Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ahmad Rashid in Silicon Valley

Future of Democracy in South Asia:

The Indian Community Center in Milpitas, CA was the venue on June 11, 2008 for a panel discussion organized by Asia Society with well-known Pakistani author Ahmad Rashid, Stanford University Prof. Larry Diamond, UC Berkeley Prof. Pradeep Chibber, and Muhammad Humayon Qayoumi, President of California State University at Hayword. The discussion centered on "The Future of Democracy in South Asia" and it was moderated by Prof. Diamond. The event drew capacity crowd of over 100 attendees of many different ethnicities and origins in the US including Caucasian Americans as well as South Asians, East Asians and Central Asians.


Ahmad Rashid's presence was made possible by his ongoing book tour that brought him to Silicon Valley, California to promote his latest work "Descent into Chaos: The US and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia". Professor Diamond gave Rashid's book a big plug and stood in line with others to buy and get the book autographed by the author after the panel discussion concluded.

Introduction:

Larry Diamond moderated the panel. He is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and is the author or editor of more than twenty books, including Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq, and the newly released The Spirit of Democracy: The Struggle to Build Free Societies Throughout the World.

As part of the introductions, Prof. Diamond mentioned Freedom House findings that about 2 billion people, almost a third of humanity, now live under some form of democracy. Half of this population lives in India, the world's largest democracy. He praised the work of the ICC in nurturing good relations between India as the world's largest democracy and the United States as the world's most powerful democracy. The panelists were introduced as follows:

Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistani journalist and best-selling author who has covered Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia for 25 years. He writes for The Washington Post, The International Herald Tribune, The New York Review of Books, BBC Online, and The Nation and appears regularly on NPR, CNN, and the BBC World Service. His newest book is Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. Previous books include Jihad, Taliban (which has sold over 1.5 million copies), and The Resurgence of Central Asia.

Pradeep Chhibber is Professor and Chair of the Political Science Department at U.C. Berkeley. He is the author of The Formation of National Party Systems, Democracy without Associations: Transformation of Party Systems and Social Cleavages in India, and many articles. He holds an M.A. and an M.Phil. from the University of Delhi and a Ph.D. from UCLA.

Mohammad Humayon Qayoumi is president of California State University, East Bay. The author of eight books and over 85 articles, he was the senior advisor to the minister of finance of Afghanistan from 2002 to 2005 and sits on several boards of directors, including that of the Central Bank of Afghanistan. Dr. Qayoumi has a B.S. degree in electrical engineering from American University of Beirut and an M.B.A. in finance and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Cincinnati.

The Panel Discussion:

After the customary introductions, Prof. Diamond invited each of three panelists to speak on the topic for 10-15 minutes each. Mr. Qayoumi was the first speaker. He said democracy does not begin and end with free and fair elections. It must be anchored in rule of law and transparency of actions and budget/spending process to stop corruption. In most the nations considered free by Freedom House, there is no transparency in budgets and spending. He then proceeded to complain about the lack of US financial support to develop Afghanistan and described Pakistan as the "biggest exporter of terrorism". He questioned Pakistan's raison d'etre as a nation and dismissed it as just four ethnic groups with little in common except a passport and quarreling with each other and Afghanistan as just a buffer state. He blamed Pakistan for most of the problems in Afghanistan and drew applause from a section of the audience.

Mr. Qayoumi was followed by Ahmad Rashid. Mr. Rashid pointed out the two biggest early mistakes by the US in Afghanistan after 911. The first mistake was to tell Pakistan to go after Al-Qaeda exclusively and leave the Taleban alone, which allowed the Taleban to gather and regroup in Pakistan's tribal belt along the Afghan border. The second mistake was to farm out security to the Afghan warlords rather than strengthen the central government in Afghanistan.

Rashid said the resurgent Taleban have now become a major threat to both Pakistan and Afghanistan. He criticized the US policy of continuing to support President Musharraf after the crushing defeat of his loyalists and the Islamists in the recent elections. He said the Pakistani military still dominates Pakistan's foreign policy and it is also continuing to support Mr. Musharraf who is a threat to Pakistan's fragile democracy led by a secular party. He blamed the powerful military for undermining democracy in Pakistan during its 60 years of existence. He even brought up the possibility of another martial law in the near future with deteriorating political situation and the latest border incident between NATO and Pakistan that killed 11 Pakistani soldiers.

Prof. Pradeep Chhibber praised India's democracy and mentioned all the surveys and opinion polls in India that reinforce broad public support for current democracy. However, the Indian democracy does face two key challenges. The first challenge is the complete absence of the government or state in large swaths of India. The second challenge is that the government often acts in inconsistent and arbitrary ways where it does exist. He went on to say that, in some parts of Chhattisgarh, the government relies on private militias to act on its behalf. He also acknowledged the existence of corruption and criminal elements among the politicians in India. He said about a third of Indian legislators have criminal records. Democracy is a process that must be allowed to continue in spite its messiness for it to eventually bear fruit.

Questions and Answers:

There was strong participation by the audience in the Q&A session that followed the speakers. This scribe addressed the following question to Ahmad Rashid, "Unlike Al-Qaeda, the Taleban do have roots among the people on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border. Do you think the US and Pakistan should negotiate with some elements within the Taleban for peace, rather than rely solely on military means to defeat them?" Rashid said there should be negotiations, but only after "the Taleban sanctuaries end in Pakistan." Prof. Diamond did a follow-up by asking Rashid as to how can the sanctuaries be ended? Alas, Rashid had no answer to this question either during the Q&A or later at the book-signing in the lobby.

A couple of questioners asked whether Al-Qaeda was real and one even attempted to make fun of the Taleban as "75-year old students" of the madrassahs in Pakistan. These questions seemed to be tongue-in-cheek but those asking appeared to be quite serious.

There was a question as to why democracy has taken hold in India but not in Pakistan. Rashid suggested it was because of Pakistan's powerful military and its political and economic ambitions. Others thought it had to do with religion. The scribe offered that it may have something to do with the emasculation of the feudal lords in India through extensive land reform that never happened in Pakistan. One participant, a former president of TIE, proposed that Pakistan had to have strong military, disproportionate to its size, because of continuing hostilities with the much bigger neighbor India. The powerful military, needed for strong defense, has now become a liability in its quest for democracy. There was general agreement that democracy is a process that must be allowed to continue un-interrupted to work out its bugs and improve over time to serve the people.

South Asians in Silicon Valley:

The strong South Asian presence in Silicon Valley is helping bring focus to issues related to India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the entire South and Central Asian region with the participation of US opinion makers such as Stanford Prof. Larry Diamond who is also a fellow at the Hoover Institution. The ICC is clearly playing a major role and showing a path to PACC, its Pakistani counterpart in the valley.

5 comments:

Riaz Haq said...

Received via email from Prof. Larry Diamond:

Many thanks. You are very kind. Just a small correction. I don't have my notes here (I am travelling) but I believe the number I referred to was 2 billion people living in "free" countries, a somewhat more demanding standard than just electoral democracy.

Very kind of you to write this up.

Riaz Haq said...

Recently I saw a piece by Tariq Ali, a writer and well-know leftist who lives in the UK. In this piece, Tariq Ali criticizes Ahmad Rashid, the well-known author and strong advocate for use of overwhelming military force in Afghanistan and Pakistan against the insurgents. Ali says, "Rashid was a firm supporter of the Soviet intervention, although he is coy about this in his book (Descent into Chaos). He shouldn't be. It reveals a certain consistency. Afghanistan, he thinks, can be transformed only through war and occupation by civilized empires. This line of argument avoids the need to concentrate on an exit strategy. Civilian casualties in Afghanistan are high and in the last two months more US and British soldiers have died here than in Iraq."

Osman said...

Just to add some further information on Ahmed Rashid from Tariq Ali:
http://www.counterpunch.org/ali10092009.html

This A Rashid is perhaps single handedly doing more to justify the policy of blood shed and carnage in the Af-Pak region than anyone else.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's the transcript of an NPR report on feudal power in Pakistan and how it enslaves people on the large feudal estates in Punjab:

LAURA LYNCH: The midday sun throws a harsh spotlight on weathered faces. Women crouch low, searching for, then plucking out barely ripe tomatoes. Every crease and crevice in their feet, their hands, even on their faces is dusted with dirt from the fields they farm. They work from dawn to dusk - and the landowner gets most of the income. Nearly two thirds of Pakistan's rural population are sharecroppers. One of the male workers, Abdul Aziz, says they all owe their livelihood to their boss - so they support the political party he supports. He has always voted for the Pakistan People's Party he says; the party of the late Benazir Bhutto. Bhutto and other wealthy landowners like her had always been able to count on the loyalty of those who toil for them in the fields. At her gracious home in Islamabad, Syma Khar traces her lineage - both familial and political - through the photographs she keeps in the cupboard.

LYNCH: Khar is a member of the provincial assembly of the Punjab - the largest province in Pakistan. She is also a member of one of Pakistan's most powerful families. The pictures are from the Khar family estate just outside the city of Multan. The sprawling property includes fisheries, mango orchards and sugarcane fields. Thousands of people work there - most are loyal to their masters. Syma's husband, his father, brothers, nieces and nephews have all turned that to their political advantage to gain office. The workers are by and large, poor, landless and uneducated. Pervez Iqbal Cheema of Pakistan's National Defence University says that's the way most feudals want to keep it.

PERVEZ IQBAL CHEEMA: A feudal, in order to maintain his influence, will be probably not very happy for extension of education or health facilities because as long as they have a minimum interaction with the outsiders then the chances of new ideas germinating or causing some trouble are relatively less.

................
LYNCH: That star power was evident when Benazir Bhutto staged her return from exile in Karachi in October of 2007. Though it was later marred by a suicide bomb attack, the Bhutto power base in rural Pakistan bussed thousands of loyal followers in to cheer her arrival and dance in the streets. Even after she died, Bhutto's political machine ensured her husband eventually became President. And her son, Bilawal, inherited the party leadership even though he's only 20 with no political experience. In a back alley off a busy road in Rawalpindi, boys are just starting a late afternoon game of cricket. Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, rights activist and professor of colonial history at Lahore University of Management Sciences, keeps an office a few floors up. Akhtar sees the staying power of the feudals - and gives credit to the military. It is Pakistan's other power centre - staging four coups in the country's 62 year history. Akhtar says the military, interested in holding onto its own sphere of influence, finds a willing partner in the feudal class.
.........
KHAR: If they don't' keep that attitude then people will be doing daytime robberies because they are illiterate people. They will, you know, kidnap the daughters they will take away the children they will take away the properties, they will kill each other. So a boss has to be a boss. He has to have that sort of attitude.
.............
LYNCH: As a farm worker empties her bucket of tomatoes into a crate there is no smile of satisfaction - the day's work is still far from over. There's little chance her life will change soon. Several land reform programs have failed to change rural life in Pakistan. And failed to loosen the grip of Pakistan's large landowners on the country's politics.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an interesting analysis of how Pakistan has changed in this decade by a Ahsan, a blogger on Five Rupees:

In the last decade, this picture has changed dramatically due to three central factors.

The first and most important factor is the explosion of private electronic media. In the 1990s, it was difficult for most Pakistanis -- the vast majority of which cannot or do not read newspapers -- to get information that was not government-sponsored or, less mildly, propagandistic. ....

This picture has changed drastically, as anyone with even a cursory interest in Pakistan will be able to tell you. There are now dozens of news channels in Pakistan, each with their own ideological and partisan bent. Some are national-level, others more regionally and ethnically focused. The trend began in the early part of this decade and has plateaued only recently, as the market gets sated. And while few of these channels will win awards for calm understatement or presciently sedate analysis, the fact remains that the media -- if it can be spoken of as a collective -- has given voice to a mass of the population previously unheard from. It has become a player of truly monumental importance for its ability to shape, mold, and excite the public. It is, at once, sensationalistic, blood-thirsty, xenophobic, conspiratorial, humorous, investigative, and anti-government. And yet its arrival on the scene is more than welcome, first for providing the venue for disenfranchised interests to make themselves known and second because the alternative is much worse.

The second significant factor, related to but distinct from the first, is the rise of communication technologies in Pakistan, particularly cellular phones. In 2002, there were 1.2 million cell-phone subscriptions in the country. By 2008, this number had risen to 88 million -- an increase of more than seven thousand percent. In addition, more than one in ten Pakistanis had access to the internet by the end of the decade; low by advanced countries' standards but an astronomical rise by Pakistan's. These developments in communications meant that political narratives became congealed and disseminated at speeds never heard of before, and that information and the wider "war" for public opinion became incredibly hard to win if a battle was lost at any stage.

The third major factor is the economic growth that took place in Pakistan in the first half of the 2000s. Pakistan's GDP doubled between 1999 and 2007, and more than kept pace with population growth, as GDP per capita increased by almost sixty percent between 2000 and 2008. More to the point, this growth was overwhelmingly powered by expansion of the service sector, which is concentrated, quite naturally, in the urban centers of the country. For the first time since independence, the term "Pakistani urban middle class" was not a contradiction in terms.

This development had two effects. First, and more trivially, the urban middle class did what urban middle classes do: they bought televisions and computers. In turn, that allowed them to plug into the private media explosion in ways simply unimaginable previously. Second, it shattered the elite-only edifice of Pakistani politics, and made challenges to government based on Main Street issues -- the price of flour, the lack of electricity, the selective application of the rule of law -- a viable process. Fifty years ago, Seymour Lipset wrote one of the canonical articles in Political Science on the process of democratization, its relationship to urbanized middle classes, and how the demands and values of the latter lead almost inexorably to support for the former. Here was living proof of Lipset's analysis.