A Warning from the Grave

IRI Poll: Nawaz on Top, Musharraf on Bottom; Pakistanis Want Judges and Jobs Back; PPP’s Leaderless Drift

Another poll of Pakistanis has been released. The irony is that Pakistani voices are being increasingly heard, but it stops right there.  There’s no actualization.

I forsee not only rising public anger, but also a very ugly end-product.  Those responsible–and there are many–will wash their hands, describing it all as inevitable.

The International Republican Institute published the findings of its latest survey, conducted in the first two weeks of June.

Links: Press Release; IRI Pakistan Index; Graphs and Charts


  • Nawaz Sharif remains Pakistan’s most popular politician.  He has an 82% approval rating.
  • Next five most popular public figures are, respectively: A.Q. Khan, Iftikhar Chaudhry, Shahbaz Sharif, Yousuf Raza Gilani, and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.  The first four are tied to Pakistan’s renewed nationalism.  Gilani is seen as a nice, pious fellow.  Bilawal carries the legacy of his slain mother.  There are no material expectations of him (and resultant disappointment) yet.  He’s just a kid.
  • Surprisingly, Aitzaz Ahsan’s negatives are high (40%).  I would tie this to his contentious relationship with the People’s Party.
  • Asif Zardari’s positives and negatives are not as high as Aitzaz’s.  There’s a much larger segment of people that are undecided about Zardari.  This is likely a product of a rollover of his status as Benazir’s widower as well as his swift and confusing political dancing.  However, as head of Pakistan’s largest party, Zardari’s positives are relatively low — especially when compared to Nawaz Sharif.  In the coming months, I expect the undecided camp to choose sides.  And I think today, a month after this poll was conducted, many Pakistanis have already.
  • Pervez Musharraf is Pakistan’s most disliked public figure — even more than Baitullah Mehsud, a prolific terrorist.  In fact, opposition to Musharraf has increased since November.  Now, approximately 85% of Pakistanis want him to resign.
  • Eight-six percent of Pakistanis see the country as going in the wrong direction.  Over 70% see themselves as worse off economically and less secure than before.
  • Fifty one percent deem the government’s performance negatively.  This will increase through the summer.  Still, 52% see the new government bringing positive change to the country.
  • Around 58% want the PPP-PML(N) governing coalition to stay together.  And most PPP voters are against a coalition with the PML(Q).
  • Seventy-one percent see inflation as the greatest problem facing Pakistan today.  Terrorism is at the bottom (though, in contrast to the January poll, there is no response for terrorism, but “Al Qaeda” and “suicide bombing.”)
  • Eighy-three percent want the deposed judges restored.  It’s very important for 69% of Pakistanis.
  • A strong majority supports talks with militants, but the public remains conflicted about the use of force and the challenge of terrorism.
  • Support for the U.S.-led war on terror increase from 9 to 15%.  Over 70% still oppose Pakistan’s participation.
  • Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani’s negative ratings have declined considerably to 11% (down from the 50s).  His approval rating is higher, now in the 30s.  That means the public is still seeking to find out who Kayani is.  He has mitigated negative sentiments toward him (perhaps inherited from Musharraf) and has an opportunity to secure public goodwill toward him.
  • A sizable plurality (38%) sees Nawaz Sharif as the person most fit to lead Pakistan.  He is slightly above his September 2007 high of 36%.  It seem as if there’s strong resistance near the 40% level — probably due to  the sizable PPP vote bank.  Strangely, Asif Zardari doesn’t appear to be on the list.  Either he was not included in the survey or few chose him.  If the latter is true, then PPP voters are divided.  The party faces a leadership void.  Their favor is split amongst four persons: a teenager (Bilawal), a deceased person (Benazir Bhutto), an outcasted party leader (Amin Fahim), and a fairly impotent prime minister (Yousuf Raza Gilani).
  • If fresh elections are held, the PML-N has the potential to win a majority in Punjab by itself and a plurality in NWFP.  The PPP is in a similar position in, respectively, Sindh and Balochistan.  But the PML-N, if it places the right candidates in the right seats, can come out well in all four provinces.  This is tied to the downfall of the PML-Q, the PPP’s self-destruction, and most importantly, the PML-N’s position on the deposed judges (80% have a higher opinion of the party because of its position).  In contrast, the PPP will lose out from not restoring the judges — at least nationally (over 70% say they will view the PPP more negatively).


  • Pervez Musharraf is not rehabitable in terms of Pakistani public opinion.  He is indelibly tied to Pakistan’s comprehensive decline in the past few years (e.g. sovereignty, social equity, and law and order).  He can stay in power artificially — especially when half of the governing coalition is creeping on the down low with him.
  • The PPP has fragmented since the murder of Benazir Bhutto.  Yousuf Raza Gilani is seen positively, but PPP voters are split on who’s their best leader — Zardari, Bilawal, Gilani, or even Benazir.
  • In contrast, the PML-N has benefited from clarity on key issues and a consolidated party leadership.
  • Socio-economic and rule of law issues are not exclusive in the eyes of the public.  Pakistanis, in general, want both the deposed judges restored and economic relief.
  • Pakistanis remain highly conflicted about the war on terror.  They do not support terrorism, nor do they support the U.S.-led war on terror.  They favor peace talks with militants.  Terrorism hasn’t produced a hatred of terrorists, rather the wave of violence is blamed on Musharraf and the United States.  The continued presence of Musharraf and absence of real Afghan rapproachment provide a convenient cover for terrorists in Pakistan.

Two Reports and a Poll: FATA, Pakistan Police Reform, Pakistan-India Public Opinion on Kashmir

1) Securing Pakistan’s Tribal Belt [PDF]


DANIEL MARKEY, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia

2) Reforming Pakistan’s Police [SUMMARY] | [PDF]


* Here’s a ~2002 report by Shoaib Suddle on the same topic.

3) Indian and Pakistani Publics Show Flexibility on Kashmir [SUMMARY] | [FULL REPORT] | [QUESTIONNIARE]


The ‘Push on Pakistan’

Almost a year ago, I wrote an op-ed for Lahore’s Daily Times discussing an intensifying phenomenon I described as the “push on Pakistan.”  [The paper's editors took out the word "on" and made a 'liberal' (pun intended) edit or two.]

But, in light of the heightened pressure on Pakistan from Washington and the increased role of the Pakistan-Afghanistan conflict in the U.S. presidential campaign, here’s a link to that piece.  Some points I made were particularly prescient.  Others not so — but we can forget about those:-)

Tuesday Briefing: Karachi Bombings; Musharraf’s Pugilism; Pressure on Nawaz; Zardari’s Political Suicide; PPP Dissidents; A.Q. Khan Speaks (Too Much)

I have drafted many posts in recent weeks, but have not had the chance to complete them.  As a result, below is a large posting dealing with a wide array of topics.


Pulling at Karachi’s Ethnic-Linguistic Seams

Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and commercial capital, was hit by a series of explosions this evening.  There was no suicide blast; rather, there was a mix of C-4 explosives and grenades thrown in up to eight locations across the behemoth of a city.  The commonality among all these different districts: they were predominantly Pakhtun areas.

The low intensity blasts were not the hallmark of a sophisticated terror group.  The responsible party seems to be, or seeks to be seen as, an organization with basic explosive capabilities an an animus for Pakhtuns.  As a result, many in Pakistan have (directly or indirectly) pointed their fingers at the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM)–a militia with a party or a party with a militia–which represents many of urban Sindh’s Urdu-speaking migrants and their descendents.  They point to:

  1. Pre-existing tensions between the MQM and Pakhtuns, both Pakistani and Afghan, in Karachi.
  2. Musharraf’s recent dinner in Karachi in which he paired up with two of his biggest allies: the business community and the MQM.  The event featured bombast and chest-puffing from both Musharraf and Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal (see below).
  3. Recent statements by MQM leader Altaf Hussain commenting on the growing Taliban presence in Karachi.

Last month there were other ethnically chauvinistic statements made by the MQM leadership.  The real danger is that the MQM could use the Taliban bogeyman as a pretext to indimidate (or worse) the local Pakhtun population.

If Altaf Hussain is trying to position himself as the Muhammad Dahlan of Karachi–in this case, the Taliban would be a rough equivalent of HAMAS–and others abroad are enthused by the idea, that will certainly not bode well for Pakistan.  Secular thugs are thugs notwithstanding their views on God and society.  Karachi is a microcosm for Pakistan.  It’s a multiethnic tinderbox. Most are inclined toward good will, but the major power brokers in Pakistan all too often make use of the politics of divisiveness, which retards the country’s growth.  In today’s context, the consequences can be far, far worse.

An alternative perspective in Pakistan sees attacks as an Indian response to the hit on their embassy in Kabul, for which the Indians have reflexively blamed Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.

Few see the Karachi attacks as having been executed by a Taliban-like group punishing the Awami National Party (ANP) for the Khyber Agency operations.


Musharraf Starts Biting

Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher’s statement, made to Nawaz Sharif a week ago, that Pervez Musharraf is a “non-issue” couldn’t be further from the truth.  Musharraf has been staying politically relevant and seems to becoming more aggressive. He has and will continue to serve as a source of instability and division within Pakistan.

Musharraf told the aforementioned audience in Karachi,”My belief is that we need to let go of past events and look to the future.”  But he then, in a display of militaristic bravado, demonstrated why he is psychologically incapable of achieving political rapprochement with his foes when he spoke of being a “commando” and said: “My training is offensive–not defensive…I’ve learned to give an offensive response.”

Musharraf has displayed little to no inclination to be a figurehead.  He will continue to pit the country’s two largest parties against one another, a divide and rule strategy that exploits their traditional rivalry, keeps him afloat, and Pakistan continuously unstable.  Musharraf has been able to absorb an onslaught of political blows in recent months.  That is because he has a bullet proof vest jointly manufactured in Rawalpindi and Washington.  But every time he gets hit, his vestless country does as well.

Finally, Musharraf should be more cautious over his association with the MQM.  If he continues along his present path, he will fall into the trap of Pakistan’s ethnic-linguistic politics and be painted as an ‘Urdu-speaking militant’ or as a mini-Altaf Hussain.


A Thorny Olive Branch to Nawaz

Musharraf recently said that he’s willing to reconcile with everyone–including Nawaz Sharif.  His strategy with the Sharif brothers has been to speak softly sometimes but carry a large stick.  Musharraf has kept their political future questionable, dangling them over the edge of a cliff so as to induce capitulation.   Compromise with Musharraf, as the PPP can attest to, is a form of political castration, if not suicide.  The PML-N has benefitted from being seen as pure from the Musharraf mess.  As a result, in the foreseeable future it’s difficult to see the possibility of both Musharraf and Nawaz in “elected” office.


Zardari’s Slow Political Suicide

What is Asif Zardari doing?  Months ago, he said he would visit Balochistan, the insurgency-ravaged, least developed, and resource rich province.  He comes from a Sindhi tribe that is of Baloch origin.  As the de-facto prime minister of the country, he needs to take advantage of the civilian government’s albeit declining political capital and work for a peaceful, political resolution to the insurgency.  Zardari has yet to visit Balochistan.  Instead, he went on an extended trip to Saudi Arabia (partly to avoid a mini-political crisis in Islamabad) and has since gone to Turkey and Greece.  He attended an international socialist moot and delivered some antiquated anti-imperialist rhetoric.

Since, April or so, Zardari has been effectively committing political suicide.  It’s been one of the stranger developments in Pakistani politics.  Having restored his public image, Zardari is now seen as the same schemer of old.  He can blame a faceless conspiracy as much as he wants.  But all too many Pakistanis believe he’s part and parcel of it.  Until he makes a permanent cut of ties with Musharraf, he and his government will likely weaken as time goes on.

On a broader point: The era of indirect governance needs to come to an end.  Zardari should run for the National Assembly when a seat opens.  His sister can easily vacate hers (which was actually Benazir’s).  Nawaz Sharif should be permitted to run for elections.  He and Zardari should lead their parties in parliament.  If Musharraf’s political presence is an unavoidable reality, then he should resign from the presidency and join a political party.  He has not and will never be a non-partisan figure.  The presidency is best suited for an apolitical character who will be content with its soon to be reduced portfolio.


PPP-SB Flexing Tiny Muscles

Last week, Sassi Saura Bhutto–daughter of Shahnawaz, niece of Benazir, and granddaugther of Zulfiqar Ali–arrived in Pakistan for her first visit.  The 26-year old Columbia graduate student was received by a ‘dissident’ faction of the Bhuttos: the tiny PPP-SB (Shaheed Bhutto) group that centers around the widow of Mir Murtaza Bhutto, Ghinwa, her step-daughter Fatima, and her son Zulfikar Ali “Junior.”

Sassi’s visit to Pakistan comes as there has been much speculation on the emergence of a serious counter to Zardari’s PPP faction.  Such speculation focuses around a pool of disgruntled current and ex-PPP figures, including the aforementioned, plus Amin Fahim, Naheed Khan (BB’s best friend), Safdar Abbasi (NK’s husband), and Mumtaz Bhutto (Benazir’s uncle and head of the Bhutto tribe).

Sassi’s visit is, however, muchado about nothing.  According to Fatima Bhutto’s spokesman, Sassi is not interested in politics.  She also does not seem to offer much utility at the present moment.

Some have suggested that Ghinwa is using Sassi to bolster her case in a family property dispute.  But what’s also possible is that Ghinwa is preparing for the next generation battle in the PPP.

Benazir’s two daughters, Bakhtawar and Asifa, have been inducted into the party leadership.  The former will head the women’s wing, while the latter will head the youth wing.  The two have lived most of their lives out of Pakistan and are not fluent in any of the local languages.  The same goes for the child monarch, Bilawal, who is party co-chairman.  But he will, according to Salmaan Taseer, lead some rallies in Punjab this August.

And so, in a sense, the future is now.


A.Q. Khan Passes the Boundary

Abdul Qadeer Khan’s house arrest has been eased since the formation of the present government in Islamabad.  He’s taken advantage of the relative freedom, giving as much as a dozen television and print media interviews.  Khan’s sought to defend his legacy and press for his full release.  He’s become more desparate in recent days, threatening to expose Musharraf and Pakistan’s military.  He did exactly that on Friday when he told an Associated Press reporter that he transferred centrifuges to North Korea with the help of Pakistan’s miitary and potentially the knowledge of Musharraf.  In doing so, Khan exceeded his bounds delineated by both Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment as well as general public opinion.  His excess has backfired, putting him on the defensive and could cause him to quiet down in the short term.

Musharraf’s Toughest Opponent

Warning: Pretty uncouth language.

The Pakistan Pirs Party

Bas, dua kare!


Arif Rafiq, a Washington, DC-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. [About]

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Arif Rafiq regularly appears on the John Batchelor Show Friday nights from 09:30-10:00pm Eastern Time. Tune your dial to 770AM in New York or 630AM in DC. The show appears on affiliates in other cities. Listen live online at WABCRadio.com.
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