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Judging by the number of Western media and analytical queries I have received over the past two weeks, there seems to be a growing interest in Western capitals in the potential implications of the elections on Pakistan's foreign policy orientation. The interest is perhaps triggered by Pakistan's self-acclaimed and much-touted 'strategic shift' that has continued to receive attention in Western capitals (and in New Delhi and Kabul for that matter). At best, the shift is only partially understood and there is no sense of whether it is likely to have any longevity.

Moeed Yusuf Judging by the number of Western media and analytical queries I have received over the past two weeks, there seems to be a growing interest in Western capitals in the potential implications of the elections on Pakistan's foreign policy orientation. The interest is perhaps triggered by Pakistan's self-acclaimed and much-touted 'strategic shift' that has continued to receive attention in Western capitals (and in New Delhi and Kabul for that matter). At best, the shift is only partially understood and there is no sense of whether it is likely to have any longevity. Therefore, the very basic question: what should we (external watchers) expect from the next five years? One can answer this with some confidence since, perhaps driven by Pakistan's acute internal challenges, the establishment and the three major political parties (the PPP, PML-N and PTI) seem to have converged on the key markers — not necessarily in terms of the pace with which things should move but at least on the broad directionality of the key foreign relationships. The continuing civilian-military disconnect on a number of foreign policy questions notwithstanding, the convergence began to emerge during the last PPP government. At its core, it entails a subtle recalibration of the country's regional outlook coupled with a status quo approach on relations with China and the US. The next five years are likely to see a consolidation of this. Conceptually, as far as I can decipher, there are six major pillars of this outlook. First, positive movement with India: The inevitable vocal and perhaps violent challenge from the right-wing notwithstanding, the leaderships of the three major parties seem to be fairly sanguine on the options. We'll have to find the right political jargon and face-savers to pursue this fully but the bottom line is set: the way forward is trade. Jaw-jaw will continue on Kashmir in parallel but it won't hold the rest hostage. The establishment has found this difficult to swallow but it is also aware of the internal compulsions. The pace of movement will remain up for discussion but the directionality will not. Second, hedging on Afghanistan: The Afghan policy can take one of two very different directions depending on what transpires in Kabul post-2014. The current desire is to see Pakistan reduce its reliance on hardcore Islamist Pakhtuns and open up with the northern factions. Behind-the-scenes efforts to reach out to the north have been ongoing for some time. The desire for greater attention to the economic aspects of the relationship is also part of this thinking. Quite to the contrary, a return to civil war in Afghanistan will inevitably trigger the good old proxy game with Pakistan falling on the side of the hardcore elements and the traditional supporters of the northern factions reviving their erstwhile ties. Pakistan will find itself squarely on the wrong side of global opinion if this outcome transpires. Third, rebalancing of the Sunni-Shia divide — read, the Saudi-Iran equation: For years, Pakistan has been firmly in the Saudi camp with all its attendant economic benefits and ideological repercussions. This has begun to undergo some correction for two reasons. First, the ideological repercussions seem to have caught up with us fair and square. Among other fallouts, the 'Arabisation' of the Pakistani religious right's mindset and its ability to intimidate its opponents has quite obviously exacerbated the Sunni-Shia divide in Pakistan. The state, with the history of tilt towards the Sunni crescent, is increasingly finding it hard to pledge neutrality. It is quickly losing control of the situation. Second is energy where the Pakistani decision-making enclave seems to be taking the Iranian option far more seriously than one thought it would given the Western opposition. President Zardari's last visit to Iran had both goals in mind. Admittedly, a PML-N government with its closer links to the Saudi royals may be less sympathetic to this recalibration but again, it could tamper with the pace, not directionality. The latter seems to be coming out of a deeper realisation that the traditional policy has run its course. Fourth, consistency on China: There is zero dissent on this all-weather friendship despite the clear Chinese signalling that it will not get into the business of bailing Pakistan out with free handouts on a regular basis. The attachment to China, however, is almost reflexive. The future policy will continue seeking Chinese investment and increasingly also use Beijing as a buffer against the geo-political squeeze Islamabad feels it is under. The Chinese presence in Gwadar ought to be seen in this light. Fifth, more of the same with the US: For all the seesawing and finger-pointing we have seen from both sides over the years, the bottom line is that neither can afford to alienate the other completely. Pakistan worries Washington and this will not allow it to walk away. Islamabad realises it has been treading on thin ice and cannot afford isolation. There will continue to be a lot of lip service to decreasing dependence on the US (especially from the likes of PTI). It won't happen though — neither the establishment nor the political parties wish to forgo the assistance that flows from Washington. So there will be angst; there will be mudslinging; but the relationship will continue. Sixth, more outreach to the traditionally neglected. Efforts to reach out to Moscow over the past two years are examples of efforts at diversification of foreign policy options. None of these are likely to be consequential in the foreseeable future. Net positive or negative? It depends. The best case implies improved ties with the region without losing out on Western engagement. A more realpolitik analysis on the other hand suggests a major problem: continued outreach to Iran may well be non-negotiable in Riyadh and Washington. How Pakistan manages to deal with this challenge will determine the fate of the reorientation. The Tribune, 30 April 2013

 

As Pakistan prepares for its crucial May 11 general election, the campaign trend, so far, indicates that India-bashing is absent. Even the "K" word (Kashmir) is mute, if not missing. Some of the mainstream political parties have pledged peace with the neighbour in their manifestos. If the Pakistan Peoples' Party that ruled since 2008 takes credit for improving bilateral ties, its principal challenger, the Pakistan Muslim League of former premier Nawaz Sharif, talks of allowing India the "shortest route" to the land-locked Afghanistan and Central Asia, something Delhi has unsuccessfully sought for a long time.

 

By Mahendra Ved  | mahendraved07@gmail.com As Pakistan prepares for its crucial May 11 general election, the campaign trend, so far, indicates that India-bashing is absent. Even the "K" word (Kashmir) is mute, if not missing. Some of the mainstream political parties have pledged peace with the neighbour in their manifestos. If the Pakistan Peoples' Party that ruled since 2008 takes credit for improving bilateral ties, its principal challenger, the Pakistan Muslim League of former premier Nawaz Sharif, talks of allowing India the "shortest route" to the land-locked Afghanistan and Central Asia, something Delhi has unsuccessfully sought for a long time. Imran Khan, who played a lot of cricket on Indian soil before taking to politics with his Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf, says that "progressive détente" would benefit both the nations. Even as election promises are not always honoured, they must be welcomed. This unprecedented development is thanks to two contrasting reasons. One emphasises the Pakistanis' devotion to Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. The other is the realisation, at least among sections of the ruling elite, of the threat they face, not from India, the perennial "No. 1 enemy", but from homegrown militancy. Votes will be cast in Pakistan, but politicians, including candidates, are coming to Ajmer, in India's Rajasthan, home of Chishti's shrine. The time, too, is auspicious: a day after voting will begin the saint's 801st anniversary. It is a great occasion for Muslims across South Asia. Chishti and the Taliban would be poles apart. The Tehrik Taliban Pakistan and other militant groups have been shooting candidates and bombing polls rallies. They have shrewdly divided the political spectrum, targeting liberals and sparing conservatives. The PPP, the Awami National Party of the Pashtuns and the Muttahida Quami Movement of migrants from undivided India are being attacked. Those spared include the parties of Sharif and Imran. Their silence, besides that of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam led by Maulana Fazlur Rahman, and other Islamist parties, is meant to buy security for themselves, while the militants target their rivals. A morning newspaper warned: "This policy of appeasement makes them inadvertently complicit in the Taliban's terrorist campaign against particular political parties. But this opportunism may cost them heavily in the future when the militants turn on them too." As it is, the average voter turnout in Pakistan is 45 per cent. Media reports speak of fear among the people thanks to violence that has been on the rise since January. The weekly average of 70 terror attacks has risen this month. Will the Taliban and militants decide on  the outcome of this election?   The election's other big development centres on   former military ruler  Pervez Musharraf. He returned from exile to "save" and "lead" Pakistan, something no general before him has achieved. But he could not have anticipated being disqualified from contesting all   four seats for which he had filed nomination papers.   The Indian-born general (the Indians have mixed feelings about him) is barred from leaving the country. And for the first time in Pakistan, where soldiers are a privileged class, a former army chief and head of   state has been arrested.   Musharraf remains embroiled in court cases on serious charges that include treason, not declaring his assets fully and being a party to the 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto.   As retired generals protest his "humiliation", it will certainly be a long haul, in and out of the courts, no matter who wins the election.   The rise and fall of generals in the neighbourhood gets Indians talking proudly about their democracy. Their disdain, however, also betrays a mix of admiration for the man in uniform, but worry at his going "political".   When Ayub Khan took power in Pakistan, Indians were alarmed, wondering if this could happen to them. The political leadership became wary. The civil bureaucracy succeeded in fanning its fears and positioned itself as a bridge between the soldier and the politician. The bureaucrat has gained advantage over the military, to the latter's dismay.   Despite sharing the military past till the 1947 partition, India has mercifully escaped rule by khaki or olive green uniforms. Any talk of a military takeover in India is passé. The farthest an Indian general has gone is to petition the Supreme Court. Gen  V.K. Singh was not punished for this, even after he lost the court battle. He completed his tenure. That is how India's military has evolved within a democratic polity.       When Gen  Ne Win seized power in Burma, now Myanmar, thousands of Indian settlers were displaced. The Nehru government was forced to airlift many families.

 

Relations remained virtually frozen for decades. Dealing with the military junta since the 1990s earned India much criticism. It is satisfying that the officers have since hung their uniforms and taken to democratic ways.   A politicised army remains a factor in India's neighbourhood. However, toppling of civilian governments in Pakistan (generals Yahya Khan, Ziaul Haq and Musharraf) and in Bangladesh (generals Ziaur Rahman and H.M. Ershad), a frequent phenomenon in the last century, seems a matter of the past.   It is gratifying that democracy has worked in Bangladesh in the last two decades. In Pakistan, too, despite frequent crises and differences with the judiciary and the political class, when it was feared that the army might step in, the National Assembly and the state legislatures were able to complete their tenures for the first time.   Will this trend continue after the elections?

The New Strait Times, 27 April 2013

 
Months ago a cheerful report decorated the headlines of Pakistani and international newspapers: the civil government successfully came to an end after serving its full term for the first time, an unprecedented issue in the political history of the country. All previously governments were whether unelected and came to power through military coup or toppled before serving their full terms. The civil government under the premiership of Asif Ali Zadari, the husband of former Prime Minister and hugely popular women, Benazir Bhuto, succeeded to serve its full term.   Masood Karosh   Months ago a cheerful report decorated the headlines of Pakistani and international newspapers: the civil government successfully came to an end after serving its full term for the first time, an unprecedented issue in the political history of the country. All previously governments were whether unelected and came to power through military coup or toppled before serving their full terms. The civil government under the premiership of Asif Ali Zadari, the husband of former Prime Minister and hugely popular women, Benazir Bhuto, succeeded to serve its full term.   Analyses and comments followed the news was giving one impression that with all challenges and problems in the country, such unprecedented event heralded a better prospective for democracy. In other words, Pakistan has moved ahead toward democracy than the years before the commencement of outgoing government.   Now similar optimism flows out of the analysis about arrest of former military chief and President, Mr. Parvez Mushraff, who ended his four years-long self-imposed exile in order to play bigger role in the upcoming parliamentary election.  He ruled the country from 1999 to   2008 after he took power by sacking ex-Prime Minister Mr. Nawaz Sharif who leads his political party Muslim League-Nawaz, the parted branch of Muslim League party that secured the independence of Pakistan after scuffling with Indian Congress Party. Now Mr. Nawaz is again a front runner for the upcoming election and has a grand chance to become the new prime minister.   Mr. Musharraf returned to the country in hope to challenge Nawaz Sharif, Asif Ali Zardari, Emran Khan, sportsman turned politician, and other potential candidates for de-facto supreme political position. But on Saturday, He was held for two weeks until the next hearing in a case related to his 2007 decision to sack and detain several judges. After the judge's order on Saturday, Islamabad's administration declared that Musharraf's lavish country residence could serve as a jail, meaning the ex-president could be held there under house arrest.   He appeared before the anti-terrorism court amid tight security, as hundreds of lawyers opposing him scuffled with security personnel and shouted slogans against the former military ruler. “Go Musharraf Go and whosoever is a friend of Musharraf is a traitor”, shouted countless people out of the court.   Spokesman for Musharraf’s All Pakistan Muslim League party told reporters, “Our lawyers denied the allegation that General Musharraf sacked judges and kept them and their families under house arrest for six months. It is absolutely untrue”. “We had requested the court not to send General Musharraf on judicial remand, so that we can go to higher courts for relief”.   According to the ruling he should have been sent to prison but due to security reason he has been allowed to return to his farmhouse, saving him the hardships of a Pakistani prison where police said he would face security threats.   After his arrest amidst huge concern, similar optimism can be reflected in articles and analysis from the country as occurred after the successful completion of first civil government’s term.   Many call his arrest, which is the first of its kind that military officials be convicted in a court that also in anti-terrorism court, as success for democracy. In other words, the move of judiciary   reflects the power of this pillar of power that can even convict such a powerful individual whose conviction would have been a nightmarish illusion only four years ago.   But is such optimism realistic? I hope it was so as they are depicting in their analyses or fantasizing about it in their sanctum of functional democracy in their country, but I do not.   Whatever happens to Parvez Musharraf whether he gets convicted of serving years behind bars or be released to go back where he came from, either would support democracy and democratic establishment.   If the court ruling happened in a country other than Pakistan, it could be interpreted as move forward but I fear here it would be repulsive. Perhaps, the problem lies with the interpretation of democracy. Democracy is not all about elections and establishment of governments that fail to protect its leaders.   First of all, it should be noticed that the assassination of former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto largely helped the Pakistan People’s Party to rise on power as happened with the Rajiv Ghandi in   India. It is not clear what would have happened if Benazir Bhutto was alive? Was the President Musharraf ready to hand power to her or not? Her death gained the PPP huge sympathy and similarly mounted Pressure on government of Musharraf that made him leave the country.   However, the government could serve its full term but largely limped in domestic and political and economic spheres. The cycle of sectarian violence is terribly increasing to alarming level. Minorities are targeted while the government failed to protect them. Just during few months of 2013, more than four hundred Hazaras were killed in Quetta Pakistan while the Pakistani government failed to protect them as citizen of the country.    Responding to a journalist, the then governor of Baluchistan openly said that the only thing he could do for Hazara community was sending trucks of tissue paper to wipe out their tears!   So considering that whether rulers served full term or a strong person appeared in the court or not can be devious. Moreover, President Musharraf should not be considered the same former military general.   He ruled the country and finally exiled which have tremendously weakened his past strong military ties among the military establishment. In addition, presently secular parties are under huge restrictions for election campaign. Pluralism of all kind which is the very principle of democracy is changing to unfamiliar thing or deemed as foreign product. Same is the case with human rights, women rights, right to protection and etc.  If Pakistani rulers want to have a bright future, instead of revenging Parvez Musharraf, serious combat should start against radicalism and extremism which is increasingly showing bolder presence on political stage. The Daily Outlook, 23 April 2013
 

When Shahid Khan started talking, his gunmen clambered onto a school’s rooftop, scanning the surrounding hills with flashlights, anticipating a possible attack. In the past 10 days, militants have carried out five attacks against Mr. Khan's party. Below them, Mr. Khan, a candidate for his region’s provincial assembly, addressed potential voters — poor farmers and village traders, gathered on a cluster of rope beds outside the school, listening raptly to his promises. Then, after wolfing down snacks offered by his hosts, he abruptly left.

By DECLAN WALSH NOWSHERA, Pakistan — When Shahid Khan started talking, his gunmen clambered onto a school’s rooftop, scanning the surrounding hills with flashlights, anticipating a possible attack.

In the past 10 days, militants have carried out five attacks against Mr. Khan's party. Below them, Mr. Khan, a candidate for his region’s provincial assembly, addressed potential voters — poor farmers and village traders, gathered on a cluster of rope beds outside the school, listening raptly to his promises. Then, after wolfing down snacks offered by his hosts, he abruptly left.

“They say it’s not safe around here,” said Mr. Khan, as he leapt into a waiting car, trailed by a bodyguard. “We’d better get going.” Electioneering has taken a dark twist in northwest Pakistan, where a concerted campaign of Taliban attacks against the main secular party is violently reshaping the democratic landscape before parliamentary elections scheduled for May 11. In the past 10 days, militants have carried out four bombings and one grenade attack against Mr. Khan’s Awami National Party, which has governed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province since 2008, and whose secular ideology is repugnant to the Taliban’s vision of imposing an Islamic caliphate in Pakistan.

In the worst attack, last Tuesday, a suicide bomber killed 19 people and wounded dozens in central Peshawar, narrowly missing the former railways minister, Ghulam Ahmed Bilour.

The Taliban have warned voters to stay away from rallies organized by the three main secular parties — the Awami Party, President Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party and the Karachi-based Muttahida Qaumi Movement.

But so far, they have concentrated their fire on the Awami Party, restricting its candidates’ ability to campaign freely, and tilting the field in favor of more conservative parties, analysts say.

“The most effective campaign is being run by the Taliban,” said Asad Munir, a retired army brigadier with the army’s Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, who comes from the northwest. “They are holding the state of Pakistan hostage, and doing their activities as they want.”

This election was never going to be easy for the Awami Party, which has already attracted sharp criticism for poor governing skills and corruption while in office — deficiencies that analysts, and some party insiders, say will hurt it during the balloting. But now the Taliban seem determined to wipe out the party as a political contender.

In the past five years, militants have killed 700 Awami officials and supporters, including two lawmakers and a senior minister, officials say — more casualties than any other party in Pakistan.

In the southern city of Karachi, where the party enjoys support in ethnic Pashtun neighborhoods, about 40 activists have been killed in the past six months, effectively shutting down the party’s activities there. The Awami Party’s leader, Asfandyar Wali Khan — who himself survived an attack by a suicide bomber in 2009 — is said to be leading the campaign from the safety of the federal capital, Islamabad. For his candidates out in the towns and villages of the northwest, campaigning has become a furtive and fearful affair.

In Nowshera, a small town 25 miles east of Peshawar, Mr. Khan holds small rallies, often at night and with little notice. He quietly sends advance teams of supporters to check out potential sites. And he is always accompanied by a contingent of private guards and regular police officers, all heavily armed. “Every time my team leaves my house, we are not just praying for election success — we are praying for our lives,” he said as he drove down a cobblestone lane that snaked between high-walled houses. Once peaceful, the Nowshera district, which has a substantial military presence, has been increasingly affected by Taliban violence, suffering 26 attacks in 2012 and 5 so far this year, according to the police. Last month, a car bomb explosion at a refugee camp killed 16 people and wounded 31. In February, militants assaulted a police checkpoint, and then threw grenades at a police vehicle on a major highway, killing one officer. In some towns, Taliban fighters have forced shops selling movies to close.

As he bumped through the night, driving between rallies held in courtyards and in small village squares, Mr. Khan pointed to a school that was bombed by the Taliban last year. He helped pay to have it rebuilt. “These days, you never know what can happen,” he said.

Mr. Khan, a burly man with an irreverent sense of humor, did not mention the Taliban in his campaign speeches. The talk was of bread-and-butter issues, not bullets: access to drinking water, electricity and gas. “I don’t want to depress people,” he said, citing increased sales of anti-anxiety medication in local pharmacies.

But such candidates are silent on delicate issues for another reason, too: they fear antagonizing local militants.

Nowshera shares a border with Darra Adam Khel, a tribal district famed for its gunsmiths, where militants have engaged in firefights with the security forces. Just a few miles away lies the infamous Akora Khattack madrasa, where several generations of Taliban leaders have received their education.

The problem is exacerbated by arguments among Pakistan’s politicians about how to handle the Taliban. Mr. Khan’s main rival is a candidate of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the party of Imran Khan, the former cricket star. With his glamorous youth appeal and vocal opposition to American policies, particularly drone strikes, his party is expected to do well in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

But critics accuse Mr. Khan of being soft on the Taliban because he advocates talks with the militants, not fighting. In a television interview on April 15, Mr. Khan said that the Taliban were bombing his opponents “because they supported America’s war.”

Similarly, Nawaz Sharif, the opposition leader who is a favorite to become the next prime minister, has also been measured in his criticism of militancy.

“If Imran Khan or Nawaz Sharif think this is only happening to someone else, they are mistaken,” said Mr. Munir, the retired officer, referring to the attacks on secular candidates. “If they do not speak out now, their time will come later.”

The Awami Party leadership has sometimes hurt its own cause. Mr. Bilour, the former minister who survived the bombing last week in Peshawar, ingratiated himself with the Taliban last year by offering a $100,000 bounty to anyone who killed an obscure American filmmaker who had released a film insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

The offer was made one day after a mob protesting the film had stormed through Peshawar, destroying several movie theaters, including one belonging to his family. But while the Taliban embraced Mr. Bilour’s offer, they ultimately offered little protection. In December, the militants killed his brother Bashir Bilour, a politician; after last week’s attack, the militants said they had intended to kill Mr. Bilour’s nephew, who is standing for election in his father’s election district.

After his recent night of campaigning in Nowshera, Mr. Khan, the Awami candidate, reached his home at midnight, finally relaxing over a cigarette and a cup of tea. This election was never going to be easy, he admitted — voters were already skeptical of corruption in politics, and his opponent, a doughty veteran of several elections, would be tough to beat. But since the Taliban entered the fray, his odds had slimmed even further. “I want to make a difference,” he pleaded. “But like this, our hands are tied.”

The New York Times, 22 April 2013

 

April is almost over which means that the country’s most anticipated political event is almost upon us. Yet, an ominous silence has replaced the traditional pre-election euphoria, where thousands gather to cheer on for their leaders; big promises are made in grand rallies and historic speeches are recorded in the weeks leading up to elections.

 

By:Aima Khosa How scared are our politicians? April is almost over which means that the country’s most anticipated political event is almost upon us. Yet, an ominous silence has replaced the traditional pre-election euphoria, where thousands gather to cheer on for their leaders; big promises are made in grand rallies and historic speeches are recorded in the weeks leading up to elections. The election of 2008, for example, was a grand political spectacle where Nawaz Sharif and late Benazir Bhutto raced from city to city to assert their political might. Perhaps it was Benazir’s brutal assassination that has subdued the politicians now, or perhaps it is Musharraf’s trial that has pushed the election from center stage – either way, one must admit the days leading up to the elections have been engulfed in a strange political tension between various political quarters. The roots of this tension can easily be traced to security woes of the country; in the last few weeks, almost all mainstream political parties have come under attack. The news of these attacks come in short spurts and then fades away, only to appear once more. Often these attacks are targeted towards high-profile politicians, as in the case of Bilour of ANP and Zehri of PML-N. Other times, these attacks target political workers, as in the case of various independent candidates and MQM workers. It is feared that these attacks will escalate in their nature and magnitude as the election date draws closer. The previous election was delayed by a few weeks because it was marred by a high-profile assassination. Will Pakistan’s weak caretaker government manage to restrain the public and hold the elections if there was, God forbid, another high profile targeting? And if not, if the conspiracy theories of elections getting delayed are to be believed, what kind of political violence will be required to manage the delay of the polls Khoso’s interim government is so determined to hold? The ANP leadership has categorically stated that the elections must not be delayed even by a second. This statement was issued even as Ghulam Ahmad Bilour was reeling from the attack on an ANP meeting. This is because the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa constituency, a waning ANP stronghold, can still get the party decisive votes in the province in the next government. Bilour has said that he would hold the COAS, the CEC, the president and the chief justice responsible if anything happened to him. It is almost reminiscent of Benazir’s statements after the October attack on her rally in Karachi where she feared for her life under Musharraf’s presidency – who, interestingly, is currently on trial for her assassination case. The PML-N leadership too, has sensed victory in the upcoming polls and will not stand for a delayed election only because it could have a lot to lose if the polls are not held on May 11. At the same time, Nawaz Sharif and his entourage are aware that Big Brother is watching and Big Brother is dangerous. For his security, Nawaz Sharif has hired a helicopter for his transport and may be gifted 20 bullet proof vehicles from his Saudi friends for the transportation of his senior leadership. Yet, he remains conspicuously missing from public eye – unless you count the television campaign ads and the sporadic appearances the former premier makes. PML-N has suffered damage in Balochistan with the president of the party’s chapter in that problematic province coming under an attack that left his son, nephew and brother dead. Zehri survived and fresh questions emerged: who targeted Zehri? Was it the usual ‘Baloch tribal rivalry’ that led to such a personal attack on the PML-N leader in Balochistan? The Baloch are, after all, not very fond of PML-N and Zehri is its immediate representative in the province. Or was the attack a part of some systematic targeting that is a part of the dark threat to politicians at this critical juncture? PPP, too, has come under attack and has beefed up security and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has had to make very few public appearances as the poster boy of the PPP campaign. However, political quarters were strangely silent in condemning the attack on ANP, while half-hearted statements stressing on ‘solutions to militancy’ were issued. So how nervous are Pakistan’s political leaders at this point, with elections so near? Will they get the votes they want while running silent campaigns? Interestingly, election campaigning begins at least three months before the elections. So far, a lot of candidates still have not been issued tickets or are not eligible to contest in elections – there can be no campaigning if there are no candidates. Another bad sign for the elections? The central question still remains; will the elections get delayed? Constitutionally, it is not a possibility unless a situation is created where the caretaker setup has no option but to delay the polls. The caretaker setup itself is not mandated beyond a stipulated period to remain in power and its main job is to watch over the elections. Even if it somehow manages to extend that period, it shall not be strong enough to sustain itself for long. Neither will political forces, largely led by Nawaz Sharif, stand for a delay in polls. The speed with which Nawaz Sharif handled the Qadri debacle earlier this year by unifying Punjab’s political forces in the face of an uncertain situation points to how badly Nawaz to regain his glory days. Nawaz’s biggest foe, however, is still in the President’s House and there is no knowing what tricks President Zardari may have up his sleeve to tip the political balance back in PPP’s favor. At the same time, there is always the Army factor. Seemingly, Pakistan’s armed forces are embroiled in four crucial situations: an operation in Tirah valley and Orakzai Agency, watching over the election process, its former COAS going through a public trial and the rehabilitation process of the affectees of earthquake. Would the GHQ be able to orchestrate a behind the scenes delay in the polls while it has its hands full with the other crises it has to handle? Simply put, May 11 and its political significance in Pakistan’s history still stands. It will take outright chaos for that date to be pushed back. So then, are delayed polls worth the damage? The writer is Web Editor at Pakistan Today and tweets @aimamk

http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2013/04/20/comment/columns/pakistans-silent-election/

 

To venture an educated guess post this conscientious but rather presumptuous utterance, Mr Walker never knew what hit him. On the other hand, if he was not systematically charged with corruption, tax fraud or other fabricated tests of human endurance, then outside of a miracle, the only explanation is that the bureaucracy was simply uninterested.

Syed Bakhtiyar Kazmi In the absence of credible party positions on real issues, the electoral process will only be about feudal-cum-tribal battles in most constituencies “Britain has invented a new missile. It’s called the civil servant — it doesn’t work and it can’t be fired” — Walter Walker. To venture an educated guess post this conscientious but rather presumptuous utterance, Mr Walker never knew what hit him. On the other hand, if he was not systematically charged with corruption, tax fraud or other fabricated tests of human endurance, then outside of a miracle, the only explanation is that the bureaucracy was simply uninterested. And let there be no doubt, nothing is outside the purview of the bureaucracy; a highly disciplined, ultimately unified and faithfully protected institution, cultivated over generations under a straightforward ideology, my way or the high way, all or nothing! The Commonwealth nations will remain eternally and infinitely grateful to the Empire for this awesome bestowment: long live the civil servant; notwithstanding Mr Churchill’s observation that some civil servants are neither servants nor civil. Anyone can shuffle or reshuffle them around, but in time, nothing can endure a conflict with a civil servant. The public service is a self-immortalising absolutism (doesn’t work, cannot be fired and are not elected!), which mere politicians or mere journalists can, admiringly, never even begin to understand. However, what the genre of politicians and journalists do understand very clearly is to avoid, like the plague, comrades who have invoked the wrath of a civil servant. This article is not about bureaucracy bashing, it is about the importance of manifestos, which unfortunately, currently are tantamount to nothing! And the persistent reader will again ask, but what does bureaucracy have to do with manifestos, and that is exactly the point: nothing! Finally grinning on nothing! In the history of democracy, what can perhaps be asserted without any fear of reprisal is that the populace has never ever read a single page of any manifesto, prior to using its hallucinatory vote. More on why votes are hallucinatory in some other article some other time. For the moment, the origin of this article lies in wondering whether the bureaucracy shying away in shadows within the corridors of powers, responsible for the eventual implementation of a manifesto, ever took these documents seriously. The answer, after a lot of reflection, most likely not! And why is this line of thought prescient? Unpretentiously, because in spite of great advances in technology, the combined knowledge of all brilliant minds of the modern era has failed in inventing any substitute for the inconspicuous civil servant, the unelected masters of the universe. Even democracy, the darling of civil society, fails at this juncture. “No matter how good you are, don’t ever let them see you coming. That’s the gaffe my friend. You gotta keep yourself small. Innocuous. Be the little guy...” John Milton in the movie The Devil’s Advocate. So, what if there was an innocuous department in the caretaker government specifically responsible for approving manifestos, prior to parties being granted election symbols, and in case of rejection, the findings to be considered for assessments under Articles 62 and 63; after all, breaking promises is a sin. At the outset, life will surely become difficult for the authors. Since everyone will be simultaneously filing on the closing date, the current opportunity to cheat or improve upon the last available manifestos will evaporate. Original and imaginative thought will be required to convince the competent authority. Manifestos also do not follow bureaucratic norms, which is necessary since irrespective of the criticism, the civil service, amongst other things, is known to be meticulous about form. Most likely, the concerned department will notify a standard format for the manifesto, setting out in triplicate the information required therewith. Amongst other things, to qualify for any credible analysis, the singular percept currently lacking in every party’s manifesto is an explanatory analysis of their previous manifestos. This proposition has universal applicability. While those in power definitely need to defend their performance against the unrealistic promises made just a few years ago, those yet to be blessed with absolute power also need to clarify changes in their vision over time. Without exaggeration, those who have frequented the corridors of the Pakistan secretariats can easily visualise the file noting of the much feared Section Officer, if subsequent editions of the manifesto do not analyse past performance or clarify the catalyst for change in earlier versions. Assuming the impossible, the respective parties resubmit their manifestos after necessary amendments regarding historic performance, perchance disguised by tall claims and questionable data. That just would not do with the bureaucracy. At the end of a long process, each and every historic assumption will either get supported by tons of paper or conversely subjected once again to an adverse file note. Frankly, once on the file, only the elders of the services can unlock the mischief of the noting, and that is hardly a frequent occurrence. Accordingly, at this point in time, the manifesto will be relegated to the dreaded record room, where it will lie until perhaps the next elections. Assuming the fantastic, probably only in the case of those clamouring for a change, alterations from the last document, especially in the absence of historic performance, are accepted and the Section Officer can finally move to the next step, or is it the next hurdle? Horribly, the ghostwriter misunderstood the format. Each assertion or futuristic claim needs to be supported by valid verifiable data and assumptions, has to be quantified and needs to be accompanied by a timeline. Also, curriculum vitae of the technical team together with their proposed portfolio are a must. Finally, Key Performance Indicators need to be precise and concise for ease of reference and future monitoring. Accordingly, “I am directed to inform that the competent authority has deferred approval of the subject manifesto until it is resubmitted after regularising the matters set out therein.” The intent today was not to ridicule manifestos; in fact, quite the opposite, the intent was to highlight that the most important document in the electoral process has become a mere formality. In the absence of credible party positions on real issues, the electoral process will only be about feudal-cum-tribal battles in most constituencies, and the populace can hardly be blamed for voting for the candidate rather than an ideology. Truly, after scanning a few, none of the existing manifestos qualify for consideration under a bureaucratic process, and since the masses are too naïve to analyse fanciful futuristic claims, manifestos will remain a ritual. The complete lack of enthusiasm by the champions of democracy, on this key, perhaps paramount matter, is rather perplexing for the lonely but avid and passionate opponent of democracy. Don’t just do it, do it right! If things continue as they are there will be manifestos, manifestos everywhere with not a drop of sense. Perhaps next week, the recently issued manifesto for change can be subjected to a bureaucratic analysis, so ‘wit’ for it! For the time being, looking forward to back to golf! Cheers The writer is a chartered accountant based in Islamabad. He can be reached at syed.bakhtiyarkazmi@gmail.

The Daily Times, 16 April 2013

 

 

The Baloch ‘sub-nation’ finds itself caught between two crucial options at present: intensify the insurgency and disrupt the coming elections through the bullet or cast votes and have their voice heard through the ballot.   By Tariq Khosa   The Baloch ‘sub-nation’ finds itself caught between two crucial options at present: intensify the insurgency and disrupt the coming elections through the bullet or cast votes and have their voice heard through the ballot.   According to Dr Allah Nazar who commands the separatist Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), the elections would be “nothing but a tool deployed by the central government in Islamabad to suppress the voices and demands of the Baloch people”.   Akhtar Mengal, the leader of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M), resisting pressure from radical nationalists, has chosen the path of a democratic struggle. He, along with other prominent Baloch politicians like Mir Hasil Bizenjo, Dr Abdul Malik, and Talal Bugti, has decided to contest the coming elections. Democracy is their preferred option in place of insurgency.   But for Nazar, “If Akhtar Mengal takes part in this sham of an election, he will have compromised with the very same security establishment that has been responsible for the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of Baloch”. Akhtar Mengal, sensitive to Baloch resentment, tried to address their concerns in an open letter to the Supreme Court before his arrival last month to participate in the elections with strong reservations.   Mengal counted “60 mutilated bodies, 70 targeted killings and 100 missing persons” since his court appearance in September 2012. “The heirs of missing persons are suffering an agony which only they can relate to, and are losing hope in the justice system,” read the letter. He had called his four-day tour in September a “last stand” and added that “elections will become selections” if they are held in “the war-zone that has become Balochistan”.   It is keeping this inner struggle of the Baloch in mind that the state and society should try and understand the mindset and trials that are pulling the nationalists in two opposite directions — a lawful struggle through constitutional means or a separatist and violence-driven campaign against the federation.   Allah Nazar is the prominent face of the Baloch insurgency. Apart from the BLF, three other key Baloch militant organisations that advocate the secession of Balochistan include the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the Baloch Republican Army (BRA) and the Baloch Liberation United Front. Analysts believe that Nazar has successfully spread the insurgency beyond the traditional strongholds of the rebels to the non-tribal western parts of the province, where insurgent attacks on security forces have arisen.   Believed to be the most influential figure among the radical Baloch youth, Nazar represents a tragic case study of an educated young man abandoning a professional career for an armed uprising from the mountains of western Balochistan. He belongs to a middle-class family from Mashkay, a town in Awaran district.   Born in 1968, he chose to become a doctor by initially getting admitted in Ata Shad University of Turbat in 1986. As a result of his hard work and determination, he not only secured a medical seat in Bolan Medical College Quetta but was also awarded a gold medal in gynaecology in 1999.   Like most Baloch activists, he was actively associated with the Baloch Students Organisation (BSO), the student wing of the Balochistan National Movement (BNM) which is now called the National Party. After parting ways with the BNM in 2002, Nazar founded the Azad faction of the BSO, which is pro-independence and supportive of the armed resistance.   In March 2005, he was picked up by unknown gunmen from a flat in Karachi and remained missing for around a year. He resurfaced in August 2006, and was jailed in Quetta for several months. After his release on bail, he went into hiding again and this time he took refuge in the mountains near Turbat to lead the insurgency against the state.   Security officials estimate that overall there are about 1,000 militants of which the core are around 250. The BLF has 300-400 fighters. However, in his interview with a Quetta-based journalist, Nazar claimed that there are more than 6,000 fighters in their ranks and the number is growing.   The Nazar-led armed insurgency may not be very large but it has given rise to a new phenomenon: the educated, non-tribal insurgent from a middle-class background. This new insurgent profile is quite unlike the customary insurgent base that usually has consisted of uneducated tribal fighters and, indeed, he is the first non-tribal head of a militant group in Balochistan.   The main challenge in the forthcoming elections would be a joint strategy of all major militant organisations to sabotage the democratic process in an extremely fragile caretaker governance framework. The intentions are clear as on March 12, the Hyarbyar Marri-led BLA targeted and killed Mohammad Ziaullah Qasmi, the district election commissioner in Quetta. “We will not let Pakistan hold elections in Balochistan,” said the BLA’s spokesperson. The Brahmdagh Bugti-led BRA is likely to soon close ranks with the other separatist factions.   Against this grim scenario and internal struggle between radical nationalists promoting insurgency and the Baloch political parties treading the democratic path, the recent gestures of the Election Commission of Pakistan that has promised to address the concerns of the parties in providing a level playing field, and the visit of the army chief to Quetta and his urging all political parties in the province to participate in the coming elections, are certainly positive and will strengthen the cause of democracy.   This is a defining and critical moment in our history and all the stakeholders of state security must back up and support the Baloch who are grudgingly but knowingly becoming part of a democratic process to seek redress of the grievances that had forced their activists to choose militancy over democracy. It is time to heal their wounds and reach out to them with affection. The Baloch can break but won’t bend. Let this strength in their character be the force harnessed carefully for a strong and prosperous Pakistan.   The writer is former IG Police Balochistan.   The Dawn, April 15, 2013
 

The May 2013 election is going to be the most crucial election in Pakistan’s political and constitutional history. It will decide the direction of Pakistan’s political system, either maturing towards enduring democracy or continued political instability. On March 16, 2013, Pakistan passed through an important moment of its political and constitutional history.

Abdul Basit The election process will carry the political debate forward from ‘restoration and survival of the political system’ to a ‘performance-based accountable system’ The May 2013 election is going to be the most crucial election in Pakistan’s political and constitutional history. It will decide the direction of Pakistan’s political system, either maturing towards enduring democracy or continued political instability. On March 16, 2013, Pakistan passed through an important moment of its political and constitutional history. The first elected civilian government and parliament completed a full five-year term in office (2008-13). The next general election is scheduled to be held on May 11, 2013 to elect a new government. It is a milestone in a country which, since its creation in 1947, has seen three martial laws, repeated dismissal of civilian governments through extra-constitutional manoeuvring and troubled civil-military relations leading to perpetual political instability and uncertainty. It signifies that despite various challenges, the country’s parliamentary system is maturing. The peaceful transfer of power from one democratic civilian government to another will further strengthen the country’s fragile democratic process. Public resentment against the outgoing Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)-led civilian government’s failure to manage a slowing economy, curb the endemic corruption in government institutions and failure to overcome enduring electricity breakdowns (up to 18 hours a day at the peak of summer) makes this achievement a hollow milestone. With a modest GDP growth of 3.7 percent, Pakistan is the slowest growing South Asian economy. At the same time, the volatile security situation stemming from the government’s failure to rein in the sectarian and the Taliban militant groups hardly wins any applause from Pakistanis. The May 2013 elections are the most crucial in Pakistan after the 1970 elections, which led to the dismemberment of the country, with the east wing now known as Bangladesh breaking away. These elections will decide the direction of Pakistan’s future political outlook. It will be the first opportunity for the electorate to try to vote out a civilian government and decide who replaces it. In the last few years Pakistan’s political system has become a heavily contested domain. Unlike the last two elections, a wide array of political actors is contesting the May 2013 elections. The Baloch nationalist political parties, cricketer-turned-philanthropist-turned-politician Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Party of Justice) (PTI) and right-wing Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), which boycotted the 2008 election, are participating in the 2013 election. Moreover, the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) of the former military ruler Pervez Musharraf has also announced to run in the upcoming elections. Musharraf has returned to Pakistan on March 24 to officially start his election campaign. At the same time, Khan’s impressive political gathering in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab, on March 23 has set the alarm bells ringing for the two mainstream political parties, the PPP and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). The May 2013 elections are about a different set of issues: In the May 2013 election the issues are more pressing, and relate to the domestic economy as compared to issues that shaped voters’ choices in the 2002 and 2008 elections. Therefore, it will require more nuanced and policy-oriented election manifestoes from the political parties to win over the electorate, instead of lofty and hollow rhetoric. The 2002 elections were held a year after the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan. They were heavily centred on the anti-US sentiments and voted to power a six-party religious alliance, the Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and southwestern Balochistan provinces. The pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q) formed the government at the Centre, along with wining majority seats in Punjab and Sindh provinces. The PPP and PML-N did poorly in the 2002 election because their top leadership was in exile and elections were heavily rigged in favour of pro-Musharraf political forces. Meanwhile, the 2008 elections that catapulted the PPP and PML-N into dominating positions were contested on three major issues: the Red Mosque Operation in Islamabad (July 2007), restoration of Pakistan’s superior court judges deposed by Musharraf (March 2007) and the assassination of the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (December 2007). In the 2008 elections the PPP greatly benefited from the sympathy vote on Bhutto’s assassination in interior Sindh. Meanwhile, in urban Punjab, the PML-N exploited the anti-Musharraf sentiments emanating from his decision to conduct a military operation in the Laal Masjid and dismissal of the superior judiciary. For some years now, the PPP and PML-N have dominated electoral politics in Pakistan. The PPP has always enjoyed popular support in interior Sindh and rural Punjab. Meanwhile, urban Punjab has been the hub of the PML-N. The outcomes of elections in Balochistan and KP have been varied. The rise of the PTI as a third major political force on Pakistan’s political landscape has made the electoral environment more competitive. Notwithstanding a six percent decrease in its public ratings in the last six months, the PTI is still the second most popular political party in Pakistan after the PML-N, according to the US-based International Republican Institute (IRI) survey. The 2013 elections are going to be a three-way contest unlike the two-way-contest between the PPP and PML-N in the past. The urban, upper middle class supports the PTI in Punjab and KP. The overwhelming number of young voters in the electoral lists can be the game changers in the 2013 election. Out of an electoral list of 83 million, 47 percent registered voters are between the age of 18 and 35 — approximately 39 million people. According to the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), out of these 39 million people, around 30 million are those who until three years ago were not listed in the electoral rolls. These 30 million voters included people who turned 18 in the last three years and did not have national identity cards until now or had identity cards but were not registered in the voting list. Faced with a plethora of internal and external challenges, a peaceful transition of power through free and fair elections is essential for the strengthening of the democratic institutions in Pakistan. The election process will carry the political debate forward from ‘restoration and survival of the political system’ to a ‘performance-based accountable system.’ The writer is a Senior Analyst at the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR), a constituent of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He can be reached at hafizbasit@yahoo.com

The Daily Times, 11 April 2013

 

The fresh election is just about a month and a bit away. This is no revelation for any of us nor the fact that the democratically elected government (are we all in agreement that it was indeed a democratically-elected one?) is the first one to have completed its five-year tenure without interruption in the 65-year-old history of Pakistan.

Mujahid Eshai

Change indeed! Hopeful candidates genuinely afraid of submitting nomination papers lest their not so worthy deeds become public knowledge The fresh election is just about a month and a bit away. This is no revelation for any of us nor the fact that the democratically elected government (are we all in agreement that it was indeed a democratically-elected one?) is the first one to have completed its five-year tenure without interruption in the 65-year-old history of Pakistan. But as they say, better late than never. At least it has happened and we all continue to hope and pray (as we do most of the time) that this behaviour shall be followed in future as well. So, there we are! Should we also conclude that our leaders exhibited a greater sense of maturity than before during these five years, notwithstanding the charges of friendly opposition, or that apathy towards the solution of problems afflicting the masses reached new heights, again notwithstanding glorious projects like the Metro Bus system, Daanish Schools and the great Laptop distribution scheme? There were riots against non-availability of electricity and gas, be it the natural or the CNG type, massive price hikes, immense infrastructural damage due to floods, drones and the Tehreek-eTaliban Pakistan (TTP), and consequential devastation of the people’s lives. However, these matters, perhaps in our best traditions, should be forgotten and the thin reed of hope for the best firmly clasped in our hands, as we venture forth to cast our very precious vote for the next five years. What the future may hold looks grim as the circular debt is reported to have reached Rs 782 billion, government domestic borrowing into trillion of rupees, the electricity shortfall despite the very decent weather has already reached 5,000 MW, unemployment is increasing and the foreign exchange reserves are falling rapidly. At the same time we are told that the expatriates continue to send a billion dollars per month; the number of ‘lawns’ offered to the masses presumed to be recoiling under recessionary conditions has increased since the previous year; new restaurants keep on opening with huge custom base in the afternoon and evening in the urban areas; car and motorcycle sales continue unabated; and God is being kind by allowing us to have bumper crops. So where are we going? Are we moving backwards or forwards? It would appear we might be going round and round in a circle, tightening the umbilical cord with which we are tied to the incomprehensible system controlling our lives around our necks, and which no politician or for that matter even ourselves show any inclination or desire to do away with. The signing of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline certainly was a step in the right direction, and let us hope that the new lot that comes in holds on to this path unhesitantly. The awarding of the rights to manage and operate the Gwadar Port was another sensible step not only for the immediate present but also the future. Change not only in the weather but also the political climate is being felt. Whether the expected change is transformed into reality remains to be seen, but the onus thereof lies squarely on the young voters and the women in Pakistan. What is very good and has certainly helped control noise pollution is the no-nonsense and correct attitude of the Election Commission of Pakistan. Well done, so far Judge Sahib! But please remain within the ambit of conducting the election in a fair and proper manner. Your action in the State Bank matter was totally incorrect as it in no way impinges on how the election may or may not be conducted. A man, whose curriculum vitae was read by all newspapers and brings with him plenty of banking experience within and outside the country has been unnecessarily targeted. Discipline must be maintained by even those within the Election Commission, otherwise the example that you may be trying to set will go wrong. Change indeed! Hopeful candidates genuinely afraid of submitting nomination papers lest their not so worthy deeds become public knowledge. Eligible candidates are few and far between and becoming difficult to be lured on to the party platforms. The number of independents appears to be growing. Is that not in itself a verdict on the faith the electorate has in the parties? This business of contesting from more than one seat must be banned. Not only is the right of a party worker being denied but is the cause of unnecessary burden on the exchequer, as there would inevitably be by-elections on the seats that the winner gives up. Should any one still desire to contest from more than one seat then that person must be made to pay for the entire cost of the by-election. Contesting from many seats does not prove anything except ones’ own lack of confidence in oneself. Manifestos have been released. They are full of the same rhetoric. Not a single one of them tells us how a party may get rid of the circular debt. What mechanism will it follow? It would appear that these manifestos are not about how a party will improve things but only about the prospect of some goodies on offer if you vote for it. Empty promises with no clear cut vision! The writer is a Chartered Accountant and can be contacted on mujahid.eshai@cbspk.com

The Daily Times, 9 April 2013

 

Foreign policy rarely decides elections anywhere in the world. Pakistan is no different. The country’s upcoming polls will most likely reflect disappointment in the current government and hopes for a better one, but the result is unlikely to serve as a popular mandate on foreign policy.

By Frederic Grare, Reece Trevor Foreign policy rarely decides elections anywhere in the world. Pakistan is no different. The country’s upcoming polls will most likely reflect disappointment in the current government and hopes for a better one, but the result is unlikely to serve as a popular mandate on foreign policy. And because long-term national interests and structural factors generally determine foreign policy, such policies often persist regardless of who holds political power. Decisionmaking on Pakistan’s foreign affairs is an increasingly complex process reflecting a growing number of interest groups and external factors. Elections therefore affect foreign policy mostly on the margins, but they can and do influence decisions and set the trend for future developments. Civil-military relations and how they influence threat perception and the definition of the national interest will likely remain the biggest variable in Pakistan’s foreign policy. And the elections will help determine how much space civilian leaders have to operate. The elections are unlikely to produce a wholesale change in Islamabad’s thinking, but might enable a shift in how Pakistan conducts foreign policy. The competing political parties in Pakistan have defined their foreign policy priorities only vaguely, and the likelihood of coalition building will further dilute each party’s ability to enact its preferred policies. Should the mainstream parties win an overwhelming majority, their task will be easier in foreign policy. But if the election produces a divided parliament with no clear majority, the demands of coalition politics will grant more marginal parties—with more extreme views—a disproportionate role in policymaking. This will also allow the military and the intelligence agencies to more easily manipulate the decisionmaking process. Depending on the results, Pakistan’s next government could be more cooperative in its foreign relations and even show less tolerance for state-sponsored terrorism in order to help pursue its regional and global objectives. Such a result could, over time, change Pakistan’s relations with its neighborhood and help define a new South Asia.

The Military's Role The Pakistani military deserves its reputation for political engineering. Often operating behind the scenes, it has been known to make and unmake majorities and governments to maintain its primacy and impose its will. Most analysts see the army as the real decisionmaker in matters of foreign policy and defense, even when a civilian government is in office. Historically, the military has undoubtedly imposed major political constraints on the definition and implementation of Pakistan’s foreign policy. But it still bears noting that some high-ranking civil servants and major political parties have traditionally shared the military’s views on foreign policy. Nonetheless, in recent months the civilian government has enjoyed slightly more political space on foreign policy. The military’s influence on foreign policy has clearly changed over the past five years. Before 2011, the military professed its loyalty to the democratic system and the elected civilian authorities, but it showed a complete disregard for the government’s opinion on defense and foreign policy matters. For example, only a few weeks into President Asif Ali Zardari’s term in 2008, Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani slammed the new government over Zardari’s remarks on a nuclear no-first-use policy on Indian television. Similarly, Zardari’s hopes of a rapprochement with India were dashed after the Mumbai terrorist attacks, which were allegedly engineered largely by Pakistani security forces. And the military had almost complete autonomy in determining Pakistan’s policy on Afghanistan. However, the series of serious incidents that characterized 2011 marked an inflection point in the relationship between the military and civilians over foreign policy. Prior to this point, the dominant perception was that the United States and the international community needed Pakistan much more than Pakistan needed them. Things changed in 2011. The raid against Osama bin Laden and the resulting suspicion that Pakistan may have provided shelter for years to the most wanted man in the world contributed to Islamabad’s international isolation. But things changed most significantly after U.S. forces mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at a border checkpoint near Salala. Islamabad’s retaliatory closure of overland supply routes for U.S. forces in Afghanistan certainly increased NATO’s costs, but it also produced the unintended consequence of demonstrating that the United States was capable of operating in the region without Pakistani support. A growing economic crisis and the prospect of a “divorce” from the United States forced Pakistan’s security establishment to rethink its posture and opened up new opportunities for the civilian leadership. For instance, the Zardari government has been able to begin a gradual rapprochement with India. While this policy shift would likely have been impossible without tacit military acceptance, it was nevertheless engineered by the civilian government on its own initiative, convincingly suggesting an expanded role for elected civilians in foreign policy.

Public Opinion Even with greater space for civilian leaders to operate, the impact of public opinion on foreign policy is surprisingly absent from most debates on Pakistan’s external affairs. William B. Milam and Matthew J. Nelson argue that populism is a political constant in Pakistan’s foreign policy. They feel that the military and its intelligence agencies cannot generate new public beliefs, but can only shore up existing ones by suppressing countervailing views. Pakistan’s elites—both civilian and military—“are properly afraid of the street and its protest power,” and essentially follow public opinion rather that direct it. This argument undoubtedly contains an element of truth. No system, no matter how authoritarian, can survive without a minimal threshold of popular support. Specifically applied to foreign policy, the argument is also valid because no Pakistani leader can afford to run afoul of popular nationalism. All issues implicating Pakistani sovereignty are potential landmines for policymakers. In the past, the military has turned this dynamic to its advantage, portraying myriad controversial foreign policy issues—including the Mumbai attacks—as matters of state sovereignty in order to ensure popular backing. Public views on foreign policy have also evolved considerably over the past ten years, varying in both substance and intensity. For example, most Pakistanis may not feel particularly strongly about the Kashmir dispute, despite the issue’s prominent status in Islamabad’s foreign policy. There is widespread sympathy for the cause, to be sure, but support for going to war over it is much more limited. And public views of India have changed, often with surprising speed. In 2004, for example, part of the public became much more open to improving relations with India after religious political parties were mobilized in favor of rapprochement. This allowed Pervez Musharraf to take some relatively bold initiatives and demonstrated that public opinion could be influenced in one direction or another. But even where fundamental elements of Pakistani national interest are concerned, public opinion never dictates the instruments of policy implementation. Political actors retain the ability to implement policies—be they confrontational or cooperative—as they see fit. In other words, there is ample space for political actors to determine the way foreign policy is implemented.

Political Parties Distinctions are apparent among the foreign policy agendas and statements of the main political actors. The parties generally converge in their articulations of major foreign priorities—particularly relations with the United States and India and the Kashmir dispute—but diverge significantly in their policy prescriptions. Of course, public manifestos and official statements are often both vague and mercurial, and therefore imperfect predictors of future policies. Nevertheless, public statements serve as useful illustrations of points of convergence and divergence in the major actors’ foreign policy thinking and possible future actions. While the major political parties generally agree about Pakistan’s relationship with China, they divide sharply on relations with the United States. The religious political parties of Jamaat Ulema-e-Islam and Jamaat-e-Islami and their allies, including Tehreek-e-Insaf, strongly criticize the current U.S.-Pakistani relationship. But the mainstream parties—both the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League—are more accepting of Pakistan’s ties with Washington. The religious parties never miss an opportunity to portray the current government’s foreign policy as weak, implying or asserting that it has allowed Washington to threaten or coerce Pakistan. In the past five years, both Jamaat Ulema-e-Islam and Jamaat-e-Islami have called for the Pakistani government to distance itself from United States. These religious parties oppose alignment with non-Muslim states and demand an end to American drone strikes. The Defense of Pakistan Council (Difa-e-Pakistan), a collection of some 40 religious groups, political parties, and banned militant organizations, takes an even more categorical stance, favoring a complete end to U.S.-Pakistan relations and increased support for the Afghan Taliban. Tehreek-e-Insaf, led by former cricket superstar Imran Khan, is surfing the same wave of anti-Americanism. Khan blames successive Pakistani governments for compromising Pakistani honor and security by working with the United States and, according to Malik Siraj Akbar, “terms U.S. assistance to Pakistan a curse that has, in his views, transformed the Islamic Republic into an American colony.” In the same spirit, Tehreek-e-Insaf condemns U.S. drone strikes and argues that Taliban ideology is not a threat to Pakistan. By contrast, none of the mainstream parties reject relations with the United States, although they too take into account the prominent anti-Americanism in the country. According to its manifesto, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) will “strengthen and enhance friendly relations and deep rooted economic ties with all countries of the world,” suggesting a broader policy of nonalignment. Similarly, the PPP credits itself with “reframing a more enduring, balanced and clearly defined partnership with the US, rooted in mutuality of interest and respect, while securing the largest-ever economic assistance package for Pakistan,” implying that mutual respect was missing in the past. At no point does it question the need for a strong relationship with the United States. When it comes to Afghanistan, both sets of parties tend to condemn U.S. policies toward Kabul and denounce the consequences for Pakistan. The parties vary, however, in their specific approaches to Afghanistan. As noted above, Tehreek-e-Insaf sees no Taliban threat to Pakistan, while the PPP argues for “Pakistan’s outreach to the Afghan government, as well as the opposition parties, and its support for a comprehensive reconciliation process led and owned by the Afghans.” India occupies a distant second place on the parties’ lists of priorities. The parties all identify Kashmir as the primary irritant working with Pakistan’s eastern neighbor, but there are clear divides on how best to deal with the issue and manage the relationship. The mainstream parties all seek an expanded dialogue with New Delhi. The PML-N references the need to resolve the Kashmir issue in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions and endorses a peaceful and negotiated settlement of all disputes with India, while the PPP wants an honest and sincere dialogue. By contrast, the religious parties demand that the most-favored-nation status granted to India (although not yet implemented) be revoked. Tehreek-e-Insaf, however, takes an original position designed to satisfy its relatively broad electoral base. To appease the Islamist wing of the party, it takes a hardline on Kashmir and strongly condemns drone strikes. At the same time, it acknowledges its more moderate liberal elements in its advocacy of cordial working relations with India and support for an improved relationship with the United States based on normal trade relations rather than foreign assistance. Overall, the parties’ electoral agendas align in their perceptions of Pakistan’s geopolitical environment and national priorities. They differ, however, in their views on how best to realize the nation’s objectives. Mainstream parties advocate a much more cooperative approach based on more robust engagement with both the region and the world.

Election Prospects How these elements will play out in the upcoming elections remains unclear and will depend in large part on electoral mathematics. Assuming the military continues its relatively hands-off approach to foreign policy, the victory of the PML-N or the PPP will likely lead to a much more peaceful approach to foreign policy. Recent polling data show an advantage for the PML-N. An average of 36.5 percent of Pakistanis nationwide plan to vote for a PML-N candidate, placing the party far ahead of Tehreek-e-Insaf (16 percent), the PPP (15.5 percent), and the Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam (3 percent). These results should be viewed with caution, however. Because Pakistan’s parliamentary system allocates seats by electoral unit—not on a national basis—nationwide statistics may not tell the full story of the election. Moreover, as no party gets a clear majority at the national level or in the provinces (with the exception of the PML-N in Punjab), it is all but inevitable that the election will produce a coalition government and these dynamics are difficult to predict through polling alone.   It also remains to be seen if Tehreek-e-Insaf will realize its objective of upsetting the status quo and challenging the mainstream parties. The party suffers from a significant gap between its popularity and its perceived electability, suggesting that its high visibility and strong media presence may not translate to a victory at the polls. Finally, it is impossible to rule out electoral manipulations of some sort. Although the international community judged the 2008 elections to be free and fair, the Electoral Commission of Pakistan later determined that about half of the entries in the voter rolls were fraudulent. At this point, however, most analysts remain optimistic that the 2013 elections will be transparent and legitimate. Coalition politics is therefore likely to be the rule of the game, so a consensus foreign policy is unlikely to emerge. What Can the Elections Achieve? The military’s apparent laissez-faire attitude toward foreign policy, the relatively similar policy approaches among the mainstream parties, and the current electoral predictions all point to one conclusion: the elections are unlikely to produce a sea change in Pakistani foreign policy. The results will determine, however, the degree of legitimacy and political maneuvering space the winning party or coalition may enjoy, with significant implications for foreign policy. Should one of the mainstream political parties secure a decisive victory, Pakistan will be more likely to pursue cooperative policies at the regional and international level. Mainstream parties on both ends of the ideological spectrum have demonstrated in the past a greater tendency to try to resolve disputes peacefully, so it is reasonable to expect that they will continue to behave this way once in power, provided they receive a clear electoral mandate. But if narrower electoral margins force the PPP or the PML-N to align with a broader range of coalition partners—especially smaller and more radical parties—those more marginal parties may wield disproportionate influence in the policy arena and open venues for subsequent manipulations. As such, even free and fair elections are unlikely to produce an entirely novel definition of Pakistan’s strategic environment and threat perception, but they are very much part of an incremental evolution toward a more peaceful Pakistani foreign policy. Source: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 4 April 2013

 


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