Pakistan narrowly avoided turning a political stand-off into a full-blown constitutional crisis this week (see the ever-useful POMED roundup), not least due to the critical role played by civil society, especially the independent lawyers’ movement.
But the settlement of the crisis does not address the underlying political volatility, economic impoverishment, and deepening social alienation that threaten the country’s fragile democracy. Some 73% of Pakistanis considered themselves worse off than the previous year and 59% expected things to get worse, according to an International Republican Institute opinion poll conducted late last year.
It has been suggested that the Obama administration’s strategic reassessment on Pakistan and Afghanistan may deemphasize democracy assistance and economic development while prioritizing military build-up and security efforts.
Reassuringly, Bruce O. Riedel, the chairman of the administration’s “Af-Pak” policy review, has affirmed that Pakistan’s representative government and civil society need to be reinforced if the country’s democrats are to squeeze jihadi culture out of the political system.
The lawyers’ movement has been described as “perhaps the only liberal, modernist, utterly non-violent, peaceful, tolerant, democratic, plural and hugely popular movement“ in the Islamic world. It proved to be a key player in Pakistan’s civic majority that is emerging as a better bulwark against Talibanization than any military strongman, according to former State Department analyst Dan Twining:
The United States should welcome the role of a vibrant civil society in Pakistan that advocates the same goals — freedom of the judiciary, freedom of speech, and checks and balances on political power, which characterize all constitutional democracies. U.S. policy toward Pakistan, including assistance programs, should focus on strengthening Pakistan’s civic institutions, particularly the educational and judicial systems, to empower the country’s moderate majority.