Standing Up for Democracy
by Claudia Winkler, The Weekly Standard
IN THE TURBULENT and dangerous politics of Pakistan, credible public figures willing to stand up for pluralist democracy are no commonplace. So it was a privilege to meet with Afrasiab Khattak and Asfandyar Wali Khanâmiddle-aged men who between them have spent more than a decade in prison in the course of their careers opposing military dictatorshipsâon their recent stop in Washington. Their earnest plea: The United States must remain engaged in their region.
Khattak is a lawyer, writer, and longtime member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, where he just finished a three-year term as chairman. His duties on the commission included responding to the anguished parents of young Pakistanis recruited to fight for the Taliban, while their government turned a blind eye. "It was a disaster," Khattak said on the "NewsHour" with Jim Lehrer in April 2002. "Thousands of people, sentimental people, simple people, naive people went into another country to fight without any preparation, any planning."
|We don't have a choice at the moment. We may have one later, though... |
In July, Khattak joined the leadership of the Awami National party, of which Asfandyar Wali Khan is president. Elected to the Pakistani senate last March, Wali Khan is the son and grandson of Pashtun political leaders dating back to the independence struggle on the subcontinent. The ANP is based in the Northwest Frontier Province, where it confronts an Islamist provincial government with anti-American, pro-jihadist leanings. Yet the party has national aspirations and universal principles. Its leaders see it as a "bulwark against extremism and fundamentalism."
|They were people driven by blind hatred of America and Americans, hopped up on religion. Had they attained their objectives, simple, sentimental people in the U.S. would have received the bodies of their loved ones to mourn over... |
"We spoke up publicly after 9/11 for liberal, democratic, secular values and held public meetings against the Taliban. We openly endorsed the liberation of Afghanistan," says Wali Khan.
|It's a prety flimsy bulwark. Pashtuns aren't exactly lining up to vote Awami... |
Like all opposition parties in Pakistan, the ANP operates under constant pressure from the government. Although lively, dissenting voices are heard in the press, freedom of assembly is severely restricted, and discriminatory laws have favored the growing religious parties. In the last election, a requirement that candidates hold advanced degrees "eliminated almost half of all former legislators," according to a recent study by the International Crisis Group. Candidates with degrees from the religious "madrassas" were unaffected. The religious parties boasted their best showing at the polls yet. The Crisis Group report confirms that the government of President Pervez Musharraf, even as it cooperates with the United States to some degree in the war on terrorism, is undermining the moderate secular parties at home and allowing the military to promote the Islamists. The report urges Western aid donors to channel and condition all aid so as to strengthen liberal forces and civil society.
|This was pretty much drowned out in the riots staged by Qazi's, Fazl's and Sami's parties, and obscured in the dust of the TNSM departing by the truckload to kill infidels... |
As for my Pakistani visitors, they foresee disaster if the Islamists get their way. "We see a sort of interaction between the Iranian mullahs and elements in the Saudi monarchy and fundamentalists and their allies in the Pakistani state," says Wali Khan. "They are cooperating to keep the pot boiling in the region. They want the Americans to get bogged down. The problem is, U.S. policy mostly ignores non-state players, including democratic parties."
|Rantburgers are familiar by now with Perv's usually double, occasionally triple, and sometimes even quadruple game... |
Afrasiab Khattak agrees. "The main aim of the extremists is to get the United States out of Afghanistan and Iraq. If the United States withdraws without rebuilding, we in the region have had it. And the suppression of liberal forces will start with us, but it will spread far beyond our borders."
|I think the non-state players we're concentrating on right now are the fundo parties and the jihadi groups. Rather than supporting the Awami National Party, we're tracking the activities of the people opposing them. This could be not the most effective policy, but given the intricacies of Pak politix, complete with loyalties that can shift overnight, it's probably the best we're going to do. None of us has any doubts that a major Islamist victory would throw Pakland openly into the enemy camp.|
Regional expert Elie Krakowski, a senior fellow of the American Foreign Policy Council, notes the implication for U.S. policy. "If we are serious about building civil society in Pakistan," he says, "we have to help people like Afrasiab Khattak and Asfandyar Wali Khan, because they are capable and they are voicing very legitimate and important views. Given the chance, they could make a lot of headway, and this could serve both Pakistan's interest and ours."
|If we blow it like that, we'll have had it, too... |
Posted by: Fred Pruitt 2003-10-20