Reckless tweets vs. democratic hopes
Pakistan has now joined the ranks of countries hit by one of U.S. President Donald Trump′s characteristic tweet storms. In his first tweet of 2018, Trump declared that the United States had ″foolishly″ given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years, while Pakistan had returned only ″lies and deceit″ and provided a safe haven for the terrorists America hunts in Afghanistan. ″No more!″ Trump concluded. And now the U.S. is freezing its aid to the country.
Like his sabre-rattling towards North Korea or his unilateral decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Trump′s attacks on Pakistan may play well with his base. But it will also have serious repercussions for Pakistan, where a number of shocks in the second half of 2017 have destabilised the country politically. And if Pakistan stumbles, the consequences will be felt across South Asia and in other parts of the Muslim world, where a functioning political system in Pakistan could serve as a valuable model.
The roughly 50 Muslim-majority countries stretching from Bangladesh to Morocco have largely struggled to develop politically. Under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan′s leadership, Turkey, which once boasted a functioning democratic system, has been slipping toward authoritarian rule. Bangladesh, too, seems to be turning into a one-party system, after having made notable headway, particularly on the economic front. Now Pakistan – in a sense, the region′s best remaining hope – is also facing potentially disruptive setbacks.
The advent of competitive politics
Contrary to Trump′s accusations, Pakistan has made steady, albeit slow, progress over the last decade, both in combatting terrorism and in consolidating democratic institutions.
That progress began in 2007, when a group of lawyers initiated a mass protest movement in response to an unconstitutional decision by Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan′s fourth military president, to suspend the chief justice of the Supreme Court. The movement, backed by several political parties, ultimately forced Musharraf to step down in 2008, to avoid impeachment.
In the subsequent general election, the Pakistan Peoples Party won enough seats in the national assembly to form a solid government. The PPP′s political rival, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) won a majority of seats in the Punjab provincial assembly, giving it control of the country′s largest province. Competitive politics had come to Pakistan.
After the PPP′s five-year term, the PML(N), led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, won the next general election, while maintaining its hold over Punjab. The transfer of power occurred peacefully, with the PPP moving into opposition. Pakistan had passed another milestone.