The long awaited national election in Pakistan was concluded on 18 February 2008 amidst unprecedented bloodshed. Not only was the run up to the election bloody, but the day of the election also left more than 70 dead. Contrary to the prophecies of the Pakistani media, there was no large scale rigging by Musharraf’s supporters. Voter turnout was also more than that in 2002 national elections. The post-election scenario marks the beginning of coalition politics in Pakistan. In the national assembly, the PPP has emerged as the largest party, followed by PML-N, with the PML-Q as a distant third. In the provincial assemblies, PML-N has emerged as the biggest party in Punjab, while PPP predominates in Sindh, followed by the MQM. The largest representation in NWFP is that of ANP, while in Baluchistan assembly, the PML-Q is the biggest party. Interestingly, Muslim fundamentalist parties have been the biggest losers in these elections. Once again, the political elite of Pakistan have an opportunity to strengthen national democratic forces. But, going by past conduct, there appear to be more challenges than hopes.
The PPP and PML-N have joined hands to neutralize Musharraf and to bridle the army. Given that the political agenda of both parties is diverse, even three months after the election, no one is concerned about the common man. A two-point agenda, of clipping Musharraf’s wings, and reinstating judges deposed during the emergency, occupies centre stage. PML-N has been pushing for reinstatement of judges sacked by Musharraf through a resolution in parliament by 12 May 2008. PPP has not committed itself to this deadline. Sensing the seriousness of the impasse, the US has felt it necessary to intervene. This, however, led the Pakistani Ambassador in US, Mahmud Ali Durrani to state that ‘American congressional leaders and other wielders of power should not try to micro-manage the post-election situation in Pakistan as any perceived attempt by the US administration to do so will be counterproductive’.
Given the political history of Pakistan and past acrimony between PPP and PML, the present alliance is at best a marriage of convenience. Both sides have treaded the alliance path cautiously to avoid any damage to their political fortunes. After protracted parleys failed, PML-N has decided to pull out from the federal government and provide issue-based support to the government. It remains part of the alliance as Nawaz Sharif has not asked Asif Ali Zardari to pull out from Punjab government. While doing so Sharif is conscious of securing his main election plank, the reinstatement of the judges sacked by President Musharraf. But he is not inclined to put the democratic process in jeopardy or risk serious fallout on his own political fortune. It would not be inappropriate to surmise that foreseeing irreconcilable positions of both parties’, intelligence agencies of Pakistan may already be working to patch up support for PPP in case PML-N eventually sits in opposition. Pakistan’s political elite is indeed facing a challenge to work out a solution acceptable to all, without which political stability of the country remains at risk.
President Musharraf still enjoys support of the army and the US, and is playing his cards well. Initial demands for his impeachment have turned into whimpers for curtailing some of his presidential powers. The main focus is on the presidential power that allows him to use Article 58 (2b) to dismiss national assembly. This is considered by the Pakistan Army to be a ‘safety valve’ in the mired and bizarre political environment of the country. The challenge for the army is to sell a package which does not altogether take away the president’s powers under Article 58(2b) but makes it subject to the approval of the Supreme Court. This will avoid a situation similar to when Nawaz Sharif’s government was dismissed by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in April 1993, but was reinstated by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The army will also be in favour of retaining president’s powers to appoint services chiefs. Ironically, authoritarian tendencies have been evident not only in the military but also in civilian regimes of Pakistan. Well aware of such tendencies in Nawaz Sharif, the army would shy away from giving any political advantage to him.
USA considers Pakistan a dangerous, unstable country, and is providing financial and institutional support to encourage her to bring un-policed FATA under control. According to US State Department’s latest annual terrorism report ‘the ceasefire negotiated by Pakistan in 2007 gave al-Qaida an opportunity to rebuild some of its pre-September 11capabilities. The Pakistani militant networks there have taken on an increasingly important role as an ally of al-Qaida in their operations in Afghanistan and in the West’. The new regime in Pakistan will be under pressure to control the tribal areas, failing which the US might be tempted to conduct operations against Pakistani militants in those areas. Due to prolonged instability, Pakistani society is fundamentally divided. While moderate middle class resides in Punjab and Sindh, NWFP and Baluchistan are home to radicalism, poverty and terrorism. Pakistan authorities till now have been able to avoid confrontation with local Taliban for fear of alienating Pashtuns who constitute over 15 per cent of the population and up to 25 per cent of the army. Ironically, there is a real risk that “war on terror” in Pakistan might transform into a war for autonomy of Pashtun tribes from Pakistan. The challenge for the PPP-led government will be to balance American demands with domestic security imperatives.
As regards Afghanistan and Kashmir, President Musharraf has followed the decades-old policy of training Islamic extremists and offering them enough support to pressure Kabul on issues important to Pakistan, and of building a trained force of Islamists to use against India, if needed. Musharraf’s efforts in Afghanistan have been strategically directed at placating the US while trying to achieve Pakistan’s goals. But now Pakistan is faced with consequences which seriously threaten its own existence. The new dispensation will have a hard time setting right the mistakes committed in the past. As for India, we need not judge Pakistan’s democracy with our own yardstick. We should deal with the political situation and dispensation as it evolves.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the views either of the Editorial Committee or the Centre for Land Warfare Studies.