Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sharif Vs Bhutto; and America

In the midst of palace intrigues, military coups and political victimization, Pakistan’s tumultuous history has one significant achievement: The evolution of a two party system.

In 1988 Benazir Bhutto was elected as the first woman Prime Minister of Pakistan (and the Muslim world) represented by her center left leaning Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). In opposition was an alliance of various religious, conservative and regional parties led by Nawaz Sharif. This alliance united behind an "anti-Bhutto" common factor.

During the turbulent democratic years from 1988 to 1999, both Bhutto and Sharif had the honor of being elected as Prime Minister twice (although, neither was able to complete the full term). In these years, Sharif was able to breathe a new soul in an otherwise factionalized and demoralized Pakistan Muslim League (PML). PML represented the center right leaning policies.

The events subsequent to the 1999 coup of Musharraf and his 8 year dictatorial rule have proved that both PPP of Bhutto and PML of Sharif remain the most popular parties in the country. The people of Pakistan anxiously await the opportunity to exercise their right to choose their next leader, and all opinion polls point towards a tough competition between PPP and PML.

Some of the policy differences between these two parties are:

1. Unemployment

Use Government to provide employment and reduce unemployment

Encourage private sector to create more jobs to reduce unemployment

2. Inflation

Spend, in order to invigorate the economy despite danger of inflation

Spend cautiously to keep inflation in check, since inflation is a tax on poor

3. Taxation

Increase collection by increasing taxes on the rich

Increase collection by broadening the tax base

4. Nuclear Program

Let IAEA inspect country’s installations

The nuclear program is safe and is for defensive purposes

5. Taliban / War on Terror

Fight the Taliban and War on terror; if not successful, invite NATO to fight

Reassess the root causes and resolve the Taliban and War on Terror issues with a mix of fighting and conciliation

6. Proliferation

Let IAEA question A Q Khan

This is a closed matter

As can be seen, the first three issues show different positions of the two parties on domestic/economic fronts, while the last three indicate very different perspectives on foreign policy issues.

Pakistan has, therefore, been able to evolve a strong democratic two party system based on different perspectives on policy issues (rather than political confrontation). Further, the people of Pakistan believe in the principles of democracy and wish to have a say in choosing their leaders.

A reinvigorated independent judiciary along with a vibrant and open press and electronic media, facilitate the check and balance needed for a moderate and representative society to prosper.

This makes Pakistan perhaps the only Islamic country in the world that has such democratic credentials.

Furthermore, after looking at the foreign policy differences, it is not hard to gauge that the Unites States will prefer Bhutto’s PPP to be in power. Having said that, even if the Pakistani people were to vote Sharif’s PML in office it will not pose any major problem for the United States (since Sharif represents a moderate/pragmatic leadership rather than the extremist/fundamentalist viewpoint which the West would like to avoid).

Consequently, Pakistan can boast a well organized democratic system along with a strong judiciary and open media to prove to the world that genuine democracy can work in an Islamic country (an exercise that the West has been trying to undertake in Iraq).

The West, therefore, needs to pressurize Musharraf to quit in order to pave way for the first genuinely democratic modern Islamic state of the World.

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