PAK POLLS: IMPACT ON "WAR" AGAINST TERRORISM
INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR---PAPER NO. 371
Who are the main beneficiaries of the elections held in Pakistan on February 18,2008?
The Pakistan Muslim League of Mr.Nawaz Sharif, former Prime Minister, hereafter to be referred to as the PML (N) and the Awami NationalParty (ANP), which is an ethnic party of the Pashtuns of Pakistan. The PML (N) and the ANP bore the brunt of the disinformation, PSYWARand denigration campaign carried on by the Army and the intelligence agencies since 2002. President Pervez Musharraf missed noopportunity to belittle and humiliate Nawaz. The ANP was looked down upon not only by the Pakistan Army and the ISI, but also by theCentral Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the US State Department as the stooges of India and the former USSR as well as the present Russia ofPresident Vladimir Putin. Additional causes for the US dislike for the ANP was its leftist ideology, which was seen by the US as nothing butMarxism, and its closeness to the former Afghan Government of Najibullah. The ISI and the CIA, in the past, made every effort to undermineits influence in the Pashtun belt. It is the only political party in Pakistan, whose leaders were never invited to the US. In the elections ofFebruary 18, the PML (N) increased its tally in the National Assembly almost four-fold from 18 in 2002 to 66 now. It has swept the polls inmost of the urban towns of Punjab, which were the targets of jihadi terrorist strikes. It has swept the polls even in the Rawalpindi-Islamabad area where Mrs.Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on December 27,2007, and where there have been six otherterrorist strikes since July last.It won eight out of nine seats in the Rawalpindi-Islamabad area with one going to the Pakistan People'sParty (PPP). In Lahore, which saw a major terrorist strike in January,2008, outside the High Court. the PML (N) bagged 11 out of the 13National Assembly seats. The ANP's tally in the National Assembly went up ten-fold from zero in 2002 to 10 now. In the provincial Assemblyof the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), its tally went up from 10 in 2002 to 30 now. It has emerged as the largest single party in theprovincial Assembly.
What are the reasons for the successes of the PML (N) and the ANP?
These were the only two parties, which took a strong line against the so-called war on terrorism as being waged by the US in thePakistan-Afghanistan region and the manner in which Musharraf has been co-operating with the US. During the campaign, Nawaz clearlysaid that the impact of the war on Pakistan has been more negative than positive. He assured that if the PML (N) came to power, it wouldhelp the US by acting against the alleged cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan from Pakistan. At the same time, he made it clear that so faras action against terrorism in Pakistani territory is concerned, it is for Pakistan to decide what action to take and it is not for the US to tellPakistan what to do. The ANP was strongly critical of the over-militarised counter-terrorism policies of the US and said that if it came topower the emphasis would be more on the hearts and minds approach. The PML (N) also called for a review of the implications of the USdeclaration of Pakistan as a non-NATO ally. There were strong anti-US feelings in Pakistan---particularly in the tribal belt--- before and duringthe elections of 2002, which took place within a year of the launching of US counter-terrorism strikes in Afghanistan. There are equallystrong anti-US feelings now---particularly since suicide terrorism shot up after the commando action in the Lal Masjid of Islamabad in Julylast. The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a coalition of six fundamentalist parties, was the beneficiary of the anti-US feelings of 2002. TheMMA has now practically broken up. Of the two principal components of the MMA, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) boycotted the elections inprotest against the unconstitutional and illegal actions of Musharraf. Its cadres supported the PML(N).The Jamiat-ul-Ulema Islam (JUI) ofMaulana Fazlur Rahman, the other principal component, contested the elections, but fared badly in the NWFP as well as at the nationallevel. Fazlur Rahman has always been suspected to be openly critical of the US and the ISI, but secretly collaborating with them. As a resultof the practical break-up of the MMA, the PML (N) and the ANP were the beneficiaries of the anti-US vote this time.
What could be the implications of the successes of the PML (N) and the ANP?
Both are against allowing the US to dictate the reforms of the madrasas. Both are against allowing the US troops to operate in Pakistaniterritory or against allowing US planes to bomb suspected terrorist camps in Pakistani territory. By calling for an examination of theimplications of the US declaring Pakistan as a non-NATO ally, the PML (N) is seeking a review of the present policy of the supplies for theNATO troops in Afghanistan being allowed to be unloaded at the Karachi port and moved to Afghanistan by road through Pakistani territory.Both want the economic and social development of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), but want that this should be accordingto a plan to be drawn up by Pakistan and not by the US State Department or the Pentagon. The ANP has stated that its co-operation with the PPP, the largest single party in the National Assembly, in government formation would be dependent on the PPP-led Government agreeing tochange the name of the North-West Frontier Province as Pakhtoonkwa or Pashtunistan or Afghania and accepting its demand for provincialautonomy for the Pashtun homeland. The Punjabi-dominated army will be strongly opposed to this. This could encourage similar demandsfrom the Baloch and Sindhi nationalists.
How has been the performance of the PPP? Did it really benefit from the expected sympathy wave after the assassination of Benazir?
The so-called sympathy wave had very little impact. The PPP, which won 80 seats in the 2002 elections despite the split engineered in theparty by the ISI and despite Benazir and Mr. Asif Zardari being out of the country in political exile, has managed to increase its tally in theNational Assembly only to 87--- an increase of just seven seats. The leadership of Zardari has not made much of an impact on the elections.While the Party did as well as expected in rural Sindh and increased its tally by one seat in Karachi, it did not do as well as expected inPunjab. Some Pakistani analysts attribute this to the unpopularity of Zardari among the Punjabis and their distrust of him. Benazir's opensupport for the commando action in the Lal Masjid and her proclaimed readiness to allow the US troops to operate in Pakistani territory ifneed be and to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to interrogate Dr.A.Q.Khan, the nuclear scientist, and the general perceptionthat the PPP is as much amenable to US influence as Musharraf neutralised the sympathy wave and came in the way of the PPP improvingits tally substantially.
How to explain the rout of the Pakistan Muslim League (Qaide Azam), which was seen as Musharraf's party?
Its tally dropped steeply from 118 in 2002 to 38 now. Its close identification with Musharraf and its responsibility for the steep deteriorationin the economic situation marked by shortages of electricity, gas, wheat and wheat flour contributed to its rout in the urban areas, whichbore the brunt of the economic hardships. It has not done too badly in the rural areas. A wave of Punjabi sympathy for Nawaz and his familyfor the way they were sought to be humiliated by Musharraf since 1999 also created sympathy for Nawaz and his party.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) of Mr.Altaf Hussain is also closely associated with Musharraf? How come Musharraf's unpopularity has not affected it?
Yes. It was not much affected. In fact, it improved its National Assembly tally from 17 to 19 seats. Its following is confined to the Mohajirs(refugees from India) in Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur. They want that Musharraf, a fellow-Mohajir, should continue to be the President ofPakistan. Musharraf discontinued the policy of the suppression of the Mohajirs and the MQM previously followed by the Governments ofBenazir and Nawaz.
What are the prospects for political stability?
Low to medium. The PPP will not remain as united behind Zardari as it did behind Benazir. Many old guards of the party look down upon him.The chances of a split between Zardari loyalists and Bhutto loyalists are high. Its opportunistic policies of the past make others look upon itwith suspicion. Its support for the present policy of close co-operation with the US will have a negative impact on its relations with the PML(N) and the ANP. It will find it difficult to accept the PML (N)'s demand for the reinstatement of the members of the judiciary sacked byMusharraf and the ANP's demand for re-naming the NWFP and provincial autonomy. Any coalition, whether led by the PPP or the PML (N), willbe in a permanent state of disequilibrium
What will be the impact on jihadi terrorism in Pakistani territory?
Al Qaeda, the Neo Taliban and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan will go after the ANP with a vengeance. They look upon it as apostate becauseof its secular and leftist policies and its pass co-operation with the Najibullah Government. There will be a further increase in AlQaeda-inspired terrorism in the Pashtun belt. If the ANP succeeds in getting the name of the NWFP changed and in getting provincialautonomy, its popularity among large sections of the Pashtuns will go up and this could enable it to wean the people away from Al Qaedaand the Taliban, but the Punjabi-dominated Army will oppose the demands of the ANP strongly. (20-2-08)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For TopicalStudies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )