August 27, 2010

Hope amongst Pakistan's ruins

As bad as the flood damage is in Pakistan, there is a positive side. My latest article on the afpak channel is about the young Pakistanis with the skills and connections to do what their leaders can't.

"Pakistan is beset by a serious lack of good governance. Analysts such as the scholars at the Pak Institute of Peace Studies have argued for some time that this absence is a driving force behind whatever support extremists in Pakistan can claim. In recent weeks, the Air Blue crash in Islamabad and the government's poor reaction to the floods have drawn more attention to this fracture at the heart of the country. No matter how much aid flows into Pakistan from the outside, Pakistanis themselves must ultimately ensure the formation of governments that serve the people they claim to represent. And surprisingly, possibly the one positive thing to emerge from the floods is growing evidence that young Pakistanis - the educated sons and daughters of well-off families - are willing and able to show that collective action for the public good is not something that is only possible in other countries."

For all its problems there are assets Pakistan has that can serve it well in the future. This includes a tradition of public debate, appreciation for a free press, a healthy culture of dissent against unfettered executive power and a fairly independent civil society. The military in Pakistan is hugely influential but doesn't define the state - possibly because it wasn't instrumental in its inception. The idea of Islam defines the state, but at the same time it remains a vague concept that the people who call the shots don't agree on. That's a problem but also an opportunity for Pakistan. Those who say Islam is all about fighting Kafirs can't completely silence those that say its about raising living standards and providing medical relief.

The question about engagement in Pakistan isn't about whether or not potential partners exist.

UPDATE: I'm not the only optimist. Read Mohsin Hamid's article in the FT.

"Countless individual responses to the floods also inspire hope. Massive collections are under way in Lahore. Virtually everyone I know is donating money, time or goods - or all three - to the relief effort. Societal safety nets, the welfare micro-systems of families and friends that bind Pakistanis together in the absence of a strong and effective state, are doing what they can to help with the unprecedented load.

Hope also comes from the rise of a powerful and independent news media, and from a judiciary that has fought for - and won - remarkable freedom. Pakistan's airwaves and front pages, blogs and cafés are full of the debates of a rambunctious multi-party democracy, one of precious few in the region between India and Europe."