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Archive for February, 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.

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

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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]

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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]

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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?

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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]

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