What’s next for Pakistan

Some parties favour elections, political parties might not

Despite all the nice talk of ‘restoring democracy’ in Pakistan, the general elections of January 2008 were mostly about engineering a political outcome that would be acceptable to Gen Musharraf, tolerable to the more vocal sections of Pakistani civil society and amenable to carry out the United States’ agenda in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Benazir Bhutto, who was killed yesterday, was by far the one candidate who could meet most of these requirements: needing work only in the acceptability to Musharraf bit. Given her general popularity, the thrust of the Pakistani military establishment’s political engineering effort was to ensure that her party didn’t win so many seats as to make her too powerful vis-à-vis Musharraf. It was in this context that she issued the rather undemocratic-sounding warning: that the elections results would be unacceptable to her if her party didn’t end up on top of the results tally.

With her assassination the ‘returning Pakistan to democracy’ project is suddenly confronted with the need to throw up another candidate, satisfying the three conditions are before, but with an additional constraint imposed by the January 8th election date.

Cancelling the elections is of course an option, and the leading political parties might even favour it. Bhutto’s PPP needs to find a leader who could benefit from the potential sympathy wave, but it’s not clear if a party organised around Bhutto’s personality can find one and regroup in time. Nawaz Sharif himself might now find himself the leading opposition figure, but his party will fear that a combination of the sympathy wave for the PPP and rigging by the Musharraf regime will severely affect its electoral results. Little wonder that it announced an immediate boycott. That’s a clear signal yet that it wants the elections postponed. The party that Musharraf created, Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam), should be weighing its options: outside a few constituencies in Punjab, its provincial stronghold, it depends on rigging for seats. It stands to gain from Nawaz Sharif’s boycott, especially in Punjab. But it stands to lose from a pro-PPP sympathy wave. If its leadership prefers to err on the side of caution, the PML(Q) too would be in favour of delaying the elections.

Does this mean that elections will be postponed? Not quite. Because powerful quarters will want them to be held as scheduled. Continue reading “What’s next for Pakistan”

Should India love Musharraf?

Love him or hate him. But it’s not about him.

M K Narayanan, India’s National Security Adviser (no less!) has declared a ‘grudging admiration’ for Pervez Musharraf. Now, stating that India would do business with whoever is in power in Pakistan is the right thing to do at a time when Pakistan is acutely unstable. But to declare admiration—grudging or otherwise—is pushing it too much. But then, Narayanan was always more comfortable in backrooms of internal security. He never had a flair for the front room of international diplomacy. J N Dixit died too early.

Then Maverick, a voice this blog respects, writes that India’s perceptions of General Musharraf have changed over the years. And that he “howsoever grudgingly has earned that respect from India”.

If this admiration and respect is for the manner in which Musharraf managed to ensure his own political survival in the face of political tumult and rising unpopularity, that’s fine. But it would be dangerously naive to believe that the ‘sombre, determined’ Musharraf somehow is now the best thing for India. Stephen Cohen’s 1999 thesis—that a Pakistan under military rule will be in India’s interests—has been recalled. This theory is the mirror image of those, like Rohit Pradhan, argue that a democratic Pakistan will be better.

Both these views just leaps of faith. What really matters is the balance of power. As long as this prevents Pakistan from pursuing ambitious projects at India’s expense, the type of dispensation in Islamabad is not of primary consequence. So India’s policymakers can entertain whatever fancies they like regarding Musharraf, as long as they are paying attention to what really matters.