Can Democracy Deliver For the People in Pakistan?

In an Op Ed piece published in Pakistani newspaper "the News" recently, Ms. Farahnaz Ispahani, the wife of Pakistani Ambassador in Washington and a close Zardari aide, claims "democracy does deliver". She proudly talks about her government's success in tripling of the US non-military aid to $1.5 billion a year "to the dismay of the government's detractors and contrary to the vilification campaign going on in the country against the elected leadership".

When Ms. Ispahani says that "democracy does deliver", what she really means is that democracy delivers US aid to her government. The underlying assumption appears to be that such aid alone will solve Pakistan's current economic problems. However, she does not mention Pakistan's serious economic decline, mounting job losses and rising poverty since her party took control of the government in 2008, nor does she make any reference to the ominous conditions attached to the US aid bill and the serious concerns by the US about PPP's corrupt leadership siphoning off the funds provided by the Americans. Here is some context to the declaration of victory by Zardari's spokesperson Ispahani in getting US aid:

Pakistan's Recent Economic Performance:

According to Economic Survey 2008-09, presented by Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin, Pakistan's economy grew by a mere 2.0 percent, barely keeping pace with population growth. The growth fell significantly short of the 4.5 percent target for the year, which was already very modest compared with an average of 7% economic growth witnessed from 2001-2008.

The manufacturing sector contracted by 3.3 percent in 2008-09 as compared to expansion of 4.8 percent last year and target of 6.1 percent. Small and medium manufacturing sector maintained its healthy growth of last year at 7.5 percent.

Large-scale manufacturing experienced contraction of 7.7 percent compared with expansion of 4.0 percent in the last year and 5.5 percent target for this year. The massive contraction has been because of severe power outrages, bad governance, security environment and political disruption in 2008-2009. The services sector grew by 3.6 percent, missing the target of 6.1 percent and last year’s actual growth of 6.6 percent.

The growing lines of poor people lining up for free food paid for by philanthropists at some restaurants and charitable institutions offer significant anecdotal evidence of rising poverty from widespread job losses since last year.

US Aid Strings:

The list of conditions attached to the US aid bill, also known as Kery-Lugar bill, affect almost all of the Pakistani stakeholders, including Pakistani military, the intelligence agencies and the people of Pakistan and the government's conduct of relations with Pakistan's neighbors such as India and Afghanistan.

According to the News, the newly approved US aid will be provided in multiple installments and the US Secretary of State will have to issue a certificate on these sensitive subjects before each installment of the US aid is disbursed.

The US Secretary of State, under the direction of the president, will have to certify to the appropriate congressional committees that:

1. Pakistan is continuing to cooperate with the United States in efforts to dismantle supplier networks relating to the acquisition of nuclear weapons-related materials, such as providing relevant information from or direct access to Pakistani nationals associated with such networks;

2. Pakistan during the preceding fiscal year has demonstrated a sustained commitment to and is making significant efforts towards combating terrorist groups, consistent with the purposes of assistance described in section 201, including taking into account the extent to which the Government of Pakistan has made progress on matters such as:

(a) ceasing support, including by any elements within the Pakistan military or its intelligence agency, to extremist and terrorist groups, particularly to any group that has conducted attacks against United States or coalition forces in Afghanistan, or against the territory or people of neighboring countries;

(b) preventing al-Qaeda, the Taliban and associated terrorist groups, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, from operating in the territory of Pakistan, including carrying out cross-border attacks into neighboring countries, closing terrorist camps in the FATA, dismantling terrorist bases of operations in other parts of the country, including Quetta and Muridke, and taking action when provided with intelligence about high-level terrorist targets; and

(c) strengthening counter-terrorism and anti-money laundering laws; and

(3) the security forces of Pakistan are not materially and substantially subverting the political or judicial processes of Pakistan.

Renewed Corruption Charges:

It was only in 2007 that President Asif Ali Zardari returned to Pakistan under an amnesty, euphemistically called National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), sponsored by the Americans. However, the Americans know that the corruption charges against Zardari were credible and he, along with his late wife, was convicted in at least one case by a Swiss judge. The conviction was under appeal in Switzerland when Pakistan government withdrew all charges pursuant to the NRO signed by then President Musharraf under pressure from the Americans.

Now, the Obama administration officials are debating how much of the assistance should go directly to a government that has been widely accused of corruption, according to a report in the New York Times. The American aid officials believe that they need to assist the Pakistani economy directly in view of the renewed corruption allegations against the government of Mr. Zardari for its handling of the recent power shortages. The nation-wide power outages which have contributed to Pakistan’s first year of negative industrial growth this decade.

There have been widespread complaints in Islamabad, including by Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin, that the government had solutions to improve the power output but was refusing to implement them in order to benefit a handful of power plant operators, such as those supplying rental power at exorbitant rates, while the IPPs are not being paid for supplying power from currently underutilized installed capacity. Requests for information by Transparency International Pakistan regarding rental power contracts have been ignored by the Ministry of Water and Power. There are widespread corruption allegations against Mr. Zardari personally who has influenced the award of the 783 MW rental power contracts to a former governor of Oklahoma and his Pakistani partner.

Here is the full text of the Ispahani's opinion published in the News today:

Much to the dismay of the government's detractors and contrary to the vilification campaign going on in the country against the elected leadership, the US Senate voted on Thursday to triple non-military aid to Pakistan to roughly $1.5 billion per year.

The bill, approved unanimously, had been agreed upon between the Senate and House sponsors of legislation passed separately by each chamber earlier this year. The sponsors are Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar. The bill has incorporated improvements over the earlier version of the Kerry-Lugar Bill passed by the Senate and the House. The vital aspect of the bill is that its language is far less prescriptive and stringent. Specific references to India as well as A Q Khan have been eliminated while the language related to nuclear proliferation is markedly toned down from "ensure access of US investigators to individual suspected" to receiving cooperation "in efforts such as providing relevant information from or direct access to Pakistani nationals associated with such networks."

On Thursday, for the first time ever, major economic powers agreed to the formation of a multi-donor trust fund (MDTF) to help the country build its tribal areas which have been the worst victim of the fight against the militants.

In an unprecedented show of solidarity President Barack Obama, President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Gordon Brown co-chaired the meeting of Friends Democratic of Pakistan (FoDP). The participants included a galaxy of world leaders, such as President Sarkozy of France, Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, the prime ministers of Australia and Canada and World Bank president Robert Zoellick. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi termed the summit a "diplomatic success," stating that it represented a vote of confidence in the Pakistani nation.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown applauded Islamabad's campaign to rid the restive border areas of violent extremism and bring stability to the region. The British leader commended the leadership of President Zardari and the role of the armed forces for launching an effective offensive against the militants.

Earlier, US President Barack Obama reaffirmed his administration's commitment to economic cooperation with Pakistan.

The total amount of the bill passed by US Senate for FY 2009 is $3021.0 million. $1147.5 million would be given under the head of Development and Reconstruction out of which $33.5 million will be given under the head of Child Survival and Health Programme whereas Economic Support Fund would receive $1,114.0 million while $11,02 million will be made available for the country in FY2010 with $27.9 million and $1,074.3 million on Child Survival and Health Programme and Economic Support Fund respectively.

Pakistan will receive a total of $1103.1 million under the head of Security Assistance out of which foreign military financing would be $300.0 million this year whereas $700.0 million have been allocated for Pakistan Counter Insurgency Fund; $13.3 million would be spent on Non-Profit, Antiterrorism, Demining and Related Issues. International Narcotics and Law Enforcement would receive a total of $87.5 million while $2.3 million would be spent under the Head of IMET. It is worth mentioning here that $298.0 million, $22.7 million, $155.2 million and $ 4.0 million respectively would be given to the country under the same head in FY2010.

Pakistan will receive a total of $255.4 million under the head of humanitarian grant; further details are that Migration and Refugee Assistance will be given $69.6 million while Food for Progress will get $31.0 million, PL480 $36.3 million and International Disaster Assistance will be given $118.0 million in the FY 2009. Migration and Refugee Assistance will receive $20.0 million while no money has been reserved for Food for Progress, PL and International Disaster Assistance in the FY 2010. Total State Department operations will entail $2,506.0 million in this financial year whereas it would be $1602.0 million in the next financial year.

The Department of Defence will receive a total of $515.6 million in which Counter- Narcotics will receive an amount of $63.3 million this year and $38.4 million in the next financial year while $25.0 million have been reserved for FATA Authority this year. Ensuring that the present government does not face any obstacle in its democratic dispensation a condition in the bill requires that the security forces of Pakistan do not subvert judicial processes. The aim of the legislation is to promote stability in the country.

It is worth mentioning that the bill underlines the importance of supporting Pakistan's national security needs to fight the ongoing counterinsurgency and improve its border security and control. However, it does not specify any amount or percentage. This provides the administration maximum flexibility and none of the conditions can set in motion automatic sanctions.

Previously, Pakistan was governed by a dictator and that regime weakened all our important institutions like the judiciary and the parliament. Even the media was brutalised and attacked when the crunch came. Today all our institutions are working for the betterment of the people. The judiciary and the parliament are respected by the executive. The media is free to examine and comment on the working of the government. Internationally, Pakistan stands in the strongest diplomatic position in its sixty two year history. Our leaders now stand shoulder to shoulder with the leaders of other democracies. And perhaps the most important message that President Zardari sends to our nation and to the world is that democracy does indeed deliver.


Even if the current Pakistani government does succeed in effectively responding to the concerns of the foreign aid donors regarding transparency in the use of funds and Pakistan's sincerity in fighting terrorism, it is extremely important to recognize that there can be no real economic progress, measurable poverty reduction and visible human development that translate into winning the hearts and minds of the people, unless there are good policies and competent governance in the country.

Related Links:

Good Governance Reform Agenda in Pakistan

Asian Development Bank Partnership with Pakistan
Pakistan Economic Survey 2008-2009

Pakistan Economic Slump Hurts Workers

Musharraf's Economic Legacy

Zardari Corruption Probe in Switzerland

US Fears Pakistan Aid Bill Will Feed Graft

USAID, Democracy and Governance in Pakistan


Riaz Haq said…
Here's David Brooks' New York Times' column on inadequacy of democracy in solving problems:

The people who pioneered democracy in Europe and the United States had a low but pretty accurate view of human nature. They knew that if we get the chance, most of us will try to get something for nothing. They knew that people generally prize short-term goodies over long-term prosperity. So, in centuries past, the democratic pioneers built a series of checks to make sure their nations wouldn’t be ruined by their own frailties.

The American founders did this by decentralizing power. They built checks and balances to frustrate and detain the popular will. They also dispersed power to encourage active citizenship, hoping that as people became more involved in local government, they would develop a sense of restraint and responsibility.

In Europe, by contrast, authority was centralized. Power was held by small coteries of administrators and statesmen, many of whom had attended the same elite academies where they were supposed to learn the art and responsibilities of stewardship. Under the parliamentary system, voters didn’t even get to elect their leaders directly. They voted for parties, and party elders selected the ones who would actually form the government, often through secret means.

Though the forms were different, the democracies in Europe and the United States were based on a similar carefully balanced view of human nature: People are naturally selfish and need watching. But democratic self-government is possible because we’re smart enough to design structures to police that selfishness.

James Madison put it well: “As there is a degree of depravity in mankind, which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust: So there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence.”

But, over the years, this balanced wisdom was lost. Leaders today do not believe their job is to restrain popular will. Their job is to flatter and satisfy it. A gigantic polling apparatus has developed to help leaders anticipate and respond to popular whims. Democratic politicians adopt the mind-set of marketing executives. Give the customer what he wants. The customer is always right.--------
Western democratic systems were based on a balance between self-doubt and self-confidence. They worked because there were structures that protected the voters from themselves and the rulers from themselves. Once people lost a sense of their own weakness, the self-doubt went away and the chastening structures were overwhelmed. It became madness to restrain your own desires because surely your rivals over yonder would not be restraining theirs.

This is one of the reasons why Europe and the United States are facing debt crises and political dysfunction at the same time. People used to believe that human depravity was self-evident and democratic self-government was fragile. Now they think depravity is nonexistent and they take self-government for granted.

Neither the United States nor the European model will work again until we rediscover and acknowledge our own natural weaknesses and learn to police rather than lionize our impulses.

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