How will Pakistan’s election affect U.S., Pakistani relations and what are the chances that the new government will succeed?
The overwhelming rejection of Islamist Party candidates, even in rural areas, sent a sign that not only do the people want to rid the country of their current president, but that they would like to rid themselves of Islamic militants as well. Though President Pervez Musharraf has vowed to stay in power and serve his full five-year term, he said he would step down if impeached.
According to former ambassador Wendy Chamberlin, President of the Middle-East Institute, “this was the best case scenario we could get: the Pakistani people showed a deep commitment to constitutional law; clearly rejected extremism; the role of General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani — hand-picked by Musharraf to succeed him as the military’s leader — and the military provided security not intimidation.”
Prior too, and still today, skeptics have been constantly at odds over whether Islam and democracy can co-exist. In every Middle Eastern nation where Islam predominates — except Turkey — they have proved they cannot. This is the fifth internationally recognized election to take place, in recent history, in a Muslim country in the middle-east following: Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Lebanon. But in three of those four, what has resulted is not “democracy” in anything resembling the Western sense.
“In their last election the Mullahs won more seats in parliament, this was a reversal, a demonstration of democratic aspirations with attorneys and former military leaders demanding action,” said Karl Inderfurth, Director of the Graduate Program in International Affairs at George Washington University. “This proves that democracy and Islam can co-exist. These leaders have to have an equal commitment to good government. This is the first time, in history, power has changed hands in Pakistan peacefully. It repudiates the statement that this was a defeat for the U.S.”
The consensus among the two leading parties and the voters is that there will be a policy change in dealing with Islamists, dialogue with militants instead of heavy-handed military action. This is in contrast to the past strategy known as “Busharraf,” when heavy handed tactics to clamp down on militants was blamed for feeding fire to the situation.
“Counterterrorism will be more effective when it has the support of the people; it now has that,” said Chamberlain. “A shift must take place in the funding that the U.S. is sending there; in the past of the $10-11 billion of U.S. aid, 90 percent of it went to security, this should now go to development and education, but with accountability.”
As Musharraf complained publicly, the madrassas — Islamic religious schools — in Pakistan have been spreading Wahhabism, a strict form of Islam which preaches jihad against infidels. These Pakistani schools have been the breeding ground for many of the extremists that have been waging war on most of western civilization since the Afghan war with the former Soviet Union.
Nawaz Sharif, the former two-time prime minister of Pakistan and leader of the Pakistani Muslim League-N, who was deposed by Musharraf while embroiled in corruption, has set two conditions for joining a coalition government: the impeachment of Musharraf and the restoration of the chief justice along with the Supreme Court justices, the Pakistan Peoples Party, headed by former prime minister Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari is non-committal, but said he will not work with anybody from the Musharraf government.
For impeachment to take place another party would have to support it. Possibilities for such an alliance exist with the AWAMI party, an older Pashtun nationalist party. A two-thirds majority is needed for impeachment and the coalition of the two leaders has only 153 of the 268 seats in parliament, 177 votes are needed.
There is friction between the two leaders, Sharif and Sardari and their parties, but it has been Musharraf that has united these two factions. This government may be coming together at the expense of extremists and Musharraf, but it would clearly be in their best interest to concentrate on fixing some seriously needed domestic issues without being distracted by an impeachment process as long as Musharraf can play a peaceful role as he has proclaimed.
Can or should the U. S. hold onto Musharraf? The U.S.’s relationship is not with Musharraf, but with the Pakistani people,” said Chamberlain. “It is not up to the U.S. to do this. Installing Gen. Kayani as his successor was a good move by Musharraf, and Kayani in return has shown he believes that the military should not be a part of public policy. On the other hand, there will be no solution in Afghanistan without the cooperation of the Pakistan Army.”
As far as fearing any intervention by the military Chamberlain said, “If the role the military played in providing security for the election is any indication, it appears that the military will at least give the new government a chance to prove itself.”
“Though Musharraf pledged to step down if he is impeached, he has things that are not so bad for his legacy and not just in regard to the war of terror,” said Inderfurth: “he has resurrected a crumbling economy; he has opened up the media, even though he had called for martial law late last year it is far more open than at anytime in the past; and he has opened up dialogue with India and maintained it for a period of time.