Tuesday, March 4, 2008

NEW WEBSITE LAUNCHED!

Dear CHUP readers,

I am happy to report that our new and improved website is up and running - please note the site for your records! http://www.changinguppakistan.com.

For those who have email subscribed, I apologize for you having to subscribe again. I promise this is my last shift!

Thanks,
Kalsoom (CHUP editor)

Monday, March 3, 2008

Violence Spirals as Pakistan Awaits New Government

On Monday, Reuters cited analysts who said, "A spate of suicide attacks by Islamist militants could spark a war of revenge among ethnic Pashtun tribesmen in Pakistan's northwest just as moderate, secular political parties appear poised for power." On Sunday, a suicide bomber blew himself up among thousands of tribal members discussing resistance to the Pakistani Taliban [the meeting was referenced by Pakistani media outlets as a jirga, a tribal assembly of elders which makes decisions by consensus]. According to news sources, 40 people were killed in the third suicide attack in three days. The Washington Post cited Javed Iqbal Cheema, the Interior Ministry spokesman, who said the blast occurred while "five tribes were finalizing a resolution that would punish anyone who shelters or helps Al Qaeda, Taliban and other fighters..." The bombing occurred in the semi-tribal region of Darra Adam Khel, a town about 25 miles south of Peshawar, when most of the people had dispersed and "noted elders of the five tribes - Tor Chappar, Sherakai, Busti Khel, Zarghon Khel and Akhorwal - were discussing forming committees to implement the jirga’s decisions," reported Pakistan's Daily Times. A senior local official told the AFP, "The suicide bomber was an 18-year-old boy. His face is recognizable and initial investigations indicate he was a resident of Darra Adam Khel."

The recent spate of violence is both significant and worrying. The Pakistani security forces have been fighting Islamist militants in the northern areas since November, and although the military claims it has cleaned out most of Swat, attacks still persist in the area. According to Reuters, analysts have noted a "dangerous trend" towards attacks that strike at the heart of Pashtun society. A former security chief for the tribal areas told the news agency, "These are direct attacks on Pashtun society...All institutions, which represent Pashtun society, the mosque, a wedding, a funeral or a jirga, they have all been targeted. They want to bomb the entire Pashtun society into submission." Due to the strict code of honor these tribes live by, known as Pashtunwali, the recent attacks on a funeral [see Feb. 29 post] and on the jirga could trigger inter-tribal feuds, which could create a more explosive situation for the government. In my opinion, the recent string of attacks could further isolate support for the Pakistan Taliban, if the government responds accordingly - that means issuing statements condemning the attacks (already done), as well as seeing this as an opportunity to rally support from the tribal community by further vilifying the actions of the Pakistani Taliban. Ultimately, the tribal identity and code of honor should be emphasized in order to overshadow support for these militants.

Friday, February 29, 2008

40 Killed in Funeral Bombing

A suicide bombing occurred today at a funeral for a police official in Swat Valley, killing at least 35 people and wounding 50, according to the latest newswire updates. According to Pakistan's The News, the blast struck just after the funeral prayers for the "martyred" police officer, Javed Iqbal, who was killed in a roadside bombing earlier on Friday. The News presented a slightly higher death toll than Western newswires, citing an official who confirmed the death of at least 40 men. CNN, in comparison, reported a much lower number of casualties - citing Interior Minister Javed Iqbal Cheema who said at least 11 people were killed in the attack. Differences in reported death tolls are common just after an attack occurs. CNN added, "The death toll was expected to rise overnight."

The AFP reported, "Nearly 1,000 people were attending the funeral in the town of Mingora in the Swat Valley, where troops are battling Islamic militants." Reuters provided further details surrounding the incident, noting, "The funeral was being held after dusk in accordance with Muslim custom, and [Deputy Superintendent Karamat] Shah said a power cut immediately after the blast added to confusion." Another senior security official told the AFP, "Nobody has claimed the responsibility for the attack, but we suspect the involvement of miscreants (militants) against whom the military operation was being carried out."

Musharraf sent thousands of Pakistani troops to the Swat Valley earlier this year [PBS Frontline noted it was actually in November 2007, see yesterday's post for more details] to quell the campaign of violence launched by Swat's "radio mullah." According to the Associated Press, "The army claims it has dispersed thousands of his militant followers, but attacks persist. Last week, a roadside bomb hit a wedding party, killing 12 people." Today's funeral blast of a slain police officer is reminiscent of similar attacks targeting funerals in Iraq, the most recent one in Baghdad on January 2, 2008 that killed 36 people. Funerals are often targeted by militants because of the large number of people present at the gatherings.


Inside Pakistan's Elections - CAP's Wadhams Video Journal

An interesting perspective by Center for American Progress' Caroline Wadhams on the elections in Pakistan.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Frontline Documentary- Who is the Radio Mullah?

PBS Frontline presented an insightful program entitled, "Pakistan: State of Emergency," a look into the NWFP/FATA region which has largely become a battleground between Pakistani security forces and Pakistani Taliban militants. Frontline/World reporter David Montero visited Swat Valley, "once the crown jewel of Pakistan's tourism trade," but now a haven for these extremists. In the Frontline documentary, Montero had to wear local clothes and brown contact lenses to blend in with the mostly Pashtun (Pathan) population. In the past, he noted, "the people of Swat have resisted extremism and violence." Despite this, he reported, "the Taliban were entrenching themselves, building a $2.5 million madrassa, or religious school, on the outskirts of town. It became the base for their leader, a mysterious cleric known as the 'radio mullah' for his sermons and tirades broadcast by his pirate radio station. His name is Maulana Fazlullah." The 33 year old militant leads the Swat-based extremist group, the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM).

Fazlullah was dubbed the 'radio mullah' because he operates a pirate radio station in Swat, which he uses to praise the Taliban and broadcast his overarching message, which Frontline noted includes a ban on music and dancing, the absolute concealment of the female body, and the discouragement of education for girls. According to the program, he also tried to stop a polio vaccination campaign in Swat, "claiming it was a Western ploy to make Muslims infertile." In September 2007, Fazlullah launched a violent campaign in the city, capturing towns throughout the valley and killing security and police personnel. The documentary includes some disturbing footage of those killed, including the bodies of policemen who were beheaded by the Taliban. Montero interviewed Ahmed Rashid, author of Taliban, in the program, who said, "We should remember the Taliban were never defeated by the Americans. They were routed, and they fled Afghanistan and came to Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda, who are living in Pakistan, have nurtured a whole new generation of Pakistani extremists. So, this is a very, very dangerous phenomenon."

When Fazlullah's campaign began in Swat, the populace began pleading with Musharraf's government to take action. Islamabad instead reacted slowly and "half-heartedly," initially only sending in a poorly trained paramilitary force. Many subsequently turned to Swat's prince Asfandiar Amir Zeb, a moderate and a leading voice against the Taliban. He explained to Montero that Fazlullah was able to attract a following in Swat because of popular discontent with the Pakistani government, which, he said, had grown corrupt and neglected to develop the region. However, once Fazlullah's violent agenda became apparent, people turned against him. Nevertheless, the Musharraf government continued to react slowly, until, two months into the campaign, ordering 20,000 soldiers into Swat. Although most of Fazlullah's men were killed and the army regained control of most of the area, the mullah and his top commanders escaped into the mountains. Rashid commented on the military campaign in the program, emphasizing, "I think the operation has been a total disaster. The military moved in, as usual, far too late….This could have been nipped in the bud two years ago by a small police operation."

Rashid ultimately blamed Musharraf for having an inconsistent policy toward extremists in Swat and in the tribal areas along the Afghan border – sometimes he appeases militants by offering truces and payoffs, sometimes he cracks down on them. The PBS Frontline episode was significant because it emphasized that these extremists don't have the support of the people in the area - in fact, their campaign of violence and terror has largely caused the population to turn against these groups. However, the government's inconsistencies and inefficiency only succeeded in demoralizing the populace. A newly elected coalition government, in my opinion, must regain the trust of the people, especially in the northern areas. Although there have been indications that the government might sit down and negotiate with the Pakistani Taliban, the new regime must remember to practice consistency - not just with its own policies but with the actions of the military, who needs the support of the country to succeed in its campaign in the north.

You can watch the PBS/Frontline documentary online [see previous link]. The website also has an interview with Montero, as well as an interactive map on tribal Pakistan. [Image from PBS]

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Details Emerge on YouTube Ban

This morning, several Pakistan-related stories were prevalent in the news. However, the YouTube ban, a story that has developed over the past few days, especially piqued my interest. For those who aren't aware, officials announced Sunday that the Pakistani government had ordered all internet service providers to block YouTube because it contained "blasphemous content, videos and documents." A government official told the AFP, "The site will remain blocked till further orders." According to the Daily Times today, "It has been learned that the step had been taken on account of the availability of a blasphemous Dutch film, videos regarding rigging during the polls, and anti-Musharraf material on the site."

The plot thickens. On Monday, news sources reported that YouTube, which is owned by Google, said that many of its users could not access the site for about two hours on Sunday because of an error caused by Pakistan's efforts to block domestic access to the site. Pakistan subsequently rejected these claims, and Shahzada Alam Malik, the head of Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) told BBC News, "We are not hackers. Why would we do that?" The Financial Times noted, "According to reports, a command to reroute all Pakistani web traffic destined for YouTube was accidentally replicated by one of its upstream providers, Hong Kong-based PCCW, causing traffic to the site across much of the world to be redirected to a so-called 'black hole' for about two hours on Sunday. PCCW said yesterday that it was investigating what had happened but declined to elaborate." The FT also cited statements by Abdullah Riar, Pakistan's information technology minister, who called any global fallout completely "unintentional," and further defended the country's decision to block the website, noting, "We have a difficult situation in our country. If we had not stopped YouTube there would have been a bigger backlash. We have seen such reaction in the past."

The Daily Times reported on Pakistani reactions to the ban, noting that although most condemned the "blasphemous act," the majority criticized the government's way of "dealing with the issue." Human rights activist Nighat Saeed Khan told the news agency that any act of blasphemy against any religion was condemnable, but the government had no right to ban the entire website. She asserted, "I think the government should have complained to the YouTube website staff instead of blocking it." A student at Government College University told the Daily Times, "This certainly is not due to blasphemous material on the website. It is because of all those election videos that showed what kind of free and fair elections Pakistan was conducting. You can find blasphemous contents all over the Internet. YouTube videos of the All Parties Democratic Movement’s February 16 rally and those against President Pervez Musharraf were relevant to the action taken by the government."

The PTA also blocks websites that show controversial drawings of Prophet Muhammed, reported the Christian Science Monitor, due mainly to the twelve cartoons published in 2005 by a Danish newspaper that sparked riots and outrage among Muslims. The remnants of that incident still persists today. The Monitor noted, "In the latest in a series of demonstrations over the cartoons in Pakistan, hundreds of hard-line Islamists in the southern city of Karachi torched effigies of the Danish prime minister and the cartoonist on Sunday."

Pakistan is not the only country that blocks YouTube - Turkey blocked the site after video clips allegedly insulted Kemal Attaturk, and Thailand and Morocco banned it last year. However, given the current atmosphere in the country, especially over the issue of free press and freedom of speech - could such a ban still have a detrimental impact on Pakistanis' perceptions towards the government? Does the potential outrage over blasphemous video clips outweigh the potential/current outrage over freedom of speech issues? Do you agree with the government's decision? [Image from AFP]

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

SUMMARY: Wilson Center Election Analysis Event 2/25

Yesterday, I attended a fascinating event at the Woodrow Wilson Center where Eric Bjornlund of Democracy International spoke of his observations while monitoring the Pakistani elections last Monday. Also on the panel were Hassan Abbas, a research fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and a former Pakistani government official, Hasan-Askari Rizvi, the Pakistan scholar at Johns Hopkins' SAIS, and Marvin Weinbaum, the scholar-in-residence at the Middle East Institute. Bjornlund reported on DI's methodology while in Pakistan in order to ensure the elections were "free and fair" - this included parallel vote tabulations, 272 samples for the 272 elections, and 75 meetings with political parties prior to the elections. The organization deployed two-person teams around the country (there were 38 DI people altogether), they met with local observers, officials and parties, and then shared their observations. Ultimately - DI found that the elections were relatively peaceful, there was no evidence of systematic manipulation, and the people exercised their will. However, the pre-election period was not as rosy, as we all know, since violence and riots wracked the country before election day. Bjornlund also noted the criticisms of the Election Commission prior to the elections - in the commission's effort to redo the voter registration list, a large number - about 15 million - were left off the list. As a result, they tried to augment the list with the voters from 2002, a list that was widely discredited.

The other panel members concentrated their comments mainly on the question - What happens next? Abbas focused on the victory of the ANP in the NWFP. In 2002, he noted, the elections were rigged in favor of the MMA, the religious coalition, an incident we are now aware of due to a confession from a former Pakistani intelligence (ISI) chief who admitted Musharraf told him to manipulate the polls. This time around, five years later, the MMA failed to show any concrete or tangible changes in the province, and were voted out of power in favor of the ANP, a party that stands for Pashtun nationalism. Abbas was optimistic about the future of the new coalition in the Parliament - since both Nawaz and Asif Zardari have been outside the country for 7-8 years and have "learned quite a bit." Moreover, this new coalition will have no impact on the U.S. led war on terror - since the Pakistani army decides that strategy, not the government.

Rizvi also discussed the future of the U.S.-led war on terror with this new government. According to him, Musharraf's continuation in power will create problems for counterterrorism. Therefore, the only viable solution would be for the president to resign voluntarily. The U.S., Rizvi noted, will face more problems Musharraf stays in power than if he steps down. He asserted that this new government should dialogue with the Islamist extremists (i.e., Beitullah Mehsud, see yesterday's post), and thereby isolate those militants unwilling to cooperate the government. Weinbaum further addressed the U.S. presence in the region, and noted the U.S. government has so far failed to appreciate the transition in process in Pakistan. Musharraf, he added, is increasingly irrelevant as this new government becomes solidified. Weinbaum asserted, "The irony is that every time we try to help Musharraf, we make it worse for him."

The event, all together, was an insightful talk on what should happen next in Pakistan. It seemed based on the questions following the panel talk that people are truly interested in where we should go from here - should a relatively moderate coalition government negotiate with extremist elements in the country? Can forces like Tehreek-e-Taliban be tamed? Moreover, what role does and should the United States play in this process? It is obvious that the U.S. has and will always have a strategic interest in the country - therefore, how can we further this interest and at the same time address the anti-American sentiment raging in the country? A great article in today's LA Times, entitled, "Islamists' Loss in Pakistan isn't a U.S. Win," reported that despite secular party wins in the parliamentary elections, Pakistanis are still unlikely to rally behind the U.S.-led war on terror. The news agency added, "To many Pakistanis, the armed confrontation with Islamic radicals remains 'America's war,' one whose cost in blood has been borne by Pakistani troops with little perceived benefit to this country." As a result, the new parties in power are pushing for a political solution to the problem, rather than the oft-used military solution.

The panel discussion, much like a Magic 8 ball, provided an "Outlook Good" depiction of the country's future - do you agree or is that far too simplistic?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Bomb Attack Kills Pakistani General

A suicide blast in Rawalpindi today killed 8 people, including Pakistan's top army medical officer, Lt. Gen. Mushtaq Ahmed Baig, reported newswires. According to Reuters, the general "was the most senior military officer killed by militants to date." The NY Times reported, "The attack took place in a crowded, commercial neighborhood of Rawalpindi. The blast, which could be heard from several miles away, tore through a busy road and damaged at least five vehicles. The general’s car was left badly mangled." The attack was the latest in a series of violent incidents in Rawalpindi, and "it is likely to revive concern about Islamic militancy in Pakistan just days after moderates won parliamentary elections." Pakistan's The News also provided breaking coverage of the incident, and cited Interior Ministry officials, who said, "The suicide bomber was on foot, who blew himself up by the car of Lt. Gen. Mushtaq Baig which was stationary before a red signal." The newspaper added that the attacker was allegedly between 15 to 18 years of age, and "had a fair complexion." A separate article released by the news agency reported that Punjab's governor, Lt. Gen. Khalid Maqbool, "strongly condemned" the bomb blast, labeling it "a highly heinous act of cowardice" perpetrated by those who have no concern for Islam or humanity.

The violence comes just a day after Tehreek-e-Taliban leader Beitullah Mehsud announced that he is ready for talks with the new government if it stops President Musharraf's 'war on terror' in the tribal areas. Both Dawn and the Daily Times reported on the development today, and cited Maulvi Omar (Mullah Omar) , Taliban spokesman, who said, The Taliban movement welcomes the victory of anti-Musharraf political parties ... and announces its willingness to enter into negotiations with them for bringing peace...Whoever makes the government, we want to make it clear to them we don’t want fighting. We want peace, but if they impose war on us, we will not spare them." PML-N responded to the statement by saying that political and economic solutions were needed to deal with extremism. Party spokesman Ahsan Iqbal said, “Our stance is that General Musharraf has mishandled the situation to stay in power. We feel that if Musharraf steps down, half of the terrorism would end."

Saturday, February 23, 2008

And the Talk of Coalitions Continue...

On Saturday, the Daily Times reported that elected members of Pakistan People's Party (PPP) endorsed Makhdoom Amin Fahim, the party's vice chairman, for their candidate as Prime Minister. The news agency cited a PPP official statement, which said, "In a meeting at the Zardari House in Islamabad, they also vowed an end to the presidential powers to dismiss assemblies." Moreover, the party decided to address Musharraf's decision to remove the judges, an incident that caused much controversy in November, through a resolution in the National Assembly. According to the Daily Times, "The resolution, they [PPP MNAs] said, would give complete financial and administrative independence to the judiciary."

Developments related to party alliances and subsequent coalitions have dominated news coverage of Pakistan since Monday's elections. Reuters cited an opinion poll today that "showed an alliance between the two biggest groups opposed to President Pervez Musharraf was the preferred choice of Pakistan's voters." According to the Gallup poll, an alliance between the PPP and the PML-N was the preferred choice of those surveyed, since " fortypercent of PPP voters said the PML-N was their second choice and 45 percent vice versa."

While a PPP/PML-N alliance may be the primary coalition in the government, it is not the only one. None of the country's parties won a majority of the National Assembly, "and negotiations are continuing between rivals keen to forge a coalition big enough to hold power in the 342-seat parliament." PPP has reportedly also been in coalition talks with the MQM, and, most notably, with the Awami National Party (ANP), the secular political party that essentially replaced the religious coalition, the MMA, in NWFP. On Saturday, Pakistan's Dawn newspaper reported that the top leaders of both the PPP and ANP agreed to form a coalition government in that province, since the two parties had gained a majority.

In my coverage of the results of the elections, I have so far neglected to highlight the significance of the MMA defeat in the NWFP. The religious coalition originally held 46 of provincial parliamentary seats, but only won nine on Monday - partly because of the religious parties' boycott of the elections (with the exception of the JUI), and partly due to the voice of the people, unhappy with the poor governance demonstrated by the MMA. According to a significant piece in yesterday's Christian Science Monitor, "It is an important development in the province nearest Pakistan's tribal areas, known to host Al Qaeda and the Taliban and the new focus of US anti-terror policy. The ANP is expected to marshal all the province's resources – police, politics, and the law – against extremism, whereas the mullahs had refused even to condemn suicide attacks."

The Monitor interviewed some NWFP residents, who voted for the ANP not as a veto of religious politics, but as a desire for a government that is both fair and ethical. The Monitor commented on the significance of the province as a whole, noting, "As a province, it cannot set military policy – that is the job of the National Assembly and the Army. Nor does it play a direct role in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where militant warlords rule much of the territory; FATA policy is determined in Islamabad. Yet the NWFP is the first bulwark against the spread of terrorism into the heart of Pakistan, and under the mullahs' watch little was done to check it." A member of the ANP's central executive committee, Lateef Afridi, reasoned, "Everyday you hear about a music store being bombed or such-and-such a place being attacked by the Taliban...That created a panic in the minds of the people." Moreover, noted the Monitor piece, "The notion of negotiation [referring to negotiating peaceful solutions to the proposed military options in fighting the Taliban] is ingrained in the Pashtun mind – a legacy of the jirgas, or councils, that have ruled Pashtun tribes for centuries – and it has great popular support here. The MMA's mullahs ran afoul of public opinion by abandoning such principles, residents say."

Ultimately, the victory of the ANP and the subsequent PPP-ANP coalition in the NWFP is a marked change from a religious coalition that advocated Islamic law and poorly governed the province. What is more significant is that their success represents the success of the political process. In Pakistan, we have never allowed an election cycle to play itself out - on the national level the process has always been disrupted by coups, takeovers, and the like. In Monday's election, the people of the NWFP, who themselves voted in the Islamic coalition, voted the MMA out of power. Democracy is not just one cycle of elections - it is the accountability of the victors after said elections. The success of the ANP within this context is therefore more noteworthy.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Good Resources to Check Out

There are several noteworthy events coming up that I'd quickly like to highlight:
Today, (Friday), the Asia Society in New York City will be holding a panel discussion in conjunction with the South Asia Journalists Association (SAJA) beginning at 8:30 am (EST). The program is an hour long and can be caught live on webcast. People can email their questions in as the event is occuring and the speakers will try to address them. Some of the notable speakers include: Craig Cohen, a fellow in the Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and Ijaz Gilani, chairman of Gallup Pakistan.

The Woodrow Wilson Center will also be holding an election analysis on Monday, February 25th at 3:30 pm (EST) in Washington, D.C. The event will also be broadcast live via the web, and I recommend tuning in, since Democracy International principal and co-founder Eric Bjornlund will present his observations from monitoring the February 2008 Pakistan general elections.

Also really briefly want to highlight a great article analyzing the outcome of the elections by Shaheryar Mirza, someone I know from back home that is currently finishing his masters at American University.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Opposition Agrees on Coalition Deal/ NEW POLL: What Should Musharraf Do?

On Thursday, news sources reported that the Pakistan People's Party, PPP, (technically the Pakistan People's Party Parliamentarians), and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the two main victors of Monday's election, agreed to form coalition governments. According to the NY Times, "The speedy accord, just three days after the overwhelming defeat of Mr. Musharraf’s party [PML-Q], was another setback for the embattled Pakistani president as well as his backers in Washington." The Daily Times quoted Nawaz Sharif, who told reporters during a news conference today, We have agreed on a common agenda. We will work together to form the government in the center and in the provinces...We will ensure that you [PPP] complete a full five years’ term." Reuters cited statements by Asif Zardari, the co-chairman of the PPP and the widower of former PM Benazir Bhutto, who further asserted, "We intend to stay together (to establish a government)."

The establishment of the coalition left Musharraf's role perhaps even more ambiguous. So far, Washington has urged the newly elected government to work with the Pakistani president, who emphasized yesterday that he would not step down from his post, despite calls for his resignation. According to Pakistan's Dawn newspaper, "The United States on Thursday was sending conflicting signals on its position on the current political situation in Pakistan, with the White House saying that it’s up to the Pakistani people to decide President Pervez Musharraf’s political future and the State Department insisting that Washington hopes to continue to work with the embattled leader."

An op-ed in today's Washington Post by Robert Novak further discussed this discrepancy. Although State Department spokesman Tom Casey publicly argued that Musharraf is still the president and expressed hope that "whoever winds up in charge of the new government would be able to work with him," privately, U.S. diplomats "pushed hard against any effort to dislodge the retired army general who had just suffered a public rejection." Ultimately, Novak commented, "No Pakistani expects help from Musharraf, who has been repudiated by the public and is not backed by the army now that he has removed his uniform. Only the State Department still takes him seriously."

Would these coalition governments be as close of a U.S. ally as Musharraf? How vigorously would they support the U.S.-led war on terror, particuarly in relation to Afghanistan, and the subsequent conflict that has spilled over our own border? According to a Boston Globe op-ed today by Graham Allison, "The answer to each of these questions is as unambiguous as it is uncomfortable. A Pakistani government whose actions align with its citizens' views on these issues would be at loggerheads with the United States." However much Pakistanis dislike Musharraf, they are perhaps more hostile to the U.S. According to Allison, "When asked to name the 'single greatest threat' to their country, 64 percent of Pakistanis named the United States. Historic archrival India, with whom Pakistan has fought five bloody wars, was second, well behind America."

Ultimately, where does this all leave Musharraf? If the democratic government listens to the constituents who voted them into power, the Pakistani president is left out in the cold. However, if they heed to U.S. pressures and strategic reasoning, his role in the political process is still malleable. The question is, what do you think? This week's poll, just three days after the much-anticipated elections, seeks to gauge your reasoning on this very pertinent question - What should Musharraf do? Resign, cut a deal with the new coalition government, or (God forbid) overthrow the Parliament and call for new elections. Is there another option? [Image from Reuters]

Note: Last week's poll results reflected the national elections - PPP won, PML-N came in a close second, and PML-Q trailed with 20% of the vote.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Elections Over: Time for a New Political Landscape in Pakistan

The results from Monday's election are official - not only did the opposition win, but elections were relatively free and fair, there was little reported violence, the Karachi Stock Exchange finished at significantly higher levels, and President Pervez Musharraf and the political party that backed him, the PML-Q, accepted defeat. These developments alone should be recognized as progress, especially in regard to prior fears of poll rigging and security concerns. Today, the Washington Post piece, entitled, "Pakistan Remakes its Political Landscape," reported, "By Tuesday evening, with most of the vote counted, the two major opposition parties had won 154 of the 272 elected seats in the National Assembly, compared with 38 for the PML-Q. In all, the assembly has 342 seats."

Even more notable was the voter turnout. According to Pakistan's Daily Times today, "The most remarkable showing was in Rawalpindi, repeatedly targeted by the terrorists in the past year. Voters came out much above the national average of 40 percent to vote for the PML-N, paralleling the reactive vote for late Ms Benazir Bhutto in rural Sindh." The Times added, "Unsurprisingly, the decline of the MMA in the NWFP has allowed the secular ANP to make a remarkable comeback, opening up new possibilities of repairing the cultural fabric of the province presently threatened by suicide-bombers." Prominent lawyer and PPP member, Aitzaz Ahsan further underscored the significance of the results, and told the Washington Post, "General Musharraf represents the rule of man over law, and the resounding verdict of the people is that they yearn to be ruled by laws, not men."

I tend to be a realist, especially when it comes to Pakistan, and while I recognize the great achievements this week, I also acknowledge that the elections left the political landscape far from clear. As the Post noted, neither the PPP or the PML-N gained a clear majority and neither has put forth a concrete PM candidate, "thus opening the door to complicated coalitions and deals." And lest we forget the political failings of both parties while in power in the 1990s. The NY Times reported, "American officials were particularly skeptical of Mr. Zardari, who has faced corruption charges in Pakistan and abroad and has come to his current position of leadership only through his wife’s death." Former PM and PML-N head Nawaz Sharif also faced corruption charges during his two terms in power. Although both leaders agree essentially on opposing terrorism and cooperating with the U.S., the two parties have been long-time political rivals. Therefore, their recent talks of a Coalition government is both significant and remains contingent on whether they can put their historical differences aside for "a greater good." So far, they have announced that they will take a new approach to fighting Islamist militants, "pursuing more dialogue than military confrontation," reported the NY Times. They also pledged to undo the crackdown on the media and restore independence to the judiciary.

And what about the fate of Musharraf? The AFP reported Wednesday that the President has rejected demands to quit, calling instead for a "harmonious coalition." The news agency added, "Musharraf was making his first official comments since Monday's crucial parliamentary vote, which left him fighting for his political life after his allies suffered a heavy defeat." Despite his call for this "harmonious" alliance, both Sharif and Zardari have called for his resignation.

The bottom line? The elections were only the first step - whether or not these parties can successfully address Pakistan's multitude of problems remains to be seen. [Image from the NY Times]

CONTRIBUTOR: Analysis of the Election Results by Fahad Hasan

The federal parliamentary election results, which are still being counted, dealt a significant blow to the Musharraf regime, since most of the cabinet members serving in the PML-Q pre-emergency government lost their contested seats. If the results continue to pan out as expected, then we will have a PPP-led coalition government with the PML-N. Therefore, they will have the power to choose the next Prime Minister. Possible PM candidates would include Makhdoom Amin Fahim and Shah Mehmood Qureshi, two notable PPP figures.

However, the opposition victory is only the first of many battles. If the new government lives up to its pledge to fight for the restoration of the judiciary, they will be at logger-heads with the President. If they get a 2/3 majority in the Parliament (as they should have) and vote to restore the judiciary, Musharraf will be left with 4 potential options:

1) Accept the Parliament's demands
2) Cut a side deal with one or more of the parties in the coalition government and derail the efforts to restore the judiciary-- PPP would be the most likely to indulge in that
3) Refuse to allow the restoration of the judiciary and dissolve the newly-elected Parliament citing that he is "looking out for the best interest of the state"
4) Analyze the situation and lack of public support and resign

If the President were to resign, the new Chief of Army Staff-- Gen. Kayani would have two choices:

1) Declare himself President and continue with business as usual
2) Proclaim that the Army was leaving politics and let the Senate decide the new president and Pakistan would return to the road of democracy


The above analysis is the opinion of a CHUP contributor, Fahad Hasan. If you would like to provide your own election analysis, please email CHUP at changinguppakistan@gmail.com.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Polls Close, Counting Begins

According to news sources, President Pervez Musharraf's "allies" faced a "crushing defeat" in today's parliamentary elections. According to CNN, "In the first three counts to finish, the provincial assembly seat in Balochistan went to the Pakistan People's Party -- the party of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto -- while two independent candidates won seats from the northern tribal areas, said Chief Election Commissioner Qazi Muhammad Farooq." The NY Times reported, "Almost all the leading figures in the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, the party that has governed for the last five years under Mr. Musharraf, lost their seats, including the leader of the party, the former speaker of Parliament and six ministers." The AFP similarly reported, "High-profile victims who lost their seats included party president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and almost all of Musharraf's former cabinet, including close presidential ally Sheikh Rashid." Although official results are expected Tuesday, early returns indicated that the vote "would usher in a prime minister from one of the opposition parties, and opened the prospect of a Parliament that would move to undo many of Mr. Musharraf’s policies and that may even try to remove him." The Times assessed, "The results were interpreted here as a repudiation of Mr. Musharraf as well as the Bush administration...American officials will have little choice now but to seek alternative allies from among the new political forces emerging from the vote."

Pakistan's Daily Times reported that the PPP (technically the PPPP for electoral purposes) is leading in the National Assembly and in Sindh province, the PML-N is leading in Punjab, and the ANP (the Awami National Party) is reportedly leading in NWFP, with the PPPP a close second. According to Pakistan First, a site that is providing up-to-date election results (via Parliament Watch), the PPP won 34 seats in the National Assembly, the PML-Q won 21, and the PML-N won 52 seats. The NY Times cited unofficial results from Aaj television that forecast that the Pakistan Peoples Party would win 110 seats in the 272-seat National Assembly, with Mr. Sharif’s party taking 100 seats.

According to the Washington Post today, "The mood across Pakistan was one of apprehension as voters headed to the polls Monday morning. Local media here reported dozens of bomb attacks and violent clashes across the country." CNN, however, provided a different account, reporting that "relatively little violence" occurred today and there were "no overt signs of tampering." [Image from NY Times]

Sunday, February 17, 2008

ELECTIONS 2008!

The elections are upon us, and I'd like to say good luck to all who are going out to the election stations to vote. Please be careful - given the current security situation, extremist groups have been targeting polling centers in an effort to destabilize the country and intimidate voters.

I'd also like to take a moment to promote a really great organization that is providing updated news on the elections, Future Leaders of Pakistan (FLP) that started Parliament Watch, a site that allows users to discuss issues, rate candidates, and provides continuously updated election news. Check it out! - www.pw.org.pk


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Car Bomb Kills 27 Ahead of Pakistan Vote

A car bomb killed 27 people and wounded 93 on Saturday when it exploded in front of a (Pakistan People's Party) PPP election office in Parachinar, in northern Pakistan. The blast, reported the AFP, increased security fears on the last day of campaigning, just two days before the elections. According to CNN, "The office was used by PPP parliamentary candidate Riaz Hussein, according to party spokesman Nazir Dhoki. The explosion occurred late in the afternoon." Some of the dead were workers for the political party, and the Associated Press cited Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz who said "the suicide bomber drove into a crowd as they were preparing to eat." Although he did not speculate on who might have perpetrated the attack, the AP noted, "Monday's elections are taking place against a backdrop of rising Islamic militancy throughout Pakistan, and many candidates have been discouraged from holding large rallies. Security fears are highest in lawless tribal areas along the Afghan border."

An article in today's Dawn reported that the federal government has warned the provincial police chiefs to "step up security" following intelligence reports that suicide bombers may strike "in the next 72 hours" to sabotage the Feb. 18th elections. Dawn added, "Sources said that high-level talks were being held to review plans for the protection of sensitive installations and important political figures." Also interesting is that the government has indicated threats of attacks on some Arab diplomatic missions in the country, namely Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq.

Despite today's bombing and security-related developments, much press coverage surrounding Monday's election have been devoted to the issue of "poll rigging." According to the aforementioned AFP piece, "Opposition groups have accused Musharraf's administration of rigging the polls to head off possible impeachment if a hostile parliament is voted in."

In response to this widespread concern that the polls will be manipulated, "Tens of thousands of Pakistani civilians have signed up as election monitors," reported the Wall Street Journal yesterday. The news agency added, Pakistan can ill afford the kind of problems that have sparked unrest following past contests. "Voters will be choosing members of Parliament. The party that winds up on top will nominate the next prime minister, who will share power with embattled President Pervez Musharraf. Voters will also select governments in the nation's tribal regions and four provinces, two of which have been run by a coalition of conservative Islamist parties [referring to NWFP and Balochistan." If Monday's elections are seen as credible, that could defuse national tensions and unrest and perhaps "nudge Pakistan's fractious political parties to form a more unified government," the WSJ assessed. The article cited some significant statistics based on the IRI poll released this past week - namely, if the main party that backs Musharraf, the PML-Q, wins the elections, 79% of Pakistani polled would feel the elections had been rigged. One can only imagine the riots that could follow if such a result occurred.

The President is obviously fully aware of these allegations and concerns and has pledged free and fair elections. According to the Daily Times editorial today, Musharraf told political parties, "The winner should not be arrogant and the loser should accept his defeat with grace." The Daily Times called the worries associated with the polls and the President's subsequent responses, "a complex psychology of action and reaction between those who are holding the election and those who are participating in them." The editors added, "The rigging fear is a genuine fear, not nursed by the political parties alone. The media and neutral observers in Pakistan have raised very convincing objections to the way the Election Commission has handled the electoral list. In fact a case against these apparent irregularities is in the Supreme Court, investing the whole issue with legal significance."

As someone who watches the current U.S. presidential race and the upcoming Pakistani elections with equal fascination, the differences in the political atmosphere stand in stark contrast to one another. Whereas U.S. voters' biggest complaint seems to revolve around super-delegates, Pakistanis are worried about rigged polls, security surrounding election stations, and whether a perceived rigged election would bring further unrest to a country already laden with overflowing tensions. I am not saying this is not expected of a developing nation recovering from years of conflict, corruption and ping-ponged authoritarian rule - I am merely highlighting the scale of our problems. Although the number of political parties participating in this election have dropped dramatically, there seems to be so much more international attention, so much more at stake, and so much more that could happen if the results are not to our liking.

Before I end today, I'd like to highlight another great piece by Khaled Ahmed in Pakistan's Friday Times. He wrote, "The new government will be a 'negotiating' government. It will negotiate with Al Qaeda and Taliban Tehreek in the Tribal Areas about the nature of the state...It will negotiate with the elements behind the insurrection in Balochistan on what the federal government will retain out of the powers mentioned in the Constitution...It will similarly have to negotiate with the sub-nationalisms gathering strength in the NWFP and Sindh..." In his opinion, new elections will be demanded soon enough after this new government "is shell-shocked by the challenges of governance it faces and loses its head." - Thoughts?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

NEW POLL: Who Would You Vote for in the Feb. 18th Elections?

Last week's poll that asked, "Who should lead the PPP," produced significant results - even I was surprised, and I try to take as neutral a position as possible. Despite the fact that Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of former PM Benazir Bhutto, is still followed by his former reputation as "Mr. 10%" and is widely seen as a divisive figure for the party, the majority of voters - 33% - chose him. 27% of CHUP readers felt Aitzaz Ahsan, the prominent lawyer, should lead the party, while 22% chose 'other.' Also notable - 10% chose Fatima Bhutto, the estranged niece of Benazir, while only 4% felt Amin Fahim, the PPP Vice-Chairman and the alleged PM candidate, would be the right choice. I am a little puzzled by Zardari's win - perhaps readers found recent developments compelling - most notably, the recent announcement by him and Nawaz Sharif that their parties would form a coalition government.

This week's poll, not surprisingly, revolves around the much-anticipated Pakistani elections, just four days away. Given the current political atmosphere in the country, I thought it only timely that this week's poll asked, "Pakistani or not, who would YOU vote for in the upcoming Feb. 18th elections?" However, who are the participating political parties? I felt that readers could only make an informed decision if they know more about the main parties contesting the elections, although several notable ones are boycotting this year's polls. In fact, the number of political parties participating in the general elections has dropped drastically, with only 45 fielding candidates in 2008 compared to 77 in 2002. According to the Daily Times, this is the lowerst number to contest since 1998. Therefore, here are brief points I've compiled (some good sources: http://elections.com.pk/index.php or http://www.geo.tv/election2008/, as well as today's Daily Times piece) on the main parties participating (or notably not participating in next week's elections):

Pakistan People's Party (PPP): A mainstream secular political party of the recently assassinated former PM Benazir Bhutto. The party was found in 1967, and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, former Pakistani President and Beanzir's father, became the PPP's first chairman. The PPP's creed is: "Islam is our faith; democracy is our politics; socialism is our economy; all power to the people." It is a relatively liberal political party. Although its center is in Pakistan's southern province of Sindh, the PPP also enjoys considerable support in Punjab. The party is currently co-chaired by Benazir's son, Bilawal Bhutto and her husband Asif Ali Zardari. The expected PM candidate is Amin Fahim, and notable party figure Aitzaz Ahsan is boycotting the elections. The Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) is a party formed in 2002 by the PPP for the purpose of complying with electoral rules governing Pakistani parties.

Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N): Originally the Pakistan Muslim League, the PML-N was established in 1993. It is a mainstream political party headed by former PM Nawaz Sharif, although the party president is his brother, Shahbaz Sharif. Javed Hashimi is also a notable party leader. The PML's power base has traditionally been in Punjab, although since the party has splintered PML-N's center is reportedly in Lahore. Although some leaders were sent into exile or were put in jail, the party won 9.4% of the popular vote in the 2002 elections, as well as 14 out of 272 members.

Pakistan Muslim League- Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q): The PML-Q was originally a faction that broke away from the PML-N in 2001. It was reportedly established "in defiance" of Nawaz Sharif and his family's monopoly over the party. The PML-Q is considered the biggest supporter of the Musharraf regime, and is likewise backed by the current government. As a result of growing anti-Musharraf sentiment, the party has lost a lot of its popular support. Its power center is reportedly in the Gujarat region of Pakistan. The current party president is Chaudhry Shaujaat Hussain., and it is widely considered a centrist-conservative party.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI): Meaning, Pakistan Movement for Justice, PTI's slogan is, "Justice, Humanity, and Self-Esteem." The party is headed by former cricketer Imran Khan, who has put forward a three-point solution to Pakistan's issues: (1) an independent election commission, (2) an independent judiciary, and (3) an independent accountability bureau. PTI reportedly enjoys the support of Pakistan's middle class and is popular among the youth. Despite this growing popularity, however, the PTI is boycotting the 2008 elections.

Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA): The MMA is a coalition of Islamist political parties in Pakistan, united against the current Musharraf government. It is the ruling party of the NWFP (Northwest Frontier Province) and reportedly enjoys support in Balochistan, and includes both the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) and Jamaat-e-Islami (the largest party in the coalition). The MMA is fiercely anti-American, anti-Musharraf, and seeks to enforce Shari'a law in the country. There has been reported tensions between the JI and the JUI, and, although the JI (and much of the MMA) is boycotting the 2008 polls, the JUI (specifically the JUI-F) is running in the elections.

Awami National Party (ANP): The ANP is a leftist secular party that is largely supported by the country's Pashtuns (Pathans), mainly in the NWFP, Punjab, and Balochistan. The party's current president is Asfandyar Wali Khan.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement
(MQM): Founded and currently led by Altaf Hussein, the MQM is the only political party that grew out of a student organization representing the Urdu-speaking people of the University of Karachi (essentially the Muhajir people, who migrated to Pakistan after independence). The student movement eventually evolved into an influential political party in Sindh province. According to the aforementioned election website, "MQM is infamous for its frequent involvement in terrorist activities although its leaders routinely deny such accusations."

Again, if anyone has anything to add, please let me know - I don't claim to be an expert on Pakistani political parties, but I thought a guide would be useful nonetheless. A great resource for monitoring the elections and for the actual CANDIDATES is: http://www.pw.org.pk.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Pakistan Army Chief Orders Military Out of Civilian Government Agencies; Update on Pakistan Ambassador

According to news sources yesterday and today, the new Pakistani military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani is withdrawing hundreds of army officers from civilian positions in the government "in a move widely seen as reducing the military's role in politics," noted the AFP. The NY Times reported that this action essentially "reverses an important policy of his predecessor, President Pervez Musharraf." The news agency added that this order by Kayani "was his boldest step to disentangle the military from the civilian sphere of the government since he assumed the post after Mr. Musharraf stepped down as military chief in November." Although army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said he made the decision last week, Kayani only announced it yesterday, less than a week shy of the much-anticipated Feb. 18th elections.

Kayani has gradually shifted the military away from the political arena. Last month, the general warned officers not to maintain contacts with politicians. Although analysts call these actions "overdue," they nevertheless show the army's seriousness in getting out of civilian affairs. A piece in the Wall Street Journal yesterday further highlighted this development, noting that that shift "could change how the Bush administration approaches Pakistan and the war against Islamist extremism." The WSJ added, "The moves, say senior Pakistani officers, stand as a clear signal to Mr. Musharraf that he can't rely on his former allies in the military to get 'desirable results' from the vote." Moreover, Kayani seems to be viewed by U.S. officials as a more favorable alternative to the President, and many say his leadership "could enhance Washington's ability to fight Al Qaeda." The WSJ added, "They say he seems to agree more than Mr. Musharraf on the need to cooperate with Afghan and U.S. forces to track militants flowing over the Afghan-Pakistan border."

In other security-related developments, media outlets also provided updates on the kidnapping of Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan, Kabul Tariq Azizuddin. According to Pakistan's Daily Times, the "local Taliban" on Tuesday claimed responsibility for his abduction and said "they would release him in return for Taliban commander Mullah Mansoor Dadullah," who was arrested in Quetta on Monday. Geo TV quoted the bureau chief of an Arab television channel, who said the local Taliban had asked tribal elders to convey their message to the Pakistani government.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Nawaz, Zardari to Form Coalition Gov't


According to news sources, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan People's Party (PPP) co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari said on Tuesday that they will form a coalition government if their parties won the majority of the votes on Feb. 18th. According to Pakistan's Daily Times, Zardari, following an hour-long meeting in Lahore, told reporters that the PPP would invite the PML-N as well as other "democratic forces" to join a governing coalition "even if the party won enough seats in parliament to rule on its own." Zardari emphasized, "We will sit together because the country is passing through a dangerous phase, and we can only steer the country out of this crisis together. I am conveying this message to the establishment that I will change this system."

According to Dawn, "The sources quoted Mr. Sharif as telling his guest that the PML-N would extend support to the PPP in forming the government without seeking any share in ministries." Sharif said he had been supporting the PPP despite some reservations of some leaders of his party and "friends in other parties." Dawn added, "The sources said that the two leaders agreed that the elections would be considered as 'rigged' if the PPP and PML-N did not 'secure top two positions.'"

The AFP reported that their comments "came after Human Rights Watch warned that Pakistan's Election Commission had failed to investigate reports of campaign violations, threatening the validity of the parliamentary elections." The news agency added, "The New York-based group said in a statement that the commission had ignored reports of arrests and harassment of opposition party members, and failed to act independently from Musharraf's administration. HRW reportedly said that election candidates had so far filed more than 1,500 complaints of irregularities, but few have been investigated. On Tuesday, news sources also reported that tens of thousands of Pakistani troops have been deployed across Pakistan to provide security for next week's elections amid a series of attacks. The AFP reported, "In a show of force ahead of Monday's polls, army soldiers and paramilitary forces stood guard at government buildings and potentially sensitive areas of several major cities."

Given how divisive party politics has been in Pakistan as well as the historic 'bad blood' between these two parties, the recent PML-N/PPP announcement is both significant and refreshing. However, could a coalition government be enough to tackle the many issues facing this country?

Bhutto Book Launched as "Message from Her Grave"

The party of the assassinated former PM Benazir Bhutto launched the book she completed just days before her death. Entitled, Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West, Bhutto hauntingly speculates about her own assassination and discusses the issues currently plaguing the country. The Washington Post's Pamela Constable wrote today, "There are some things only the dead can get away with saying, and some deaths speak more powerfully than anything the living can write. This book, finished just before its author was assassinated in Pakistan in December, sends out an urgent warning to her fellow Muslims and to Western democratic powers -- a warning one hopes may now find greater resonance with both audiences." According to Constable, who reviewed the book for the Post, "Her book argues that Islam is not incompatible with democracy, but that its credo of tolerance and freedom has been hijacked by purveyors of terror. The real 'clash of civilizations' lies within Islam, she asserted, and the West should seek to bolster its moderate center as the best means of countering the radical extremes."

According to the Associated Press on Tuesday, Bhutto's party, the PPP, said today that the book had been planned long in advance, "But its release could give an extra boost to the party's cause in the Feb. 18 vote." PPP spokeswoman, Sherry Rehman, told reporters today, "It is a tragic moment for us, but we feel she is with us in every sense ... She is guiding our election campaign."

Constable's review concluded, "Despite its flaws of self-indulgence and omission, this book contains a larger truth. Islam does need to find its place as a moderate guiding force for millions of followers in the modern world, instead of being stolen by jihadists and written off as the religion of suicide bombers." The Post writer emphasized, "Perhaps, however, Bhutto's destiny was not to rule Pakistan, but to die for the cause of its unfulfilled, fast-dimming promise as a Muslim democracy."

You can order Benazir's book on Amazon.

Monday, February 11, 2008

New Polls Show Musharraf Approval Rating Plummeting

A new poll released Monday, a week before the scheduled Pakistani parliamentary elections, revealed that President Pervez Musharraf's popularity has hit an all-time low "and opposition parties seem capable of a landslide victory that could jeopardize his efforts to cling to power," reported the Washington Post. The poll, conducted by the International Republican Institute (IRI) "found that just 15 percent of Pakistanis approve of Musharraf's job performance, exactly half the number who expressed approval in November. The two main opposition parties, meanwhile, had the backing of a combined 72 percent of those surveyed." The Post cited Christine Fair, a senior political analyst at Rand Corp., who announced, "If a coalition of revenge gets a two-thirds majority, he's done. Absolutely done."

According to the Post today, "The poll results are the latest in a series of troubling indicators for Musharraf. In recent months, he has suspended the constitution, fired many judges on the Supreme Court and engineered a legally dubious reelection in his quest to stay in power." Although the constitution has been restored, the president's repeated crackdowns against political opponents, the judiciary, and the mass media have further cut his support. Another widely covered poll, conducted by the U.S.-based Terror Free Tomorrow last month, found that the PPP, the party of the recently assassinated Benazir Bhutto, was the most popular just ahead of the February 18th elections. According to the Pakistani newspaper, Dawn, the survey closely affirmed the numbers from the IRI poll, finding that 70 percent of Pakistanis wanted Musharraf to quit. Interestingly, TFT also found that sympathy for Osama bin Laden and the Taliban has dropped sharply. Dawn reported, "According to the poll results, only 24 percent of Pakistanis approved of Osama when the survey was conducted last month, compared with 46 percent during a similar survey in August. Backing for Al Qaeda fell to 18 per cent from 33 per cent."

According to the Post piece, "There are widespread fears in Pakistan that Musharraf and his allies will rig next Monday's vote." However, the IRI poll indicated that that could be a "perilous" step for the leader, especially since only 14 percent said they would back Musharraf's party, the PML-Q in the upcoming elections. Today, The News' editorial further discussed the issue of the elections, but noted, "Whoever wins the election and by whatever means, they face a daunting set of problems, none of which have been addressed in terms of policy or manifesto by any of the political parties." According to a report from the World Bank, "The water, power irrigation and transport sectors" in Pakistan are all "woefully deficient," and whoever comes into power must effectively address these issues. The bottom line of the editorial? "The World Bank has provided a checklist of uncomfortable truths backed up with solid evidence that would be a wake-up call for any politician anywhere, except Pakistan. Expect no action."

With the elections just a week away, there seems to a powerful sense that the next party in power will be a welcome change from Musharraf's regime. However, are we so focused on voting the current president out of power that we can't focus on what could occur after the elections? How will the next elected party handle the multitude of problems currently plaguing the country?

Breaking News: the Associated Press reported this morning that the Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan was missing and "feared kidnapped" in the tribal border region

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Pakistan Attack Victims Mourned

On Saturday, 25 people were killed and 35 were injured in a suicide attack targeting an Awami National Party election rally in Charsadda. The ANP is a secular political party that competes against Islamist parties for support among the NWFP's ethnic Pashtun community. One man, who attended the funeral of two of Saturday's victims, told the Associated Press on Sunday that the ANP has "promoted peace" in the turbulent province, adding, "We do not understand why such a big attack happened." According to the AFP, Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz linked the attack to the wave of bombings perpetrated by Al Qaeda-linked militants, "that have claimed more than 70 lives this year."

Pakistan's Daily Times reported that the ANP announced a three-day mourning period for the victims. Dawn cited Afrasiab Khattak, the party's provincial chief, who asserted the explosion was "a conspiracy to delay the polls." Reuters, in its article today, also quoted ANP spokesman Zahid Khan, who reiterated Khattak's statements, noting, "This attack is carried out by the forces who want to subvert elections." The AFP added, "The bombing has further raised fears for the security of general elections on February 18..." Image from the AP.