November 16, 2007

Fmr. Pakistani Ambassador Talks Politics

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This past Wednesday evening, retired Ambassador Mansoor Alam gave a talk entitled, “The Pakistani Conundrum” to about 40 members of the Cornell community in the Alice Cook House. Alam has represented Pakistan in Russia, Finland, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Mexico throughout his career.
The event was sponsored by Dialogue, the South Asia Program, Alice Cook House and the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies. Hatice Bilici ’09, president of Dialogue, said in her introduction that her group “tries to bring speakers from conflict regions.”
Bilici said she hoped Alam would add intellectual discourse to Cornell by increasing the number of speakers on campus.
Alam began his talk by reminiscing about his early days as an ambassador in Washington, D.C. There he learned about freedom through America’s political system, and to this day, Alam said he remains “a committed lover of, and believer in, democracy.”
Remembering America’s “self-confidence” in the 1960s, Alam also said he hoped that America would stop being so apprehensive of terrorism and “not allow itself to be frightened by lunatics.”
Next, the ambassador discussed Pakistan, noting that his country’s “conundrum” began with the nation’s birth “in a flood of blood and tears.”
According to Alam, Pakistan’s conflict with India has caused the country’s militarization and dependency on foreign aid, weaknesses that continue to plague the country today.
The ambassador then summarized the current situation in Pakistan now that President General Pervez Musharraf has declared de facto martial law to hold on to his presidency.
Alam said he hoped America would follow the E.U.’s lead and issue a warning to Pakistan threatening to withhold aid.
“If America stopped sending money … Pakistan’s Generals would be forced to rethink their attempt to stay in power,” he said, noting that America’s warning would have a larger impact than that of the E.U., since America gives more aid. He cited America’s support of the Shah prior to the Iranian Revolution as an example of America not withdrawing aid during a critical period of time.
“The best thing for Pakistan and the U.S. would be to not put all their eggs in Musharraf’s basket,” Alam said, while explaining that a legitimate, elected head of state would be more conducive to America’s goal of fighting terror.
Alam then described Pakistan’s three options: Musharraf can remain in power and “kill” democracy; the army can remove Musharraf and replace him with a new dictator; or Musharraf can put himself and others into a “free, fair election that isn’t rigged.”
The ambassador expressed his hope that the third alternative will come about since he said no country ruled by the military has ever been able to sustain power.
When Alam finished speaking, he answered questions from the audience.
One member asked how Aram could hope for Pakistani democracy when politics are dominated by dynasties and feudalism.
Alam answered that democracy is a process that takes time to improve. He cited formerly feudalistic countries such as Great Britain that have successfully made the transition to democracy.
Some students were impressed by Alam’s frank opinions and criticism of Pakistan.
Hamzah Sikander ’09, president of the Pakistani Students Association, called Alam’s talk “very informative,” and said he was glad to hear “the perspective of someone in the government who wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion in America.”
Khullat Munir ’09, president of the Islamic Alliance for Justice, added, “It was great to hear the perspective of someone from the government being critical and offering a constructive point of view.”