Sunday, August 29, 2010

Old habits die hard

A hopeful story from Pakistan (may its tribe increase), spoiled by the usual old American habits of short-term thinking.

The New York Times tells us about the new breed of politicians rising in Pakistan.
In Pakistan, where politics has long been a matter of pedigree, Jamshed Dasti is a mongrel. The scrappy son of an amateur wrestler, Mr. Dasti has clawed his way into Pakistan’s Parliament, beating the wealthy, landed families who have ruled here.

This is a big change. As the article explains,
For years, feudal lords reigned supreme, serving as the police, the judge and the political leader. Plantations had jails, and political seats were practically owned by families.

Instead of midwifing democracy, these aristocrats obstructed it, ignoring the needs of rural Pakistanis, half of whom are still landless and desperately poor more than 60 years after Pakistan became a state.

But now, it seems, the stranglehold of the feudal classes slowly loosens. Newer, more populist candidates get elected, who actually meet with their constituents and try to address their concerns. Of course, many of them are rough men with criminal records, but:

Whatever the case, he is deeply appealing to Pakistanis, who have chosen him over feudal lords for political seats several times. Local residents call him Rescue One-Five, a reference to an emergency hot line number and his feverish work habits. Constituents clutching dirty plastic bags of documents flock to his small office for help, and he scribbles out notes for them on his Parliament letterhead like a doctor in a field hospital.

Contrast this example with a feudal lord:

Mr. Mehmoud, 48, is a wealthy man of leisure, who spends more time relaxing in his house — a pink replica of a Rajasthani palace with a hand-carved facade — than on his job as a lawmaker. Sometimes he talks to his constituents, but more often he watches them go by from the window of his speedy, white Hummer.

For years, people voted for him anyway, partly out of habit. His ancestors were considered to be distant relatives of the Prophet Muhammad, which inspires awe and respect. But more important, his constituents were tied to him economically. His family owned the land they worked and often their houses. His carpet has a worn patch where generations of peasants sat in supplication.

No wonder the feudals are losing their seats, as labor becomes more mobile and more people wake up to their rights.

So, does the American analyst see this as a hopeful sign? Of course not:

The result is a changing political landscape more representative of Pakistani society, but far less predictable for the United States. Mr. Dasti, 32, speaks no English. His legislative record includes opposition to a sexual harassment bill. He has 35 criminal cases to his name and is from the country’s conservative heartland, where dislike of America runs deep.

So, it doesn't matter if he's popularly elected: he doesn't speak English, is a Neanderthal like Newt Gingrich, and comes from a backward and xenophobic area, so we have a problem with it? We still haven't changed our old habits in how we look at Pakistan.

And finally, this is the paragraph that made Boston Brahmin sputter out his morning coffee:

The changes also leave room for Islamists. In the neighboring district of Dera Ghazi Khan, a hard-line mullah, Hafiz Abdul Karim, came within a few thousand votes in 2008 of unseating Farooq Leghari, a former president of Pakistan. His weapon? Efficient, Islamist campaign workers and free water pumps.

So far, Islamists have not tapped popular frustration in a systematic way at the ballot box, and the military, the country’s oldest, strongest institution, would probably put down any broader uprising, analysts say.

Ah -- not to worry. Our favorite nephew, the Pakistan army, will take care of the uppity natives if needed.

This analysis is wrong on so many levels. Let me just list three: first, even if the hard-line mullah's workers are Islamists, if he is running for elections with free water pumps, this can only be a good thing, no? Second: do we still really want the Pakistan army to intervene in politics? If running for elections and winning by giving the people water pumps is the "broader uprising", then we need more of those in Pakistan. What legitimacy does the army have in intervening? And third: have we not learned yet that the army is an ally of the Islamists, in fact the sponsor and protector of some of them? In every army action, the army picks and chooses its favorite Islamists.

One would think that the U.S. troops being killed in Afghanistan by Pakistan army-sponsored Islamists might give these analysts pause. But no. Before Pakistan, the real change, it seems, is needed in our own analysts, whose old habits die hard.

1 comment:

MOMster said...

thank you for resuming posting.