Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Clear Verdict in Pakistan

A clear verdict
Hassan Abbas, Guardian, February 19, 2008: http://www.guardian.co.uk

The verdict is clear. Pakistan has shown the door to the mullahs and delivered a stern warning to Musharraf. Pakistan has backed the opposition to Musharraf's despotic handling of the judiciary, his high-handedness against independent media and his political cronyism. As a result, Musharraf's future looks bleak, while Pakistan gets a fighting chance to puts its house in order.

The drift of the voters is not unexpected, but few trusted the state machinery to conduct largely fair elections. Pre-poll rigging was in full swing till the end, caretakers' partiality towards pro-Musharraf parties was obvious and the Election Commission's neutrality was in doubt. While a string of suicide bombings haunted voters, ordinary Pakistanis have shown that they still believe in democracy. Voter turnout was low but the message of the electorate is clear.

Musharraf's hopes for a hung parliament that would have given him a chance to continue to manipulate the political scene have been proved wrong. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), though far short of a simple majority, has emerged as the largest political party. A sympathy vote in the wake of Benazir Bhutto's assassination only had a moderate impact, though her death certainly dealt a fatal blow to the prospects of the pro-Musharraf Muslim League (PML-Q) playing any role in government. Her own Sindh province, however, paid due tribute to her by giving a majority to PPP in the provincial assembly.

The Muslim League faction led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif received the second highest number of votes in the national assembly and the highest number of seats in the Punjab assembly, a reward for taking a popular and laudable stand in favour of the deposed judges and constitutionalism. Sharif will have to stick to this agenda, however, if he wants to remain relevant to Pakistan in the future. Contrary to many western fears, this faction of the Muslim League is not overly conservative or Islamist, and has moved towards the centre in recent years.

The most significant victory of all was that won by the secular and Pashtun nationalist party, the Awami National Party (ANP) in the volatile North-West Frontier Province. The religious alliance MMA stands routed in the province which emerged as its heartland in the 2002 elections. Its poor governance record, flirting with Musharraf and significant internal divisions led to its downfall. Just as significant is the ANP's rise.

This is a resounding response to the spate of suicide bombings and politics of violence. For instance, in Swat, which was in the eye of the Islamist militancy storm recently, the ANP won comprehensively, establishing that ordinary Pashtuns are not supportive of extremist forces.

One other factor worth taking into account is the success of women candidates in 12 national and provincial constituencies. There are separate women's seats allocated in all legislatures to be filled through indirect vote, but in many important urban as well as rural districts, major parties fielded women candidates. Most of them won - a healthy trend in a country where in some rural areas women were stopped from voting by their male "guardians".

Despite all these positive trends, however, Pakistan's problems are far from being over. It is going to be an uphill task to form a stable, focused and accountable government dedicated to the wellbeing of the people. Developing a consensus among coalition parties (most likely, PPP, PML-Nawaz, and ANP) in the centre and then sticking to it will be a challenge in itself. In a country where palace intrigues have historically started fermenting within months of a new administration taking office (mostly orchestrated by intelligence services), the early period will be the most challengng of all. Religious extremism can also raise its ugly head at any time, as the suicide bombers and extremists are not going to change their worldview just because liberal and progressive forces did well in the elections.

As for Musharraf, he is living in a fool's paradise if he thinks he is going to be a father figure to the next prime minister of Pakistan. The new government will be under tremendous public pressure to bring back the deposed judges, and that could sound a death knell for the Musharraf presidency. For the army, which is distancing itself from Musharraf already, institutional interests, saving prestige and influence, will be more important than rescuing a president who continues to shoot himself in the foot. The west in general - and Britain and the US in particular - must show patience while democratic forces settle; at least as much patience as they showed with military dictators. This is the very least that the people of Pakistan earned yesterday.

Unilateral Strike Called a Model For U.S. Operations in Pakistan??

Unilateral Strike Called a Model For U.S. Operations in Pakistan
By Joby Warrick and Robin Wright, Washington Post, February 19, 2008; A01

In the predawn hours of Jan. 29, a CIA Predator aircraft flew in a slow arc above the Pakistani town of Mir Ali. The drone's operator, relying on information secretly passed to the CIA by local informants, clicked a computer mouse and sent the first of two Hellfire missiles hurtling toward a cluster of mud-brick buildings a few miles from the town center.

The missiles killed Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior al-Qaeda commander and a man who had repeatedly eluded the CIA's dragnet. It was the first successful strike against al-Qaeda's core leadership in two years, and it involved, U.S. officials say, an unusual degree of autonomy by the CIA inside Pakistan.

Having requested the Pakistani government's official permission for such strikes on previous occasions, only to be put off or turned down, this time the U.S. spy agency did not seek approval. The government of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was notified only as the operation was underway, according to the officials, who insisted on anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities.

Officials say the incident was a model of how Washington often scores its rare victories these days in the fight against al-Qaeda inside Pakistan's national borders: It acts with assistance from well-paid sympathizers inside the country, but without getting the government's formal permission beforehand.

It is an approach that some U.S. officials say could be used more frequently this year, particularly if a power vacuum results from yesterday's election and associated political tumult. The administration also feels an increased sense of urgency about undermining al-Qaeda before President Bush leaves office, making it less hesitant, said one official familiar with the incident.

Independent actions by U.S. military forces on another country's sovereign territory are always controversial, and both U.S. and Pakistani officials have repeatedly sought to obscure operational details that would reveal that key decisions are sometimes made in the United States, not in Islamabad. Some Pentagon operations have been undertaken only after intense disputes with the State Department, which has worried that they might inflame Pakistani public resentment; the CIA itself has sometimes sought to put the brakes on because of anxieties about the consequences for its relationship with Pakistani intelligence officials.

U.S. military officials say, however, that the uneven performance of their Pakistani counterparts increasingly requires that Washington pursue the fight however it can, sometimes following an unorthodox path that leaves in the dark Pakistani military and intelligence officials who at best lack commitment and resolve and at worst lack sympathy for U.S. interests.

For Complete report, click here

Musharraf Must Quit: Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif

Musharraf must quit: Zardari, Nawaz
* PPP co-chairman indicates coalition with PML-N
* Nawaz-Zardari meeting scheduled for Thursday
* Zardari says parliament to decide on sacked judges
* PPP CEC to name candidate for prime minister
Daily Times, February 20, 2008

LAHORE: Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-chairman Asif Zardari and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday separately called for President Pervez Musharraf to quit after his allies were defeated in the general elections.

“Musharraf had said he would quit when the people tell him to. The people have now given their verdict,” Nawaz told a news conference in Lahore.

“We will now take this demand (of the president’s resignation) with us to the parliament and see which political forces support us,” Zardari told BBC after a meeting of his party’s Central Executive Committee.

For Complete Story, click here

Also See:
‘President to be lame duck — or jobless’ - Daily Times
Pakistan vote presents risks, some upside for U.S - Reuters
U.S. scrambles to salvage its Pakistan policy - International Herald Tribune

US Should Help Pakistan Build Democracy: AFP

US Should Help Pakistan Build Democracy
By ROBIN McDOWELL – AFP - February 19, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Sen. Joseph Biden said Tuesday that Pakistan's transition to a civilian government after eight years of military rule gives the U.S. a chance to adopt a foreign policy based on the whole nation — not just President Pervez Musharraf.

Biden, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and two other senators were in Pakistan to observe Monday's parliamentary elections. The ruling pro-Musharraf party conceded defeat to opposition parties on Tuesday.

"The moderate majority has regained its voice," said Biden, D-Del.

The Bush administration has promoted Musharraf as a moderate leader capable of holding together the nuclear-armed country. The White House on Tuesday declined comment on the elections, saying the final results had not been announced.

But Biden said the vote was a chance to reshape U.S. policy. "This is an opportunity for us to move from a policy that has been focused on a personality to one based on an entire people," he said.

He said the U.S. should triple the development aid it gives to Pakistan if its newly elected leaders can restore press freedoms, an independent judiciary and a functioning parliament.

He proposed maintaining the increased aid for 10 years, with a focus on building schools, roads and health care centers. There also should be more accountability for military aid, he said.

"We have to demonstrate to the Pakistani people that we care about their needs, progress and interests," he said, sitting next to Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.

Musharraf, a former general who seized power in a 1999 coup and only recently shed his army uniform, became a close U.S. ally in the war on terrorism after Sept. 11, 2001, a partnership many Pakistanis opposed. Washington gave the Muslim nation billions of dollars to help train and equip Pakistani security forces to battle Taliban and al-Qaida extremists.

But Islamic militancy has only increased, resulting in hundreds of deaths in the last year, including the Dec. 27 suicide bombing and gun attack on Benazir Bhutto, the country's former prime minister and opposition leader.

The senators said after meeting with all key members of the government — old and new — that they hope the former foes would work together to bring an end to the country's yearlong political crisis.

"This is truly a historic, decisive moment for Pakistan," Kerry said. "It is filled with unbelievable opportunity, and we urge the leaders of the various political parties to put the grudges of the past in the past."

Monday, February 18, 2008

Liberal parties rout mullahs in NWFP : All the King’s men, gone!

Picture Source: BBC

Liberal parties rout mullahs in NWFP : All the King’s men, gone!
* PPPP leading in National Assembly, Sindh
* PML-N leading in Punjab
* ANP leading in NWFP, PPPP close second
* Balochistan shows no clear winner
* Asfandyar Wali, Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, and Amin Fahim big winners
* Syeda Abida Hussain, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, Fazlur Rehman, Chaudhry Shahbaz Hussain lose

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE/KARACHI/ QUETTA/PESHAWAR: President Pervez Musharraf’s political allies, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), appear to have lost their grip over the country’s parliament, with the Pakistan People’s Party-Parliamentarians (PPPP) and the PML-Nawaz (PML-N) overtaking the “bicycle” in the election race.

Lion roars again: The PML-N swept Punjab despite low voter turnout in all 35 districts of the province.

PML-Q’s Sheikh Rashid lost to PML-N’s Makhdoom Javed Hashmi in NA-55. He also lost to PML-N’s Muhammad Hanif Abbasi in NA-56, according to unofficial results.

Shujaat lost to PPPP’s Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar in his hometown of Gujrat and was lagging behind PML-N’s Rana Abdus Sattar in Sialkot. PPPP’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi also won his seat.

PPPP’s Dr Firdaus Ashiq Awan beat out PML-Q’s Chaudhry Amir Hussain. PML-Q Punjab President Pervaiz Elahi was losing on two NA seats but won a third in Attock. PML-Q’s Chaudhry Shahbaz Hussain, former population welfare minister, lost his seat for NA-62.

Other PML-Q bigwigs that lost include Rao Sikandar Iqbal, Sher Afgan Niazi, Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, Nasir Khan, Hamid Nasir Chattha, Humayun Akhtar Khan, Chaudhry Amir Hussain, Ijazul Haq, Ghulam Sarwar Khan and Daniyal Aziz.

Meanwhile, showing that the PML-Q was not completely out, Faisal Saleh Hayat of the party beat PPPP’s Abida Hussain in NA-88.

PPPP comes home: The PPPP, based on early results, appears to have overtaken the PML-N and the MQM in Sindh, establishing the party as a force to be reckoned with in its home state. PPPP’s Amin Fahim was one of the big winners in the province.

ANP kicks in: The Awami National Party (ANP) took the maximum number of seats based on early poll results, leaving the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal in the dust. PML-Q NWFP President Amir Muqam and Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, both ‘King’s men’, won the seats in their respective constituencies. According to unofficial results, Jamiat Ulema-e-Fazl chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman won in NA-26, but lost NA-24 to Faisal Karim Kundi.

Business as usual: Balochistan witnessed a historic low turnout in the parliamentary elections and the early poll results did not show a clear winner in the province, although the PML-Q appeared to be leading.

Also See:
Great political stalwarts crumble down - The News
The Writing on the Wall - Editorial by Shaheen Sehbai

Pakistan Elections: PPP, PML (N) and ANP Winning - Anti-Musharraf Vote

Pakistan's Opposition Holds Its Breath
By Aryn Baker/Islamabad, TIME, Monday, Feb. 18, 2008

Counting has begun in Pakistan after a day of voting in general elections which many hope will pull the country out of violence but which could also fuel more chaos. Polls closed at 5 p.m. local time and official results are not expected to be tallied until Wednesday.

However, a few unofficial reports have begun to trickle in. And in a small number of districts, things appear to be going well for both the late Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and for former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). In some districts where the PPP appears to have won, party workers are throwing impromptu celebrations; Pakistani TV has shown people dancing in the streets and tossing confetti. And Sharif's party appears to be doing well in all urban areas, a welcome surprise for the former Prime Minister. One incumbent belonging to President Pervez Musharraf's Pakistan Muslim League-Qaid (PML-Q), the winner of every election for the past 20 years, has apparently been routed by Nawaz Sharif's candidate. "I think the initial results seem to be quite favorable," Sharif told TIME over the phone. "The trend is good." Fears of vote-rigging, however, are dampening the initial excitement. "All the TV stations are giving the same results. That might be very difficult for the government to change, but Mr. Mushararraf is capable of doing anything," says Sharif. "He is a very ruthless man."

The suicide bombings that many feared failed to materialize but other incidents of violence left at least eight people dead according to Pakistani television news stations, with six of those in Punjab province; more than 80 people were reported injured throughout the country. Widespread concern of fresh attacks by the militant Islamists who have unleashed a wave of terror over the past year seems to have kept many Pakistanis at home. In Northwest Frontier Province, which borders the lawless tribal areas where the militants base themselves, turnout was just 20% according to election officials. Voting was higher in other parts of the country, but still below expectations. Still, Sakina Bibi, 57, was undisturbed by the threat of violence as she waited patiently in line at a women's polling station in Rawalpindi, not far from the capital Islamabad. "I am not worried," she said. "It is up to God. If I am meant to die, I will die here."

At the men's polling station just a few blocks away, fears for security were trumped by concerns about vote rigging. The station opened an hour and a half late, causing many voters to give up in disgust before they had a chance to cast their ballots. "The time of voting is from 8 A.M. to five," said Jalil Paracha, 55, an electronics shop owner standing outside. "They should give us more time to vote at the end of the day, but they won't. The more time allowed would go against the government." Paracha said that rigging was a foregone conclusion, and warned of violence if Musharraf's party won. "Naturally, if you go against the people's will, the people will react."

While accusations of organized election fraud have been widespread, the sheer mayhem in the polling stations beggars belief that any one candidate could swing the votes in his or her favor. It is more likely, say analysts, that rigging will take place at the count, or in stations where voters are unable to visit due to security fears. The government insisted today, however, that voting was completely fair, with only minor disturbances.

While Musharraf is not running in this election — he was controversially re-elected president by the National Assembly in October — his fate is still very much reflected in the fate of his PML-Q, a faction that split from Nawaz Sharif's PML-N after Musharraf, then a general, overthrew the then Prime Minister in a 1999 coup. In the unlikely event that the president's party dominates the polling, Musharraf will then have to contend with millions of Pakistanis crying foul. If the opposition parties, lead by Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's husband, gain enough votes, they could call for Musharraf's impeachment.

Musharraf May Face Impeachment After Pakistan Vote: Bloomberg.com

Musharraf May Face Impeachment After Pakistan Vote
By Khalid Qayum and Khaleeq Ahmed; Bloomberg.com, February 17, 2008

Feb. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Pakistani voters decide today whether to empower a new parliament to challenge President Pervez Musharraf's military-backed rule.

His opponents, poised to win a majority, may try to impeach him if they win the required two-thirds of seats. Power sharing is likely if they fall short of that threshold.

``The national mood clearly indicates that political parties opposed to Musharraf will win a clear majority,'' said Hassan Abbas, a Harvard University political scientist. ``Even in moderately fair elections, anti-Musharraf parties will have an upper hand.''

Uncertainty likely will follow the election as lawmakers decide how to employ their power in a politically unstable, nuclear-armed country on the frontline of the war against terrorism. A suicide attack killed more than 40 people on the last day of campaigning on Feb. 16 after terrorist and sectarian killings doubled last year.

Pakistan's two main opposition parties -- the late Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party and former prime minister Mohammad Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League -- both have called for Musharraf to step down. Sharif, 58, has gone further, promising impeachment proceedings. While not ruling that out, Bhutto's party has said it's open to sharing power with Musharraf.

Even a landslide opposition victory won't necessarily dislodge the president. Musharraf, 64, has the constitutional authority to dissolve parliament. That power and concerns about rigged balloting lead some analysts to predict that opposition clout will remain limited.

Weak Coalition?

``The next government will most likely be a coalition led by a weak prime minister facing an arbitrary president,'' said Ishtiaq Ahmed, associate professor of international relations at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad.

Events have swung the public against the president in recent months, including former prime minister Bhutto's Dec. 27 assassination while campaigning. Support also has been undercut by his imposition of emergency rule in November, sacking of Supreme Court judges and detention of thousands of opponents, as well as inflation and electric-power cuts.

His approval rating dropped to 15 percent, from 30 percent in November, according to a late January opinion poll released Feb. 11 by the Washington-based International Republican Institute. About 75 percent wanted him to resign, up eight points from November.

Combined Opposition Majority

Fifty percent backed Bhutto's PPP in the new poll, and 22 percent backed Sharif's party -- more than enough to give the two parties a combined two-thirds majority. The pro-Musharraf Muslim League-Quaid-i-Azam got 14 percent support.

``I totally disagree with the findings,'' said Rashid Qureshi, Musharraf's spokesman. ``Such polls do not reflect the sentiments of 160 million people.''

Neither Sharif nor the leader of Bhutto's party, her husband Asif Ali Zardari, 51, are on the ballot. Amin Fahim, the PPP's vice chairman, is the most popular choice as the next prime minister, the January survey said.

Fahim, 68, is a longtime parliamentarian who led the party for seven years while Bhutto was in exile. Pakistan's parliament elects the prime minister, who is typically the leader of the party or coalition with the most seats. Since Musharraf's 1999 coup, the presidency has held executive power, while the prime minister oversees domestic policy in consultation with the president.

Power Center

Whatever today's result, Pakistan's military will continue to be a major power center, as it has for much of the nation's 60-year history. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S., Musharraf has won praise from President George W. Bush for using the army to fight terrorists.

Musharraf, who seized power as army chief, appointed Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, 52, in November to succeed him as army leader. Kayani, who received military training in the U.S., is Pakistan's former spy chief and was an aide to Bhutto when she was prime minister in the 1980s.

``Pakistan's role in the war on terror will be decided by the army'' while ``the new political government will define domestic affairs,'' said Abbas.

Musharraf has emphasized his economic record to attract voters to parties that support him. The country's gross domestic product has doubled to $146 billion since 1999 with average annual growth of 7.5 percent in the past four years.

The opposition parties say the benefits of economic growth haven't trickled down to the general public, which faces wheat- flour, electricity and gas shortages amid inflation.

The PPP and Sharif have said they fear the government will rig the vote against their candidates, as do several international groups.

Fair Elections?

In a Feb. 12 report, New York-based Human Rights Watch predicted that Pakistan's election commission wouldn't handle disputes fairly because Musharraf appointed its chief. The president rejects such criticism.

``Despite all rumors, insinuations and every type of apprehension, these elections will be free, fair, transparent and peaceful,'' Musharraf said Feb. 15. Allegations of rigging could cause ``agitation, anarchy and chaos'' that won't be tolerated.

An estimated 81 million Pakistanis are registered to vote for 272 lawmakers in the 342-member parliament. The remaining 70 seats will be filled by women and minorities picked by legislators later.

Voting started at 8 a.m. local time and the 64,000 polling stations will close at 5 p.m. In five elections since 1988, voter turnout has been between 30 and 40 percent.

The government has deployed more than 80,000 soldiers to maintain security, declaring 19,000 of the polling stations at risk of terrorist attacks or political violence. It has warned journalists and election observers from the European Union, the U.S. and the Organization of the Islamic Conference to avoid certain areas, including near Afghanistan's border, where fighting against al-Qaeda terrorists continues.

To contact the reporter on this story: Khalid Qayum in Islamabad at kqayum@bloomberg.net Khaleeq Ahmed in Islamabad at paknews@bloomberg.net

Not Just An Election But a Battle for Pakistan By Agha Imran Ali

Special to Watandost
Not Just An Election But a Battle for Pakistan By Agha Imran Ali Khan
(Writer has served at Pakistan Prime Minister Secretariat in 1999 and at Chief Minister Secretariat Punjab from 2002-06)
February 18, 2008

So many things have changed in just less than a year that even the most ardent supporters of President Musharraf in West in general and in the US in particular are now reluctant to defend him or his policies. There has been so much clamouring about economic growth in Pakistan and by jugglery of figures our financial wiz. Prime Minister made the whole world believe that Pakistan has become so prosperous that soon it would be a member of the comity of most developed nations. Lack of transparency, hollowed institutions and malpractices of cronyism, fostering of monopolies to perpetuate authoritarian regime and control have been the hallmark of last government.

Advisers, counsels, analysts and experts in US and West despite their expertise and experience sans one important factor of personal identity, lack of this has such an adverse effect that with all pages of 60 year history of Pakistan open to them, they even fail to identify the real power players in Pakistan, however, the most concurrent lists contain the Politicians, the Mullahs and the Military. This is unfortunately not true that both Politicians and Mullahs (religious forces) have merely been pawns in the hands of real power player that has always been Pakistan Military Elite in collusion with Civil Bureaucratic Elite, eternally blessed with blessings from major foreign donors led by USA. To straighten the facts whenever in Pakistan any politician tried to seize the moment or assert or even attempted to assert he/she was deposed or removed and if that didn't suffice than silenced forever.

Second instance of miscalculation by these experts is that they attribute the rising of people -against Musharraf regime- to growth of middle class. Historically middle class has been most pliant and docile even fond status quo, this class that has always been a vehicle for major changes or revolutions prefer to remain silent until in extreme pain and in agitates only in face of worst plight.

Today's elections in Pakistan are unique in the sense as they offer only peaceful and viable option for transition towards road to stability from imminent chaos and destruction detrimental to regional peace and stability. In the words of John F Kennedy: "If you make peaceful revolutions impossible, you make violent revolutions inevitable."

Unfortunately situation in Pakistan is not at all encouraging, recent disclosure by Human Rights Watch of the recorded telephonic conversation of Attorney General of Pakistan and President Musharraf's statement, just 24 hrs before elections and after closure of election campaign, that "Pakistan Muslim League Q or the Kings party would bag most seats and will emerge as major party" shows that he is adamant and in his last ditch effort to bail himself out of current imbroglio, he'll resort to all machinations/ rigging to prop up a supportive and pliable parliament.

Minor but coalition of size able small parties All Parties Democratic Movement has constantly expressing and reiterating their reservations on transparency and legitimacy of these elections, but participation of two major and estimated as most popular parties lends some some semblance of credibility to current election, if not viewed with suspicion this is obviously an honest attempt by these two big and nationalist parties to salvage federation and strengthen national unity which has ebbed to its lowest after assassination Of Benazir Bhutto.

No doubt it is the people who decide and strive for their destiny but if the tyrannical and authoritarian regimes are recognized and viewed as legitimate by major powers in International arena the rules of game are changed and with whatever little education and awareness voiceless people of Pakistan has gained without empowerment they view west Particularly US with hostility for her antipathy towards their plight and continuous support to oppressor and usurper military regimes. With all such support in place would enable Musharraf to quell even most vociferous opposition and protest post elections quite effortlessly, but not permanently and without denting international peace and security. Like Hitler, Saddam or any other tyrant in history, most effective tool in Musharraf and his cronies hands today is only terror and they won't hesitate to unleash it and prove his inevitability for war on terror. In the words of Gen. Retd. Faiz Ali Chishti, spokesman and president of Ex-Servicemen Society, "It won't surprise me much to know that its Musharrafs hand behind major incidents of terrorism".

Comparing India and Pakistan

Indian democracy by Dr Farrukh Saleem
The News, February 17, 2008

India's democracy is a 60-year story of corrupt politicians, assassinated leaders, dynastic politics, food shortages, poverty, chronic unemployment, an inefficient bureaucracy, prime ministerial scandals, bribes, tax evasions, embezzlements and an abundance of secessionist as well as faith related violence. In 2005, Transparency International found that more than 50 percent of Indians had "firsthand experience of paying bribe or peddling influence to get a job done in a public office (India Corruption Study 2005; Transparency International India)."

Shekhar Gupta must be one of India's finest of journalists (Shekhar is editor-in-chief of Indian Express and anchors the famous 'Walk the Talk' on NDTV). If memory serves me right, it was something that Shekhar wrote and that column is the inspiration behind what I am about to say.

Mahatma Gandhi, 'Great Soul', Father of the Nation, was assassinated -- shot and killed -- by Nathuram Godse, an extremist Hindu who had convinced himself that Gandhi was going out of his way to favour Pakistan. Jawarharlal Nehru, India's first PM, ruled for 17 long years but failed to arrest India's growing poverty. Under Nehru, the state of Bihar went through a series of famines, mass starvation and death. The Nehru Dynasty was founded when Nehru managed to get Indira, his daughter, elected as the president of Congress.

Gulzarilal Nanda became India's second PM (after Nehru died of a heart attack). Lal Bahadur Shastri took over from Gulzarilal (after Gulzarilal had been in office for a mere 13 days). Shastri, a 'Nehruvian socialist', failed to pull India out of an economic and a food crisis. After Shastri's death, Gulzarilal became PM for another eight-day tenure.

In 1966, Indira Gandhi became PM and remained so for the following 11 years. Indira, who remained stuck to Shastri's economic policies, confronted a severe balance of payments crisis, consecutive crop failures and a devaluation of the rupee. In 1975, Indira exposed her authoritarian streaks by imposing a state of emergency. On June 1 1984, Indira ordered Major General K S Brar to put an end to Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale's Sikh-purist theocratic movement for the establishment of Khalistan ('Land of the Pure'). Indira's 'Operation Blue Star' desecrated Golden Temple, Sikhism's holiest shrine, and the Indian Army recorded 83 deaths plus 492 civilians killed. In the immediate aftermath, an unspecified number of Sikhs deserted the Indian Army and then in October '84 Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards.

Rajiv Gandhi, a professional pilot, became India's seventh PM and the third from the Nehru Dynasty. Rajiv tried to open up India by reducing import duties. Rajiv then got embroiled in the Bofors Scandal in which he was accused of receiving kickbacks. While the Bofors case was being investigated, Rajiv was assassinated by an LTTE female suicide bomber.

Islamabad is a mere 425 miles from New Delhi. Muhammad Ayub Khan studied at Aligarh Muslim University and trained at the prestigious Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. General Muhammad Ayub Khan became our youngest full-rank general and Field Marshall Muhammad Ayub Khan ruled Pakistan for nearly 11 years.

Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan went to Punjab University and finished first in his class. In 1947, Yahya was the only Muslim instructor at the British Indian Staff College. Brigadier Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan, commanding the 106 Infantry Brigade, was only 34 years of age. General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan ruled Pakistan for nearly two years.

Muhammad Ziaul-Haq attended St Stephen's College, one of India's leading educational institutions. Muhammad Ziaul-Haq was trained at the distinguished U S Army Command and General Staff College (Fort Leavenworth). Muhammad Ziaul-Haq trained the Jordanian Army and saved King Hussein's monarchy. General Muhammad Ziaul-Haq ruled Pakistan for 10 years.

Now, look at India. Sixty years of corrupt politicians, assassinated leaders, dynastic politics, food shortages, poverty, an inefficient bureaucracy, prime ministerial scandals and an abundance of secessionist as well as faith related violence. Look at what a bad democracy has delivered.

Now, look at Pakistan. Thirty-one years of direct rule by Sandhurst-disciplined, Fort Leavenworth-trained, smartly-dressed, intelligible, meaningful, well intentioned Gentlemen Cadets.

Just look at the wide variety of fruits of a bad democracy. A democracy mere 425 miles from Islamabad.

As Pakistan Election Nears, Citizens Fan Out to Combat Vote Rigging

As Pakistan Election Nears, Citizens Fan Out to Combat Vote Rigging
By PETER WONACOTT, Wall Street Journal, February 15, 2008

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan -- Tens of thousands of Pakistani civilians have signed up as election monitors, fostering hope that Monday's national vote will end a history of rigged elections and restore stability to this jittery, nuclear-armed nation.

Ambreen Saba Khan is one of them. The 27-year-old teacher has been patrolling this army garrison town outside Islamabad with a notepad and camera phone, meeting with politicians and local officials. She's looking for signs of vote rigging, such as politicians promising money, jobs or gifts for votes.

Pakistan can ill afford the kind of problems that have sparked unrest following past contests. Voters will be choosing members of Parliament. The party that winds up on top will nominate the next prime minister, who will share power with embattled President Pervez Musharraf. Voters will also select governments in the nation's tribal regions and four provinces, two of which have been run by a coalition of conservative Islamist parties.

There is widespread concern that the election will be manipulated. Ms. Saba, who works with a local group called the Free and Fair Election Network, is cautiously optimistic that the political process can work. "I would like for my country to be peaceful," says Ms. Saba. "And for that we need democracy. Real democracy."

Vote monitoring in the past was mostly a scattershot exercise overseen by small bands of activists. This time, battalions of independent election monitors have been drawn from the nation's growing middle class. Most of them are in their twenties and thirties.

"Never before has there been such large scale mobilization for a Pakistani election," says Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, another election-monitoring group. "The role civil society is playing has been a real positive."

An Islamist insurgency, rising food prices, power outages and the Dec. 27 assassination of popular former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto have fueled unrest in this nation of 165 million. If the election results are seen as credible, that could defuse tensions and nudge Pakistan's fractious political parties to form a more unified government.

The vote also could help determine the fate of Mr. Musharraf, a key U.S. ally in the global war against terrorism, whose popularity has nosedived in recent months. Last year, when he was also serving as head of the army, he was re-elected president in a controversial vote. After a group of lawyers mounted a legal challenge, Mr. Musharraf declared a state of emergency and dismissed judges on the Supreme Court. He was sworn in for another five-year term after he lifted the emergency and replaced most of the Supreme Court judges.

The assassination of Ms. Bhutto reignited opposition and deepened his troubles. In a public-opinion survey conducted late last month, 62% of respondents said they believed Mr. Musharraf's government was responsible for Ms. Bhutto's death; only 13% believed government claims that al Qaeda was involved. The survey by the International Republic Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit group, also showed that 75% thought Mr. Musharraf should resign.

His unpopularity has stoked fears that his supporters will try to manufacture votes to avoid defeat for the main political party that backs him, the Pakistan Muslim League (Q). His supporters dismiss the allegation. "The opposition is always complaining about poll rigging," says Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, former minister of railways from Rawalpindi, a Pakistan Muslim League (Q) candidate for re-election to parliament. "There must be free and fair elections. There will be."

Some of Mr. Musharraf's opponents predict he will lose his backing in Parliament even if some voting irregularities occur. "Even with a little bit of rigging, say 10%, we should win a majority," says M. Enver Baig, a senator for the Pakistan People's Party, or PPP. That party, which was led by Ms. Bhutto, now has as its co-chairmen her widower, Asif Zardari, and her 19-year-old son, Bilawal Bhutto, a student at Oxford.

If the PPP gains control of Parliament, it could team up with another opposition party to try to reinstate ousted Supreme Court judges. An independent Supreme Court could hear fresh legal challenges to Mr. Musharraf's re-election, possibly forcing him from office. Another scenario -- one that some politicians on both sides believe plausible -- is that the PPP and Mr. Musharraf's allies will come together in a governing coalition.

Pakistan's history of suspicious elections is a long one. In 1977, after a sweeping victory that sparked protests over alleged vote rigging, Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Ms. Bhutto's father, declared martial law in several cities. He was overthrown in a military coup and hanged two years later. Allegations of rigging tarred elections in the 1990s that brought Ms. Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in and out of power as prime ministers. The elections of 2002, which introduced a Parliament stacked with supporters of Mr. Musharraf, were also tarnished by allegations of fraud.

Code of Conduct

Foreign election observers participated in recent elections, but the coverage was spotty, election experts say. Last year, Pakistan's Election Commission established a detailed code of conduct for political parties. The code prohibits voter intimidation, rumormongering and public disorder. It even stipulates sizes for campaign posters and banners. Election-monitoring groups have complained that the code isn't enforced.

A spokesman with Pakistan's Election Commission says the government body has set up a unit to review complaints about the current election. Those that merit investigation are being passed on to district judges in the areas concerned, says the spokesman, R.B. Jan Wahidi, joint secretary for elections.

In a televised address Wednesday, Mr. Musharraf pledged that the voting would be fair and peaceful. "I am extremely conscious that these elections must be free, fair and transparent," said President Musharraf. "The world is watching us."

In a report last month, the Citizens Group on Electoral Progress, made up largely of former judges, journalists and retired government officials, deemed the buildup to the election "highly unfair," and said the prospects for a clean vote are "very slim." The low marks came after the group assessed a range of measures, including the neutrality of the president, his caretaker government and local officials.

Finding Citizens

At first, it wasn't easy to find citizens willing to observe polling stations. Last year, leaders of the Free and Fair Election Network, or Fafen, a coalition of 40 independent organizations, despaired over how to recruit enough volunteers. "We thought it would be a nightmare," says national coordinator Muddassir Rizvi.

But Mr. Musharraf's actions over the past several months -- his challenges to the judiciary and his declaration of a state of emergency -- have produced a tidal wave of volunteers. Fafen has enlisted 20,000 people to observe polling stations, and has deployed monitors like Ms. Saba to observe campaigning and voting in more than 250 election zones. Like other such groups, Fafen has received funds from Western aid agencies.

Ms. Saba, the daughter of a retired air force officer, began working last spring for a nongovernmental group affiliated with Fafen. She had recently earned a master's degree in agricultural science and was teaching. She says she wanted to help instill in her countrymen the same values she saw in the insects she had studied. "The termites and ants work in such a disciplined manner," she says. "There's such a spirit of self-sacrifice."

The monitoring group assigned Ms. Saba to be a coordinator for one of the election zones, and she began training poll watchers. Volunteers must learn to toe an unfamiliar line in Pakistani politics -- they must remain neutral.

Early on, Ms. Saba recalls, a campaign worker for one candidate offered her 60,000 rupees, about $950, if she helped introduce new names to the voter rolls. She refused, then informed her boss, who decided not to take further action because there was no written evidence, she says. More recently, she says, various campaigns have approached her for information on their rivals. She's rebuffed these requests, too, she says.

Training for Volunteers

At the tail end of a recent training session, held in a local hotel next to a noisy wedding reception, Ms. Saba and others asked volunteers to sign a written pledge to not stump on behalf of any party. The volunteers included teachers, housewives and software engineers. "We have heard a lot about rigged elections," said Shabana Ijaz, a teacher who is wrapped in a grey headscarf. "I want to know the reality."

So does Ms. Saba. The next day, she headed out to monitor campaigning in her assigned election zone. The race in this region is considered one of the country's most volatile. It pits incumbent Mr. Rashid, the former railways minister and confidant of President Musharraf, against Javed Hashmi, a leader in former Prime Minister Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League. Both candidates have spent years of their political careers in and out of jail during unfriendly governments.

The city of Rawalpindi contains the public park where Ms. Bhutto was killed in a suicide attack. Fruit and used-shoe vendors near the park recently told Ms. Saba and a visitor that they support candidates of the late leader's Pakistan People's Party, known for populist policies that have appealed to the poor. They warned of more trouble if the election appears rigged.

Ms. Saba wore a Fafen photo identification outside a denim jacket. Her head was draped in a woolen headscarf; pink lip gloss matched her painted fingernails. She usually arrives unannounced at campaign headquarters and district offices. She must count on the goodwill of politicians, their surrogates and officials to sit through her long interviews.

Looking for Evidence

Ms. Saba says she often begins with an open-ended question, asking what the campaigns are promising voters. What she's looking for is evidence of parties trying to influence voters by promising money, jobs, gifts or land. She also wants to find out whether parties are trying to sway voters in others ways that might violate the Election Commission's code. That includes trying to wring campaign donations out of voters, or to intimidate voters who back opposing candidates to stay away from the polls. As she makes her way through questions, some campaign workers tend to get antsy, shifting in their seats or simply excusing themselves for other meetings.

Before entering one campaign office, she pointed to a billowing banner of Mr. Sharif and Mr. Hashmi. "Up there," she said, aiming her Sony Ericsson camera phone. "Too big." Ms. Saba clicked a photo.

In the evenings, Ms. Saba, who is unmarried, returns to her hostel to write up her confidential reports, which she submits each week, along with photos, to Fafen's leadership. The organization sends out weekly updates that highlight trouble spots around the country.

Ms. Saba has had a tough time pinning down allegations of vote buying. At one meeting, a local nazim , or mayor, who is affiliated with Mr. Sharif's political party, accused the competing Pakistan Muslim League (Q) of paying several of his colleagues 50,000 rupees each, about $790, to drum up support for their candidates. The party's Mr. Rashid said in an interview he doesn't know about such payments, but that there may have been some "small funds for office expenses" extended to some local officials.

At another stop, Ms. Saba met with the local police inspector about one of the most crucial issues of Pakistan's elections: security. Shots fired at polling stations aren't uncommon. There have been suicide attacks at several campaign rallies across the country, including the one that killed Ms. Bhutto and sparked days of rioting, delaying the elections for six weeks. In Rawalpindi, the government is expected to deploy battalions of army rangers to protect voters.

Critics of the government say shaky security will scare away voters. Others worry that too heavy a police presence might intimidate voters, tilting the advantage to government-backed politicians.

Write to Peter Wonacott at peter.wonacott@wsj.com

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Pakistanis won't accept a new General By Hamid Mir

Pakistanis won't accept a new General By Hamid Mir
Rediff India Abroad, February 16, 2008

President Pervez Musharraf cannot afford to hold a fair and free election on February 18 in Pakistan. That is why rigging in the forthcoming election is virtually writing on the wall.

In a recent interview, Musharraf claimed that Pakistan would have the mother of all elections on February 18, but many observers think it will be the mother of all poll riggings.

Why will Musharraf rig the elections in spite of his tall claims of free and fair polls? Because Musharraf will not survive if the Pakistan People's Party and Pakistan Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif get two third majority in the next national assembly.

The rigging started long before the election campaign, when Musharraf announced a caretaker government last November, which was headed by a prime minister who belonged to the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League.

Close relatives of the caretaker prime minister and the Information minister are contesting election from Sindh. The support from the so-called caretakers for the pro-Musharraf Muslim League is not a secret in Pakistan.

The Election Commission of Pakistan has received over 1,500 complaints of rigging in the last two months but not a single complaint has been addressed properly. The Human Rights Watch recently released a tape in which Pakistan Attorney General Malik Qayyum was caught, admitting to a friend over the telephone, that the elections will indeed be rigged.

In spite of fears of rigging, all surveys have suggested that opposition parties like PPP and PML-N will manage to get a majority in the elections. A considerably large turnout of voters can destroy all rigging plans.

However, a low turnout will definitely help the pro-Musharraf PML-Q and MQM. Interestingly, Jamat-i-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmad and former cricket hero Imran Khan [Images] are urging masses to boycott the election.

By doing so, they are helping Musharraf indirectly. People are also scared of terrorist strikes on the election day, and it can badly affect voter turnout. So Musharraf will benefit if there are bomb blasts on election day. It won't be just an election for PPP and PML-N on February 18, it will be a big battle against the unannounced alliance of the state machinery and terrorists.

A recent meeting of PPP leader Asif Zardari with PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif in Lahore [Images] had been a bombshell for the pro-Musharraf Muslim League. Both Zardari and Sharif have agreed to fight the state-sponsored rigging on February 18.

It is the first time that a majority of top police officials and civil servants don't want to become part of the rigging plans. According to them, if the Pakistan army high command is staying away from politics this time, then why should the civil bureaucracy get involved in it?

Many civil servants have applied for medical leave on election day. It is expected that the state machinery in Punjab, rural Sindh and North West Frontier Province will not implement the rigging plans of Musharraf regime in full swing.

The PML-Q will face problems in implementing a massive rigging exercise because Musharraf has already doffed his army uniform. He can no longer use the armed forces of Pakistan to achieve his political objectives.

The country-wide agitation after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto [Images] on November 27, 2007, had forced army commanders to declare that would not be part of national politics. The neutral role of the army and a sympathy wave for Bhutto's party has changed the political spectrum of Pakistan.

I fear a lot of violence on election day and such turmoil can force the army to step in again. People will not accept a 'rigged victory' for the pro-Musharraf parties.

I must warn the army against playing a political role at any cost. The people of Pakistan will not accept any new General as their ruler.

Now the question is, what will happen to Musharraf if the PPP and the PML-N secure a majority? Both Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif have confirmed to me that they have decided to form coalition governments at the Centre and at Punjab.

A close associate of Musharraf is still in contact with the PPP leadership. He is trying to convince the PPP to forge an alliance with the PML-Q. However, the PPP is playing a clever game; party co-chairman Zardari is yet to make a commitment to Musharraf.

Zardari doesn't want to take a decision about Musharraf's future without consulting Nawaz Sharif.

Babar Awan, a PPP legislator, declared on Saturday that his party will remove Musharraf if it wins the election. Musharraf's sides tried their level best to make the PPP withdraw the statement, but it declined to do so.

I have also learnt that a close friend of Musharraf's is trying to convince the PML-N to grant a safe exit to Musharraf after the election. According to a senior leader of the PML-N, in such a scenario, Musharraf plans to resign and move quietly outside Pakistan.

When queried if he will provide a safe exit for his enemy, Sharif made it clear to me that he would not do so. He is determined to try Musharraf in a court of law under treason charges.

Why can't Musharraf survive as President with a coalition government comprising the PPP and the PML-N?

The PPP already has differences with Musharraf over the murder case of their leader Bhutto. Musharraf claimed last month that tribal militant leader Baitullah Mahsood is responsible for Bhutto's death.

But PPP leader Asif Zardari is not ready to accept that claim. He suspects that some people within the establishment were involved in Bhutto's assassination.

Moreover, the pro-Musharraf PML-Q leaders used filthy language against PPP during the election campaign. While the PPP is against the National Security Council, Musharraf is considered to the father of the NSC.

Neither the PPP nor the PML-N will accept a President who can dissolve Parliament anytime. These parties have promised their voters that they will curtail the 'anti-democratic constitutional powers' of the President.

It is expected that if they secure a majority, the PPP and the PML-N will ask Musharraf to resign immediately.

And what will happen after the Musharraf's downfall? Can the PPP and the PML-N co-exist for five years?

Surviving as a coalition for five years will be a big challenge for the PPP and the PML-N. They may develop differences over the restoration of 60 judges, who refused to take oath under emergency last year. If these judges are restored, they can re-open some old cases against Asif Zardari.

If the PPP can find a way to cooperate towards the restoration of deposed judges, then it will be a significant breakthrough. Majority of Pakistanis want the restoration of all the 60 judges, including former chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

In that case, all the judges appointed after November 3, 2007 will be removed. The media will also enjoy more freedom.

If the PPP and the PML-N are ready to tolerate an independent judiciary and free media then the national Parliament will also be strengthened. Only a strong Parliament can give stability to Pakistan.

This Parliament will decide the future strategy of the war against terror in Pakistan. Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif are convinced that they must redefine their relationship with the United States. They want to fight the war against terror for Pakistan, not for US.

The Pakistan election of 2008 could herald the downfall of not only Musharraf, but also the policies of Bush in Pakistan.

What is the election about? What are the most important factors/issues for voters?
Hassan Abbas (Written for CSIS Dialogue on Pakistan Elections) Feb 16, 2008

As a dictatorial reign nears its end, there is hope that major political parties have learnt their lessons and Pakistani voters are also more mature. There is a widespread feeling in Pakistan that election manipulation and rigging will be a disaster for the country. No previous election in Pakistan drew so much of international attention and this somewhat restricts the state sponsored rigging prospects. Pakistan Army’s leadership has also given strong hints that they are not interfering with elections (unlike the past), which will help the mainstream political forces.

This election will also be a referendum for Musharraf, especially in the context of his brutal handling of the judiciary. The way judges of the supreme court and provincial high courts responded to Musharraf’s second overthrow of the chief justice (by refusing to take new oaths under the November 3, 2007 unlawful provisional constitutional order) and the manner in which lawyers’ community mobilized to resist Musharraf’s actions has galvanized a large number of educated (and even not so educated) people in the country. In my assessment, this is a ray of hope for Pakistan and the new government will be under tremendous pressure to reinstate the deposed judges and revive independent judiciary. Nawaz Sharif’s faction of the Muslim League has made a clear commitment that it will strive for this cause and they are expected to do well in the Punjab province.

Election Results:

If elections are by and large fair, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League (N), Awami National Party (ANP), and some independents (mostly from Punjab ) will be able to form the next government in the centre comfortably. Some defectors from PML (Q) may also join them. Provincial elections - In Punjab , PML –N (especially in urban centers) and PPP are likely to emerge as the largest parties. In Sindh, PPP will sweep the rural areas and MQM will largely retain their support in the urban centers and PPP will form the government. In Baluchistan , a coalition government of PML (Q) and MMA is likely (as most nationalist parties are boycotting), whereas in NWFP, PPP and ANP will be the leading parties followed by MMA, which will probably sit on the opposition benches along with PML (Q).

In case PML (Q) emerges as victorious at the national level (or even in Punjab), it will most likely lead to a crisis as this party’s credibility and support had a free fall in recent months and its victory will be perceived as evidence of rigging. Almost all local as well as international surveys and polls, besides the public mood reflect that pro-Musharraf parties (except MQM) will not do well. Street protests and violence will follow if results are otherwise and another military take over (or strong behind the scene role) to conduct new elections or install a neutral interim government to hold elections cannot be ruled.

Militants may also try to disrupt the election process through some attacks (suicide bombings, etc) in NWFP especially, which can create confusion and lead to postponement of elections in a few constituencies. A lower turnout will help pro-Musharraf parties, whereas a higher turnout will help PPP and PML (N).

The US Role :

Only credible elections can heal the Pakistani nation and the US interests in Pakistan will also be better served if this transition to democratic rule is smooth and quick.

Pakistan : Media Restrictions Undermine Election: Human Rights Watch

Pakistan : Media Restrictions Undermine Election
Curbs on Journalists Hamper Election Reporting

(New York, February 16, 2008) – Threats and censorship against the independent media, bias in state television, and a widespread ban on live broadcasting are limiting the public's right to information as Pakistan goes to the polls, Human Rights Watch said today. Recent curbs on the media prohibit coverage of election rallies, live call-ins, live talk shows, live coverage of protests, or any live broadcasts that could show the government in a negative light, severely restricting the right to free expression ahead of Pakistan's election on February 18, 2008.

On November 3, 2007, President Pervez Musharraf suspended Pakistan's constitution and declared emergency rule, curbing the media through two decrees that bar the publishing or broadcasting of "anything which defames or brings into ridicule the head of state, or members of the armed forces, or executive, legislative or judicial organ of the state." The print and electronic media were also restrained from publishing any material likely to "jeopardize or be prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan or the sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan, or any material that is likely to incite violence or hatred or create inter-faith disorder or be prejudicial to maintenance of law and order." Television discussions of anything deemed "false or baseless" by the regulatory authorities were also banned. All those provisions remain in force, even though the state of emergency was lifted on December 15.

"President Musharraf's restrictions on the media undermine the chances that Pakistan will have free and fair elections this week," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "When President Musharraf lifted his state of emergency he left in place restrictions that prevent Pakistan's journalists from working as they should, especially ahead of elections."

The ban on a range of live news broadcasts was imposed by Musharraf in response to broadcasts by private television stations of protests by lawyers and political activists against government interference with the judiciary and opposition party activities.

On February 6, cable operators took the private Aaj TV off the cable network platform in Punjab province for almost 12 hours. Some operators carried a notice on the Aaj channel slot saying that Aaj TV had been taken off air on orders from PEMRA. The director of current affairs for Aaj TV, Nusrat Javeed, one of the six journalists "banned" from appearing on television, told Human Rights Watch that the move was triggered by his appearance in a talk show "Live with Talat," a talk show that is no longer "live" but is now broadcast after being recorded and vetted by an internal censor committee to ensure that there are no violations of the PEMRA code. "The Aaj censor committee cleared the program and it went on air but after 19 minutes, at the first break, Aaj TV went blank," said Javeed.

Many journalists, particularly in rural areas, told Human Rights Watch they have been repeatedly threatened by police and powerful local figures. They said that they have been prevented from covering news stories or events, such as protest rallies, had their equipment confiscated, and been warned that they face arrest if they record or air footage deemed undesirable by the government.

On January 25, while on a trip to London, Musharraf publicly threatened the Pakistani media when M. Ziauddin, London correspondent for Dawn , one of Pakistan's most respected papers, asked him about the "escape" from Pakistani police custody a month earlier of alleged terrorist Rashid Rauf, who was facing extradition to the UK. Musharraf aggressively questioned Ziauddin's patriotism and Pakistani credentials. Later that evening, talking about the incident, Musharraf urged 800 or so Pakistanis at a dinner to not allow "such individuals" to get away with "unpatriotic behavior." Talking in idiomatic Urdu he told them, "I think it might be good if you even give them a punch or two." The statement was broadcast on Pakistani television.

On November 6, Mir Shakilur Rehman, the owner of Geo TV, Pakistan's largest private television network, emailed his senior staff informing them that he had received a "threatening telephone call last night" from Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's powerful and feared military intelligence agency. He added that he had been "taken" to an ISI safe house in Islamabad where he was given a warning by an ISI operative who told him, "I would like to advise you to please follow the laws especially the newly promulgated law."

Television journalists told Human Rights Watch that officials from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) interfere with editorial policy by calling newsrooms and directing the news line up. They also say they had to discontinue particular programming and take specified journalists deemed objectionable by the government off the air. Those who refused say they were subjected to threats, coercion, and attempted blackmail.

"Washington and London should be asking Musharraf why voters are being denied the information they need to make an informed decision," Adams said. "Would American voters accept their television networks being told they couldn't make live broadcasts during the current US election campaign?"

As part of its media crackdown the government, through the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), imposed a new, "voluntary" code of conduct on the electronic media that formalized many of the restrictions put in place on November 3.

The government effectively coerced broadcasters into accepting a revised version of this "voluntary" code by threatening closure of channels. Geo TV, which was forced off the air for 77 days and incurred financial losses to the tune of "at least 25 million dollars," as Rehman told Human Rights Watch, acceded to these demands. Geo TV was finally restored on the cable network on January 21, a day before Musharraf flew to Brussels for an eight-day European tour.

Television talk show host Naeemul Haq told Human Rights Watch that three topics "are off-limits and most likely to be censored – the state, the president, and the army." According to Haq, journalists have been directed to refer to the head of state as "President Musharraf." One of Haq's talk shows at Indus TV in early December was not broadcast, he said, because the management said he "had referred to the president eight times as "Musharraf sahib [Mr. Musharraf]." The Indus TV management showed Haq the directive that called "for strict compliance in this matter."

Restrictions on election coverage have been kept deliberately vague and may make it difficult if not impossible for the Pakistani media to report promptly on whether proper procedures are being followed in the voting process. Mazhar Abbas, secretary-general of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, told Human Rights Watch that his organization feared that cable operators might be instructed by Pemra to take specific channels off air if they attempt to flout restrictions or simply in order to prevent dissemination of unofficial election results on polling day.

Charges and the threat of charges under Pakistan's Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) are being used to intimidate journalists. After the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on December 27, cases under the act were registered against dozens of journalists in the southern province of Sindh. Some journalists working for regional newspapers, such as Abdul Ghafoor Memon of Khabroon , Jomo Jokhio of Awami Awaz , Sattar Umrani of Kavish , Ramzan Brohi of daily Jurrat , and Ahmed Kumbhar of Koshish , were held in police lock-ups for one to 14 days and then released. Others such as Younus Rajpar of ARY TV, Bishan Kumar, editor of the Sindhi-language monthly RC , Ghulam Mustafa Memon of Kavish , Ganib Chang of daily Ibrat , and 12 other journalists were charged under the ATA but granted bail. Charges remain on file against these journalists and they face the ongoing possibility of arrest and prosecution.

Journalists are particularly vulnerable in parts of the country experiencing conflict and insurgency, Human Rights Watch said. For example, on February 12, five journalists were injured, three of them seriously, in a bomb blast minutes before a news conference due to be addressed by Aslam Bizenjo, an independent candidate in Khuzdar, the second largest city in the western province of Balochistan. In such areas, the government heavily restricts movement of journalists. Attacks and restrictions on the media in Balochistan have been particularly detrimental to the conduct of a free vote because of the difficulty in monitoring elections in a large, sparsely populated territory.

"If allowed to operate unhindered, the Pakistani media, with its nationwide network of correspondents, would provide an effective check against potential election fraud," said Adams. "The decision to muzzle the media is hard to understand from a government that constantly says it will have free and fair elections."

Media monitoring carried out by Human Rights Watch indicates that the state-controlled Pakistan Television (PTV), which has a wider reach than private channels, is heavily biased towards the Musharraf-backed Pakistan Muslim League-Q and its allies.

Human Rights Watch monitored PTV's election coverage in three phases prior to elections: December 19-26, January 7-14, and February 7-10. During this time, the state media gave PML-Q and its allies broadcast time far in excess of its coverage of the opposition. In addition, PTV completely ignored the parties advocating a boycott of elections. Privately-owned channels, however, do report on the activities of these political parties, which have participated in previous elections. A disproportionate amount of air time was allotted to Musharraf supporters, particularly after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on December 27 ( http://hrw.org/pub/2008/asia/appendix0208.pdf ).

Specific examples of recent bias include:

On February 11, PTV prominently reported a rally in Islamabad by an unknown group called Munaka, attended by "thousands" of Musharraf supporters. Reports suggest that this was a minor rally in which there were some 400 or so participants, who said they had been bused in from far-flung villages on the promise of visiting a religious shrine. However, two days earlier, on February 9, PTV ignored a rally of lawyers and citizens in Islamabad that police brutally dispersed with water cannons, tear gas and baton-charges, injuring and arresting several protestors.
While reporting on February 8 about the Scotland Yard report on Bhutto's assassination, PTV did not carry her Pakistan People's Party's response to the report.
On February 7, PTV offered coverage for two-and-a-half minutes of the chehlum ritual to mark an end to 40 days of mourning for Bhutto. This was followed by a two-minute report on her estranged uncle Mumtaz Bhutto, a minor politician highly critical of the PPP.
On February 6, while reporting that Pakistan had issued visas to 500 election observers, PTV made no mention of the refusal to grant visas to the Commonwealth team.

"While the private media is banned from providing live coverage of key political events, the state media is biased in favor of President Musharraf's ruling party," said Adams.

To view an appendix detailing bias in recent media coverage of the elections in Pakistan, please visit:


For additional Human Rights Watch reporting on the Pakistan elections, please visit:


For more information, please contact:
In Pakistan, Ali Dayan Hasan (English, Urdu): +92-300-842-5125 (mobile)
In London, Brad Adams (English): +44-790-872-8333 (mobile)
In Washington, DC, Tom Malinowski (English): +1-202-309-3551 (mobile)
In Brussels, Reed Brody (English, French, Portuguese, Spanish): +32-498-625786 (mobile)

Prospects of Democracy in Pakistan

In Pakistan, Islam Needs Democracy
By WALEED ZIAD, New york Times, February 16, 2008
Islamabad, Pakistan

WHILE it's good news that secular moderates are expected to dominate Pakistan's parliamentary elections on Monday, nobody here thinks the voting will spell the end of militant extremism. Democratic leaders have a poor track record in battling militants and offer no convincing remedies. Pakistan's military will continue to manage the war against the Taliban and its Qaeda allies, while President Pervez Musharraf will remain America's primary partner. The only long-term solution may lie in the hands of an overlooked natural ally in the war on terrorism: the Pakistani people.

This may come as a surprise to Americans, but the Wahhabist religion professed by the militants is more foreign to most Pakistanis than Karachi's 21 KFCs. This is true even of the tribal North-West Frontier Province — after all, a 23-foot-tall Buddha that was severely damaged last fall by the Taliban there had stood serenely for a thousand years amid an orthodox Muslim population.

Last month I was in the village of Pakpattan observing the commemoration of the death of a Muslim Sufi saint from the Punjab — a feast of dance, poetry, music and prayer attended by more than a million people. Religious life in Pakistan has traditionally been synonymous with the gentle spirituality of Sufi mysticism, the traditional pluralistic core of Islam. Even in remote rural areas, spiritual life centers not on doctrinaire seminaries but Sufi shrines; recreation revolves around ostentatious wedding parties and Hollywood, Bollywood and the latter's Urdu counterpart, Lollywood.

So when the Taliban bomb shrines and hair salons, or ban videos and music, it doesn't go down well. A resident of the Swat region, the site of many recent Taliban incursions, proudly told me last month that scores of citizens in his village had banded together to drive out encroaching militants. Similarly, in the tribal areas, many local village councils, called jirgas, have summoned the Pakistani Army or conducted independent operations against extremists. Virtually all effective negotiations between the army and militants have involved local councils; in 2006, a jirga in the town of Bara expelled two rival clerics who used their town as a battleground.

The many militant outfits in the frontier regions are far from a unified popular movement. Rather, they are best characterized as ethnic or sectarian gangs, regularly changing names and loyalties. More often than battling the army, they engage each other in violent turf wars. For many of them — some with only a handful of members — "Taliban" is a convenient brand name that awards them the status of international resistance fighters. It is not uncommon for highway bandits to declare themselves Taliban when stealing tape decks from vehicles.

The Taliban franchise that has battled the army for months in the Swat Valley is held by an outfit whose founder marched thousands of local youths to their death in a campaign in Afghanistan in 2002. Upon returning, he virtually solicited his own arrest by Pakistani authorities to escape the vengeance of the victims' families. The group is now led by one "Mullah Radio" who, armed with an FM station, preaches that polio vaccinations are a Zionist plot and that the 2005 earthquake was retribution for a sinful existence. A worrisome crank, yes, but hardly Osama bin Laden.

The big problem — as verified by a poll released last month by the United States Institute of Peace — is that while the Pakistani public condemns Talibanism, it is also opposed to the way the war on terrorism has been waged in Pakistan. People are horrified by the thousands of civilian and military casualties and the militants' retaliatory attacks in major cities. Despite promises, very little money is going toward development, education and other public services in the frontier region's hot zones. This has led to the belief that this war is for "Busharraf" rather than the Pakistani people.

Naturally, Washington must continue working with Mr. Musharraf's government against extremism. But we also need a new long-term policy like the one outlined by Senator Joe Biden last fall that would strengthen our natural allies and rebuild faith in the United States at the public level.

This isn't just wishful thinking. Interestingly, the Musharraf era has heralded a freer press in Pakistan than ever before. Dozens of independent TV channels invariably denounce the Taliban, while educational institutions are challenging the Wahhabist ethos. My conversations with Pakistanis, from people on the street to intellectuals, artists and religious leaders, only confirmed that after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, anti-militant sentiments are at a peak.

This is where the lasting solution lies. As Donya Aziz, a doctor, former member of Parliament and prominent voice in the new generation of female leaders, told me: "Even now, as the public begins to voice its anti-militancy concerns, politicians across the board are seizing the opportunity to incorporate these stands into their political platforms."

What can America do? Beyond using our influence to push the government to expand democracy and civil society, we need to develop close ties with the jirgas in the violent areas. The locals can inform us of the best ways to infuse civilian aid. (According to Ms. Aziz, "the foremost demand of the tribal representatives had been girls' schools.") We should also expand the United States Agency for International Development's $750 million aid and development package for the federally administered tribal areas.

If next week's elections are free and fair, it will be an encouraging sign for Pakistan. But as far as Washington is concerned, this should constitute only the first stage of a broader policy intended to make average Pakistanis see the United States as a long-term partner. In the aftermath of the 2005 earthquake, American popularity soared as American aid helicopters — widely called "Angels of Mercy" — soared to the rescue. If we can bear in mind that our long-term interests are the same as those of average Pakistanis, the challenges of fighting the militants and rebuilding credibility may not be as daunting as they seem.

Waleed Ziad, an economic consultant, is an associate at the Truman National Security Project.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Why they don’t Hate us

BOOK REVIEW: An indictment of the United States by Khaled Ahmed, DT, Feb 18, 2008
Why they don’t Hate us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil By Mark LeVine;
Oneworld Oxford 2007

Pakistan cannot afford to oppose the ‘monoculture’ of globalisation with culture since it got rid of its own culture long ago through Islamisation. What is passing for culture in Pakistan is India’s video entertainment, a target for Talibanisation

Prof LeVine teaches Middle East and Islam at the University of California, Irvine, and has lived for long years in the Middle East and knows what he is talking about. He is critical of America’s policy in the Middle East and is angry at what George Bush and his neocons have done in recent years in the region. He rejects the ‘what-went-wrong-with-Islam’ thesis of Bernard Lewis and Irshad Manji, and seeks culpability in the world economic system, as led by the United States and its cultural domination of globalisation. He disagrees with Chomsky when he says that America’s latest crime in the Middle East, and the Muslim response to it, have nothing to do with globalisation. The book takes on the task of relating terrorism to globalisation.

LeVine impales Francis Fukuyama for saying after the defeat and dispersal of the Soviet Union that history is over, ‘we have won’, and that ‘they’ must catch up, get out of the way or end up as ‘road-kill of the globalisation express’. He then proceeds to attack Thomas Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree as the opiate that dulls the mind to globalisation and focuses on Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations as the textbook of America’s assault on Islam, attesting that it was in What went Wrong by Bernard Lewis — ‘the Sheikh of Islamic studies’ — where Huntington dug up America’s battle cry of clash of civilisations. All this lore was based on the Darwinist slogan of Josiah Strong that the Americans would conquer the world in the 20th Century.

He is greatly put off by the popularity of Fukuyama’s End of History which looks at the triumph of the neoliberal model as the fulfilment of history’s long-standing conflict, and looks at Islam’s incapacity to adapt to the ‘modern’ world as a flaw. He is particularly incensed by this thesis as it contributed America’s definition of the Axis of Evil, which LeVine in turn thinks is actually the rise of American paradigm of the Axis of Arrogance and Ignorance. He is greatly put off by the bestselling The Lexus by Friedman because it presents globalisation as the only way to go for the rest of the world victimised by global capitalism. He questions Manji on her project of internal reform in Islam as he finds it divorced from a parallel reform of the American attitude towards the Islamic world.

He takes the baseline of his thesis from Arab Human Development Report (AHDR) where it says that, of thirty Muslim nations that were colonised, 22 Arab states have per capita incomes placed together with those of sub-Saharan Africa, and that it will take 140 years for Arab citizen to double his income while the same income will be doubled in ten years in the rest of the world. Colonisation has left 65 million out of the 280 million Arabs illiterate. He buttresses the argument by looking at pre-colonial India as possessor of one-fourth of the world’s manufacturing output, which went down after colonisation and was still languishing at 2.3 percent in 1980.

The author then summarises the process of globalisation as a system which shapes the agenda of the ‘global south’ where ‘poor people are told that they should be consuming services or other essentially cultural products they don’t necessarily need, and can’t really afford, in order for their economies to grow’. He detests the American newspapers for letting people like Friedman announce to the world how ‘the anti-globalisation movement is losing steam’ while he thinks that the gathering of a hundred thousand people at Mumbai under the protest rubric of World Social Forum in 2004 was not to be ignored. He equally gives importance to the transformation of this Forum into a protest movement against the invasion of Iraq because it feeds into his thesis that 9/11 happened because of globalisation.

LeVine finds fault with Benjamin Barber’s thesis in Jihad versus McWorld, that the commodifying logic of globalisation brings together a historically unprecedented number of sites and spectacles into a single vast enterprise that maximises profits while culturally transforming the people it acts upon. His objection is based on the binary of jihad and globalisation in the book. He seeks to prove that opposition to globalisation comes even more powerfully from the anti-globalisation movement represented by organisations that support the World Social Forum and many others who don’t even know the Forum. And these organisations stand for open and free systems unlike the proponents of jihad who wish to impose an authoritarian model of governance.

Globalisation is increasingly identified as a hostile force in the third world states but it is not connected to the 9/11 calamity. Even the ‘monoculture’ of globalisation has been identified as a negative factor in states such as Pakistan. When the Planning Commission of Pakistan and the Staff College think tank in Lahore begin thinking of culture, alarm bells must start ringing, and writers like LeVine must be read carefully and not merely as an intellectual American’s critique of America. Pakistan cannot afford to oppose the ‘monoculture’ of globalisation with culture since it got rid of its own culture long ago through Islamisation. What is passing for culture in Pakistan is India’s video entertainment, a target for Talibanisation.

It means that what Al Qaeda is rolling back in Pakistan is Indian entertainment culture as expressed through the music shops of the Tribal Areas. But what Al Qaeda spreads through Talibanisation is a ‘monoculture’ of its own. Called upon to choose between the monoculture of globalisation and the monoculture of Al Qaeda’s Islam, any sane person would choose the former. America may have wronged the Muslims, and Al Qaeda may be the Muslim response to the US, but it is killing the Muslims and rendering their lives meaningless in the name of Islam. *

Predicting election Redults: Insightful Tarot Card Reading!

New parliament jinxed?
* Noted tarot card reader says new government will end in a year
* Predicts a PPP, PML-N coalition government after elections
* Says new Punjab chief minister will be from PPP
Aaj Kal Report, Daily Times, February 17, 2008

LAHORE: Noted tarot card reader Begum Shagufta Anwar has predicted that the National Assembly formed after Monday’s elections would not last more than a year and new general elections would be sought in the first quarter of 2009.

Shagufta Anwar’s earlier predictions – that President Pervez Musharraf would be re-elected in uniform, the elections scheduled for January would be postponed, Shaukat Aziz’s political career would end, and Benazir Bhutto’s life would be at extreme risk – turned out to be accurate.

Coalition government: She predicted a coalition government between the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) after the February 18 elections in the centre. She said the PPP would win 140 seats in the National Assembly, the PML-N would win 85, and PML-Quaid (PML-Q) would win 20 to 25 National Assembly seats, far less than their expectations.

Punjab: The new chief minister of Punjab would belong to the PPP, she said, although the party would not win the highest number of seats in the provincial assembly.

The PML-N would win 95 to 100 seats in the Punjab Assembly, she said, the PPP 90 to 95, and the PML-Q would win 70 to 80 Punjab Assembly seats.

A major disturbance in Punjab could result in by-elections on several constituencies of the provincial assembly, she added.

She said PML-Q President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain would not win the elections from Sialkot. Former Defence Production minister Maj (r) Habibullah Warraich would not win from Lahore, she added, and former Trade and Commerce minister Humayun Akhtar Khan would win from one constituency and lose from the other.

Several options could emerge on how to deal with the issue of sacked judges, she said. Most of them would be restored, she predicted, but some would refuse to be reinstated.

President Musharraf’s future in politics would be determined in three or four months after the elections, Shagufta Anwar said. He must prepare himself for a turbulent ride, she added.

She said the president’s alliance with the PML-Q would have an adverse effect on his political future. He would have to face more difficulties if he did not make new allies, she added.

She said the new chief of army staff, General Ashfaq Kayani, was honest and patriotic and had no political ambitions. He had the capability to pull Pakistan out of the current political crisis, she added.

Musharraf Improves his Credentials!

Musharraf again in unwelcome company
Daily Times, February 17, 2008

WASHINGTON: President Pervez Musharraf is once again included by Parade magazine among the world’s 20 “worst dictators”, having moved from No 15 last year to No 8 in the current listing. Parade magazine is distributed with the weekend edition of almost every American newspaper and has a readership running into millions. The citation to the listing of the Pakistani president says, “In recent months, Musharraf suspended Pakistan’s constitution, shut down the courts, arrested several thousand dissidents and passed a law removing challenges to his continuation as president. He allowed former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto to return to Pakistan but barred Nawaz from running in elections. Benazir was assassinated – an act that some observers tie to Musharraf’s government.” It adds, “The US considers Pakistan a valuable economic and political ally. Americans bought almost $3 billion worth of Pakistani cotton clothing and fabrics in 2007. Even after Musharraf suspended the constitution, Bush said Musharraf had ‘advanced democracy in Pakistan’. The US has given him more than $7 billion in military aid in the last six years, which critics say has largely been spent on arms to fight India, not terrorists.” Parade’s “Top Ten” are: Kim Jong-Il of North Korea (No 2 in 2007), Omar al-Bashir of Sudan (No 1 in 2007), Than Shwe of Myanmar (No 6 in 2007), King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (No 5 in 2007), Hu Jintao of China (No 4 in 2007), Rober Mugabe of Zimbabwe (No 7 in 2007), Sayyid Ali Khamenei (No 3 in 2007), Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan (No 15 in 2007), Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan (No 8 in 2007) and Ilayas Afewerki of Eirtirea (No 13 in 2007). khalid hasan

Banned Sipaha-e-Sahaba in alliance with PML- Q league

For BBC story details, click here

Also See:
Reputed leader of Islamic terror group running in Pakistan elections
Saeed Shah | McClatchy Newspapers
February 16, 2008

JHANG, Pakistan — The reputed leader of a banned Islamic militant group that has worked closely with the Afghan Taliban — and by extension with al Qaida — is running for parliament in Pakistan's general election on Monday, despite the country's key role as an ally in the U.S. "war on terror."

Mohammad Ahmad Ludhianvi is running as an independent in the central town of Jhang in Pakistan's populous Punjab province, but he's widely regarded as the head of the proscribed extremist organization Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan.

The bearded cleric stands a very good chance of winning Monday, according to local officials. Sipah-e-Sahaba was founded in 1985 in Jhang, where it still enjoys its strongest following. Its rise to influence has been built on the economic divide between the richer landowning inhabitants of the area, who come from the minority Shiite sect of Islam, and the poorer Sunni population.

In the past, Sipah-e-Sahaba was widely reported to have operated with the support of the Pakistan military's Inter-services Intelligence Directorate, or ISID.

"This is (an) al Qaida constituency," said Sheikh Waqas, Ludhianvi's main opponent, referring to the strength of support for Sipah-e-Sahaba. In 2002, the former leader of the group, Azam Tariq was freed from jail in order to run for parliament, and he won. He was later assassinated.

"I am under threat of suicide bombing," said Waqas, who is the incumbent member of parliament, having squeezed through in a 2004 election, when the seat became vacant.

He said that despite the fact he is a candidate for the ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, which backs President Pervez Musharraf, he has received no help from Islamabad or the local administration.

"I went to the assembly with just one agenda: to put an end to this terrorist operation. But for the last three years, I have not only been fighting the terrorists, I have had to fight my own government. They just don't listen," Waqas said.

In fact, Ludhianvi's running mate for the constituency, Sheikh Yacoob, who is campaigning for a seat in the provincial assembly and appears on election posters with the mullah, is a candidate for the ruling Q-League.

Ludhianvi "is a terrorist," charged Waqas, who relies on 12 private gunmen and five armed police officers for protection. "How can a party be banned and the chief allowed to stand? This is a joke."

Ludhianvi's name is on Pakistan's terrorist watchlist. He hasn't been convicted of any terrorism-related offenses, but his role in about a dozen cases is under investigation.

Kunwar Dilshad, the secretary of the election commission in Islamabad, which oversees the polling process, said that any objection to Ludhianvi's candidacy should have been lodged when he filed nomination papers in the constituency.

"No one complained," Dilshad said.

A Western diplomat in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, said since Ludhianvi hasn't been convicted as a terrorist, he should be allowed to run for office. "He should be able to stand unless he can be proved to be a terrorist," said the diplomat, who refused to be identified because he wasn't authorized to speak on the issue.

In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, Sipah-e-Sahaba was banned by Musharraf, whom Washington regards as a bulwark against extremism.

The organization, which then went underground, has been accused of hundreds of sectarian murders of the minority Shiite Muslim sect as well as the executions of Iranian diplomats in the Afghan city of Mazar-I-Sharif at the time of the Taliban takeover in 1998. More worrisome for American authorities, Pakistani terrorism experts say Sunni sectarian groups such as Sipah-e-Sahaba have adopted the global jihadist agenda of al Qaida.

Amir Rana, the director of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies in Islamabad, said that Ludhianvi is the undeclared leader of Sipah-e-Sahaba. He pointed out that some of the group's past leaders also ran for election as independents.

Sipah-e-Sahaba "is still dangerous and can pose a sectarian threat whenever they will find room," Rana said. "Even now their workers are operating under cover of jihad groups."

Although Sipah-e-Sahaba is less active than it was in the 1990s, police in the Punjabi city of Lahore last weekend arrested 30 alleged members of the group, reportedly with a cache of weapons and "hate literature."

Interviewed as he campaigned in the constituency, Ludhianvi said he was standing as an independent, not as a member or head of Sipah-e-Sahaba. Speaking in gentle and measured tones in Urdu, he said his aim was to "give love and peace to my voters." He voiced no sectarian or violent sentiment.

However, while denying his links to Sipah-e-Sahaba, Ludhianvi praised past leaders of the group, including the founder Haq Nawaz Jhangvi — "he gave courage to the poor" — and the most recent previous leader, Azam Tariq — "he sacrificed his life for this mission." Both men were assassinated. He also said that "we" have filed a court petition challenging the ban on the Sipah-e-Sahaba.

"We hate terrorism," said Ludhianvi, who was traveling with three gunmen. "People cannot love extremists as they love us."

As he toured the constituency, he stressed practical, everyday concerns, rather than any austere religious message. He pledged to bring gas to every home and establish a university for Jhang. The constituents gave him a warm reception.

One voter, who went by the single name of Shahaab, in an area on the outskirts of Jhang called Basti Ghazi Shah, said that he would vote for Ludhianvi "because this candidate will not tell a lie."

Another, Ijaz Ahmed Khan, said: "People just want their basic problems solved. He (Ludhianvi) has a good attitude to the poor. ... The other candidates are just landlords (large landowners)."

Back in the town center, bookstore owner and part-time journalist Khuram Saeed, said: "In Jhang, the vote is either pro-Sipah-e-Sahaba or anti-Sipah-e-Sahaba. The group's 40,000 vote-bank is intact. It's just a question of whether the 65,000 or 70,000 anti-vote gets divided."

(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

"Pakistan: Opposition Parties Are Poised to Win Poll"

"Pakistan: Opposition Parties Are Poised to Win Poll"
Oxford Analytica, February 15, 2008

By Hassan Abbas, Research Fellow, Project on Managing the Atom, International Security Program, and Project on India and the Subcontinent

"While there is a considerable risk that the elections will be rigged and that poor security will deter voting, pro-Musharraf parties will be swept from power. The PPP is expected to secure the most votes, raising the prospect of a grand coalition of parties united in opposition to the president. Stable government will depend on their ability to work together, as well as with Musharraf, for as long as he remains in power."

For Complete article, click here

Also See:
A Pakistani Revolution: Not Today But Perhaps Tomorrow By Xenia Dormandy Harvard International Review, February 2008

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines a revolution as "...a fundamental, rapid, and often irreversible change in the established order." While, without question, some significant events have taken place within Pakistan over the past ten months, culminating in Benazir Bhutto's assassination on December 27, 2007, the broader context suggests that any swift change is unlikely. In fact, most profoundly, we could be seeing the first signs of wider public participation in the political system; if this continues and is encouraged, it could lead to a slow-burning revolution that transforms the nation's future.

Since March 2007, Pakistan has been going through a period of upheaval. Following eight years of leadership by President Musharraf, the moderate majority in Pakistan has finally found its voice. Demonstrations, which started last March, have continued in one form or another since then, led at various times by lawyers, Mullahs, and political party leaders. Throughout the presidential and now parliamentary elections, the people have taken to the streets to protest for fair elections, freedoms, or independent institutions. However, what is holding the country back is the sheer lack of effective political leaders to channel these sentiments: individuals who will put Pakistan on a positive trajectory towards a stable democracy, economic growth, transparency, and institution building. A revolution, if there is one, could bring chaos and instability for a while; any truly positive progress for Pakistan will be long in coming.

The Context

Unlike many other countries that have undergone revolution in recent years, Pakistan has long played with democracy. Since gaining independence in 1947, Pakistan has veered back and forth between democratically-elected and authoritarian military leaders. Its earliest years were unstable: Pakistan fought against its neighbor, India, as they established their borders and their populations migrated. This acrimonious relationship continued; three wars were fought, including the 1971 war over the split of East and West Pakistan, which resulted in the creation of Bangladesh.

Following the loss of East Pakistan under the rule of Yahya Khan, a former chief of army staff, a new civilian leader, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was elected in 1972. He was deposed in 1979 by another general, Zia ul Haq. Zia was the first leader to truly try to change the secular nature of Pakistan that had been inculcated by Pakistan's first leader, Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

Zia died in 1988 in a plane crash, and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's daughter, Benazir Bhutto, was elected for the first time. For eleven years, between 1988 and 1999, democracy reigned, unstable as it might have been, alternating between Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, with neither completing a full term. Finally, in October 1999, another chief of army staff, Pervez Musharraf, led a coup against Sharif and took over as president.

Over the past eight years, President Musharraf has done many good things for Pakistan, most notably building a relatively stable and fast growing economy (GDP growth in 2006 was 6.5 percent). On the other hand, he has not pushed progress on other very vital areas such as building independent institutions, improving the provision of education and other social services, or building local governance systems and networks. Over the past year, the situation has worsened significantly with the dismissal of Supreme Court Chief Justice Chaudhry in March 2007, a state of emergency declared in November, and Benazir Bhutto's assassination the following month. The judiciary is now thoroughly politicized, the media is restricted by a "code of conduct," and the interim government is biased.

A New Actor: People Power

Historically, only three players have had influence in changing Pakistan's future: the politicians, the Mullahs, and the military.

Politics in Pakistan is personality-driven. Until her assassination on December 27, Benazir Bhutto led the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), the party that her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, founded. Directed by her will, and following a party meeting, Benazir's 19-year-old son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, will be filling her shoes with her husband, Asif Zardari, acting as regent while Bilawal finishes his Oxford degree. The other major secular party, the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N), is led by Nawaz Sharif and supported by his brother, Shahbaz. The Pakistan Muslim League – Quaid-i-Azam (PML-Q) was founded by President Musharraf, and will not last if he leaves. One of the smaller parties, a more religious one, is led by former cricket star, Imran Khan. Each of these parties is defined by its leaders rather than by its policies. There are few attempts to educate and develop new, younger leaders to replace them. The consequences of this are at least two-fold: without new blood Pakistan will not break out of what has been 60 years of oscillation between authoritarian and quasi-democratic states, and until there are new drivers for transformation in these senior ranks, any revolution would be headless and thus ineffective.

The Mullahs have enormous social but little political power. The religious coalition, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), typically garners less than 6 percent of the popular vote (the exception being the October 2002 national elections, "managed" by President Musharraf, where they gained 11.3 percent). The MMA has ruled for the past five years in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and shared power with the PML-Q in Baluchistan. After five years of governance, they are widely regarded as incompetent. While many in Pakistan might support some of the policies of the Mullahs, such as the imposition of shari'a law, they do not support their reign.

As Aeyesha Siddiqa made clear in her book Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy, Pakistan's military influences almost all aspects of Pakistan, including policy, the economy, social services, and security. The military has repeatedly played a central role in Pakistani politics, either directly, by leading coups, or more indirectly, by affecting policy debates on major political issues from nuclear weapons to the fight against terrorism. Both Bhutto and Sharif have each separately stated that, while prime minister in the 1980s and 1990s, they did not control the nation's strategic weaponry.

In March 2007, a fourth actor appeared on Pakistan's scene: the people. Not since the elections of 1977, won by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, has the country seen such a grass-roots movement for change. This hitherto silent majority has already had a significant impact on the country's political development. They induced President Musharraf to reinstate the Supreme Court Chief Justice, ensuring – at least for a short while – the continued independence of the judiciary (he was since re-dismissed). They had a role in ensuring that Musharraf followed through on his promise to step down as chief of army staff before being reappointed as president in mid-November. And still on the streets in the weeks following Bhutto's assassination, they now appear to be forcing Musharraf to continue to pursue at least a quasi-legitimate political process and, in particular, to investigate the assassination in conjunction with outside and unbiased assistance from Britain's Scotland Yard.

What is today unclear is whether this new force will be sustainable. The people's rise was made possible, in part, by the growth in the middle class in Pakistan, providing breathing space to consider issues beyond mere survival. The event that fired engagement was the dismissal of Chaudhry, an act that appeared to mark a reversal of some the freedoms that had been granted by President Musharraf in his earlier years. It is too early to tell whether any future reversals (such as managed elections) would provide enough incentive for the people to stay active, or would instead result in apathy and a sense of disempowerment. International support and continued attention could provide some security and encouragement, but any changes will have to be internal.

Musharraf's Downfall

President Musharraf wants to retain power; unfortunately, it appears that the people disagree. His approval ratings have declined from 51 percent in late 2006 to 28 percent today. [i] In December, polls indicated that around 67 percent wanted Musharraf to resign immediately. He was blamed by many for Bhutto's assassination, and as a result his support has likely plummeted further, driving his and the Election Commission's decision to delay elections until February 18, 2008. Despite the clear views of the majority, Musharraf continues to prioritize his own political survival. However, today he is in an untenable situation: regardless of whether he conducts himself and the elections legitimately, he is no longer trusted by either the Pakistani people or the international community. For him, perception has become reality, and the perception is not good.

In addition to lacking the support of the people, over the past year Musharraf has increasingly lost support from two other groups in Pakistan: the political parties (a number of his cabinet members have resigned and switched allegiances) and the Mullahs (the siege and subsequent attack against the Red Mosque in July 2007 ensured this opposition). Having succumbed to pressure to remove his uniform in November, it is increasingly unclear how much influence he will retain over the last player in Pakistan, the military. If the international community, particularly the United States, were to reject Musharraf (as could still happen if the elections are overtly illegitimate), then it is unlikely that the military would stick with him for long. Without the support of this final group, Musharraf is unlikely to remain President.

A Brewing Storm

The lack of predictability and transparency through both the presidential and parliamentary elections (the latter still ongoing) have compounded the confusion, the instability, and Musharraf's loss of credibility. Tensions have risen since October 6, when the presidential elections were called. Many of the parties boycotted or didn't vote, leading to Musharraf's substantial victory. But the parties did file legal cases against the process and his legitimacy to run, leading in early November to Musharraf calling a state of emergency and soon afterwards dismissing all of those Supreme Court justices who would not support him. These machinations, culminating in Musharraf removing his uniform and being reinstated as president for a new term, only raised the temperature.

In early December, the parliamentary elections were called for January 8 2008, and political campaigning started. Both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif had returned to Pakistan for the race and were battling it out on the streets. The process was complicated by the necessity for these two parties to also work together to push for a legitimate process. It seemed as though, if a fair and free election were held, the PPP would fulfill polling predictions and win, albeit without a ruling majority. But after Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, for three days it seemed as though Pakistan was going to boil over.

These political fights have been compounded in the past months by a concurrent rise in militancy, previously largely contained within the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, but which have started to spread, commingling with the ongoing sectarian violence throughout Pakistan and the fight for more autonomy in the southwest state of Baluchistan. The July siege against the Red Mosque provided the extremists with an excuse to fight. The political process distracted both the government and the international community. The political campaigns have been targeted – not just the attack against Bhutto, but also others against the PML-Q and the PML-N. Security in Pakistan is fading, a fact made clear in January 2008 as we began to see refugees flood into Afghanistan from Pakistan, the former being perceived as providing a safer environment.

A Lack of Options

Tensions will remain on the boil at least until the parliamentary elections, which are currently scheduled for February 18. The militant attacks will not diminish, particularly when they appear to be having such a powerful impact. And the political fights are only going to continue, perhaps compounded by the additional confusion surrounding the new and multi-headed leadership of the PPP.

What is clear, however, is that the people will not accept a Musharraf victory. While he does retain some support, it is fading fast. Despite his efforts, he cannot win the upcoming elections legitimately, and if he does so illegitimately, the streets are likely to become uncontrollable. As Musharraf himself is no longer chief of army staff, indications are that if his replacement, General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, is asked to impose martial law, he will decline, being more loyal to Pakistan than to Musharraf.

So, if not a Musharraf-led parliament, then what? According to polls conducted in November 2007, if a legitimate election were held, the PPP, the only truly national party, would win by a slight margin. Following Bhutto's assassination, all indications are that the PPP will gain additional sympathetic support, and could now even garner a majority, allowing them to rule solo rather than in a coalition. The PML-N will likely also benefit slightly from the sympathy vote, the loser being Musharraf's PML-Q.

The debate surrounding who will win is, however, less relevant than one might initially think. If Musharraf does manage to hold on to power, Pakistan will only get more of what has been seen for the past eight years. Yet behind this wall, the frustrations of the people will rise, perhaps even exploding during the next administration, leading to real chaos and, if played right by the religious parties, a rise in their power and influence. If Nawaz Sharif wins, Pakistan will go back to the 1990s and his ineffective government. The only real question is what a PPP success would look like. Zardari, Bhutto's husband and the acting party chairman, was known to be corrupt and incompetent during Benazir's reign; there is no reason to think that has changed. However, PPP distaste for Zardari is so great (only 5 percent of PPP cadre supported his leadership in January polling) that a split in the PPP could result in a spin-off party led by a more competent senior figure such as Aitzaz Ahsan, the current president of the Supreme Court Bar Association still under house arrest. Perhaps Benazir's recent legacy – a strong desire for democracy – could prevail, resulting in an administration that promotes institution building and the separation of military and civilian powers.

However one looks at it, the options available to the Pakistani people are all regurgitated from previous administrations. There can be no revolution as there are no new and effective leaders to follow.

A Revolution Long in Coming

A revolution is a fundamental and rapid change in the established order. Today, the lack of leadership in Pakistan prevents this from occurring. The options available to the people are all former rulers; the personality politics that characterizes Pakistan ensures that this will not change.

Things could be different if one looks further into the future. In 2007, a fundamental adjustment occurred when the people made clear their intention to participate. They have had some degree of success in forcing both President Musharraf and the opposition parties to listen. It is not yet clear whether this profile will be encouraged, or whether it will die out from lack of support and effect. In order to be maintained, the people will have to see some success from their efforts in the coming election, not just in the result, but in the policies implemented by the new leadership and perhaps in time even new parties or new leaders to follow. Longer-term efforts will be needed, not just from Pakistanis but also from the international community, to help grow institutions and grassroots organizations, and to develop these leaders. That would require truly a more enduring strategy from outside groups as any deep-seated change in the political system will be long to take effect. And, it will require the build up of trust between these nations and the Pakistan government and people, something that is sorely lacking today, particularly vis-à-vis the United States. But the arrival on the scene of the silent and moderate majority could be the first step in a slower but more fundamental institutional change in Pakistan.

On the other hand, if the people are not supported in having their voices heard, the implications for Pakistan over the long-term could turn the other way. If democracy doesn't bring them benefits, many will turn to other less desirable mechanisms to effect change. And the new militant leadership that we are seeing along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border could find more traction within the nation, leading the country down a dark path. Perhaps this way will also bring about a revolution, but it will be one that nobody wants to see take place.

This article was originally published in the Harvard International Review: http://www.harvardir.org
[i] IRI Index: Pakistan Public Opinion Survey, November 19-28, 2007. International Republican Institute. Available online at: http://www.iri.org/mena/pakistan/pdfs/2007-12-12-pakistan-poll.pdf