On Monday November 14, 2011, Mr. James P. Farwell delivered a lecture on his new book The Pakistan Cauldron: Conspiracy, Assassination and Instability at IWP. Mr. Farwell’s presentation was covered by C-SPAN, and was preceded by an introduction by Mr. Joseph Duffey, who wrote the foreword for the book.
Mr. Duffey praised the Pakistan Cauldron as an important contribution to the current debate, clearly demonstrating the role strategic communication plays in politics, and specifically its decisive effect on the evolution of Pakistani politics.
Mr. Farwell told that audience that he became interested in the political situation in Pakistan soon after 9/11. As a political strategist, Mr. Farwell began to research what exactly it was that “made Pakistani politics tick.” Convinced that what politicians do and say in public matters, Mr. Farwell decided to focus on how Pakistan’s principal politicians have used communication to gain and consolidate power.
Mr. Farwell set the context of Pakistan in the post-Bin Laden era as an outcome of five decades of dysfunctional politics, even conceding that Pakistan is in many ways an extraordinary country. In part, Pakistan’s failure to create stability is the result of a weak political national identity that has “bred a culture of conspiracy,” characterized by a sense of betrayal felt by many Pakistanis who blame most or all the country’s problems on outside influences. Bin Laden’s death has only hardened many people’s beliefs about foreign influences violating Pakistan’s sovereignty.
Mr. Farwell explained that Pakistanis perceive events and history quite differently than do Americans. According to a poll taken in Pakistan after Bin Laden’s death, for example, the perception of the raid that killed Bin Laden was quite negative. By contrast, in the United States, it was seen as “mission accomplished,” a positive outcome. Even though little support was expressed for al Qaeda, most Pakistanis saw the raid was a violation of Pakistani sovereignty.
Mr. Farwell stressed that the general Pakistani perception of outside influences and the conspiracies that are created in the media and in society largely shape how political players use strategic communication. In order to analyze the use of strategic communication in Pakistani politics, Mr. Farwell looked at the story of two key political figures: Pervez Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto. This approach, he believes, offers an interesting way to “get a feel for Pakistani politics” in a complex and conservative society that is dominated by a feudal aristocracy, elites, tribes, kinship, and two principal political parties. Furthermore, looking at Pakistani politics through the scope of the main political parties “only gets you so far,” and therefore by choosing these leaders as the main subjects of his book, Mr. Farwell was able to gain a real understanding of what is happening in Pakistan.
There were many reasons for choosing Benazir Bhutto as one of the main subjects for his book. Aside from the fact that Bhutto came from one of the most prestigious families in Pakistani politics, Mr. Farwell described her as a striking figure that had the power to change people’s attitudes about themselves and politics. Consistent in her beliefs as well as her rhetoric, whether she was speaking to an audience in Washington or in Islamabad, “she saw herself as a figure of a destiny that was resolved to succeed and make a difference” and did become quite popular.
Mr. Farwell related to the audience some of the experiences that made Bhutto the politician she was able to become. Bhutto spent time in prison after her father’s government was overthrown by a military coup d’état. She survived the harrowing experience, and when she came back to Pakistan after years of self-exile, she managed to outfox the Pakistani intelligence services that were undoubtedly after her. Bhutto survived prison and essentially persecution at the hands of the ISI, and was extremely courageous. “To fight for something you believe in — that says something about this woman being a woman of steel, and she showed this throughout her career.” Furthermore, Mr. Farwell notes Bhutto’s political cleverness by telling how she managed to outwit her opponents who did everything in their power to bribe away all the people she wanted to hire. Bhutto’s reaction was to take all the people she wanted to hire to Downing Street and got instruction on how to run a parliamentary government. Eventually, she was able to accomplish more than was expected. “Inevitably the military gets rid of her,” noted Mr. Farwell. Despite the political games that characterized Bhutto’s time in power, Mr. Farwell stressed the resolve and perseverance shown by Bhutto in dealing with all the obstacles put in her path.
Mr. Farwell then discussed the other subject of his book, former president Pervez Musharraf. President Musharraf came into power as a result of a “soft” coup, in which he deposed Nawas Sharif. Musharraf called himself a “liberal autocrat,” and was in fact more liberal-minded than his predecessors. However, he never reached the status of a full dictator, and he also never put his legitimacy to the people. Regardless, Mr. Farwell argued that Musharraf is an interesting example “of the kind of people that can be produced by Pakistani politics.” Mr. Farwell, then proceeded to discuss how Musharraf was brilliant at using communication – “he was clever and imaginative in conceiving a strategy to protect Pakistan’s interest.”
Mr. Farwell compared the two leaders as politicians characterizing Bhutto as creative, consistent, and full of courage. On the other hand, Musharraf is described as one who stumbled from one thing to another while showing no “grasp of the need to mobilize popular support,” and even though he always saw himself as doing the right thing, Musharraf was no politician, but rather focused on justifying his own policies regardless of his actual performance as the country’s leader. Mr. Farwell argued that there are many lessons that can be learned from looking at the Musharraf administration.
For Mr. Farwell, Bhutto’s assassination and the inability of Musharraf to accept responsibility for not providing sufficient or effective protection show a glimpse of how Pakistan’s conspiracy culture operates. Bhutto’s assassination caused a wave of creativity in the Pakistani media—new conspiracies were created or old ones interconnected, but they all told a “story behind the story” as put by Mrs.Bhutto herself. According to Mr. Farwell, this happens with every assassination, and continues to happen with other political events. Furthermore, Mr. Farwell noted that if Pakistanis dedicated the creativity they put into creating baseless conspiracy theories into other endeavors, Pakistan might well be a different country. Lastly, Mr. Farwell reiterated that it is important to look at the past in order to understand Pakistan today-to look at the history, the culture, and most importantly at how leaders use strategic communication in politics. By all measures, Mr. Farwell’s book does exactly that.
This event was organized by IWP’s Center for Culture and Security.