Argument

Sharifistan

The winner of Pakistan’s monumental election can celebrate democracy in action, but there’s still a long way to go.

The party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may have swept Saturday's polls in Pakistan, but the biggest winner was clearly democracy.

Sixty percent of registered voters took part in the elections, the highest number since 1970. These voters -- including Pakistan's traditionally apathetic urban elite -- did so despite the very real threat of violence by the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the country's most powerful terrorist group.

Pre-election violence, which took over 100 lives, and terrorist attacks on the day of the polls in Karachi, Peshawar, and elsewhere, did little to deter voters. The high turnout, including unusually large numbers of women and young people, was not only a testament to Pakistani resilience, but also a slap in the face of TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud, whose group tried to intimidate voters and delegitimize democracy by claiming that it is antithetical to Islam.

Saturday's polls were not without their flaws. There were blatant attempts to obstruct voting or rig elections in multiple constituencies in Karachi and elsewhere in the country. On Sunday, Altaf Hussain, the self-exiled London-based leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the political party that dominates Karachi, issued a not-so-veiled threat of violence against peaceful protesters demanding a revote in one of the city's constituencies. In insurgency-wracked Balochistan, voting irregularities suggested that the military was tinkering with the ballots. At the same time, separatists in the province also waged a terrorist campaign to intimidate candidates, voters, and others involved in the elections to produce an extremely low turnout. In sidelining Baloch nationalist politicians who returned to Pakistan to take part in elections, the Pakistani military may have unwittingly aided separatists in preventing Baloch politicians from coming back into the democratic -- and nationalist -- fold.

But in most places, the greatest threats to the vote were not violence and corruption but incompetence and inefficiency. Some voters had to wait over six hours to cast their ballot. Polling officers were poorly trained and there was no dry-run conducted before election day. The Sharif government must continue the process of reforming the federal election commission, not simply make changes in the weeks and months before the next election. To deepen the public trust in democracy, the government of Pakistan must make clear to its people, including the 36 million new registered voters, not only that their vote matters, but that their right to it is inviolable. 

Whatever else Pakistanis may disagree on, there appears to be a consensus, at least for now, that democracy is the way forward. The country's major power brokers -- its two largest parties, the army, judiciary, and private media -- have been at odds with one another over the past five years, but the chaos has been controlled and all these actors exercised some restraint during the election so as to not derail the democratic process. With the high turnout on election day and enthusiasm that preceded the polls, the public appears to be buying in to the democratic system as well. (Remember, this is a country where military strongman Pervez Musharraf once enjoyed an approval rate above 60 percent.)

But if this pro-democratic sentiment is to survive, voters need to see results in the form of good governance and meaningful economic reform. The Pakistan Peoples' Party (PPP), which has led the country's ruling coalition for the past five years, must be given credit for helping instill a culture of consensus-building among Pakistan's political elite. This traditionally adversarial lot managed to pass three major constitutional amendments that not only involved a significant amount of give and take, but also instituted the electoral reforms that made Saturday's great turnout possible.

On the other hand, the PPP largely failed at managing the country's economy. While its Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) -- which provided cash transfers to low-income families -- succeeded at limiting the damage of the economic slowdown on the country's poor, it did little to boost economic growth. The PPP also balked at taking measures to increase income tax collection (Pakistan has one of the world's lowest tax-to-GDP ratios) or reform the archaic state-owned enterprises that bleed billions of dollars a year. The PPP-led government was on the verge of bankruptcy for most of its tenure.

A critical mass of Pakistanis voted for Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), because the pro-market party is seen as the most likely to rehabilitate the country's dying economy. Throughout the campaign and since the elections, Sharif has made clear that economic reform will be his priority. But he must get Pakistan's elite -- of which he is a part -- to pay their taxes. He must also invest in job creation and smart infrastructure development. That means prioritizing vocational education and affordable public transportation networks over highways and bullet trains. The international community is sick of giving the government of Pakistan handouts.

The challenges Pakistan faces are grave. The economy is mired in stagflation. The government is essentially bankrupt. The terrorist threat endures and evolves. Radicalism is a cancer that eats at the country's core. And neighboring Afghanistan could face another civil war. But with one of its highest voter turnouts ever, and the army, politicians, judiciary, and media all acting in support of democracy, the country has taken a decisive step in right direction. Political stability and legitimate governance are prerequisites for enduring reform. 

Indeed, this has been recognized by none other than Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who last month described this Saturday's elections as a "golden opportunity that could usher in an era of true democratic values." He said that democracy and good governance could relieve Pakistan's "present suffering" -- a statement lauded by secular political forces usually critical of the army.

These encouraging words from Pakistan's most powerful security official do not mean that the final chapter of military rule in Pakistan has been written. But the political consciousness of Pakistanis -- aided by over a dozen cable news channels that vigorously take the country's politicians to task -- is greater now than it has been in recent decades. Pakistan's democrats have a clear mandate to rule. Now they must deliver.

Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images

Argument

The Trust Deficit

How the U.S. 'pivot' to Asia looks from Beijing.

BEIJING — This is a crucial moment for Sino-U.S. relations, as heated debates about the future of this relationship rage in both countries -- debates characterized by downright pessimism, with only a sliver of optimism. Here in Beijing, we are asking: Is U.S. President Barack Obama's policy toward China undermining the already flimsy strategic trust between the two countries? Is it possible for China and the United States to build a new type of great-power relationship, one that can help us avoid confrontation and conflict? Can China and the United States work together to play a leadership role in global governance to meet such urgent global challenges as nonproliferation and climate change?

Obama's "pivot" to -- or "rebalancing" toward -- Asia and the Pacific, in both words and deeds, has aroused a great deal of suspicion in China. These suspicions deepen when the United States gets itself entangled in China's dispute with Japan over the Diaoyu Islands and in the debates over maritime issues in the South China Sea. Should this ill-thought-out policy of rebalancing continue and the security environment worsen, an arms race would be inevitable. China, despite its intention to pursue a strategy of peaceful development, might be forced to revisit some aspects of its policy for the region. That is something China abhors. We understand that a peaceful and prosperous world starts with your neighborhood -- just as a stable and good Sino-U.S. relationship also starts in our two countries' neighborhood, the Asia-Pacific region.

From the Chinese perspective, the United States is the only power capable of creating a negative external environment for China. This is why China carefully scrutinizes what the Obama administration does and tries to understand what it will do. But we also understand that it is in China's long-term interest -- as well as that of the entire region -- to develop and maintain stable, healthy relations with the United States. And we think that there are many common interests that should serve as a basis for a cooperative relationship.

It is clear to all that the world's balance of power is shifting in favor of China and other emerging countries, though the United States maintains its strength in the economic, science-and-technology, military, and cultural fields. However, this "one up, other down" trend that has been accelerating since the 2008 financial crisis has intensified U.S. strategic uncertainty about China. We believe this is why the United States has been increasing its strategic hedging by deploying more and more of its military assets to the Western Pacific and by strengthening its military alliances with Japan, Australia, South Korea, and others in the region.

Clearly, a huge deficit of strategic trust lies at the bottom of all problems between China and the United States. Some scholars have hinted that U.S.-China trust is at its lowest since U.S. President Richard Nixon's historic 1972 visit to China. But history is a mirror. And from a historical perspective China and the United States, despite their differences, have many things in common, and there is no reason for them to distrust each other. Granted, China has achieved spectacular economic growth over the past several decades, which has made its military modernization possible. But isn't this a product of the globalization espoused by the United States? Isn't it a fact that China's growth has contributed hugely to world peace and prosperity?

During World War II, China and the United States were allies, and together with others, they built the international system in which we now interact. A recent example is the joint efforts by China and the United States in tackling the international financial crisis within the framework of the G-20. We cannot claim that this cooperation between the two countries prevented the world economy from collapsing, but it would not be too off the mark to say that without such cooperation, the world today would be a totally different place.

Now, a new type of relationship between China and the United States requires changing the outdated view of a rivalry among great powers for spheres of influence and the inevitability of a confrontation between existing and aspiring powers. This relationship instead calls for dialogue and cooperation to expand common interests and reduce suspicions and vicious competition. China and the United States must try their utmost to avoid strategic quagmire and rivalry during this period of historic convergence and join hands in building a community of nations bent on peaceful development through cooperation and coordination.

The importance of such a relationship cannot be overemphasized, for both China and the United States. It is a road that has never before been traversed. To embark on such a road fully demonstrates that China has a historic vision and worldview and is working with other countries for peace and prosperity. It also demonstrates that China has full confidence in its peaceful development concept and has the moral integrity to maintain healthy, stable relations with other great powers. The United States has nothing to fear or worry about, and everything to gain, from a strong, peace-loving, and prosperous China.

True, there are structural differences between China and the United States with regard to geopolitics, political systems, and ideology. The debate on China in the United States is nonstop. But there is always something missing in this debate. Trust will not just fall from the sky; it needs to be built with real actions by both sides. As Obama enters his second term and China has completed its transition of power, we believe that hope has emerged and momentum is gaining traction.

Former U.S. national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski recently noted that the United States has accepted the rise of Chinese power. Chinese President Xi Jinping has noted on many occasions that the China-U.S. relationship is one of the world's most important and vibrant relationships with the greatest potential and that there is enough space in the vast Pacific for both China and the United States.

On many issues, the United States cannot divorce itself from China's helping hand. With regard to the North Korean and Iranian nuclear problems, the Syrian crisis, and other difficult issues, there is a need for China to play an important or even a key role. The United States also needs China's help in tackling global challenges such as counterterrorism, nonproliferation, poverty reduction, climate change, and energy security. Faced with a continuing weak economy, Obama sets his priorities on job creation and economic growth, and here again, China can help. On the other hand, there are still neoconservative voices in the United States claiming that the peaceful rise of China is impossible. They even predict that the United States and China will engage in tense security competition and that as the aspiring power tries to surpass the existing superpower, war between the two is inevitable. These voices should not be dismissed lightly, and the two countries should be on guard against such erroneous thinking.

It is therefore of great urgency and necessity that the Asia-Pacific region become a test field for China and the United States to explore the possibility of building a new type of great-power relationship for the 21st century. The two countries need first of all to have their officials and academics concretize the concept -- to put flesh on its bones. There is no room for procrastination. The cost of possible future conflict is simply too high to contemplate.

There need to be new perspectives and new thinking to address both old and new tough issues in China-U.S. relations. China-U.S. relations are well beyond the bilateral, if only for their sheer size. Whatever policy one takes vis-à-vis the other, the implications are multilateral and worldwide, for better or worse.

Consider, for example, climate change and world trade. The global challenge of climate change is a top priority in the cooperation between China and the United States. Clean coal technology and renewable energy are only a few areas where the two countries have been discussing and collaborating in the context of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. The global market potential for green energy, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said, could be in the range of $6 trillion. That is quite positive.

On the other hand, there are troubling signs that cooperation is not what it should be on trade and investment, where cooperation is even more important -- bilateral annual trade already exceeds $500 billion, and more than 89 percent of U.S. businesses in China are reaping profits. Unfortunately, with the United States on one front pushing for the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- now encompassing 12 countries, including Australia and Japan -- and negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union on the other, it cannot but give China the impression that it is intentionally being left out. Or even worse, that it is being isolated in international trade and investment negotiations, not to speak of numerous instances of failure by Chinese companies trying to invest in the United States. Here I tend to agree with former U.S. Rep. David Dreier when he said in an April commentary in the Wall Street Journal that "China and the U.S. are destined to be the two most important powers of the 21st century," that "the Trans-Pacific Partnership shouldn't be about hedging," and that "[i]t is in the interests of the U.S. that China be part of this partnership."

So how can we improve things? We believe both countries need to rise above our bilateral relationship, that China-U.S. relations probably need to be "de-China-U.S.-ified." Instead, they should focus more on global issues and on making global governance work as the world enters a new era of reform and rejuvenation.

Cyberattacks are a prime example of a problem that should be treated as a global governance issue and not just a bilateral one (despite the recent bilateral exchanges between China and the United States on the contentious subject of who is to blame). The fact is: Cyberattacks take place everywhere every day, and it is a mounting challenge for all countries, including China and the United States. In other words, China and the United States are both victims, and there is no point in accusing each other.

What China and the United States should do is shelve the dispute, defuse the resulting tension, and turn it into an opportunity for collaboration to curb cyberattacks and protect the safety and security of this new common frontier. Bilateral discussions are necessary, and mechanisms should be established immediately for quick, efficient communication and problem-solving, with focuses on fighting cyberspace crimes in commerce, trade, finance, and counterterrorism. There is also an urgent need for the United States to overcome its suspicions and hesitations and join China, Russia, and others to negotiate and formulate an international "code of conduct for information security" in the context of the U.N. International Telecommunication Union.

Xi and Obama have agreed to continue promoting a cooperative China-U.S. partnership in the years to come, with an emphasis on building a new type of great-power relationship between China and the United States. We're all for letting the policy debates continue, but what is needed right now are actionable policies on both sides -- a road map to make them happen. The light at the end of the tunnel is visible already.

TEH ENG KOON/AFP/Getty Images