acted on the principle that good relations with America were in Pakistan’s national interest. A strategic consensus remains imperative. If that effort fails, many countries will be affected and, perhaps more immediately, Pakistan’s stability should not be viewed as an exclusively American challenge.

A starting point is to reconcile ambivalent American attitudes at home, difficult as it may be during an election campaign. We do not have the choice between national security and democratic evolution. Both are important objectives but may be achievable only on different time scales. The next president will have to face this reality in many places, and we can do him or her a favor by conducting our national debate from that perspective.

Thailand – A Year After The Coup

September 19, 2007

By D. Arul Rajoo

BANGKOK, Sept 19 (Bernama) — A year after the country’s 17th coup that toppled prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand is slowly moving towards restoring democracy amid growing military influence and a slumping economy.

The coup’s anniversary was almost overshadowed by Sunday’s plane crash in Phuket involving budget carrier One-Two-Go Airlines which killed 89 people and injured 41 others, mostly foreign tourists who form the backbone of the country’s economy.

A small-scale gathering organised by the National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship was held in the capital today to mark the first anniversary of the coup.

On Sept 19 last year, Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the country’s first Muslim army chief, led the bloodless coup when Thaksin was in New York attending the United Nations General Assembly.

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Referendum leaves Thailand deeply divided

August 20, 2007

Bangkok – Thailand’s first-ever referendum has endorsed a new military-backed constitution for the kingdom but it was no landslide victory.

According to a final count of ballots cast, only 57 per cent of the people who bothered to vote Sunday supported the new charter, with 42 per cent rejecting it. And despite being the country’s “first-ever” referendum, the novelty value was insufficient to draw the masses to the polling stations.

Only 57.6 per cent of the eligible voters voted, far below the usual turnout at general elections. More worrisome for Thailand’s current leadership, some 62 per cent of the population in the north-east region rejected the charter.

The north-east, the most populous and most impoverished of Thailand’s regions, is also the political heartland of former populist prime minister Thaksin Shinwatara who was deposed by a military coup on September 19, 2006.

Bangkok, the central plains and the southern provinces, where the anti-Thaksin movement was strongest, approved the constitution while the north was nearly 50/50. Army commander-in-chief General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, head of the junta that ousted Thaksin, conceded that the referendum outcome in the north-east was “a lesson for the government to study.”

Political observes say the message is pretty clear.

“The problem is that after this result they (the military) are going to be very worried about the general election,” said Chris Baker, a political analyst and co-author of Thaksin The Business of Politics in Thailand. “If those who voted against the constitution were sending a protest against the junta and saying that they are going to vote for pro-Thaksin parties, then that is about 40 per cent of the constituency,” noted Baker.

Thailand is expected to hold a general election on December 16, this year, in keeping with the post-coup timetable set by the junta. Since the coup, the Council of National Security – as the junta styles itself – and its appointed “interim” cabinet have done their best to remove Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai Party from Thailand’s political equation. The military overthrew Thaksin on charges of mass corruption, undermining democratic institutions and dividing the nation.

Thaksin has been living in self-exile in London for the last year where he has kept himself busy, and in the news, by buying the Manchester City football club, which just happened to win its first game against Manchester United on Sunday – referendum day. In Thailand, Thaksin faces an arrest warrant for failing to testify in an abuse-of-power case against him and his wife Potjaman. Other corruption charges are pending.

Thailand’s Constitution Court on May 30 disbanded the Thai Rak Thai Party and banned its 111 executives, including Thaksin, from politics for the next five years. The old  TRT clique, however, includes another 200 formerly elected members of parliament, who are now gearing up to contest the December polls under new non-Thaksin banners. But the junta has already done its best to make sure that neither Thaksin nor some Thaksin-like politician will ever be able to rise to such a pinnacle of elected power again.

The referendum-endorsed 2007 charter, drafted by a military-appointed committee, has essentially weakened Thailand’s elected politicians and strengthened the hand of the bureaucracy and the military.

For instance, the 2007 charter mandates that nearly half of the Senate body will be appointed by a seven-person committee selected from Thailand’s judiciary. Besides dragging the judiciary into Thai politics, this will also give the Senate tremendous clout over the elected Lower House, including the right to launch impeachment motions.

“This will be a way of bring the elite into control,” said Jon Ungprakorn, a former senator under the elected system.

“The senate will become a place for retired civil servants,” he predicted.

Even more worrisome than the 2007 constitution is the pending National Security Act, also being pushed by the military, which promises to give the army commander in chief martial law powers above and beyond the prime minister.

“This act will allow the military to institutionalize themselves,” warned Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of Chulalongkorn University’s Thailand’s Institute of Security and International Studies.

One good outcome from the referendum’s lukewarm mandate for the charter, is that the military may now think twice about pushing through its frightening national security act. “I think they will be careful not to do something now that is going to stir people up, because now the country is totally divided, much more so than it was before the referendum,” said Baker.

Violent anti-coup protest hits Thailand

July 23, 2007

By SUTIN WANNABOVORN, Associated Press Writer

BANGKOK, Thailand – The most violent anti-coup protests to hit Thailand since last year’s military takeover sparked charges Monday against an alleged ringleader and five others, hours after 270 were injured in the three-hour melee.

Thousands of protesters and police squared off Sunday in the Thai capital, leaving about 200 officers and 70 demonstrators injured.

The protest against Thailand’s military-installed government….

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