The issue of free and fair elections has recently been a source of contention among Pakistanis and the international community as a whole. Despite Musharraf's recent assertions during his Europe trip that power will be transferred to whomever wins the upcoming February elections, Pakistanis are still skeptical of the leader. A significant article released by the Associated Press today reported that "an influential group of retired officers from Pakistan's powerful military" has "urged" Musharraf "to immediately step down" from power, noting his resignation would both promote democracy and help combat religious militancy. In a statement released late Tuesday to the media by the Pakistan Ex-Servicemen's Society, they stated, "This is in the supreme national interest and it makes it incumbent on him to step down." The AP news agency underscored the significance of this development, noting, "The group of former generals does not speak for serving officers, but its tough stance is an embarrassment to Musharraf whose popularity has waned considerably in the past year. It could strike a chord within the army's current ranks — which are forbidden from expressing political opinions — over how a once-respected institution has lost a lot of support among the wider public as Musharraf's personal standing has eroded over his maneuvering to stay in power."
I think this week's poll falls in line with Wednesday's news coverage - should our focus be on free and fair elections if the security situation is increasingly deteriorating? Will a new, democratically elected regime be able to handle a war that is being waged in our own country? On Wednesday, former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made statements addressing this issue. According to Reuters, Sharif said Pakistan's "perilous" security situation is hindering the campaign for the Feb. 18th elections "with politicians putting their lives at risk when they go out to seek votes." The former PM told reporters, "Elections are around the corner but what sort of an election campaign can one conduct? How can we go out?"
The security situation, inflation, and issues related to the elections all present the chicken and the egg problem - does a more secure country allow for a better electoral process? Does inflation further exacerbate violence, and vice versa? The United States has grown increasingly concerned with the problematic security situation in Pakistan, and the Bush administration has been under growing pressure from Congress to cut aid to the country, "or impose restrictions linking democratic reform to funding levels." On Tuesday, Sec of State Rice emphasized that this assistance was important and would continue, reported the Daily Times. She stated, "We have to have a long-term, consistent, predictable relationship with Pakistan." Such assertions do not mean the U.S. is satisfied with Pakistan's actions regarding extremism and intelligence collection in the country. However, according to an article in Wednesday's Dawn newspaper, a U.S. official noted, "We have to be careful conducting operations in a sovereign country, particularly one that’s a friend of ours and one that has given us a lot of support. The blowback would be pretty serious." The News also cited the U.S. official, Dell Daily, the State Department's counter-terror chief, who added, "Pakistan's new military chief, Gen Ashfaq Kayani, already has shown he is an aggressive commander, and U.S. officials are confident he will make progress. If Pakistanis ask for help, the United States will provide it." [Image courtesy of the Daily Times]