Seeking a Safe Landing in Pakistan

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By Michael Krepon and Alex Stolar  – Nawaz Sharif’s dramatic return to Pakistan was short-lived.  His deportation to Saudi Arabia accelerates the political drama now unfolding in Pakistan, which is now at a critical juncture.  Recent developments, and dramatic new events sure to follow, clarify how crucial an independent judiciary and free and fair elections are to Pakistan’s well being. 

How might these crucial objectives be safeguarded?

Pakistani leaders, both civilian and military, have a long history of manipulating the judiciary.  Nawaz Sharif, whose sudden political revival can be traced to a surprisingly independent judiciary, did much to weaken the Supreme Court when he was Prime Minister.  His party faithful intimidated and ransacked the Court in 1997, forcing it to suspend contempt proceedings against Nawaz.   

A representative government is also essential for domestic tranquility because Pakistan has important regional, political, and sectarian divisions.  The only way to determine the composition of a representative government is through free and fair elections and the rejection of a “winner take all” mentality that has marked Pakistani governance.  Free and fair elections have been a rare occurrence in Pakistan, where leaders are usually picked in backroom deals and electoral results have been manipulated by the intelligence services. 

Given the particularly fractious state of Pakistan’s domestic politics at present, backroom deals and the blatant manipulation of elections are likely to result in even more domestic unrest and division.  How then to proceed?  The best way forward might require solemn pledges voluntarily undertaken by contending factions in Pakistan that are backed up by the international community.  The following ideas might be worth considering. 

First, major contenders for leadership positions might serve national interests best by pledging allegiance to an independent judiciary that serves as a check against corruption, disregard for the rule of law, and abuse of power by future presidents and prime ministers. The particulars of this solemn pledge might best be enumerated by Pakistan’s judicial and legal institutions.  Pakistan’s leaders might then be asked to subscribe to these principles and practices before contesting elections. 

Nations that provide bilateral or multilateral assistance to Pakistan might also be asked to make pledges before Pakistan’s national elections that, if future Pakistani leaders break these pledges, economic and military assistance would be suspended.  Only humanitarian assistance would be unaffected if future Pakistani leaders again seek to undermine an independent judiciary.  Because these pledges would be undertaken voluntarily, and because the purpose of these pledges would be to strengthen, not undermine, Pakistan’s independence, these reinforcing commitments would not intrude upon Pakistan’s sovereign rights.  In order to demonstrate non-interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan, this initiative would need to come from judicial and legal bodies within the country. 

Second, the continuation of a “winner take all” approach to domestic politics increases the probability that Pakistan’s domestic violence and internal security dilemmas will grow. These divisions can badly impair Pakistan’s ability to address the upsurge in domestic violence, much of which appears to be connected to the presence on Pakistani soil of those who do not accept the writ of the state. 

Only a government that respects political diversity can tackle the sources of domestic unrest and violence in a sustained, effective way.  A mechanism exists to bridge civil-military divisions and to provide sufficient political backing to deal with Pakistan’s security dilemmas.  This mechanism is controversial and currently dysfunctional.  It is called the National Security CouncilThis mechanism could provide a necessary role for the political opposition to weigh in on national security decisions. 

We would not presume to suggest what modifications would be required for this mechanism to fulfill its potential.  This, too, might be a worthy topic of discussion and agreement among Pakistan’s political and military leaders.  Prior agreement on the composition, functions, and decision-making of a National Security Council could help ease the strains that lie ahead. 

Third, to help promote free and fair elections and the subsequent formation of a representative government, all major parties within Pakistan might agree in advance to invite election monitors from all nations that wish to help in this regard.  This proposal would entail no imposition or infringement of Pakistani sovereignty, since the purpose of election monitors from countries that wish Pakistan well in the West, the Islamic world, and elsewhere, would be narrowly confined to clarifying what all of Pakistan’s leaders insist that they want – free and fair elections.  The only imposition that would result from voluntarily inviting election monitors to enter Pakistan would be placed on those who wish to manipulate the polls.

Pakistan’s divisions will persist, and may well grow after the votes are counted.  These divisions can badly impair Pakistan’s ability to address internal security concerns.  The compacts discussed above could help reduce domestic friction resulting from political jockeying, but other sources of violence are likely to continue unabated.

Pakistan’s well-being, domestic tranquility and economic growth depend on reclaiming the nation’s right to make and enforce its own laws. Put another way, prosecuting extremists is not a favor that Pakistan does for the United States.  It is an obligation that Pakistani leaders undertake for the well-being of their country.

We understand that some might view these suggestions as unwarranted infringements on Pakistan’s national prerogatives.  Our intention is just the opposite.  We view these ideas as ways for Pakistan to become more in control of its own future.  If these ideas are seen as having merit, they may be favorably considered by Pakistan’s civil society and by political and military leaders.  If our ideas are deemed to be unrealistic or if they interfere with other agendas, they will have little weight.  Either way, the future of Pakistan lies in Pakistani hands. 

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