Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Pakistan: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

The Good: Free and fair elections have been held, and Bhutto's party, has won the most delegates while the MMA, a religious party that supported the rise of the Taliban - has lost its hold over the Northwest Fronteir Province (NWFP), home of the Taliban and al Qaeda.

The Bad: Musharaffaf's party clearly lost, the pro-Wahhabi / pro-Saudi party of Nawaz Sharif came in second in the voting.

The Ugly: The victors will, in the long term, be able to deal most effectively with the terrorist threat. But in the short-run, they favor negotiating with the "alligator."


The results of the election are nearly counted in what was, by most accounts, a free and fair election. This from the Long War Journal:

Election results are available for 240 of the 272 seats for the National Assembly, as well as for the four provincial assemblies. The PPP -- the party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto -- is in the lead with 87 seats, followed by the 66 seats won by the PML-N, the party of Nawaz Sharif who is also a former prime minister. The PPP is on track to form the governing coalition.

The Pakistani Muslim League-Quaid, Musharraf's party, has won only 38 seats. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement -- a students’ movement based in Sindh province -- won 19 seats and the Awami National Party (a secular Pashtun party) won 10. The MMA only won three seats. Thirty-five seats have been distributed to independents, while results are still being counted for 26 of the seats. Elections were postponed in four districts.

. . . The clear winner is the Pakistan People's Party as it will form the next government, appoint a new prime minister, and will control the Sindh provincial government. The PPP was widely expected to win the election, but the outcome was by no means certain. The Dec. 27, 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the group’s popular leader, plunged the party into a leadership and identity crisis. The reins of the party were turned over to her husband Asif Ali Zardari, who faced charges of corruption for embezzling $1.5 billion during Bhutto’s time as prime minister, and her 19-year-old son Bilawal Zardari, a student at Oxford. Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, the former Minister of the Interior and leader of the PPP-Sherpao also is a winner within the PPP. He won his seat in Charsadda, where the Taliban made two attempts on his life during 2007.

Nawaz Sharif and his party, the Pakistani Muslim League-Nawaz, were also expected to win big. The PML-N is poised to take second place in the National Assembly polling and will also control the provincial government of Punjab. While Sharif was not allowed to run for political office, he is exercising power through his party. Sharif has opposed military operations against the Taliban and has been accused of accepting bribe money from Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.

The Awami National Party, with its 10 seats, may serve as an influential coalition partner with the PPP. The ANP will control the Northwest Frontier Province, and has stated it will ally with either the PPP or PML-N to form the provincial government. The ANP is a secular Pashtun party that is opposed to military action against the Taliban and promotes nonviolent solutions. The Taliban conducted two major strikes against ANP offices in North Waziristan and Kurram the week before the election, killing and wounding scores of its members.

Western watchers who have closely followed the election in Pakistan see the transition to democracy as being key to fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda insurgency that threatens to destabilize nuclear Pakistan and the wider region. Numerous attacks against the West and India have been hatched in al Qaeda training camps in the tribal areas. The US government hoped a coalition between Bhutto and Musharraf would provide the unity needed between the secular political class and the military to fight the rise of the Taliban and al Qaeda in northwestern Pakistan.

Read the entire article. The NYT, in its coverage, emphasized that, at least initially, this is problematic for Bush, given his relationship with the now politically isolated Musharraf, and claimed that the victors wanted a "dialogue with the insurgents." That latter is not borne out in the reporting:

. . . Mr. Zardari, the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, said the new Parliament would reverse many of the unpopular policies that fueled the strong protest vote against President Pervez Musharraf and his party.

Bush administration officials said the United States would still like to see Pakistan’s opposition leaders find a way to work with Mr. Musharraf, a staunch ally for more than six years, but conceded that the notion appeared increasingly unlikely. In comments in Ghana, where he is on a tour of African states, President Bush on Wednesday praised Mr. Musharraf and said the election had been judged fair.

In an interview published Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Musharraf said that he had no plans to step down and that he wanted to stay in office to help bring about a stable democratic government.

Though Mr. Zardari said he wanted a government of national consensus, he ruled out working with anyone from the previous government under Mr. Musharraf.

Instead he said he was talking to the leader of the other main opposition party, Nawaz Sharif, whose party finished second, about forming a coalition.

. . . Mr. Sharif was twice prime minister in the 1990s and faced numerous corruption charges himself after being ousted by Mr. Musharraf in a coup.

Mr. Sharif quickly announced several conditions for joining a coalition. They included the impeachment of Mr. Musharraf and the restoration of the chief justice and other Supreme Court judges suspended by the president in November.

Mr. Zardari was less categorical, not calling for Mr. Musharraf’s impeachment, for instance. The struggle to end military rule and bring a return to democracy is a long, uphill battle, he said.

“We might have to take soft, small steps,” he said at a news briefing at his home in the capital after a meeting of 50 senior members of the party.

Still, the first order of business will be to undo restrictions on the media and restore the independence of the judiciary, he said.

. . . Mr. Zardari criticized the antiterrorism policies of Mr. Musharraf, saying that he had played a double game that had led to an increase in militancy. “We feel they in the government are running with the hare and hunting with the hounds,” he said.

The two opposition parties share similar views of how to tackle the terrorism problem. The new approach is more likely to be responsive to the consensus of the Pakistani public than was Mr. Musharraf’s and is more likely to shun a heavy hand by the military and rely on dialogue with the militants.

Mr. Zardari said his party would seek talks with the militants in the tribal areas along the Afghan border, where the Taliban and Al Qaeda have carved out a stronghold, as well as with the nationalist militants who have battled the Pakistani Army in Baluchistan Province.

. . . Some analysts saw opportunities for the United States if a new civilian government could persuade Pakistanis to get behind the fight against the militants. But past attempts to deal with the militants have left them stronger, and any policy too accommodating is likely to raise concern in Washington.

A former chief of staff of the Pakistani Army, Gen. Jehangir Karamat, said the election of a new government should help the United States if it was looking to work with moderate forces.

“It’s an opportunity to rejuvenate this whole relationship,” General Karamat said. “What we are seeing through these elections is moderate and liberal forces, which is absolutely great.”

Other analysts agreed. The emergence of a moderate Parliament should be good news for the United States, said Shuja Nawaz, a Pakistani military analyst based in Washington.

“If Parliament will now have a stronger hand than before in national decision-making, then the United States should be pleased, since it will not have to beg and cajole Pakistan to act in its own interests against the terrorists,” Mr. Nawaz said.

But the results left the Bush administration, which has leaned heavily on Mr. Musharraf, scrambling to find new partners in the campaign against Islamic militants in the region. The election of a hostile Parliament is expected to further marginalize the president, or even push him out, in a country where power traditionally lies with elected prime ministers or the military chiefs who have overthrown them.

. . . Mr. Musharraf told visiting United States senators that he had accepted the election results and the defeat of his party, and would work with any coalition government that was formed.

. . . Mr. Zardari discussed Pakistan’s options with the militants in an interview last week. He said the campaign against terrorism needed to be redefined in Pakistan. He said it needed to be better explained to the people so they understood it was not America’s war they were fighting, but a threat to their own nation.

Mr. Zardari said that Mr. Musharraf had lost popular support for the campaign and that the morale of the army had plummeted, asserting that only a popularly elected government with the backing of Parliament could reverse that.

He added that a counterinsurgency should be waged by the police in the tribal areas, and that Pakistan had to train and equip its police forces to curb much of the lawlessness. The army is a blunt instrument and should be used selectively so that militants are awed by its power, he said.

Read the entire article.

As I said, I do not think that this election can be characterized as a failure for President Bush. Rather, as the WSJ notes:

The results of Pakistan's parliamentary vote are being billed as a repudiation not only of Pervez Musharraf, but also of President Bush, who has mostly supported the Pakistani strongman over the past seven years. We're more inclined to see the elections as a vindication of both.

Overall, these are very positive developments, with the exception of the strong showing of Nawez Sharif's party. Perhaps now, Pakistan, whose prior governments, incuding Sharif's, have been responsible for fanning the flames of the Taliban, may now take a firm stand against them. To the extent they wish to try dialogue first, that is fine. It will clearly not work, as such dialogues have proven only a boon for further radicalization in the past. Indeed, as Gateway Pundit recently noted, Pakistani family from the NWFP are now fleeing into Afghanistan to escape the violence.

The Taliban and al Qaeda are folks for whom their goals are a zero sum game. They will win or be defeated utterly. Attempting to negotiate with them for half a loaf has not and will not work. That said may be the step necessary to get the people of Pakistan behind the fight and convince them that this radicalization must be ended wholly irrespective of whether the U.S. also has a dog in the fight.

The other question that I have is what will the new government do about the problem of Saudi maddrassas infecting their country with their Wahhabi poison. Until that one is addressed, the problem of radicalization in Pakistan will never be solved.

Update: Bill Rogio is reporting that: "The [Pakistani] government [in the NWFP] has essentially revived the same terms of the 2006 North Waziristan Accord, minus the demands for the tribes to oppose the Taliban and al Qaeda." This is insanity. The incoming government cannot possibly do worse than the craven bungling of the current government.

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