Friday, December 28, 2007

Stability, Then Democracy - Eventually, Maybe, Perhaps

Is Pakistan in any condition to attempt the leap into the uncertain arms of democracy? Despite the assassination of the one person most capable of attempting to bring her volatile country in that direction, the Musharraf government continues to be pressured to hold national elections scheduled in less than two weeks.


Pakistan's military will not tolerate weak and ineffective civilian rule which is about all that is possible in the country's current state of disarray. What can be gained from putting Pakistan through a repeat of the Zia and Musharraf coups?

Even Bhutto's own PPP party was so fragile that, without her, there is no obvious leader to take her place. It was a one-woman band. That leaves her former rival, Sharif, who has already declared his party will boycott the elections. That seems to leave the way clear for Musharraf's bunch to win and what conceivable credibility will invest them in these circumstances?

Even without the existential challenges from al-Qaeda and the Taliban and other, homegrown Jihadist and Islamist groups, civilian rule for Pakistan is a dubious prospect. One major reason is the pervasive influence of the Pakistani military, not only in the nation's politics but in its economy.

Not only does the military have huge sums invested in businesses and real estate, but less active military officers commonly work in the economic sector. Retired members of the military have many business advantages, especially when competing for government contracts.

The Pakistani military is also able to acquire private land and redistribute it for its own personnel, where military-owned construction and transportation companies monopolize service through preferential awarding of government grants.

In Pakistan there are over 90 military foundations providing a wide variety of goods and services. There are also undocumented ventures such as bakeries and gas stations, which are set up in communities where they are able to undercut local prices.

Additionally, the actual military possesses financial autonomy and capacity to redistribute resources. The Pakistani military possesses considerable financial autonomy and is able to use the principle of eminent domain-generally used in America during the creation of highways, or public buildings-to acquire public land and redistribute it to their personnel.

Currently, the Pakistani military receives 10 percent of newly available land. The military received three million acres in 11 provinces in the last few years - just over 3.5 billion American dollars worth of property. As a result, there is less land for peasants to farm.

Military officials in Pakistan will aggressively defend these types of actions, saying that their business ventures are more effective and successful than private ones, and that that they are trying to raise money to better care for their soldiers.

Establishing legitimate democracy in Pakistan will require wholesale reform of the country's military, prying away its economic clout. Until then the most that can be achieved at the ballot box is the creation of a weaker and ultimately secondary, civilian administration. A civilian government that rules only at the sufferance of an autonomous military is pretty much doomed from the start.

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