Pakistan coalition promises benefits: Ahmed Rashid's Insights

Pakistan coalition promises benefits

Ahmed Rashid, guest columnist and writer on Pakistan, sees signs for optimism at the prospect of a coalition government in Pakistan after Monday's elections.
BBC - February 23, 2008

The decision by Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif to work towards a coalition government could prove a major step forward in lifting Pakistan out of its political morass and putting it back on the rails.

The new alliance is between the Pakistan People's Party - the left-of-centre group that won the largest number of parliamentary seats in the 18 February elections and is now led by the widower of assassinated Benazir Bhutto - and the Pakistan Muslim League-N group, led by Mr Sharif which came in a close second.

However, the proposed coalition government could have to face continuing behind the scenes efforts by President Pervez Musharraf and the intelligence agencies to undermine them even before they are allowed to govern.

Mr Musharraf's agents, backed by a section of the Washington establishment, is reported to have been secretly trying to persuade Mr Zardari to go into alliance with the former ruling party - the Pakistan Muslim League-Q group.

'Hugely positive'

The PML-Q has been decimated in the elections - 23 ministers lost their seats and today it is leaderless, visionless and without an agenda - except to continue supporting Mr Musharraf.

The proposed new coalition could prove hugely positive for Pakistan's four provinces.

In the North Western Frontier Province that has been torn apart by civil war, the majority of seats have been won by a PPP ally, the Awami National Party (ANP).

The ANP has perhaps some of the most seasoned and battle-hardened politicians in the country - a pedigree that goes back to the 1930s.

It has tried, despite blockages put up by Mr Musharraf, to foster a more modern and moderate image of Pashtun nationalism than the one put up by the Pakistani Taleban and al-Qaeda. Now it will have every chance of success.

In Sindh province that has previously been torn apart by the bloodshed perpetrated by the Sindhis represented by the PPP and the Urdu speaking Mohajirs represented by the MQM, there is now an offer by Mr Zardari for both parties to form a coalition government.

That would be hugely welcomed by the people of Karachi and other urban centres in the province who have often borne the brunt of past violence.

In Balochistan, Mr Zardari has promised to talk to the Baloch nationalist leaders, all of whom boycotted the elections. The nationalists and separatists are leading a guerrilla war in the province against the army and Mr Musharraf refused to hold any dialogue with them. So far they have not responded to Mr Zardari's offer.

Punjab, the country's largest and most important province would be most likely ruled by Mr Sharif's PML-N because it has the largest number of seats in its assembly. But if there is co-operation at the national level, there is unlikely to be any major rift between the PPP and the PML-N as there was in the late 1980s, when one rival party ruled the centre and the other ruled Punjab.

So for the first in more than a decade the country could be ruled collectively by parties who have separate strengths in each province and who agree on a minimum agenda to fight terrorism, reduce inflation, get the army out of politics and strengthen civilian institutions like the judiciary.


Mr Sharif had been demanding an immediate reinstatement of those judges sacked and jailed by Mr Musharraf. But he seems to have watered down his appeals in the light of advice from Mr Zardari, who perhaps has the same goals but wants to go about it more slowly.

Mr Zardari does not immediately want to annoy the army and those around Mr Musharraf. Nor has Mr Zardari endorsed Mr Sharif's earlier call to impeach Mr Musharraf. That too is likely to be put on the backburner.

What is likely to emerge is that Mr Musharraf himself will be nudged backwards into a much weaker role as new army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani forms a new relationship with the country's civilian leadership and assures them that the army will not be used to undermine them.

That would cut away Mr Musharraf's powers and his chances of continuing to dominate the political spectrum.

All this may come as a blow to President George W Bush who appears to trust no Pakistani in office except for Mr Musharraf.

However there are now signs of a new school of thought brewing in the state and defence departments that goes against Mr Bush's views, which are heavily influenced by Vice President Dick Cheney.

The State Department under Condoleezza Rice has not dared to even discuss a new Pakistan policy in the past, because of fears of angering the White House. Now it seems just such a process is underway, following the massive defeats of Mr Musharraf's supporters at the polls.

Taleban crackdown?

Washington should also consider the degree to which the new government is likely to be strongly welcomed in the region.

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan will be hoping to see a real crackdown on the Taleban leadership that have been given sanctuary in Pakistan and he knows and has a good relationship with many of the new leaders in the PPP, the ANP and the PML-N.

India will be hoping to see greater progress in confidence-building measures between the two states that could help start a dialogue on resolving the Kashmir dispute.

Iran will be less apprehensive that Pakistan may do a deal under the table with the Americans to help subvert Iran.

Russia, China and the five Central Asian states are likely to support the new process in the hope that it will bring stability and end the army's on-off support for Islamic militancy which has allowed Islamic militants from their countries to set up shop in Pakistan's tribal areas.

There is plenty of reason to argue that Pakistan has benefited hugely from the elections.

Much will now depend on how willing Mr Musharraf is to accept defeat gracefully.

Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistani journalist based in Lahore. He is the author of three books including Taliban and, most recently, Jihad. He has covered Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia for the past 25 years.


Ghazala Khan said…
More than Musharraf it depends on how much US decides to push PPP.
Anonymous said…

A Milestone on the Road to Democracy

By Pervez Musharraf
Friday, February 22, 2008; Page A23

After months of turmoil, including the death of an important national figure, Benazir Bhutto, and the civil unrest that followed, Pakistan has successfully carried out a critical election -- balloting that was a milestone in our nation's 60-year history.

Pakistan's transition to democracy is essential to achieving reconciliation among our people. The government worked tirelessly to ensure that Monday's vote would be free, fair, transparent and peaceful. A broad range of new procedures were put in place -- such as the public counting of ballots at each polling station -- to make certain that this would be the fairest election ever held in Pakistan.

The historical significance of this election makes this the right moment for an honest discussion of the challenges and opportunities confronting both Pakistan and the United States, whose interest in a stable, democratic government in Islamabad is matched by that of the Pakistani people.

Our nation faces three main tasks: defeating terrorism and extremism; building a stable and effective democratic government; and creating a solid foundation for sustained economic growth. Because these goals are shared by the vast majority of Pakistanis, I am certain we can and will accomplish them, and I stand ready to work with the newly elected Parliament to achieve these objectives.

Do we still face challenges? Of course. Do great opportunities lie ahead? The answer is an emphatic yes. Our economy is strong -- and growing stronger. Our armed forces are dedicated, professional and committed to maintaining both public order and the integrity of our political system. Most important, the overwhelming majority of our 160 million people are firmly committed to a moderate view of Islam and to the national prosperity that only modernization can bring.

On terrorism, let me be perfectly clear: Pakistan faces and fights this menace with full dedication. How could we not? Al-Qaeda and its affiliates have declared war on the civilized world, and the moderate government and people of Pakistan are prime targets. Some have questioned our commitment to the fight against extremism. In fact, more than 1,000 Pakistani troops have lost their lives fighting al-Qaeda and Taliban forces over the past four years, and 112,000 troops are fully engaged in the regions along our border with Afghanistan. We will continue to work closely with our longtime American allies in our common struggle to rid Pakistan and the world of militant extremism.

But as the U.S. experience in Iraq has shown, military force alone is not sufficient. A successful counterinsurgency requires a multi-pronged approach -- military, political and economic. Our political strategy emphasizes separating terrorists from those citizens living in the regions bordering Afghanistan. Our economic strategy is bringing education, economic opportunity and the benefits of development to those same areas. As history has clearly taught us, when people see improvement in their daily lives and the lives of their children, they turn away from violence and toward peace and reconciliation.

But our success will require the continued support of the United States. I would ask Americans to remember that building democracy is difficult in the best of conditions; doing so in a complex country such as Pakistan -- with its uneasy political history, with its centuries-old regional and feudal cleavages, and with violent extremists dedicated to the defeat of democracy -- is even more challenging. As history has shown, a peaceful transition to democracy requires the leadership of government and the willingness of the population to embrace democratic ideals. The people of Pakistan on Monday demonstrated that willingness; now it is time for government leaders to work together and do our part.

The writer is president of Pakistan
Anonymous said…
Retd. Military General and commando Dictator, Pervez Musharraf will undo Jinnah's Pakistan. Period.
Pakistani Dream said…
Last time, it was Zulfiqar Bhutto, Top dog of West Pakistan who undid the half of Pakistan and not the general in the 70's. Now The top dog's Lutera and Thief Mr. 10 Per Cent aka Zardari bhutto in this business.

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