Musharraf loses a “referendum”; Pakistan wins big

Early results from the Pakistan elections indicate a routing of the leadership of the Pakistan Muslim League (Q Group) that supported President Pervez Musharraf for the past five years and allowed him free reign effectively to convert Pakistan from a parliamantary to a presidential system. It appears that the Pakistani voter saw this election as a referendum on Musharraf. If so, he lost big.

Now what?

There is a possibility of a grand alliance at the center, involving former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League (N), the Pakistan Peoples Party, and the mainstream Awami National Party of the North West Frontier Province, with even the urban Muttahida Qaumi Mahaz of Sindh joining in. This kind of government would provide a useful counterweight to the power that resided in the presidency for the past eight years plus. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto must be smiling in heaven: democracy indeed is the best revenge!

If Musharraf learns to co-habit with this new dispensation at the center, then he may be able to salvage his place in history. One hopes he resists the temptation to resort to political engineering which brought a previous president to his fall at the hands of an army chief who felt the impending chaos was not in Pakistan’s interest. Indeed, the new army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, must be credited with having helped prepare the ground for the people to exercise their franchise with confidence that the army would not be party to rigging. He and the army can now move back to the military part of the war on terrorists inside Pakistan.

The new government in Pakistan should now see the insurgency inside Pakistan and in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) as Pakistan’s own war and not that of the US alone. And it needs to employ military tactics as part of an overall strategy that envelopes economic, social, and political approaches. The US should not have to push Pakistan into doing what is in its own interest on that front. Senator Joseph Biden must be pleased that the US can now have an alliance with the people of Pakistan and not with an autocrat, no matter how personally liberal he might be. And one hopes and prays that the new leadership in parliament will not wish to pander to the religious right, as the PML-Q did. Cutting deals with the Pakistani Taliban falls in that category. It never worked and never will.

An important part of the political puzzle now will be control of the critically huge province of the Punjab. If it is in concert with the government in Islambad then Pakistan have a chance of stability that will allow it to regain its political footing and restore the teetering economy.

Stay tuned!