Two leading intellectuals descended on Pakistan in the last two weeks – one from the West and one from the East. From the West we had Walter Russell Mead, senior fellow for US Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. From the East we had Kishur Mehbubani, Dean of Lee Kuana School of Public Policy, Singapore and a former diplomat.
Even though most Pakistanis want to wish away the American influence on our domestic and foreign policy, the reality is it is not possible in today’s world. So Mead was heard carefully by the opinion-makers in Pakistan. In fact he used these speaking opportunities eagerly to get first-hand views of Pakistanis. His visit was conducted by the US Public Affairs department at the consulate here.
Listening to him at Moderates, a private sector think-tank, meeting, I was reminded of the much-joked about ethnic community in Pakistan, which is accused of acting first and thinking later. The American administration it seems is not much different. To a question raised by Dr. Huma, Mead was honest in confessing that American’s love deficit. “We have budget deficit, we have trade balance deficit, so we have intellectual deficit also,” he admitted in a lighter vein.
Avoiding Rafiq Munshey’s question that was US invasion of Iraq motivated by protecting its oil interests or Israel, Mead admitted that Bush was pushed into war in Iraq by the neo-conservatives and that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But then he came up with an interesting observation to prove the US policy success. He said that after 9/11 it was clear that Osama has radicalized the Saudi and Muslim countries’ youth on the issue of US forces presence in the holy land of Saudi Arabia. This was evident from the fact that most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis. So if the US had pulled out from SA after 9/11, it would have been humiliating and given the message that Osama kicked the Americans out. Now there are no American troops in SA, but there are 150,000 next door in Iraq. All the Al Qaeda terrorists have been sucked into the Iraq conflict much to the respite of Saudi friends of the Americans.
How nice. This rationalization of US failure in Iraq war, so far, fits in Mead’s well know thesis that US foreign policy has always been successful in its over 230 years history.
Another example of delayed reckoning of facts by the US is its policy in Afghanistan. Mead says “there is a growing realisation in US that a lasting peace in Afghanistan is not possible, unless Pakistan’s security concerns are taken care of.” Thank you Sir, for this late realisation after every Tom, Dick and Harry from US coaxed us “to do more in Afghanistan.”
Mead admitted that his recent visit to the NWFP was to understand this area better. Asked by a participant that what was his take on tribal areas? He said that the collapse of old political agents system and direct rule by military has not been helpful. He said that he met many important people in NWFP, who suggested that the political agents system should be restored for bringing back peace to tribal areas and army should take orders from the civilian set up. Under this system, he explained, the tribal areas were ruled with the help of notables and Maliks of the area. Isn’t this quite contrary to US administration’s thinking that peace deals in tribal areas are not right and that Pakistan should opt for the military solution? Reluctantly we did it, and the result is that over 200 army and security forces are allegedly hostages of militants.
Now let’s move to Kishur Mehbubani who came from Asia’s wonderland Singapore. His talk at the NIB Bank lunch was about rise of Asia and why it has lost three centuries. But now, he says, in three decades Asia led by China, Japan and India will overtake Europe. Though most of the reasons he gave for Asia missing the last three centuries in the race for development compared to the West were valid and of common knowledge, interestingly he missed the most important point. He did not talk about how the colonial and neo-colonial rule of the West retarded our growth. And how the exploitation of the colonies and developing countries has contributed to the capital formation in the West.
Being a Singaporean, he did not give much weightage to the absence of democracy as one of the causes of slow development in Asia. Empirically, he was right. China the fast growing economy for the last two decades has a single party rule. Same is true with another emerging tiger Vietnam. Singapore can hardly be called a democracy. On the other hand India which is the world’s biggest democracy slumbered under highly protected economy, till the Rajiv government started opening up the economy. And now it is vigorously catching up for the lost time. So the catch is not whether you have democracy or autocracy. For shear economic growth consistent right policies are needed. Remember we are not talking about income inequalities here.
Ideal way is that economic growth and democracy prosper together. Experience has shown that the development in democratic societies is more sensitive to the needs of its people. Otherwise the growth is skewed and heavily tilted in favour of the elite. Pakistan’s quasi-democracy is once again in a chaos and nothing is certain. Had it been allowed to flow its natural constitutional course, the election year would not hurt the economy as much as it does because of extra-constitutional interventions by the army. (firstname.lastname@example.org)