Print This Post Email This Post
Tunisia & Pakistan: Ben-Ali, Zardari, And Kayani
Two persons in Pakistan must be watching Tunisia closely: President Asif Ali Zardariand Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani.
AHMED QURAISHI | Saturday | 15 January 2011
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan–I remember the time when President Zain Al Abidine Ben Ali seized power in Tunisia in 1987. I was 15, a young political junkie attending an Arabic school. A Lebanese friend came to me and said his countrymen and women in the south, where Lebanese Shia villages abound, flocked to the Tunisian embassy in Beirut because they were impressed by the name of the new Tunisian president which resembles the name of one of the Muslim figures.
Of course, religious myths had not place in the mind of the new Tunisian strongman. Tunisia is a Muslim country but staunchly non-religious at government level, with an educated population, and known more for its artists and musicians, books and world-class touristic resorts than anything else.
Since its independence in 1956, it was ruled by El Habib Bou Rgeiba, a Tunisian nationalist who turned his country into one of the most modernist Arab nations. In his early years, Iraq’s Saddam Hussain was impressed by Bou Rgeiba’s reforms and implemented some of them, turning Iraq into a powerhouse for education and learning before the war with Iran destroyed everything.
President Ben-Ali took charge from an ailing Bou Rgeiba in 1987 and ruled ever since.
While culture, theaters, education, sports and arts were encouraged, political dissent was not tolerated. China, for example, has allowed the young Chinese many avenues to release their energy through the Internet and social networking, online and offline, with supervision when necessary. No such room in Tunisia. The ability to adapt to change while protecting national interest is essential. President Ben-Ali was protecting Tunisian stability but failed to adapt to a new economy and society. People can live with a strong government as long as they are busy in making and spending money, which is the core of a healthy economy. Overlooking this dynamic was a mistake that President Ben Ali has paid for yesterday, when he had to escape the country after weeks of demonstrations against corruption and inflation.
An army officer and a former head of Tunisian military intelligence and later in charge of external intelligence, President Ben-Ali was forced out by his own military because of the way he handled protesters, killing around 90 protesters and injuring close to one thousand. The protesters were only against the rise in essential food items and general corruption of the ruling elite.
The military sealed Tunisia’s airspace and effectively secured all borders. Some relatives of Sarah Trabolsi, the second wife of the president, were arrested by the military as they tried to board a plane out of the country.
The military did not approve of President Ben-Ali’s high-handedness and eased the president out. The people have welcomed the military intervention, and emergency rule is in effect now in the country. The new temporary president Mohamad El Ghanouchi has called on “all sons and daughters of Tunis … to show national spirit and unity and help our nation pass this difficult stage.”
LESSONS FOR PAKISTAN
It is just a guess but two people must be watching the Tunisian news closely: President Asif Ali Zardari and Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
President Ben-Ali’s departure is bad news for our president. It shows that such departures are possible after all and no amount of ‘revenge democracy’ ['democracy is the best revenge' is one of Mr. Zardari's best catchphrases] can prevent such an ending.
The Pakistani ruling elite is not just incompetent. It is ineffective, conducts uncivilized politics, and has almost no vision for the country’s past, present or future. What is worse is that the Pakistani ruling elite will not allow any mechanism for new Pakistani faces or talents to emerge. This stagnation is what led to President Ben-Ali’s escape.
You can add one more charge in the Pakistani case that does not exist in the Tunisian example: Pakistani politics have splintered along linguistic lines, dividing Pakistanis and enticing them to internal warfare. The country’s constitution does not allow our parties to do this but there is no one to stop them.
As for Gen. Kayani, his and his colleagues’ worry is simple. They do not want to find themselves in a situation where the military intervenes again in a traditional way and clean the mess, like the Tunisians have done. Pakistan needs to create viable state institutions to run the country. The military realizes the importance of this to avoid a meltdown. But such a meltdown is almost knocking at Pakistan’s door. In the face of massive failures of the Pakistani political elite, the military knows it will have to step in eventually.
It is not hard to figure this out. But the million-dollar question is: What to do after an intervention. Traditional-style coups, where the army chief steps in and takes charge, like Pervez Musharraf had done, can no longer work. Whoever is in charge after a meltdown, tough decisions will have to be made to restyle the political system by removing crippling bottlenecks in the constitution and laws and in a manner that would stop political parties from becoming personal and family fiefdoms and allow for a healthy and civilize political growth and practice.
Like Tunisia, Pakistan will have to find indigenous solutions. Lectures and recipes from Washington and London won’t help. The Tunisians have clear red lines in this regard. But not in Pakistan, which is a contributing factor to constant instability.
© 2007-2010. All rights reserved. PakNationalists.com
Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium
without royalty provided this notice is preserved.