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Archive for February 22nd, 2008

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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