We must get it right in Pakistan

Pakistani society has never been more divided than today, not just economically, but religiously and

It hasn't been the happiest of birthdays for Pakistan. Sixty years after the trauma of Partition, which created the country, it is going through one of the most uncertain and perilous times in its history.

Pakistan's beleaguered president, General Pervez Musharraf, must feel he has little to celebrate. With almost daily suicide bombings since the army's catastrophic siege last month of the Red Mosque and its madrasas in the heart of the capital, Islamabad, Musharraf found himself having to use his national independence address not to hail the country's achievements but to urge Pakistanis to unite against terrorism. He also spoke of the importance of engaging in the forthcoming elections, the first since his coup in 1999.

Pakistan is pivotal in the so-called war on terror, but "terror" is a word the president has almost never used to describe what has been happening inside Pakistan. Apart from references to "foreigners" infiltrating Pakistan to fight with al-Qaeda, "terrorism" has been, for Musharraf, a problem for Afghanistan, the Middle East, Indian-controlled Kashmir and Britons of Pakistani descent. That he used the word to describe a national problem is a measure of how much has changed since the storming of the Red Mosque.

It is also a measure of the general's desperation. He is a man battling for political survival, unable to hand power to civilians but at the same time unable to exert authority on an increasingly anarchic country that has nuclear weapons.

Power and, more importantly, credibility are ebbing away from Musharraf at such a rate that many Pakistanis believe he looks more and more like Hamid Karzai, president of neighbouring Afghanistan, a man Musharraf despised and looked down on. For him, Karzai was a puppet of the west - a leader whom Washington had imposed on Afghanistan after the ousting of the Taliban in 2001. Worse, Karzai stayed in power because of the US, with American bodyguards rather than Afghan ones. Even though Musharraf put Pakistan fully behind the war on terror, he saw himself as different from Karzai. He had real support and power within Pakistan. Now that has changed and Pakistanis see him as a man, like Karzai, ever more reliant on support from Washington and London.

Pakistani society has never been more divided than today, not just economically, but religiously and socially. The divisions between the liberal middle classes and the poor are about the role and place of religion, the madrasa system and Pakistan's relationship with the west which, ordinary Pakistanis believe, gives them nothing. Aid from the US and UK has been overwhelmingly military-based, with barely any regard to social and developmental needs. For London and Washington, Musharraf was Pakistan, and as long as he was on their side, so was the rest of the country. That delusion is now unravelling.

Britain and the UK are realising that Pakistan is a divided land, with full-blown insurgency wars under way across the north, and a parallel Islamist political system that is campaigning for the establishment of sharia rule and an open alliance with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Comments by Gordon Brown and David Mili band about the importance of Afghanistan and Pakistan in the war on terror have been hugely encouraging. But Brown's government and the Bush administration still share dangerous misconceptions about the country. They have pandered to military rule in Pakistan for too long. They supported Musharraf blindly and were uninterested in what was happening inside his country. Continuing such a policy will ensure that millions of liberal Pakistanis come to hate the west - in addition to the millions of conservative and militant Islamists who already do so.

This article first appeared in the 20 August 2007 issue of the New Statesman, The most important protest of our time

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Why did the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet win this year's Nobel Peace Prize?

Thanks to Tunisia, it is no longer possible to argue that the Middle East and North Africa are inherently undemocratic or prone to violence.

It is a fitting that in a tumultuous year for global peacemaking, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the little-known Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, a coalition made up of the union federation UGTT, the employers’ institute, the Tunisian human rights league and the order of lawyers . Over the past few years, the Quartet has been quietly shepherded in democracy to the country that lit the fuse of the Arab Spring. In part thanks to the efforts of this broad cross-section of civil society, Tunisia has stayed the course in transitioning from an authoritarian past to a democratic future, even in the face of terrorist violence and as other revolutions in the region have faltered.

The award comes at a time of escalating sectarian conflicts in Syria, Libya and Yemen. Islamic State’s campaign of terror has uprooted Iraqis and Syrians alike, driving desperate refugees into small boats to battle the waves of the Mediterranean. They join others fleeing to Europe from political and economic crises in Africa and Asia, forming a stream of humanity symbolising failures in leadership in three continents.

Among all this, it is not hard to identify why the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the world’s most coveted peace prize to the Tunisian Quartet.

First,Tunisia deserves to be celebrated for its momentous achievements in consolidating democracy. Unlike other countries in the region, it has trodden a path that is slow but solid, adopting a comprehensive and consensus-building approach to decision-making.

In this it provides a rare and extremely important example, not only for the region but also for the world. Thanks to Tunisia, it is no longer possible to argue that the Middle East and North Africa are inherently undemocratic or prone to violence.

Civil society steps up

Second, the role of civil society is fundamental for bringing about sustainable peace. Political leadership is important, but the scale of the challenge in transitional societies means that we cannot simply leave things to political leaders to sort out.

At local level especially, peace feels a lot more real when it comes with tangible improvements to quality of life. Citizens want to see the economy motoring again and to have confidence in the state’s institutions. They want to know that they can sleep soundly and safely, without fear of violence, persecution or poverty. Governments often lack the capacity and credibility to deliver these dividends alone. Civil society must step up to the plate – particularly the associations of trade, justice and human rights of which the Quartet is formed.

And third, the Quartet’s work relies heavily on forming constructive relationships across the political spectrum – from secularists to fundamentalists. It has walked a fine line, keeping disparate groups with diverging interests invested in an inclusive national process of dialogue. It has, in the words of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, laid the “groundwork for a national fraternity”.

Politicians are often the most cynical of creatures, yet the Quartet has managed to build a sense of collective endeavour among them. It has encouraged them to put the country’s best interest ahead of personal or sectarian interests, making this the guiding principle for decision-making.

Other bright spots

The transition in Tunisia is a work in progress and there will be more setbacks and successes. The country was left reeling from two terrorist attacks earlier this year, when 22 people were killed at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, and another 39 people died during an attack on a tourist resort in Sousse. But the message today is clear – Tunisia has made remarkable progress since 2010, despite the odds. This is in large part due to a credible and engaged civil society, a remarkable achievement in a new democracy. The country has forged a path of inclusive national dialogue from which many lessons can be learned.

Elsewhere this year, Myanmar goes to the polls in November – the country’s first free national ballot since 1990. Colombia is closer to lasting peace than ever, ending half a century of war that has taken 220,00 lives and uprooted six million people.

The US restored diplomatic relationships with Cuba, and also struck a landmark agreement with Iran over its nuclear programmes. And the UN has adopted the sustainable development goals, explicitly recognising peaceful and inclusive societies as a development priority for the first time. Behind every step forward there is an individual or institution worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, but only one can win and the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet is a worthy laureate.

Laura Payne is a Research Fellow and Director of RISING Global Peace Forum, Coventry University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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