- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

There is no question that Pakistan has suffered through a long period of economic mismanagement and social neglect. The new government has inherited an almost untenable crisis in the food and energy sectors. Public education is in a state of disarray that allows political madrassas [religious schools] to fill the vacuum, and, in turn, produce a successor generation of extremists. Literacy has decreased, and the rate of female illiteracy is particularly appalling. This contrasts with the state of the nation when the last PPP government was in power. The economy was booming and the World Bank listed Pakistan as one of the 10 great emerging markets in the world. International investment in Pakistan quadrupled. The health plans of the government were so innovative that the World Health Organization gave its coveted Gold Medal to my wife Benazir Bhutto’sgovernment. We had built 46,000 primary and secondary schools and we were dramatically slashing illiteracy in our country. Special programs were targeted to empowering women economically and protecting them from violence. Pakistan was on the move. But after almost a generation of political dictatorship, much of what we have accomplished has not only been frozen, but often has been reversed. The task ahead is formidable. But unlike a dictatorship, the newly elected democratic government has a mandate from the people, the support of the people. Everything will not change overnight, but we are taking remedial short-term steps to deal with the electricity and food crisis, as well as longer-term planning to secure a prosperous, economically independent and socially progressive Pakistan.

I guess I don’t agree with the fundamental premise of your question. The coalition has some internal dissonance, but that is the nature of democratic debate. There is much that the parties in the Pakistan Democratic Front agree on and have built a consensus around, and there are other elements that have not yet been reconciled. But the coalition has not fractured. The Nawaz wing of the PML has not joined the opposition and still votes with the government. The PPP has not withdrawn its ministers from the Punjab government, which is led by the PML-N. Although they have temporarily withdrawn from some cabinet positions, we consider this a short-term problem and we have not filled the open cabinet positions. The PML-N is still in fundamental agreement with the major initiatives and thrusts of the government. I think people have also misunderstood the level of disagreement on the judges’ issue.

Both the PPP and the PML-N want the restoration of the judiciary as it existed before emergency rule was imposed by President Musharraf. The PML-N wants it done by decree, and my party wants to accomplish the restoration as part of a significant judicial reform legislative package that will totally modernize and liberalize the structure of civil society in Pakistan.We expect that the National Assembly will consider and enact this comprehensive judicial reform package before the end of June. This constitutional package aims to restore the key elements of the 1973 constitution that was the basis of parliamentary democracy in our country before critical powers were seized by various autocratic presidents at the expense of the People’s House. The power to dismiss governments was never meant to be in the hands of the president, but rather the tenure of governments would be limited by elections or motions of no confidence. Democracy and dictatorship do not mix. All powers will revert back to the Parliament as was the intent of the constitution. All elements of the governing coalition will enthusiastically support these reforms.

The war on extremism and terrorism must be a multifaceted program not just limited to military engagement. Military confrontation alone has been tried, and it has failed. It is now time to expand the battle to political engagement, economic and social reform, and the integration of our tribal areas into the mainstream of Pakistani society. We firmly believe that a democratically elected constitutional government with the mandate of the people will have the legitimacy and authority to successfully address not only the extremists and terrorists, but the roots causes of the frustration and hopelessness that fuel the fires of fanaticism.

The government of Pakistan will never negotiate with terrorists, but we fully intend to engage tribal leaders who have been abandoned by the previous government and have been co-opted by extremists by intimation and coercion. We will offer the leaders and the people of FATA and of parts of the frontier a much better social and economic deal than they have received from the Taliban and al Qaeda. We will engage them on the condition that they yield their arms and cease their attacks on the Pakistani military and on NATO and Afghan troops in Afghanistan. There will be zero tolerance for terrorism anywhere. We have tried confrontation; we have tried battling them; we have also tried ignoring them. It is now time to engage them.

For much too long the United States viewed South Asia through very myopic, short-term glasses. In the 1980s dictatorships were sustained in Pakistan under the rationale of the Cold War. In this young century, dictatorship has been sustained under the guise of a so-called war on terror. All that has been accomplished is to strengthen the extremists and turn the people of our nation away from the United States. This must be reversed by a sustained, long-term commitment to building an economically prosperous, viable and democratic Pakistan.

We believe the U.S. Congress realizes that the key to the strategic interests of the United States in South Asia is the stability of the region, and the key to the stability of the region is a prosperous and democratic Pakistan. We believe that the White House has now come to share this view. We are encouraged by the plan of Sen. Joseph Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to commit the U.S. to a decade of targeted economic assistance. The U.S.-Pakistan relationship must be more than a military marriage of convenience. It must be based on shared values and mutual respect. If the West commits to a sustained plan of economic and social development for our Nation, helping us build an efficient economy, a school system that truly educates, and a health system that protects our people, the danger of terrorism and fanaticism within our borders will all but evaporate.

Pakistan is a parliamentary system. In a parliamentary system the leader of the party that wins an election is called upon to form the government. We put together an impressive coalition in the National Assembly, and Prime Minister [Yousaf Raza] Gilani received an unprecedented unanimous vote of confidence from the House. This happened for the first time in Pakistan’s history. As long as our government maintains the support of the people and of the National Assembly it will remain in power until its five-year term is complete. If it does not enjoy the confidence of the parliament, there are democratic mechanisms for change.

It is interesting that you pose your question using the title of my martyred wife’s final book, “Reconciliation.” At the end of that book Benazir talked about how thinking conventionally, (“within the box” is the way she phrased it) has led to little progress. She said “it is time for new ideas. It is time for creativity. It is time for bold commitment. And it is time for honesty, both among people and between people. That is what I have tried to do in these pages. There has been enough pain. It is time for reconciliation.”

India and Pakistan were created out of the same cloth. We share the same language, the same food, and much of the same culture. We have had three wars and six decades of living on the brink. We are now both nuclear powers who can guarantee “mutually assured destruction.” We have made some progress, but we must be much bolder, do much more.

South Asia must become an economic condominium of open markets and open borders. South Asia must become a common market of technology and communications. The outstanding issue of Kashmir has yet to be resolved, but it is an issue that must be resolved to the satisfaction of all parties, including Pakistanis, Kashmiris and Indians,if real peace is to be established. That was my wife’s goal and this my goal, not just in the short-term but in the long term as well. We have tried it the other way. It didn’t work. It is time for reconciliation.

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