Pakistan Deserves the Opportunity to Succeed

Pakistan was back in the headlines last week as a coalition party announced that it would request to be seated on opposition benches in protest over austerity measures. The push and pull of coalition politics put the nation's well-oiled prediction machines into overdrive. But, come the week end, the heavens hadn't fallen, and the defecting party returned to the government coalition. It was yet another tempest in a teacup, soon to be forgotten (until the next time, of course).

Member of Parliament and Presidential Spokeswoman Farahnaz Ispahani explained to the Washington Post at the beginning of the week that much ado was being made of nothing, noting that as a fledgling democracy everyone is still figuring out their roles, but that the government's coalition was not in danger, a confidence expressed as well by Prime Minister Gilani.

Nevertheless, one could not miss the alarm in the Washington Post's headline, "Party pulls out of Pakistan's ruling coalition, threatening government." And that was one of the more rational headlines that predicted the end of the present government.

Then, as Pakistan's governing coalition was negotiating positions on proposed policy reforms, the nation suffered a great loss when Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab, Pakistan's most populous and prosperous province, was assassinated for his support for religious tolerance and impartial justice.

Such an act of terrorism will always make headlines, but given the political jockeying that had been going on, many media groups ran alarmist, nearly hysterical headlines predicting the imminent doom of Pakistani democracy.

By the end of the week, the storm had passed and, when the dust had settled, it was clear that the doomsday predictions were once again premature. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) had fallen back with the governing coalition and Pakistan's ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, nudged CNN for calling the coalition "fragile", suggesting a more appropriate descriptor might be "resilient".

If Pakistan is anything, it is resilient. Whether it suffers devastating floods of historic proportion, terrorist violence, or military dictatorship -- Pakistan has always survived. Like his fellow countrymen, Asif Zardari is also resilient. President Zardari suffered a decade locked away as a political prisoner. When he was released, he saw his wife Benazir Bhutto assassinated as she returned to bring democracy to her country. A lesser man would have packed it in and lived out his days comfortably among the wealthy in London or Dubai.

By the week's end, though, Zardari had brought MQM back into the coalition by addressing their concerns, just as he said he would. He asked the people not to resort to riots and vigilantism in response to the murder of his dear friend, and Pakistan has been largely without the retaliatory violence that accompanied past tragedies.

Great attention has been given this week to those who would drag Pakistan backwards, while relatively little was paid to the thousands of Pakistanis who turned out to pay tribute to Salmaan Taseer, including leaders from both coalition and opposition parties. But more telling were the thousands of young people who defied the threats of extremists to honor Salmaan Taseer's life and his message of tolerance, justice and democracy. This is the future of Pakistan.

Let us not forget that even the great United States once appeared to be on the brink of failure. Pakistan has been through a lot, and we're still learning as we go. But given the same opportunity to succeed that the US and other countries were granted, we'll be just fine.

Today the storm has passed, but in Islamabad there are as many storms waiting to unfold as their are teacups waiting to hold them. Real politics in Pakistan isn't neat and tidy. While we apologize for causing a fuss, we do ask that you bear with us a little while longer.