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Asia

Interview: Pakistan's struggle to democracy

Many analysts believe that Pakistan is on the verge of becoming a failed state and that democracy is not working in the country. DW's Grahame Lucas interviewed Shazia Marri from the ruling PPP about these perceptions.

Indians light lamps near portraits of soldiers who were killed in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks

The Mumbai attacks are still ovrshadowing the relationship between Pakistan and India

Deutsche Welle: How realistic do you think it is that Pakistani society is really willing to look for a major relaxation of tensions with India?

Shazia Marri: When it comes to how the Pakistani society looks at relaxation regarding issues with India, I would say that it is very promising. There is a very strong people to people contact between India and Pakistan. In fact, prior to my coming to Germany there was a delegation from India headed by Kuldeep Nayar (an Indian journalist well known for his political comments) who is a very active person involved in the whole process of peace talks between the two countries. There are various delegations that are going from Pakistan and vice versa coming from India to Pakistan. And I think this is the kind of response that is most needed today.

I would also court you an example of the event that takes place at the border of India and Pakistan on 14th and 15th of August, which is the independence dates, the 14th being Pakistan’s and the 15th being India’s. And a group of peace lovers or peace activists trying to get peace between the two countries started this process in 1995. They were very few people, maybe five to six and today I am very happy to quote to you that last year on the 14th and 15th of August, there were about two hundred thousand people at the border. So, you see, this is the kind of change that you see and it has to come from within. Yes, the government can decide on different matters, certain talks on possibilities of mechanism. But when it comes to people to people contact it is totally unconditional.

But you do get the impression from a German perspective that India and Pakistan are still very focused on the hostility in their relationship. Just recently we had both sides launching nuclear capable missiles. And that is hardly a sign of relaxation of tensions. And at the same time we have the unresolved issue of Kashmir, and of course ISI, Pakistan military intelligence, has been accused many times of trying to foment violence in Kashmir. But at any rate, that is the point of view of Indians. And Indians on the other hand have committed human rights atrocities against the Kashmir. So, at what point are the two sides going to sit down and talk to each other?

Well, Pakistan is always willing to sit on the composite dialog between the two countries. We are very happy to have seen a very positive dialog, the last one that was held in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, that was very promising. But things did not happen in the same spirit further on.

I would also put on record the statement from the President of Pakistan. He said that Pakistan will never be the first one to open an attack. And this is not very comfortably taken in certain quarters, I’d say on both sides. So you see the political leadership is committed to a better, more positive result. And we firmly believe that it is in the interest of our development, it is in the interest of our prosperity. May it be political, strategic, economic, you name it. It’s a win-win-thing if we can do it.

And we rest upon composite dialog with India. For Mumbai we completely rely on the law to take its course. We respect the institutions to play their roles. Pakistan has time and again condemned the attack. We are a country that is paying the heaviest price for terror attacks and terrorism in the world. I don’t think anyone else can better understand the repercussions or the devastation of this whole situation. I mean, the Mumbai attack is one example that you give me. How many examples in Pakistan do you want me to quote? Pakistan is willing to move on and to continue fighting this very mindset and the very physical existent of terrorists in Pakistan.

There is a very good example in our history in the Weimarer Republic, which was a very weak republic and was eroded by its enemies. And the result was the Adolf Hitler dictatorship that pushed the world into the Second World War. Since the founding of our state in 1949, Germany has believed in what we call militant democracy. A democracy must be willing to defend itself. In Europe, in Germany, when we look at Pakistan, we are not sure that the Pakistan democracy is really willing to defend itself with regard to the militant extremism by the Pakistan Taliban and groups like Laskar-e-Taiba.

Well, at this point in time, the biggest, the monster that Pakistan is engaged in fighting against is the terrorist militant. But when you talk about democracy and how democracy can sort of resolve the issues, I would say that democracy which came to Pakistan after a very long struggle and sacrifices, all political parties have a role to play in strengthening democracy. We might have our own differences but when it comes to strengthening institutions at the end of the day, it is political reconciliation that has to be achieved for democracy to be successful. There is no question about whether or not democracy will work. Let’s say that democracy will work at all times. It needs to be understood and differentiated, because Pakistan has, unfortunately, a very long period of dictatorial rule.

The only true democracy seen in Pakistan was that of Zulfikar Bhutto (in the 1970s). But after that whenever we had democratic governments, they never got the chance to fulfill their constitutional tenure. I can say that they are rather pressurized democracies. This is a time when we are looking at a democracy which has more strength, which is in the spirit of political reconciliation. There is a healthy opposition, there is a parliament, there is accountability. The judiciary is playing its part, the chief executive is making the decisions in the light of the constitution. You see, this is a system. We’ve entered the transition and we are now evolving into a true democracy.

Some six months after the floods in Pakistan, how are things? How is Pakistan dealing with the huge problems, and to what extent has Germany been able to help?

The last floods in Pakistan were indeed very devastating and tragic historically. The devastation was definitely something that caused major problems for the government, civil society and the people. But nevertheless the international community came to our rescue and the people of Pakistan are indeed truly grateful.

When it comes to the German contribution, I would reiterate my appreciation that the government of Germany was very active, in fact proactive, and at the same time, the people of Germany were the only population I can name which generated more than 200 million US Dollars, which was a remarkable contribution. Pakistanis would definitely for years, I would say, cherish the memories of the support over generations. These are times when you genuinely need somebody to extend a hand and I also appreciate the German chancellor for her spontaneous reaction on the media and she was the first and the only world leader who made that kind of announcement. So Germany has been very positive and supportive of the Pakistani people and community in trying times during of the recent floods.

There have been suggestions that Germany could possibly help with the Pakistani education system, as a way perhaps to get away from religious schools and break their dominance of the system. Do you think this is realistic?

I think it’s doable. And Pakistan has been time and again pressing the need to get help in the education sector and we have received help in the education sector. We are ourselves focusing on the education sector, we’ve increased the budget. But the main issue here is overhauling the system. And that is where we need the expertise, we need assistance, we need help, and the World Bank has played a very important role in training teachers. I think this is the kind of cooperation we need to focus on, we need expertise in areas of interest for our development. Education and health are the main sector that needs everyone’s attention. So if there is more and more global assistance coming to Pakistan in this regard, I’d say that it would definitely give us an ideal situation.

Shazia Marri is from the Pakistan Peoples Party and she is the energy minister under the Sindh government. Earlier this week Marri was in Berlin and talked to the German Foreign Office.

Author: Grahame Lucas
Editor: Sarah Berning

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