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Islam and Politics ( 12 May 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Pakistan: A Misplaced Optimism



By Ajit Kumar Singh

May 13, 2013

There is an air of triumph and hope in Pakistan. A massive turnout in the elections to the 14th Majlis-e-Shoura (Parliament) and four Provincial Assemblies, held under the shadow of the gun, a near-decisive victory for a single party and the astonishing spectacle of an ordered transition of power from one civilian Government to another - unprecedented in Pakistan's twisted history, have produced euphoria and an expectation that all that is to come can only be better than the benighted past.

Partial provisional results and trends for the May 11, 2013, elections for 264 of 272 National Assembly seats available at the time of writing indicate that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif - who had been deposed in a coup by then Army Chief General Pervez Musharraf in 1999 - was poised for a record third term. His party, the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) establishing an unassailable lead over its rivals - Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), led by cricketer turned politician, Imran Khan; and the Bilawal Zardari Bhutto-led Pakistan People's Party (PPP). PML-N had established a lead in 125 seats, PTI in 34, and the incumbent PPP had virtually been wiped out, with just 32 seats to show. Other smaller parties and independent candidates had won or established leads in the remaining seats. The required majority in the NA is 137. Once it establishes a majority, Sharif's party would also be allotted a majority of 70 parliamentary seats that are reserved for women and non-Muslim minorities. The total number of seats in NA is 342.

In the 13th Parliament, PPP had secured 125 seats, followed by PML-N (92); Pakistan Muslim League-Qaid (PML-Q), 50; Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM), 25; Awami National Party (ANP) 13; and others, 34 (as on October 23, 2012). Three seats were vacant then.

In simultaneous elections for the four Provincial Assemblies - Balochistan (51 seats), Punjab (297 seats), Sindh (130 seats) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP, 99 seats) - PML-N was set to continue to rule in Punjab, where it was leading in 196 of 270 seats for which trends/results were available. In Sindh, PPP and its ally MQM were leading in 55 and 23 seats, respectively, out of a total of 95 seats for which trends/results were available, and were comfortably placed to continue their rule. PTI was leading in 30 seats out of 93 seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) for which trends/results were available. The ruling ANP was leading in just four seats. Out of 34 seats in Balochistan for which trends/results were available, both Maulana Fazl ur Rehman led Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and independents were leading in seven seats each. The PPP which was in power has failed to open its account.

Many analysts have conceived of these elections as a game changer for Pakistan as a nation, since the 13th Parliament completed its tenure uninterrupted and the elections for the new Parliament were conducted under the aegis of civilian caretaker Government. They claim that it is first civilian transition of Government - though some would claim that this is technically inaccurate. The 12th Parliament also completed its full tenure, though under the shadow of the military dictator, Pervez Musharaf, though military rule had, legally, ended.

It is, however, much too early to endorse the "myth of democracy achieved", of to assume that Pakistan's disastrous trajectory is now due for imminent reversal. Indeed, it is sobering to recognize that the PPP-led Government under Asif Ali Zardari's leadership, which completed its term on March 16, 2013, had been heralded with similar expectations, but failed abysmally to stop the continuous slide in Governance, or to stem the rising tide of terrorist and sectarian violence. Indeed, the reality of Pakistan has been that each incumbent Government has made its predecessor regime - however miserable it may have been - look good.

The portents do not auger well. The present elections and the preceding electoral campaign have been the most violent in Pakistan's history. At least 51 persons were killed and several others injured on Election Day itself. Worse, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, at least 118 persons were killed and 417 were injured in election-related violence in 52 days, between March 20, 2013, the day on which the elections were declared, and May 10, 2013, a day before the elections. By comparison, 110 persons were killed and 244 others injured in election-related violence in 102 days, between November 8, 2007, the day on which the elections were declared, and February 17, 2008, a day before the elections to the last Parliament. 19 persons were killed and 157 were injured on Election Day, February 18, 2008.

Worse, electoral violence merely compounded the near anarchy that has come to afflict the country. Partial data compiled by SATP indicates that Pakistan recorded 38,914 fatalities, including 12,553 civilians, 3,573 SF personnel and 22,788 militants during the tenure of the 13th Parliament. The preceding five years, significantly, under a nominally 'democratic' dispensation dominated by the waning Musharraf dictatorship, had recorded 5,886 fatalities, including 2,645 civilians, 1,086 SF personnel and 2,135 militants.

The last decade, moreover, has seen a continuous, personalized and vicious fight for supremacy between different 'pillars of Government', which has weakened the institutions and framework of democracy further.

The tussle between the judiciary and the executive, which approached alarming proportions even during the Musharraf era, intensified even further during PPP's tenure, which saw two Prime Ministers arraigned before the judiciary, one of whom was forced to resign as a result of orders of the Supreme Court. On June 19, 2012, the Supreme Court disqualified then-Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani "from being a member of the Parliament. with all consequences", that is, he also ceased to be Prime Minister of Pakistan. Through its April 26 judgement and the subsequent detailed reasons released on May 8, 2012, the Apex Court had found Gilani guilty of contempt of court, as he had declined to follow the Supreme Court's directive to pursue corruption charges against President Asif Ali Zardari. Since no appeal was filed against the judgement, the conviction attained finality. Raja Pervez Ashraf, who succeeded Gilani, took oath on June 22, 2012. Again, on January 15, 2013, the SC ordered the arrest of the incumbent Prime Minister Ashraf and 15 others over allegations of corruption. Ashraf, however, managed to complete his tenure. The adversarial relations between the judiciary and executive, however, are likely to persist under the new Government as well.

The stage has already been set for a confrontation between the judiciary and the Army. On April 30, 2013, the Peshawar High Court debarred former Pervez Musharraf from participating in the elections in perpetuity. Musharraf had returned to Pakistan from self-imposed exile, on March 24, 2013, to contest the elections. In its ruling the Court observed that Musharraf had imposed an illegal emergency and targeted the judiciary during his tenure as President, and, consequently, it imposed a life-time ban on him, barring him from contesting any election for the National or Provincial Assemblies, as well as the Senate. Musharraf was arrested for detaining more than 60 judges during the 2007 emergency; for his suspected role in the assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto in December 2007; and for the killing of Baloch leader Akbar Bugti in a 2006 military operation. He is currently lodged at his farmhouse in Islamabad, which has been pronounced a 'sub-jail'.

The 'ill-treatment' being meted out to Musharraf has evidently irked the military brass. Indeed, a delegation of 75 officers from Command and Staff College, Quetta, led by Colonel Saqib Ali Cheema, on April 26, 2013, met the Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Defence and Defence Production Mushahid Hussain Sayed at Parliament House and expressed their concern over the arrest and treatment of the former President. Senator Hussain later disclosed that the officers had asked him if there was anything in the constitution which allowed anyone to humiliate any institution and that he had told them that "the Constitution had no provision to let any institution or any person humiliate any other institution". These words, however, have failed to mollify the military leadership. On April 30, 2013, in his address on the eve of Martyrs Day, Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani expressed his unhappiness with the situation, albeit obliquely: "In my opinion, it is not merely retribution, but awareness and participation of the masses that can truly end this game of hide and seek between democracy and dictatorship."

The confrontation between the political establishment and the military has also deepened. The MemoGate scandal created an upheaval, when Wikileaks disclosed that the then Pakistani Ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, had asked Pakistani businessman, Mansoor Ijaz, to deliver an anonymous "memo" to the American military leadership in May 2011, offering to rein in the Pakistani armed forces in return for US support for the civilian Government. This resulted in a major spat between the Army command and civilian Government, with the judiciary stepping in to 'investigate treason charges' against Haqqani. There is growing evidence of impatience within the military leadership with both the political and judicial class though, for the moment, the Army is pulling its punches.

Amidst a continuous slide in governance, the emergence of Sharif as the main player is more worrisome, given the history of his turbulent tenures in the past. Sharif failed to complete his last two terms. His first term was cut short when then President, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, dissolved the NA on April 18, 1993. Though the National Assembly was restored by the Supreme Court on May 26, 1993, it could not complete its term as the Assembly was dissolved on July 18, 1993, on the advice of the Prime Minister Sharif as the political standoff continued. The President eventually proceeded on leave as part of the political arrangement. Sharif took the oath as Prime Minister of Pakistan again, on February 17, 1997. Pervez Musharraf seized power and declared himself Chief Executive through a Proclamation of Emergency, on October 12, 1999.

Crucially, the orientation of the principal political players, including Sharif, to the Islamist extremists, and particularly towards the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), is alarming. According to TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud, "democracy is the system of infidels". Yet, Sharif has repeatedly advocated a policy of appeasement of the Taliban. Most recently, in May 2013, he declared, "A few weeks ago, the Taliban (TTP) offered dialogue to the Government of Pakistan and said, 'we are prepared to talk'. I think the government of Pakistan should have taken that seriously. [It] did not take it seriously." Similarly, the PTI which has emerged as the single largest party (at the time of writing) in one of the most volatile regions in Pakistan, KP, has inclined to go soft on the extremists. PTI leader Imran Khan, has continuously advocated a negotiated settlement with the TTP and its affiliates and, on April 22, 2013, observed, "the Pakistan Tehrik-e-insaf will pull the Army out of the Pashtun-dominated tribal areas and restore peace through talks if it comes to power in the May 11 general election". Imran's party if forms Government in KP and if he goes on to fulfill is his electoral promise the tribal region is likely to see more instability in future, given the repeated and demonstrated failure of a strategy of appeasement towards the TTP and other Islamist extremist and sectarian armed groups. Indeed, in October 2012, Imran Khan claimed that the Taliban were fighting a 'holy war' justified by Islam in neighbouring Afghanistan: "It is very clear that whoever is fighting for their freedom is fighting a jihad. The people who are fighting in Afghanistan against the foreign occupation are fighting a jihad." The PPP's approach towards TTP and its affiliates is comparably 'soft'. On February 4, 2013, Federal Minister for Interior Rehman Malik declared, "We are ready to start talks with you (TTP). You tell us what team you would like to talk to, and let's set an agenda."

On the other hand, the military mullah combine continues to thrive. In a glaring recent instance, Mullah Omar, the Afghan Taliban, leader who suffered a heart attack on January 7, 2011, was reportedly treated for several days in a Karachi hospital with ISI help, according to a report prepared by the Eclipse Group, which operates an intelligence network run by former CIA, State Department and military officers.

The situation in Pakistan remains fraught, and the ambivalence of the past towards various terrorist proxies of the state - some of whom may have gone renegade - persists, as does the destructive dynamic that has eroded the authority and integrity of institutions of the state over decades. The 'restoration' of democracy has done little to impede the country's hurtling flight into chaos in the past, and it would be delusional to believe that the present election has produced any magical solution to its enduring afflictions.

Ajit Kumar Singh is Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management

Source: South Asian Intelligence Review