In Defense of a Dictator – Pt II

With Musharraf’s days in office now numbered, folks have been taking stock of his time in office and what the future holds for Pakistan. Amardeep’s piece talks about the New Guy coming in and raises the disturbing possibility that he might be too much like the Old Guy. Not Mushie but even worse, the guy(s) he replaced. And thus, the potential that Gilani is just the latest in a long string of popular leaders who’ve made up Pakistan’s checkered history with Democracy.

“A military dictatorship is a military dictatorship, and a democracy is a democracy. And the latter is always automatically better than the former.” …or is it?Via 3Quarks, I came acros an excellent piece from S. Abbas Raza titled “Defending Dictatorship: Another View on Pakistan“. Raza’s article takes a provocatively contrarian view of what’s possible in Pakistani politics (as opposed to what’s desirable) and readily recognizes the limits of dictatorship –

A military dictatorship is a military dictatorship, and a democracy is a democracy. And the latter is always automatically better than the former. It is safer to agree with this statement and to look at every particular complex political situation through the lens of this cliché than to risk having one’s liberal-democratic credentials questioned. But as a friend of mine once remarked, “All arguments for democracy in Pakistan are theoretical. For dictatorships, the greatest argument is the actual experience of Pakistani democracies.” Very similarly, another friend recently commented that “There are of course no theoretical arguments for a dictatorship, only practical ones.” In the case of Pakistan, the last two civilian democratic governments were sham democracies, and while I by no means support everything Pervez Musharraf has done, especially recently, there are various things for which his government deserves praise.

So if we’re going to assess Mushie’s government, we’ve first gotta make some of the criteria explicit. Francis Fukuyama, Fareed Zakaria, and a host of other “center-right”commentators (audaciously) assert that the final, universal answer to social stability and productivity are the 3 core pillars of Liberalism, Democracy, and Capitalism. These provide a great place to start…

While Democracy and Capitalism are pretty self explanatory to most, Liberalism is the most difficult to succinctly define. While not entirely accurate, one short hand definition is that it constitutes Rule of Law for the common man — e.g. that he is able to go about his affairs in an orderly, peaceful way without undue interference from either the state or other individuals. While Democracy is about telling the Government what to do, Liberalism is about what it’s never allowed to do. It’s the ultimate limit on mob rule and tyranny of the majority.

The question is emphatically not “was Musharraf Good?”On these 3 fronts, how does Raza assess Musharraf? Well, clearly, Democracy was NOT a hallmark of his regime. But Raza notes, Mushie’s regime was responsible for solid gains on both the Capitalism and Liberalism fronts.

Capitalism Before Musharraf –

“Pakistan stood at the brink of political and economic disaster [following] Years of mismanagement and outright pillage.

Capitalism After Musharraf –

“By 2002, Pakistan’s foreign currency reserves had risen from a few hundred million to $8.5 billion. That year, Business Week declared the Karachi Stock Exchange the “Best Performing Stock Market of the World.”…Pakistan’s economy has grown by more than 6.5 percent per year since 2003. While income inequality has increased somewhat, poverty has declined significantly.

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p>Liberalism Before -

…Members of the National Assembly (MNAs) of all parties were being bought and sold like pork futures, switching parties on a weekly basis. Sectarian violence was epidemic, crime was at an all-time high, and religious extremists were gaining ground. In a 1998 survey, Pakistan was identified as the eleventh most corrupt nation in the world, sitting uncomfortably between Latvia and Cameroon. All this in the nuclear-armed, sixth-largest country of the world.

Would most of you rather raise your family in election-less Dubai / Singapore or recently-electioned Pakistan?Liberalism After –

To confront the endemic and systemic corruption in the country, Musharraf set up the National Accountability Bureau (yes, it makes for an unfortunate acronym) to investigate charges against various bureaucrats and others, and put the incorruptible Lt. General Syed Tanweer Naqvi at its head. In addition, he assigned army personnel to be present in civilian government offices where the public could previously not obtain service without paying huge bribes.

…When I visited in 2004, a friend showed off his new driver’s license to me. But you’ve been driving for years, I said. Yes, he replied, but it used to be easier to pay off the cops if they stopped you than to pay the exorbitant bribes at the Motor Vehicle Department

Therefore, the question is emphatically not “was Musharraf Good?” In the implicit rules of Morality debate encoded in that question, a single stain is often enough to say “no” and Mushie’s got stains-a-plenty. (For ex., there’s no shortage of Lawyers and Judges who have a dissenting view of his Liberalism; for now, however, lets think about it in terms of the guy trying to run a kebab stand or trying to get a drivers’ license…)

Instead the question is “was he better than the alternative?” And at least in Pakistan, and particularly at the time of his ascendency, Musharraf’s a convenient proxy for the choice between [Democracy] and [Liberalism + Capitalism]. Other nations like Singapore, Dubai, and many Western nations prior to their current incarnations were (comparatively) Liberal, Capitalistic, but not necessarily Democratic. Putin’s popularity in Russia may perhaps be another example of a society choosing the fruits of Rule of Law and consumer Capitalism at the expense of latitude at the ballot box.

Put another way – would most folks rather raise their families in election-less Dubai / Singapore or recently-electioned Pakistan? The immigration flows and waiting lists present pretty dramatic evidence.

I think the rationale for this can be found in thoroughly operational grounds. For most normal peeps the majority of life’s questions aren’t about noisy, hyperbole-infused elections but instead day to day issues about earning money at the job, spending it at the shop and low level functional use of government services like the DMV. And on that basis, Mushie’s apparently done pretty well.

[related - Abhi's previous "Defense of a Dictator" and my "Pakistan as Illiberal Democracy" posts. Nope, I didn't get into Afghanistan here... that's a long post for another time... ]

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51 thoughts on “In Defense of a Dictator – Pt II

  1. Well, if the new guy coming in is as bad as the one Mushy replaced, Pakistan will at the tíme it discovers this fact at least have a new, unused so to say, Chief of Staff, who will probably find some doctrine document somewhere in his office on how to proceed with proven methods…