How is Pakistan being destroyed by politics?

Pakistan has "notoriously bad governance"

Dirk Müller: This is worse than the tsunami, says the UN in Islamabad, referring to the current consequences of the flood disaster. More than 14 million Pakistani are said to be affected by the masses of water, hundreds of thousands are on the run, criticism of the government is growing. Miserable crisis management is the accusation across the political ranks, across the population. Above all, anger, anger and disappointment with the country's president, Asif Ali Zardari. He insisted on staying in Europe for a week despite the flood situation. All of this could lead to the already fragile political situation in the country getting completely out of hand, warn international observers, with all the negative consequences for the region, including the situation in Afghanistan and the role of the Taliban.
We now want to talk about the flood disaster and politics with Pakistan and Afghanistan expert Christian Wagner from the Science and Politics Foundation in Berlin. Good Morning!

Christian Wagner: Good Morning!

Müller: Mr. Wagner, is there such a thing as crisis management in Pakistan?

Wagner: Well, the country has been in very different crises for many years and, above all, as far as the question of development is concerned, it is clear that the government has had a number of failures, and these are of course now very extreme in the way they are handled this flood disaster.

Müller: Is that inherent in the system, these failures?

Wagner: Unfortunately, Pakistan is one of the countries that has had notoriously bad governance for many years. We can see this in many international statistics, we can see it in the below-average education indicators, the poor health care, and of course it is now also evident in the handling of the infrastructure, especially in terms of precautions against this flood disaster.

Müller: Also because the logistics are not working?

Wagner: Yes. Of course, logistics lags behind in many areas of the country. I think it is certainly a flood disaster of unprecedented proportions and the army is overwhelmed. But I think one could of course have learned from the past. It is not the first flood disaster in Pakistan.

Müller: Can you explain why President Zardari is outside the country in this situation?

Wagner: Yes. It has been a very difficult decision indeed. It was foreseeable that the flood disaster would of course be politicized. Above all, he justified his visit to Great Britain with the aim of improving bad relations with Great Britain. He is now trying, of course, to present this trip as a success by raising additional aid to combat the flood disaster. But I think he is of course also the head of state and thus also the symbol for the unity of the country. He would certainly have done well to stay at home and calm the situation here.

Müller: Criticism and protests are growing in the country. For example, former cricket star Imran Khan says why is our president living in the most expensive hotel in London while thousands of people are being left in the lurch. Is that indicative of the situation?

Wagner: Yes. It is significant in that it was of course to be expected that this flood disaster would also be politicized. Zardari has been struggling with bad poll numbers for many years and of course the opposition is trying to politicize this flood disaster in their favor. There are minor unrest in many places, including with regard to government aid measures. So it shows that dissatisfaction with the government will probably continue to grow as a result of this flood disaster.

Müller: We are talking about Pakistan, at the same time about a very, very large, almost unmanageable country. There are very many trouble spots. The situation in Karachi is currently under discussion again. There, too, there were violent clashes again, riots in the Swat Valley, the dispute over the Kashmir issue. Does that now concern the political substance of the leadership?

Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistani President and widower Benazir Bhuttos. (AP)Wagner: The country has actually been grappling with a number of many regional crises, large and small, for many years. Fortunately, Prime Minister Gilani was able to calm the situation in Karachi. There had been serious riots there. Karachi is also the country's economic center. Had there been major unrest there again, it would certainly have been at least as catastrophic for economic development. In fact, the civilian government has so far not been able to decisively combat these various regional centers of conflict in the country or the fight against terrorism, and I think that this government has not yet developed a convincing concept for this either.

Müller: There is, Mr Wagner, the much-quoted sentence: "First politics collapses, then the authorities, then the military, then the state". Are we talking about Pakistan?

Wagner: I don't think we're talking about Pakistan. As I said, there is unfortunately a tradition in Pakistan of poor governance by our standards. At the latest at the point that the military is collapsing, I would say that you can't actually see it. At the end of the day, of course, the strength of the military holds the country together and I think that is why fortunately we are not talking about Pakistan here.

Müller: Conversely, Mr. Wagner, if I understand you correctly, can we go so far as to say that Pakistan is stable?

Wagner: It's not stable. It will certainly remain a country that will face numerous problems over the next few years due to the flood disaster. The domestic political situation remains fragile, and I believe that the country's economic development has now suffered a significant setback as a result of this flood disaster. The country was already in an economic crisis before. We have dramatic problems with the energy supply, we have long-term problems such as severe deficits in the development of the health and education system. So that is certainly not stability, but there will continue to be major and minor crises in Pakistan in the years to come.

Müller: Afghanistan, the Taliban, the border area - has anything changed there in the past few years in the fight against terrorism in connection with the American intervention?

Wagner: It has certainly changed for the better as we see a greater willingness in Pakistan today to take action against a number of militant groups. However, the Pakistani armed forces in particular have so far lacked the willingness to take action against all Taliban groups. There are numerous indications that Pakistan continues to support certain Afghan Taliban groups in order to secure its long-term influence in Afghanistan. The West is faced with a difficult task here, because of course it does not know how to get Pakistan to ultimately act just as decisively against all militant groups in this border region.

Müller: And Pakistani politicians, Mr. Wagner, know about these alliances?

Wagner: Pakistani politicians certainly know about this alliance, but foreign and security policy decisions are primarily made by the army command. Pakistani politicians have comparatively little room for maneuver here. Unfortunately, this is a very unfortunate development in a country that has been ruled by the majority of the military in 60 years, but here the elected democratic government has comparatively little room for maneuver. Foreign policy towards the two neighbors India and Afghanistan is determined by national security issues, and these are decided by the army command.

Müller: And the Pakistani secret service?

Wagner: The Pakistani secret service is of course part of the army. However, we do not know and it is a big question to what extent the Pakistani army command also knows that they are facing a difficult task here, because parts of the secret service are likely to continue to cooperate with these Afghan Taliban groups. Former presidents and generals such as General Musharraf have indirectly admitted time and again that former employees of the Pakistani secret service are cooperating openly with Afghan Taliban groups. That continues to happen, and of course that is also part of the strategy to secure influence over Afghanistan.

Müller: With us this morning Christian Wagner, Pakistan and Afghanistan expert from the Science and Politics Foundation in Berlin. Thank you for the interview and goodbye.

Wagner: Many Thanks!