Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Pakistan


Early results from the parliamentary elections in Pakistan indicate sweeping gains by several opposition parties, notably the PPP of the late Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif’s PML (N). President Musharraf has said he will abide by the results and so far opposition fears of widespread vote-rigging seem unfounded. Voter turnout was below 40 per cent, however, partly because many electors were afraid to go to the polls, given the violence in the run-up to the elections, but also because many people understandably regard most politicians in Pakistan as corrupt. As the PPP and the PML (N) can’t stand each other, it is hard to see them working together in a ruling coalition altho' if there is to be a stable non military governmentthey need to find a way.
Today we have seen an offer of coalition from the PPP(there leader Benazir's husband pictured), if Nawaz Sharif's party go along they will have an overall majority in the parliament. If they can muster a 2/3rds majority they can get rid of 'President' Musharraf. His election last year was widely thought to be a sham and was boycotted by large sections of the elctorate. It will be interesting to see whether they will then restore the judges that the President removed last year for fear they might declare his election unconstitutional
The BBC website carries a report looking at Washington's view of the elections. This is crucial as Bush's adoption of the undemocratic military dictator as an partner in the so called war on terror has concerned many. A stable democratic government would be a much better base to tackle the important challenges in Pakistan. I have copied the article in full:
'Although the American people are more focused on their nation's own presidential race, Washington's interest in - and concern about - Pakistan's elections can perhaps be gauged by the number of high-ranking military and intelligence officials it has despatched to Islamabad in recent weeks.
Among them were the top military officer in the US, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm Michael Mullen, CIA Director Michael Hayden and Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte.

Adm Michael Mullen was among top US officials recently in Pakistan
The stakes for the US in Monday's election are high: the US has backed President Pervez Musharraf since an alliance was forged in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks and it views Pakistan as a vital ally in the self-declared war on terror and fight against al-Qaeda.
The political unrest linked to Mr Musharraf's imposition of emergency rule last year and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto has dealt a blow to Washington's strategy in the region - the restoration of democracy in Pakistan in order to offer an alternative path, away from militancy and extremism.
The US is now looking to the elections to stabilise what it is all too aware is a nuclear-armed nation and ensure that Islamabad's collaboration in the fight against terror - to support which Washington has given more than $10bn in aid to Pakistan - continues.
But there is perhaps a sense of frustration in Washington about the limitations as to what the US can do to make that happen.
Richard Boucher, Assistant US Secretary of State, told the national security and foreign affairs panel of the US House of Representatives late last month that "if history was any guide", some fraud was to be expected in Pakistan's elections.
However, he urged Congressmen not to give up on the idea that a new leadership could emerge from "a legitimate process" and said US embassy teams were doing what they could to monitor voting.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Congress she was concerned about the potential for election violence and voting irregularities.
But, she added: "I believe that the Pakistani leadership understands that they have to have an election that inspires confidence in the Pakistani people that this is a step forward for democracy."

Islamists accuse the US of attacks in Pakistan
At the same time, the US will be aware that it needs to tread sensitively given strong currents of anti-Americanism in Pakistani public opinion.
A Pew Global Attitudes survey published in December found that only 15% of Pakistanis have a positive view of the US.
And, while most Pakistanis support the idea of free and fair elections, more than half believe the US only supports democracy when it serves Washington's interest.
As for what outcome Washington may hope to see, observers suggest a sweeping win for Mrs Bhutto's PPP party, as opposed to that of Mr Musharraf, might be welcome because it would reinforce the perception that elections were free and fair.
That might act to stabilise the country, leaving the military freer to focus on the "war on terror" - and, observers add, the Bush administration would prefer to work with a PPP prime minister than with one from the opposition Nawaz Sharif camp. '


Benazir Bhutto has a new book out finished just before she was killed. Called Reconciliation, it outlines her vision for avoiding the so-called 'clash of civilisations' between the Muslim world and the West. She suggests a new Marshall Plan for Western engagement in poverty in Muslim nations. Deprivation and extremism go hand in hand, she writes. She also warns that Pakistan is a 'tinderbox' with a resurgence of Taliban strength within the country. Some may dismiss her policies as idealistic and unworkable but unless someone can persuade the western world to engage with muslim countries with the type of committment displayed in the post war reconstruction of Europe the future for all of us is bleak.


Among the most important passages of the book is the discussion on Islam. She presents a very different vision of that faith from the characture belovbed by some of our press. For that alone the book-still only available in hardback-is worth reading.