BREAKING NEWS: Opposition Parties Crush Musharraf Allies

PPP and PML-N Sweep Polls

Aaj Television, a major Pakistani news channel, estimates that the leading opposition parties, the People’s Party (PPP) and Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), together will receive approximately 78% of the total parliamentary seats. If the estimate holds true, the PPP and PML-N will have the ability to impeach President Pervez Musharraf and amend the constitution. They could remove Musharraf, restore the deposed judiciary, repeal Musharraf’s constitutional amendments, and push for parliamentary supremacy. The two parties could form a national unity government together or compete against one another to form a government with the remaining parties–including the PML-Q.

National Assembly Seat Estimates by Aaj Television (Total – 272 Seats):

  • PPP: ~110
  • PML-N: ~100
  • PML-Q: ~20-30
  • MQM & Others: ~30

Provincial Assemblies Outlook:

  • Punjab: PML-N, dominating the province’s north, central, and urban areas, is on top with a large lead.
  • Sindh: PPP ahead with a strong showing. MQM trails behind.
  • NWFP: ANP — a secular, ethnic party– strong in NWFP and wins in Swat, site of jihadi insurgency.
  • Balochistan: PML-Q ahead followed by PPP.


Major PML-Q Losses: Party President Shujaat Hussain, National Assembly Speaker Amir Hussain, Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri, Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid, Hamid Nasir Chattha, Defense Minister Rao Sikander, Religious Affairs Minister Ijazul Haq, Sher Afgan Niazi, Danial Aziz, Humayun Akhtar Khan, and Ghulam Sarwar Khan. Sheikh Rashid has reportedly fled to Spain.

The Survivors: Pervaiz Elahi and Faisal Saleh Hayat, however, won respectively in NA-58 and NA-88.

Close Call for the Maulana: Maulana Fazlur Rehman (JUI-F) wins safe seat in Bannu (NA-26), but loses at home in Dera Ismail Khan.

The Turnout: Turnout, according to Sarwar Bari of the Free and Fair Elections Network, was approximately 35%.

Violence: 26 killed in poll-related violence.

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Pakistan Decides: Election Day Coverage

Musharraf-Allied, Former Ruling Party Faces Major Losses

People’s Party and Muslim-League Nawaz Lead Nationally

Awami National Party Ahead in NWFP

Shujaat Hussain, Sheikh Rashid, and Amir Hussain Defeated

Polls officially opened in Pakistan at 8AM local time (10PM, Sunday in New York) and will close at 5PM (7AM, New York). The opening was delayed in many locations due to technical reasons or disputes over electoral rolls.

11:42AM (Islamabad)/01:43AM (New York): Turnout is reportedly low. But it’s early in the morning.

11:54AM (Islamabad)/01:55AM (New York): Blasts reported at three polling stations in Quetta. Hand grenades and other explosive material used. No one killed; two arrested.

12:07PM (Islamabad)/02:07 AM (New York): AAJ Television reports turnout is fairly high in Rawalpindi, but low in Lahore, perhaps due to recent terror attacks.

12:24PM (Islamabad)/02:24 AM (New York): High turnout in Sukkur, but some women going back home because of long lines. Turnout in Peshawar fairly low. Recent terror attacks there.

01:25PM (Islamabad)/03:25 AM (New York): DawnNews reports that militants have kidnapped polling agents in Bannu, NWFP (NA-26).

01:59PM (Islamabad)/03:59 AM (New York): GEO reports strong turnout in Nawabshah, Sindh. Pace should pick up somewhat elsewhere in the country into the afternoon as the temperature rises.

05:30PM (Islamabad)/07:30 AM (New York): Polling was to end at 5PM across the country, but seems to have been extended in some districts to encourage those that haven’t voted. Official results from some districts are coming in but very incomplete (e.g. 1/242 polling stations).

05:45PM (Islamabad)/07:45 AM (New York):

Turnout in previous Pakistan National Assembly elections:

  • 43.07% (1998)
  • 45.46% (1990)
  • 40.28% (1993)
  • 35.42 (1997)
  • 41.8% (2002)

05:51PM (Islamabad)/07:51AM (New York): Suggestions of low turnout in Lahore. Could be high in Sindh, excluding Karachi and Hyderabad. If true, could fare well for PPP and not for PML-N.

06:01PM (Islamabad)/08:01AM (New York): Kamran Khan of GEO says the very preliminary results indicate the PPP ahead nationally with the PML-Q and PML-N nearly tied for second. In the NWFP, the ANP is doing better than in 2002. But the results coming in seem to be less than 1% per district.

06:01PM (Islamabad)/08:01AM (New York): Afrasiyab Khattak of the ANP seems pretty content with the elections proceedings, an indication of positive results for his party. Referred to turnout in NWFP as “slow, but steady.”

06:19PM (Islamabad)/08:19AM (New York): Pervez Musharraf said earlier today on the government-run PTV (in English) after casting his vote, “whoever [wins], I strongly believe that this politics of confrontation must give way to the politics of reconciliation….I myself with remain committed to a politics of reconciliation with everyone. Whoever is the winner, let them form government, let them run the government for five years, let them ensure the continuity of economic sustainability of this economic upsurge and let us continue to fight this scourge of terrorism more strongly beyond today’s elections.”

Order of PTV News Coverage: President Pervez Musharraf, Musharraf’s Wife and Mother, Interim Prime Minister Muhammad Mian Soomro, PML-Q President Shujaat Hussain, PML-Q Central Leader Pervez Ellahi, PML-N leaders Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif, PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari, JUI-F Chief Maulana Fazlur Rahman, and PPP-S Chairman Aftab Sherpao. According to the Center for Civic Education, the PML-Q received more coverage on state-run television than the PPP and PML-N combined. The PML-Q also spent more on advertising than all other parties combined.

06:53PM (Islamabad)/08:53AM (New York): An analyst on the government-run PTV says that “in a hung parliament, Pakistan’s masses will be stronger.”

08:01PM (Islamabad)/10:01AM (New York): Official election results could be in at 9PM Islamabad/11AM New York.

08:48PM (Islamabad)/10:48AM (New York): The New York Times states turnout in the NWFP was around 20%.

08:58PM (Islamabad)/10:58AM (New York): First complete result is in: Yaqoob Bizenjo of the Balochistan National Party (BNP) wins in NA-272 — ironic, no? He defeats Zubaida Jalal, an independent formerly with the PML-Q, and four other opponents.

09:00PM (Islamabad)/11:00AM (New York): Najmuddin Khan of the PPP wins in NA-33.

09:40PM (Islamabad)/11:40AM (New York): Maulana Fazlur Rahman is losing by a wide margin in NA-24, but NA-26 seems like a safe seat for him.

10:32PM (Islamabad)/12:32PM (New York): The overall trends are leaning toward a strong showing for the PML-N in urban Punjab, the PPP in Sindh (outside of Karachi and Hyderabad), and the ANP in NWFP.

10:49PM (Islamabad)/12:49PM (New York): A GEO analyst makes an excellent point — the data could have an urban bias. Necessary to wait and see how the PML-Q does in rural Punjab where it has focused its campaigning.

Tuesday – 01:15AM (Islamabad)/Monday – 03:15PM (New York): Chaudhry Shujaat loses to Ahmed Mukhtar in hometown of Gujrat/NA-105.

01:44AM (Islamabad)/Monday – 03:44PM (New York): Aaj TV: PPP surge in southern Punjab?

02:19AM (Islamabad)/Monday – 04:19PM (New York): More PML-Q losses: Former National Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Amir Hussain and Danyal Aziz.

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Pakistan’s 2008 Elections: Countdown Ends, Voting Begins

Managed Competition
Millions of Pakistanis will head to the polls today, ostensibly to select their federal and provincial representatives, who in turn will choose the new prime minister and chief ministers. Will their votes matter? To a certain extent, yes. These elections are an exercise in managed competition.

In many electoral districts, the voting public will genuinely decide the victor. Elsewhere, Pervez Musharraf & Co. will actively intervene, skewing the results in their own favor.

That the polls would be rigged was never really a matter of debate. The real questions have been and remain: to what extent will the polls be rigged and where? How far will Musharraf go? Who will lose most from the rigging? Will the rigging–to use one of Musharraf’s favorite military terms–be “surgical” or more of a “shock and awe” variety? If Musharraf opts for the former, he can perhaps stay afloat. If he overstretches, then he will likely be submerged by both the opposition and elements of the so-called “establishment.”

So what would surgical and shock and awe rigging look like exactly? They’re best differentiated by their byproducts.

Surgical rigging could do any number of the following:

  • Prevent the opposition from gaining the 2/3 National Assembly majority necessary to impeach Musharraf and amend the constitution. The PPP, PML-N, and ANP could form a government together, yet be unable to reach the threshold above to fully challenge Musharraf. They would need the support of the JUI-F and independents, making these two segments much sought over.
  • Balance out the PML-N and PPP, giving them equal opportunity to produce a government. This would pit them against one another and give particular weight to the Musharraf-allied PML-Q, making it a sought-after king maker.
  • Have the PML-Q cede the center to the opposition, but form a government in Punjab, keeping it very much alive.
  • Give the PPP its expected plurality, but put the PML-Q in second at the expense of the PML-N. The PML-N would cry foul, but with the PPP would be content with the elections, the PML-N’s objections would be dismissed as those of sore losers.

More ambitious, shock and awe rigging could do any number of the following:

  • Give the PML-Q a plurality of seats and let it form a national government with the MQM, PML-F, and potential others.
  • Significantly dilute the PPP’s share in Sindh, forcing it to pair with the MQM to produce a government there.
  • Give the PML-Q a weighty position in a Balochistan and NWFP governing coalition.

Surgical rigging would serve two functions: prevent Musharraf’s opponents from ousting him, while keeping them involved in the political process so as to maintain the elections’ and next government’s legitimacy. Musharraf would fare better if he successfully divided the PPP and PML-N and facilitated their reversion to mutual antagonism.

Shock and awe rigging would put Musharraf’s allies in power and the PPP and PML-N into the streets. Musharraf, who has said he would repress post-poll protests, would likely be shown the exit by an Army unwilling to defend a massively rigged elections process. A new president and caretaker government would then likely schedule elections within a few months at latest.

Post-Election Maneuvering
The intrigue does not end when the last ballot is counted. The post-election period, in which a ruling coalition is formed if a single party fails to obtain a majority is as important as the pre-election and election periods. If the elections are accepted by the opposition (the People’s Party vote counts most), then the machinations for shaping the next government will begin.

Recall what happened after the 2002 elections. The PML-Q won a plurality of seats (almost 50% more than the second place PPP), but the PPP won the overall popular vote (which has little electoral value). It took a month for the PML-Q to get enough votes for its prime ministerial nominee, Zafarullah Jamali, and they obtained a slim majority (52%) through a coalition with the MQM as well as PPP defectors and a lot of exchanged money, favors, and threats. Even if there are no debilitating objections to the poll results, the process of forming a government will take a while and a wide variety of governing coalitions are possible.

Washington, as senior Pakistani journalist Nusrat Javed says, prefers a PPP + PML-Q government. This can be a reality. Though PPP Co-Chairman Asif Zardari has met with Nawaz Sharif several times in recent days, he also recently met with Musharraf’s chief advisor Tariq Aziz. Washington must certainly like Zardari’s recent statement that the the army’s fight against the Taliban is “our war.” And it has made it pretty clear it isn’t too fond of Nawaz Sharif. Indeed, things are not necessarily over for the PML-Q. It could change its face and, as some expect, push Chaudhry-alternates Hamid Nasir Chatta or Khurshid Kasuri as party leaders or PM candidates. Alternatively, many in the PML-Q could sense the tide changing and jump ship (or return) to the PML-N. Musharraf has an large array of tools at his disposal, though far less institutional backing than in 2002. A moderately-restrained Musharraf could pull yet another bike trick and end up standing. But, an overzealous Musharraf can crash, not only destroying himself but also the cycle (the PML-Q’s election symbol).

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The Election Campaigns Hit the Screens

With Pakistan’s elections scheduled for next Monday, the political parties are in their final press for votes.  As noted earlier, Asif Ali Zardari is leading the People’s Party campaigning in Punjab.  The PPP will perform well in Sindh, outside of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) stronghold of Karachi.  The real battle has been and always will be for Punjab.  Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League (PML-Q) will capture much of northern, urban Punjab.  The Muslim League-Quaid faction will compete with the PML-N and PPP for lesser developed southern Punjab.The respective strongholds and contested areas figure into each party’s political ads.  The website, PKPolitics, has posted some of the television advertisements from the PML-N, PML-Q, and PPP.

The People’s Party has been rallying on the cult of Bhutto.  Their two advertisements features what appears to be clips from Benazir’s final speech at Liaquat Bagh.  An impassioned Benazir cries out in one ad, “Bhutto is not dead!  Bhutto is alive!”   She was referring to her father, but now these last words of hers are posthumously applied to her.  In another ad, Benazir says, “They can’t keep me away from my country’s people….Our living is together.  Our dying is together.”  The PPP is running not on a track record of policy achievement, but on a track record of producing martyrs.  This is what will push it forward in Sindh, parts of Punjab, and pockets of Balochistan and the NWFP.

From the PPP’s ‘Benazir the Martyr’, we come to the PML-N and its theme ‘Nawaz the Lion’.  Sharif’s advertisements are long–a reflection of the type of money he has put into his campaign.

The first PML-N advertisement features a nice jingle with this chorus: “The entire country has one chant: the lion [Nawaz] is ours.”  It depicts Nawaz as the custodian of the poor, a bridge builder, defender of the judiciary and the media, and initiator of many mega development projects, such as the coastal highway.  Sharif seeks to revive the public association of him with pro-growth economic policies and large development projects while also mixing two more timely issues: rising pressure on the poor (via inflation, etc.) and the attacks on the judiciary and media.

The second PML-N advertisement is effectively a speech by Nawaz to the people of Pakistan.  He says he’s not here for personal reasons, but for the service of Pakistan.  Sharif urges voters to go out to the polls on February 18, stating that their decision next Monday is as important as the one made on August 14, 1947 (Pakistan’s day of independence).  He calls on voters to send a message to “all those forces” (i.e. Musharraf and the PML-Q) that have put Pakistan in its present predicament marked by broken institutions, rising terror, uncertainty, and economic woes.  A vote for the PML-N is a vote for truth, justice, and change.

Pervez Musharraf’s preferred party, the PML-Q, won’t even show him in its advertisements.  Previously, PML-Q ads would depict both Pervaiz Elahi (former Punjab chief minister) and Musharraf.  For much of this year, a PML-Q (or Punjab provincial government) ad had Elahi stating at its end, “Every step is toward happiness.”   That ad was pulled sometime in the fall — perhaps after the October assassination attempt on Benazir Bhutto.

The PML-Q has lacked a central charismatic figure.  Viewed as a King’s party formed of servile opportunists, its major patron (Musharraf) is now its greatest liability.  Lacking any real definition, the party presents itself as the same Muslim League led by Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah.  Though it has done this since its inception — the “Q” stands for Quaid-e Azam (the Great Leader), the honorific given to Jinnah — we see this done a bit more aggressively in the PML-Q’s final election 2008 push.

Its first ad begins with audio of a crowd chanting “Long live Quaid-e Azam!  Long live the Muslim League!” pulled from the Pakistan independence movement archives.  This segment is followed by audio of Jinnah declaring the education of Pakistan’s young people as an imperative.  Then a narrator says assertively, “Quaid-e Azam’s mission is the Muslim League’s mission.”   He claims that the PML-Q has offered free education and books for primary and secondary school students.  They have pushed forward Jinnah’s mission and they will complete it.

Its second ad is similar to Nawaz’s first as it rolls through a list of claimed developmental achievements ranging from free education and medical care to the development of the new port in Gwadar.  Interestingly, Nawaz Sharif’s ad posited him as the initiator of this plan.

The political advertisements provide a revealing lens on the campaign strategies of Pakistan’s political parties.  The People’s Party has been light on policy, though it has long been associated with the pro-poor slogan “Roti, Kapra, Makan” (Bread, Clothing, and a Home), and bullish on its newest martyr, Benazir Bhutto.  Before Benazir’s murder, the PPP mobilized the masses with a charismatic populism, and this approach has only intensified afterward.  Both the Muslim League-Quaid and Muslim League-Nawaz present themselves as results-oriented governors behind far-reaching economic development and humanitarian projects.  Both try to say, “We get stuff done.”  But while the PML-Q lacks a popular base and a central figure, Nawaz Sharif has a loyal following in northern Punjab and transformed from a Zia-protege to a man of his own semi-charismatic self.  He has long been the development guy, but now Sharif also seeks to be the defender of the judiciary, media, and inflation-struck poor and middle classes.

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Musharraf: Elections Delayed till February 18; Britain to Assist in Investigation

In a national address this evening in Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf sought to legitimize the delay in elections announced earlier in the day. He attributed the polls delay–now slated for February 18–to the infrastructural damage in Sindh as a result of the violence following Bhutto’s murder. The election commission’s offices in the province, for example, were attacked and voters rolls were allegedly destroyed.

Musharraf announced the formation of a commission that would investigate the causes of and actors behind the post-assassination violence. The elections, he said, would be not only “free and fair,” but also “peaceful.” Toward this, the army and rangers will remain deployed in Sindh into and after the elections. Musharraf defended his use of the army for internal security, stating that he initially did not wish to add to its heavy burden, but was compelled to do so.

Clearly, Musharraf is most moved by the deterioration of law and order, which he sees ultimately as an attack on his power. The murder of a two-time prime minister near the seat of the army, in his view, is now a peripheral matter. If it was truly primary, he would announce an independent commission, formed in concert with the opposition, to supervise the investigation.

Moreover, if he truly believes that Baitullah Mehsud is responsible for the murder of a former Pakistani prime minister, shouldn’t he have announced that the army would make a renewed, aggressive attempt to apprehend Mehsud, try him before a court of law, and–if convicted–execute him? Is not the murder of a former prime minister, in effect, an act of treason?

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Bhutto Was to Give U.S. Senator “Secret” Document on Day She Was Slain

CNN reports that Benazir Bhutto was to give U.S. officials a “secret” document on the day she was killed. The document details measures by which Pakistan’s intelligence services would allegedly rig the elections. Bhutto intended to give the dossier first to Sen. Arlen Specter then to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

The choice of these American politicians is interesting. It suggests that Bhutto believed they would be more effective than elements in the Bush administration. Specter, who was in Islamabad ready to visit Bhutto later Thursday evening, often diverges with the Bush administration despite being a Republican. Clinton and Obama are leading Democratic contenders who would relish an opportunity to throw a blow at the Bush administration’s foreign policy. Pakistan provides such an opportunity given the perceived success of the Iraq surge and its integrality to the Afghanistan problem — the primordial post-9/11 U.S. national security issue.

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Pakistan’s Game of Musical Chairs Continues

The second of Pakistan’s two major opposition parties has bitten the forbidden fruit. Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N announced yesterday that they will contest the upcoming national and provincial assembly elections in January.

The decision comes after Sharif and PPP head Benazir Bhutto failed to come to terms on a Charter of Demands on Friday. The lack of an acrimonious split between the two could be telling. Have they, in the end, effectively agreed to a Charter of Demands sans the restoration of the pre-November 3rd judges prior to elections?

After all, it’s the only issue that was keeping the two apart. Moreover, Sharif could not be seen as consenting to the PPP’s demand to postpone the judges issue till after the polls. Much of his renewed support stems from his appropriation of the pro-judiciary movement’s support base.

BBC Urdu reports that the PML-N, like the PPP, has termed its electoral participation “in protest.” Sharif’s move of going through the motions with Bhutto only to ‘fail’, and then putting his hat in the ring with the justification that someone needs to counter the PML-Q in the polls, gives him plausible deniability vis-a-vis the judges issue.

Benazir Bhutto departure for Dubai on Friday has set off some speculation that something significant, besides the end of emergency rule, could occur on December 15. Musharraf imposed emergency rule the last time she left for the emirate.Trailing behind Bhutto is none other than Attorney General and Musharraf aide Malik Qayyum. He’s in Dubai till Tuesday to negotiate some legal-constitutional issues with Benazir. Emergency rule will be lifted on Saturday, giving Musharraf only a few days left to amend the constitution by decree. Expect something nice for both Mushy and BB.

The PML-N’s entry into the fold furthers the odds of a hung parliament. No one party will gain a numerical majority. The Chaudhries-led PML-Q will take a hit from the PML-N, with the latter taking most of urban Punjab, leaving the former with the province’s rural areas.The PML-Q will receive support from allied parties in Sindh such as the PML-F and MQM, but the PPP will likely make a stronger showing in Sindh than in 2002. The PPP, in fact, could be going it alone by fielding candidates in every election district. There are, however, reports of possible seat adjustment arrangements with the JUI-F and/or the PML-N.

The coming parliamentary alliances are not set. Presumably, the PPP is seeking the maximum number of seats before the election, enabling it approach coalition talks with maximum leverage.

Seat adjustment arrangements are a fairly reliable sign of which parties pair up together. Ultimately, it’s the seats that count and it is significant if two parties agree not to compete against one another in select districts.

The PML-Q has already picked its friends, including the MQM, PML-F, and PPP-S. But will they be enough?

Let’s take a look at the numbers. The PML-Q and PPP could both end up with around 100 seats each in the 342 member parliament. Shares of the MMA and PML-N will likely respectively decrease and increase. Both might end up with around 50 seats. In a 342-member National Assembly, the MMA, PML-N, smaller parties, and independents will play the role of king maker.

In the end, this is mostly a race between the PML-Q and PPP. The real questions are: How many assembly seats will the PML-Q lose? How many will the PML-N and PPP gain? And will the MMA make a strong electoral showing again?

UPDATE – December 11, 2007 (1:14PM) – An “estimate” by Pakistani intelligence services of the January election, as reported by Dawn, is much in accord with mine. It has the PML-Q taking 115 seats, the PPP 90, MMA 45, PML-N 40, MQM 20, and the ANP 12. Based on this estimate, the PML-Q could form a government with the support of the MQM, MMA, and the PML-F. It would, however, need the support of the PPP for reaching the 2/3 threshold for validating Musharraf’s suspension of the constitution, should that even be necessary. Alternatively, the PPP could form a government with the PML-N, MMA, and if necessary, the ANP. Either scenario makes the pro-Taliban MMA the king maker for Pakistan’s next government.

Political alliances in Pakistan have always been unwieldy. Musharraf has managed to hold the PML-Q, MQM, and defacto coalition member JUI-F together over the course of five years. But that was while he was army chief of staff and Bhutto and Sharif were on the bench.Pakistan’s political elite culture is marked by severe mutual distrust and an absence of governing values. And so as much as Mushahid Hussain of the PML-Q has spoken of a grand national alliance, his peers lack the rudimentary values and traits, such as mutual trust and trustworthiness, required for some sort of lasting consociational framework.

Washington’s fixation on a Bhutto-Musharraf alliance — partially due to its aversion to a return to the civilian discord of the 1990s — is naive. By playing favorites, it ensures that those excluded will play the role of spoiler, as was done then. The military-intelligence apparatus was deeply involved in the politics then, despite the absence of a sitting or ex-general as president. Their plans, in reality, bring Pakistan more back to the 1990s than it thinks.The Bush administration has snubbed Nawaz Sharif, saying he’s too close to Islamists, but its ambassador to Islamabad has no problem meeting regularly with pro-Taliban mullah Fazlur Rahman, a de-facto member of Musharraf’s coalition, who dreams of becoming prime minister.

Sharif’s campaign will likely take a decidedly nationalist orientation. Though this is not inconsistent with his previous campaign strategies, it could have been mitigated with some constructive engagement from Washington.

Today, in an address in Faisalabad, he stated that Musharraf put the head of Pakistan’s nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, under house arrest, while India made its nuclear program chief, Abdul Kalam, president.

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Chatter of Demands

The Benazir-Nawaz team is expected to release its “Charter of Demands” tomorrow or Friday.  A sticking point between the two parties is the restoration of the pre-November 3rd judiciary.  Benazir favors postponing that to after the new National Assembly comes in (if ever), while Nawaz has consistently asserted that this is a pre-condition for his electoral participation.

Bhutto has little sympathy for the deposed judiciary.  She took umbrage at its rejection of the Bhutto and MQM-specific National Reconciliation Ordinance.  In a Dubai press conference, hours before her return to Pakistan after years of exile, Bhutto excoriated the Supreme Court, accusing it of a historically pro-Punjabi bias.  In fact, she effectively stated–guised in the interrogative–that the court did not intervene in the case of Nawaz Sharif, who she described as “a convicted person, a sentenced, convicted person who was prime minister of Pakistan from Punjab [who] was released and sent to Saudi Arabia with 40 suit cases” while her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, “was hanged because he was from Sindh.” [Video]

In contrast, Nawaz Sharif has much to gain from bringing back Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry & Company to office.  Nawaz has hedged much of his political future on being the pro-judiciary politician.  Chaudhry, it is said, leans somewhat toward the PML-N.  Moreover, bringing back the previous Supreme Court means the end of Musharraf, as he’d be held accountable for his subversion of the constitution, and that works more in Nawaz’s favor than Benazir’s.

Beyond this issue, the remaining gaps between Benazir and Nawaz are not considerable.  However, this point of contention is a major one, and should the two camps not reach a compromise, the PPP would likely participate in the polls while the PML-N would abstain.

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Pakistan’s Election* Season Begins

Pakistan’s Election Commission began accepting nominations today for national and provincial assemblies. As a result, the Pakistani government has released thousands of political prisoners, including senior figures that could run in the elections, such as Imran Khan. Others, such as Javed Hashmi and Aitzaz Ahsan, remain imprisoned, though there have been reports that the latter’s release is imminent. Hashmi has spent more time in prison than out in recent years; it is less likely that he and other PML-N figures will receive a reprieve.

The release of political detainees comes because of Pervez Musharraf’s need to have his elections seen as legitimate. With leading politicians under house arrest or in jail, it would be impossible for Musharraf to make the case that he’s held free and fair elections.

Musharraf will likely space out the good news to not only mix with the bad, but to create a sense that there’s progress, that he’s gradually returning Pakistan to a state of constitutional normalcy.

Toward that, he will resign from the army as early as Saturday — a move that will attract significant attention.

Tomorrow, Bhutto and her PPP will decide whether they will participate in the elections. Most likely, she will state that her party will participate conditionally. They have till Monday to submit nomination forms, but they can withdraw their forms as late as December 15. As a result, Bhutto — due to political pragmatism and pressure from Washington — will probably state tomorrow that her party will file their nomination forms and will withdraw them should Musharraf not meet certain requirements. Bhutto will likely ease up on her calls for restoring the Supreme Court justices to office, as that will mean the end of Musharraf as president, but will lobby hard for the lifting of emergency rule and for a variety of changes to ensure that she won’t be duped into elections rigged against her.

Musharraf, however, has proved in recent weeks that he’s not ready to ditch the PML-Q. Support of the army support will remain critical, but Musharraf will, perhaps, also become increasingly dependent on political support from the PML-Q (i.e. the Chaudhries) as well as the MQM and JUI-F. The Election Commission’s code of conduct does not include the restrictions on campaign funding listed in the October draft version. That means Musharraf’s allies will be flooded with enough cash for them to gain a considerable upper-hand over Bhutto’s PPP.

The continuation of emergency rule will remain difficult for Musharraf. He seems to be quite adamant against lifting emergency rule prior to the elections. But George W. Bush, though describing Musharraf “as a man of his word” yesterday, stated “it’ll be hard for those of us who have belief that he’s advanced Pakistan’s democracy to say…that’s still the case [if elections are held under emergency rule].”

Considering that both Bhutto and the Bush administration are firmly against elections under emergency rule, Musharraf — should he not succumb to the pressure — will have to pull some tricks.  Further disturbance — for example, in the form of a terror attack or assassination attempt — would make the continuation of emergency rule more palatable or ‘necessary’.

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Paradoxes and Political Intrigue Persist in Pakistan

Developments in Pakistan in recent days further the view for both insiders and outsiders that the country is a perplexing bowl of contradictions and political intrigue.

The Karachi Stock Exchange closed at all-time highs on Monday and Tuesday. Investor confidence boosted due to Pervez Musharraf’s re-election as president (pending the validation of his candidacy), which they associate with future political stability and continuity of pro-growth, liberal economic policies. Their sentiments might be valid in the mid-term, but the next three months, at the very least, will be a roller coaster period for the country—and Pakistan’s securities markets will likely not be as immune to the volatility as they have been before.

On the same day as the market rally, a helicopter escorting Musharraf to Kashmir crashed, killing four individuals. This was also the first day of work for Musharraf’s slated army successor, Ashfaq Kiyani, as vice chief of army staff. Though the president was never in any danger and there is no sign of foul play, the context eerily resembles the assassination of Zia-ul-Haq in 1988. The accident is a keen reminder that a single event of this sort can have a defining impact, but as with Zia’s demise, need not necessarily result in systemic change.

While investors are buoyant down south in Karachi, the country’s northwest has witnessed some of its most severe fighting between Pakistan’s army and local-foreign insurgents. According to the army, 45 troops and 150 insurgents have been killed in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan. There have also been significant civilian casualties, with non-combatants fleeing the area. The government has been bombarding insurgents from the air with helicopter gunships and jets. The heightened use of air power markedly differs from the government’s previous ground-oriented strategy, which sought to avoid so-called collateral damage and earning further disfavor of locals. It suggests any number of the following:

  • the army has decided its strong avoidance of civilian casualties has been too costly;
  • patience on its side is wearing thin;
  • there is significant external pressure on Islamabad to bring in decisive results before the winter;
  • or a strategic and/or political (via Bhutto deal) window of opportunity has emerged to enable a forceful confrontation of militants.

Perhaps the army has opted for a Balochistan-like strategy, in which it would deliver strong, decisive blows to the insurgency (costing many innocent civilian lives) and follow up with a heavy infusion of development funds. Large scale, yet short-term violence would be complemented by a vast improvement in quality of life and incorporation/subsidization of local elites. In FATA, these funds would largely come from the 5-year $750 million US aid package and opportunities from its duty-free economic opportunity zone program, and would trickle down to the locals via notables with newly padded pockets.

A critical player in the political solution in FATA will be Maulana Fazlur Rahman, who, despite being in the political “opposition,” has proved to be almost as loyal to Musharraf as the Chaudhries. Fazlur Rahman is epitome of the “siyasi ulema” (political Islamic scholars) Abdur Rashid Ghazi lambasted on national television minutes before his demise in the Lal Masjid compound. The JUI-F should play a significant role in liaisoning between FATA notables and insurgents and the federal government/military. Its role in bringing a death blow to the MMA and APDM will not go unrewarded. The pending dissolution of the NWFP assembly will result in fresh provincial elections that might see MMA factions running on their own tickets, and a final tally that places the JUI-F in a stronger individual provincial position than before.

Recent comments by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, and to a lesser extent Shaukat Aziz, have sought to cast doubt on the government’s sincerity in its deal with Benazir Bhutto and her People’s Party. Aziz boasted of having divided and outsmarted the opposition, which is true, and Shujaat bluntly stated that the government has no intention of following through on its promises to Bhutto — and that it it will, in fact, get political cover from the Supreme Court ruling the National Reconciliation Ordinance invalid.

Shujaat’s comments should be taken with a grain (or bucket) of salt. One, Washington — Musharraf’s greatest benefactor — strongly wants the deal to go through fully. Two, Shujaat stands to lose most from the Bhutto-Musharraf deal. Musharraf’s presidency is essentially set (barring a Supreme Court rejection of his candidacy), but Shujaat’s party has to face off against Bhutto’s in the general elections. Images of him and his cousin appear frequently on Pakistani television screens, with a massive wave of advertisements on private channels (source of funding unclear) hailing the achievements of the governments of Musharraf (“Sub se pahlay Pakistan”) and Pervez Ellahi (“Para likha Punjab”). The Chaudhries may have reluctantly consented to a Bhutto-Musharraf deal, but they will show some feistiness to retain their dominance over Punjab and share of federal power.

The rejection of Shujaat’s statements by a Musharraf spokesperson suggests that the president will have to play a fine balancing act between PML-Q partisan and partner of Benazir. It’s the same kind of lack of partiality the Bush administration has sought to display in recent days vis-a-vis Pakistan (i.e. support for the country, not just one man–Musharraf). Should Musharraf alienate his PML-Q base, one might witness the party distancing itself from Musharraf and veering toward some sort of rapprochement, if not re-consolidation, with the PML-N.

The PML-N offers little in political value without the presence of at least one Sharif brother in Pakistan. As a result, the Musharraf government was keen on keeping the former prime minister out of the country prior to his re-election. Since then, they have expressed resistance to his return prior to general-elections — though it is unclear as to whether this is a reflection of the government’s needs or the wishes of the Bhutto camp.

Nawaz is reportedly to return to London after Eid. If proven to be true, it will indicate that Sharif and family were informed of this upon return to Saudi, as Kulsoom Nawaz made such claims early at that point. Also it would prove to partially explain the Sharif family’s relative quietness in the past few weeks. From London, the Sharif brothers could return to Pakistan between November and post-elections in January. Reports suggest family members will trickle into Pakistan individually. Nawaz’s son Hassan has said his father will return to Pakistan between November 15 and 30. A pre-election return is more likely for Shahbaz Sharif. Odds of a Nawaz return pre-elections would multiply if he got another Supreme Court ruling in his favor. If Nawaz returns after the general elections, he could shake things up if discontent in the PML-Q and with others is high. Alternatively, his return could come after the candles have been blow out and the cake has been eaten.

Najam Sethi has stated that the Bhutto-Musharraf understanding will likely produce a PPP government (and Musharraf presidency) at the center, a PML-Q controlled Punjab with a significant PPP presence, a PPP-PML coalition government in NWFP and Balochistan, and a PPP-MQM coalition government in Sindh.

I think Sethi errs in only noting three political mouths (other than his own) Musharraf has to feed. There’s a four rewardee, the JUI-F. Fazlur Rahman’s deeds on behalf of Musharraf in recent weeks, as well as in the past four years, cannot simply be wishful lobbying. JUI-F will likely play an important role in addressing issues of militancy in NWFP, Balochistan, and FATA. Washington probably recognizes and supports this. Moreover, it makes little sense for JUI-F to have enabled Musharraf’s re-election under the current parliament and the fracture of its political alliance only to be punished with a loss of provincial power.

The JUI-F will likely be a part of the NWFP government at least for the same reasons the MQM will share power with the PPP in Sindh. Both were used to displace the previous ruling party, which necessitates a ‘soft landing’ for them — especially since they’re still useful. The PPP’s Sindh compromise is a concession for power at the national level, though its relations with the MQM will have its share of challenges. Sethi doesn’t seem to give much thought to a PML-Q presence at the national level. Mushahid Hussain and others with the party have proposed the idea of a national unity government. While this remains possible, strong animosities between PML-Q stalwarts and the PPP, combined with Benazir Bhutto’s compromises vis-a-vis Musharraf, will likely prohibit her from entertaining such an idea. Why would she accept a prime ministership already diluted by the troika?

The general elections will be held under the rule of a caretaker government. At this point, there is only pure speculation as to who will be the interim prime minister. Candidates include: Jehangir Karamat, Ishrat Hussain, and Hamid Nasir Chattha. Tariq Aziz and Shujaat Hussain have been tasked with arranging for the interim set-up, but clearly Benazir will have significant input in these matters as they will factor significantly in the outcome of the elections (i.e. free and/or favorable).

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

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