Tunisia & Pakistan: Ben-Ali, Zardari, And Kayani

Posted by Ahmed Quraishi on Jan 15th, 2011

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President Ben-Ali's last televised address on 13 Jan., hours before angry Tunisians and an agitated military forced him out of power


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.”


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.

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15 Responses for “Tunisia & Pakistan: Ben-Ali, Zardari, And Kayani”

  1. Sabeen Masood says:

    we have no one in politics who can ensure good governance, transparency and security. most of the politician are not even BA-pass. and i really do not want the army to take over again. so what is the future of this country? What should we do?

  2. Tariq says:

    I have a message to those interested in paknationalists smart coup, dig a little and you will see their written objective of democracy in the image of the west.
    Essentially, the project of “democratization” implies creating the outward visible constructs of a democratic state (multi-party elections, active civil society, “independent” media, etc) and yet maintain continuity in subservience to the World Bank, IMF, multinational corporations and Western powers.

    This is what the revolution in Tunisia, Egypt etc is all about, nobody yet showed any anger at US embassy or anti-us policy etc ….same for Pakistan, Its more American control.

    The Khilafah is the Islamic method to rule society, it is for now, it is for life, it is not for end times. Only Islamic State can wrest the rules of life from the kafir, to Allah.

  3. Danyal says:

    Hang all the politicians, just when we get the opportunity.

  4. [...] Article Source AHMED QURAISHI  http://WWW.PAKNATIONALISTS.COM 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. [...]

  5. asad says:

    With one change, none of the political elite should be let go. These corrupt people keep coming back.

  6. Sikander Bajwa says:

    I think we can not afford another military intervention. Nationalists, writers, intellectuals and Pakistanies should get Marshall Law/Military interventions out of their dictionary. No more military option, PLEASE!
    We need to look at the history and find nothing but disaster after disaster during and after military rule.
    1. Ayub Khan sold our water rights to India and put us in a perpetual war with her. Indus Basin Treaty was done by a dictator without parliamentary consultation. Result-wehave three rivers dry and are at the mercy of India. She only releases water when floods overflow her dams.
    2. Yahya Khan got rid of East Pakistan and was buried with honor.
    3. Zia used Islam and look where we are. THE MOST INTOLERANT PEOPLE and RELIOUS BIGGOTS of the WORST KIND are found in Pakistan.
    4. Musharraf sold his MOTHERland. He was given Guard of Honor to leave the country.
    Now the politicians:
    1. Bhutto secured our borders, brought home 90,000 POWs from India, gave us Nuclear Bomb and he was murdered.
    2. Nawaz Shareef gave the nation highways, did not bend down, disgraced India by showing who we are as a nation by detonating Nuclear Bombs to deflate her ego. But at the same time started peace process with India-Samjhota Express. He was thrown out of the country.
    3. Benazir: Gave the nation Nuclear delivery system and misslie technology, recognized that judiciary should be supreme-she was murdered.
    4. Zardari and Nawaz Sharif are corrupt and made millions/billions who knows but they will come back to people for vote. However, a dictator will rape the nation and will be given guard of honor and sent abroad.
    There are more retired Armed Focrs personnel that are billionairs than politicians. Let’s give democracy thirty years of continuity or as much time as Marshall Laws/Dictators took to ruin us. We will be better off, believe me. GOD BLESS PAKISTAN.

  7. Abdul Mannan says:

    Pakistani politicians have disappointed the people.The politicians are all praise for democracy.But the type of democracy we have been used to nobody harmed and humiliated us than this illicit mixture of dishonesty bad governance and corruption.Politicians say that worst democracy is better than the best dictatorship.Democracy can not be worst.Only in Pakistan it is the worst.Democracy will deliver only when it is made impossible for the corrupt dishonest and selfish people to take part in elections and make their way to assemblies.The influential people in Pakistan will never allow this to happen.People must unite for this.Moreover those who have harmed interests of Pakistan must be given exemplary punishment.Just taking back the looted and written off wealth is not enough.Only taking back the looted money without punishing the culprits amounts to encouraging them to further loot this nation.They say intervention by the military is an act of treason.but looting the nation and acting against the national interests is worse than treason.Armed forces must intervene when national interests is harmed , and the culprits punished.Similarly when the democracy is restored politicians should carry out the accountability of the military government and punish those found guilty of any crime.

  8. farrukh tahseen says:

    exactly the geo political conditions are different from tunisia.we differ in many ways,most importantly in the field of education.they are more than 90 percent literate.The people in tunisia stepped up to the streets and thrown out the presidency on behalf of a little hike in daily used stuff and was all due to literacy in the country.
    now look at pakistan,how many times we have stood up against the price hike???
    In the recent years the price hike of the food has become a routine,inflation has risen up more than 100 percent but how many times we recorded our voice against it,not a single time,we are ready for long march for our political benefits but not for the common people.
    i see a revolution coming our way,that will surely come but with evolution in education.Without it we wont be getting up and going into streets,it doesnt matter how many times we are crushed.I dont see a situation like tunisia in pakistan in the near future

  9. Munir Varraich says:

    There are no short cuts in nation building. Every nation has its own peculiar conditions. As for Pakistan, the geo-political conditions are very different than Tunisia. There public demonstrations over high food prices and corruption ousted the president. We cannot afford to indulge in such luxury. World food prices are effecting every country and so is corruption rampant in countries like EU and the USA (the so called developed world). No presidents are ousted and no army interventions take place in the EU and the USA. As such while trying to find solutions to our problems in Pakistan, the essential thing is to find a way for a civilised transfer of power and a continuity of our national policies – short term as well as long term.
    It is unwise to propagate our political and military leaders as “pawns” in the “great game” of super powers, in the name of “freedom of press”. That breeds de-moralisation in the nation’s psyche, and is counter to nation building.
    What lessons President Zardari and General Kiyyani have learnt by the events in Tunisia and elsewhere need not be publicised. Whatever the president and the general do in Pakistan to solve our problems would be done in the best interests of Pakistan only.

    WE must always remember, Pakistan is there to stay, that is Destiny.


  10. S A Khan says:

    Fine article until the army option is played yet again. By far the better way forward is to campaign for democracy’s revenge by holding internal party elections enabling fresh blood to come forward. Army blockheads who happily follow US hegemonic policy of killing fellow Pakistani citizens from helicopter gunships & the like need to be reined in by civil society, do they not?

  11. Mehboob Hussain. says:

    There is little difference in Ben Ali and our ruling alliet.Ben Ali was a tunisian and had to leave the country.Half of our leaders are foreign national, here on escondment only.theywill go back home after the completion of their tenure.

    • S A Khan says:

      What a good point! It really would open Pakistani political eyes if the actual nationality by way of which passports are being used and where their loot is kept along with an accounting of foreign property holdongs – some quite legitimate. Only political party elections can bring about change. All these yesterdays men are as bad for progress as simpleton army blockheads.

  12. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by PK On Web, TAHIR SHAFI and others. TAHIR SHAFI said: Similarity B/w Pak- & Tunisia, ACTION REPLY INLINE OR..?? Tunisia & Pakistan: Ben-Ali, Zardari, And Kayani – [...]

  13. Irshad Salim says:

    A good one! Will publish it on also


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