The Day Af­ter

It would have been rou­tine in any other part of the world. In Pak­istan’s case, it is be­ing hailed as a his­toric event.

Southasia - - Contents - By S.G. Ji­la­nee

With spec­u­la­tions of mas­sive rig­ging in Pak­istan’s gen­eral elec­tions, how will the newly elected govern­ment steer Pak­istan to­wards pros­per­ity and growth?

Elec­tions in a demo­cratic dis­pen­sa­tion are no big deal. Nor were the elec­tions on 11 May, the first in Pak­istan. But what made th­ese elec­tions “his­toric” -- al­most sur­real -- was that for the first time in the sixty-five years of the coun­try’s ex­is­tence, fair and free elec­tions were held af­ter the pre­vi­ous govern­ment had com­pleted its full term.

The change has stunned ob­servers. A vivid sign of it was the swirling crowds of vot­ers flock­ing to the polling sta­tions. They stood in line for hours un­der the hot sun and de­fied Tal­iban threats to ex­er­cise their demo­cratic right.

The polls pre­sented a rare glimpse of vot­ers “hav­ing come of age” as they ex­ploded the myth of feu­dal in­flu­ence by re­ject­ing many stal­warts. Those shown the door in­cluded ANP chief As­fand­yar Wali, PPP’s Raja Pervez Ashraf, Yusuf Raza Gi­lani’s two sons, Mian Man­zoor Wat­too, Ch Ah­mad Mukhtar, Qa­mar Za­man Kaira, Dr Fir­dous Ashiq Awan and even the once for­mi­da­ble Pun­jab gover­nor, Ghu­lam Mustafa Khar. Ten years ago such a feat would have been in­cred­i­ble.

In con­se­quence of the de­ba­cle there has been a raft of res­ig­na­tions in the PPP, from its vice-chair­man, Yusuf Raza Gi­lani, its Pun­jab pres­i­dent Wat­too and Chaudhry Aitezaz Ah­san to Ambassador Sherry Rehman.

An­a­lysts are there­fore scratch­ing their pates to dis­cover the agent of change. What per­suaded the es­tab­lish­ment and ISI to give up their fa­vorite pas­time and take a back seat? Was it the re­al­iza­tion that their ad­ven­tur­ism has dis­fig­ured Pak­istan’s im­age be­yond recog­ni­tion be­fore the world com­mu­nity and the coun­try can take no more? The pic­ture that has emerged shows that there is no “national party” with a solid foot­ing in all prov­inces. PML (N) is a Pun­jabi prod­uct. Its claim as a national po­lit­i­cal force is di­luted by the measly num­ber of seats it has se­cured in the provin­cial as­sem­blies other than Pun­jab. The two seats in Karachi were won by Messrs Mar­wat and As­lam Baloch due to their per­sonal pop­u­lar­ity, not the PML (N) logo.

The same goes for the PPP. With only 31 seats at the fed­eral level, it can­not even play the role of an ef­fec­tive op­po­si­tion. On the other hand, it has im­proved upon its past record in the Sindh assem­bly with 69 seats.

Even Imran Khan’s suc­cesses in KP and Pun­jab are due to his be­ing partly Pakhtun (Waziri) and a Pun­jabi (Ni­azi).

There have been com­plaints of “dhan­dli” (rig­ging) but th­ese are rou­tine and mi­nor, com­pared to the past record of “jhur­loo” when bal­lot pa­pers were lit­er­ally swept with a broom and packed in the bal­lot boxes. How­ever, the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion has or­dered re-polling in 43 polling sta­tions of NA-250 Karachi. The MQM has protested against this de­ci­sion be­cause it yields to Imran Khan’s de­mand. The MQM wants re-polling in the en­tire con­stituency.

Fe­lic­i­ta­tions are pour­ing in from all cor­ners, in­clud­ing Obama and Kerry from the US, David Cameron from the UK, while Man­mo­han Singh and Rahul Gandhi from In­dia have also spo­ken with Nawaz Sharif. Sig­nif­i­cantly, be­sides “wel­com­ing this his­toric peace­ful and trans­par­ent trans­fer of civil­ian power” and prais­ing peo­ples’ “com­mit­ment to demo­cratic rule,” Pres­i­dent Obama also held out an of­fer of con­tin­ued co­op­er­a­tion with Pak­istan “as equal part­ners.” “My ad­min­is­tra­tion looks for­ward to con­tin­u­ing our co­op­er­a­tion with the Pak­istani govern­ment that emerges from this elec­tion as equal part­ners in sup­port­ing a more sta­ble, se­cure, and pros­per­ous fu­ture for the peo­ple of Pak­istan,” Obama said.

Mian Nawaz Sharif is poised for

the hat trick as prime min­is­ter. His PML (N) is the largest party in the NA with 126 solid seats out of 272. In­de­pen­dents and some other splin­ter par­ties are flock­ing to PML (N) while Sharif sent a del­e­ga­tion to Pir Pagara invit­ing his Func­tional Mus­lim League to co­a­lesce at the Cen­tre.

Po­lit­i­cal pun­dits are pars­ing the elec­tion pic­ture and the causes of PPP’s phe­nom­e­nal rout. The con­sen­sus is that PPP suf­fered from a lead­er­ship cri­sis. Young Bi­lawal is nei­ther ZAB nor BB. He stayed holed up for fear of his life dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign. Rud­der­less and adrift in a choppy po­lit­i­cal sea, the party with­drew from the pub­lic scene. There were no ral­lies, no meet-the-peo­ple plan, no me­dia blitz or even an elec­tion mas­ter.

Kib­itzers are kib­itz­ing Sharif about the do’s and don’ts of his next term. How­ever, the vibes com­ing from him en­dorse the com­mon feel­ing that he has changed af­ter the buf­fets he in­vited due to his ear­lier im­petu­ous ac­tions. That he played ball with the PPP govern­ment for five years in­stead of try­ing clan­des­tine means to top­ple it as in the past, speaks vol­umes in fa­vor of his po­lit­i­cal ma­tu­rity. He is no longer the ar­ro­gant Nawaz Sharif that would send ruf­fi­ans to raid the Supreme Court and chase away the Chief Jus­tice, pick quar­rels with the pres­i­dent, or for­bid the plane car­ry­ing the army chief from land­ing any­where in Pak­istan. Nor may he as­sume the ti­tle of ameerul mom­i­neen this time. With In­dia, he in­tends to pick up the thread from where it had snapped af­ter the visit of Prime Min­is­ter Va­j­payee. In his con­ver­sa­tion with Man­mo­han Singh he as­sured the lat­ter that there will be no more Kargil or Mum­bai. Sharif has also changed the tone and tenor of his rhetoric to­wards the United States from stri­dent to con­cil­ia­tory. At home, he post­poned his elec­tion cam­paign for a day af­ter his ri­val Imran Khan had an ac­ci­dent. And af­ter the elec­tions, he vis­ited Khan in the hos­pi­tal where both vowed to bury the hatchet.

How­ever, there has been no sim­i­lar dis­play of ca­ma­raderie to­wards the PPP and MQM. The ques­tion be­ing asked there­fore is: will he start an ac­tion re­play of the ear­lier army op­er­a­tion against MQM? Will he try to ac­quire the im­age of a “national” leader or re­main con­tent as Pun­jab’s spokesman, be­cause, for national lead­er­ship, only en­gag­ing Pir Pagara, and ig­nor­ing PPP and MQM, won’t do?

An­other ques­tion is how will he deal with Pervez Mushar­raf now that he has the up­per hand? Will he launch an in­quiry into Kargil or sim­ply re­fer Mushar­raf to the Supreme Court to be tried for high trea­son?

Many crit­i­cal chal­lenges await Sharif, in­clud­ing a stalled econ­omy, load shed­ding, cor­rup­tion and ter­ror­ism. He has been known to fa­vor dia­logue with the in­sur­gents. But the army chief in­sists that fight­ing them is “our war.” Th­ese con­flict­ing view­points call for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

In the provin­cial as­sem­blies, PML (N) swept Pun­jab with 205 seats out of 287. So it will rule. In Sindh, PPP which won 69 out of 130 seats can form the govern­ment on its own. But it has in­vited the MQM as a coali­tion part­ner. In KP, PTI, with the max­i­mum seats (34) will form the govern­ment with sup­port as­sured by PML (N). In Balochis­tan, PkMAP with 11 seats has a chance. But in­de­pen­dents and PML (N), each, has eight seats and JUI (F) has six. It will there­fore de­pend on how th­ese ac­tors play their hands.

Elec­tions have put Pak­istan at the cusp of a mo­men­tous change. Pol­i­cy­mak­ers will need to demon­strate their cre­den­tials to achieve their goals. The first 100 days will be closely watched for sam­pling the per­for­mance of “third time lucky” Nawaz Sharif.

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