"If what happened in Burma happens in Pakistan, we will face a greater threat from fundamentalists, which will be a greater danger," warned Mansoor Alam, a retired Pakistani ambassador speaking to students at Alice Cook House, Nov. 14.
"I believe as a conviction that democracy is the right course for each and every country," said Alam, who was envoy to a number of countries, including Russia, Finland and Egypt. But, he noted, "democracy is a process" and "we have to allow the process to continue for generations before institutional stability is established."
Gen. Pervez Musharraf declared martial law on Nov. 3, suspending the constitution, cracking down on Pakistani human-rights activists, the independent media and political organizers, and arresting hundreds of lawyers who claimed his re-election as president was illegitimate. Yet, said Alam, the United States provides billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan and calls Pakistan a major non-NATO ally in the war on terrorism. Even so, President George Bush has not pressed the Pakistani military ruler to "face public outcry and maintain the democratic process of the election," he said.
"The only country that can apply real pressure on Pakistan is the United States, but they are a little confused about how to apply that pressure," Alam noted.
In the meantime, Alam said that fundamentalists are exploiting the pervasive poverty in Pakistan. "I don't agree with the U.S. government that only Musharraf can fight against terrorism," Alam said, noting the U.S. goal to avoid a possible takeover in Pakistan by radical Islamists given the country's geopolitical importance. "[The] military can only go in those areas with guns, but a legitimate government based on the free will of the people will be in a much better position to deal with fundamentalists."
The fundamentalist movement, Aman said, now involves a multitude of religions. Globalization in this area, he noted, has a positive side. "We start to look at each other as human beings," Alam said. "Now the conflict is not a clash based on color and ethnicity, but cultures that collide into each other with the development of technology. Ideology doesn't work anymore in this time of the world."
Alam reminded the audience that the Pakistani conundrum has its roots in the nation's birth in "blood and tears" and that the partition of British India and such conflicts as the First Kashmir War of 1947 have created "certain conditions that made militarization and dependence on foreign aid and assistance unavoidable."
When Khullat Munir '09, president of Islamic Alliance for Justice, asked whether international involvement in Pakistan's problems could amount to any good, Alam said that external power could be helpful if applied properly by friendly countries. "If you go for rapid change, it's not going to work. Iraq has been a very bad experience."
Alam is also the founder and chairman of the organization Friends of Literacy and Mass Education, which he set up in 2001 to provide basic education and health care to disadvantaged children in South Asia.
The event was co-sponsored by the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Alice Cook House and the Dialogue Club, a student organization that strives to create a platform for conversations on issues affecting conflict-stricken regions of the world.
Graduate student Zheng Yang is a writer intern at the Cornell Chronicle.