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Authoritarianism and Political Party Reform in Pakistan
Authoritarianism and Political Party Reform in Pakistan
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Afghanistan's Peace Process Will Be Long, Incremental and in Need of a Mediator
Afghanistan's Peace Process Will Be Long, Incremental and in Need of a Mediator
Report 102 / Asia

Authoritarianism and Political Party Reform in Pakistan

Although the dangers are evident, the international community continues to support General Pervez Musharraf because of his perceived cooperation in the war on terror, ignoring unconstitutional constraints on the civilian opposition.

Executive Summary

Although the dangers are evident, the international community continues to support General Pervez Musharraf because of his perceived cooperation in the war on terror, ignoring unconstitutional constraints on the civilian opposition. However, the military's refusal to cede real power to civilians and its marginalisation of moderate parties has boosted religious extremists. Instability is worsening, and sectarian conflict threatens to spin out of control. Lacking robust international support for a democratic transition, mainstream parties struggle to survive, subjected to coercion and violence. They can be the most effective safeguard against the religious lobby's manifestly anti-Western agenda, but only if allowed to function freely in a democratic environment. They need outside help but must also get more serious about reforming themselves.

Since his October 1999 coup, General Musharraf, like his military predecessors, has sought domestic and international legitimacy through a civilian façade. He has created his own party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-i-Azam, PML-Q) and brought it to power through rigged elections. The PML-Q now heads the government in the centre and in three of Pakistan's four provinces. Yet, its reliance on the military undermines its credibility as a representative and independent party.

To offset Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N, Nawaz), as well as regional parties, Musharraf has consolidated the military's links with religious parties. This has enabled the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), a combination of six religious parties, to form the government in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and become the PML-Q's coalition partner in Balochistan, as well as gain an influential voice in the national parliament.

During the local elections, the moderate parties again bore the brunt of state coercion, particularly the PPP and PML-N, which headed Pakistan's emerging two-party system during the democratic transition of the 1990s and still present the most credible alternatives to authoritarian rule. While Musharraf has restricted their political space, his government's tactics have also brought them together in an anti-military coalition, the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (ARD), the largest opposition group in the National Assembly.

The PPP and PML-N each formed two elected governments in the 1990s and share blame for that flawed democratic transition. Their inept governance, political vendettas and willingness to align with the military against the other stalled democratic reform and enabled the high command to oust the elected government in 1999. Both parties now acknowledge their failures, and their opposition to authoritarian rule has allowed them to regain some credibility.

Whether they can steer Pakistan towards democracy and political stability, however, will depend importantly on whether they can organise their grassroots base in a hostile environment, hampered by the continued exile of their leaders and the defection under military pressure of many senior figures. Flawed internal structures have made the PPP and PML-N, as well as other opposition parties, especially vulnerable to the military's political machinations.

Overly centralised structures have weakened communication between the leadership and lower cadres, making internal discipline and accountability elusive and hampering efforts to broaden decision making. Addressing these weaknesses through internal party reform needs to be a top priority.

To revive party machinery under the current regime, the PPP, PML-N and other moderate groups will need to reduce dependence on individual leaders and institute mechanisms aimed especially at extending ownership over party policy to grassroots workers, who have been crucial to the parties' survival, but have been largely ignored in decision-making processes. Allowing all tiers to play meaningful roles would make parties more responsive to new social and political challenges and enable them to build the durable political infrastructure necessary for a successful democratic transition.

Strengthening Pakistan's democratic parties is also crucial for the international community. The marginalisation of moderate voices has allowed religious parties to fill a political vacuum. Their increasing strength has encouraged intolerance and extremism that could erode regional stability if left unchecked.

Islamabad/Brussels, 28 September 2005

Speech / Asia

Afghanistan's Peace Process Will Be Long, Incremental and in Need of a Mediator

Speech by Laurel Miller, Program Director for Asia, at the United Nations Security Council Arria Formula Meeting on the Peace Process in Afghanistan.

Distinguished speakers and participants, thank you for the opportunity to join you for this discussion today. 

As all the preceding speakers have emphasised, a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan would be the best way to advance peace and prosperity in that country and contribute to security beyond its borders. But it goes without explaining that peacemaking is hard, and more often than not it fails. As an independent observer, I can perhaps best contribute to this discussion by highlighting a few key risks and realities that are important for those supporting an Afghan peace process to reflect in their policies and diplomacy, if the process is to have the greatest possible chance of success.

First, if the peace process succeeds – in other words, in the most optimistic scenario – the process will result in a government of which the Taliban are a substantial part, and which is structurally different than what we see today. What exactly the Taliban share and the structural changes will be can only be determined through negotiations, but trade-offs have to be expected. To anticipate otherwise would be to hope for Taliban surrender and there is no sign of that.

If and when the Afghan parties begin substantive negotiations, their starting positions are likely to be very far apart on the most fundamental questions of the political system and what kinds of democratic features it will and won’t have as compared to the existing system. Either there will be compromises on these questions or there will not be a negotiated settlement – in which case, the bloodshed will continue, with or without a foreign troop presence, and Afghanistan’s economic prospects will remain stunted.

One policy implication of this reality is that it is more important to focus support on the peace process than on specific outcomes. This isn’t to suggest that supporting countries abandon their own values. But it is to say that without placing an end to the bloodshed, to the human toll, at the apex of desired outcomes in the nearer term, other desired outcomes – rights, justice for victims, democratic features – are unlikely to be realised over the longer term. If the mantra “Afghan-owned and Afghan-led” means anything, it should mean that members of the international community will support the outcomes of Afghan peace negotiations without imposing their own redlines.

Another policy implication is that, if a negotiated settlement materialises, promoting its implementation will require providing financial support to a government that includes the Taliban. This is a reality that may be difficult to absorb for some parliaments and publics of countries that have been at war with the Taliban for two decades.

A second reality I’ll highlight concerns timing constraints on the peace process. As I’m sure is well-known to this group, peace processes generally are lengthy, often years-long affairs. In Afghanistan’s case, the relatively straightforward U.S.-Taliban agreement signed in February took nearly a year and a half to negotiate, after years of quiet preparatory steps. The more complex topics to be negotiated among Afghans will not easily be amenable to quick resolution. An incremental approach to negotiations, in which compromises are gradually accumulated, building toward the most difficult issues would offer the best chance for the parties to evolve their positions and acclimate their constituencies to compromises. This kind of approach takes time.

The U.S.-Taliban agreement, however, has shortened the time horizon for talks. It’s not hard to imagine some flexibility on the agreement’s May 2021 deadline for a full withdrawal of all foreign forces and other non-diplomatic personnel, particularly considering that none of the other deadlines in the text have held so far. And, it is theoretically possible that the Biden administration will revisit elements of the deal or interpret some of its requirements more stringently; such modifications could extend the withdrawal timeline. Regardless of any Taliban flexibility or stiffened American conditionality – or even U.S. abandonment of the deal, though I don’t expect that – the withdrawal provisions have undoubtedly shaped Taliban expectations. The withdrawal timeline was a big win for them, and they had insisted on that win up front, before commencing talks with other Afghans. It is unlikely Afghan talks can be sustained if that win is not sustained. And, unfortunately, it is also unlikely that talks would continue after a full withdrawal. The timeline may be somewhat elastic, but probably can’t be stretched very far.

I mention the timing issue in part because some have been understandably frustrated with the dramatic urgency of U.S. diplomacy over the last couple of years and may be hoping for that to change. I cannot predict what the Biden administration’s approach will be. But I can say that objective analysis of the options available will have to treat the U.S.-Taliban agreement as a ‘fact on the ground,’ and will have to resolve the tension between the timing expectations that it created and the benefits of an incremental process. 

Finally, I’ll conclude with a practical suggestion for Security Council members’ consideration. A missing feature in the peace process so far is an empowered, impartial mediator. It is difficult to see how the parties will be able to bridge the substantial distance between their starting positions without such help. Several governments have informally played a mediation role in the process so far, but this ad hoc approach is less likely to be effective as the talks get more difficult.

A Security Council imprimatur for a mediator would be helpful. Such an imprimatur would reflect the common interests of council members in a stable Afghanistan that contributes to regional stability and provides no safe harbour for transnational terrorists. It would also signal the clear backing of key countries for the peace process – countries whose support will be needed not only to keep the process on track but also to create conditions for effective implementation of any results.

Over the next two months, while the future direction of U.S. policy cannot be certain, the crucial task will be to keep the Afghan talks, currently stalled, on life support. After that point, a push to put in place a mediator could help re-energise the process.

Thank you.