Pakistan election and aftermath

By Arnold Zeitlin

Here’s a take on the Pakistan election and aftermath. as usual after elections, euphoria tends to reign, depending on how significant the result. however, euphoria eventually succumbs to reality  (see barack Obama six months after his election victory). so, it’s safest to take a pessimistic view. in my case, I may be too influenced by my experience in covering for AP the 1970 Pakistan election, probably the fairest in the country’s difficult history. in that election, voters essentially voted for the country’s separation, with the awami league winning a parliamentary majority with seats all in east pakistan and none in the west, while the people’s party won a majority in the west but no seats in the east. the result led to the split of pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh.

Pakistan voters have created a dynamic that may bear some comparison with 1970.  if you think I’ve missed the mark or I’m just nuts, don’t hesitate to let me know. i’d be happy to learn other scenarios.

The election was historic as the transfer of power to another elected civilian government. the turnout shows that pakistanis want so much to have accountable, civil rule untainted by extreme islam. many commentators credit imran khan for exciting young voters. why  didn’t the TPI do better in winning seats?

What voters seemed to have created is a national assembly dominated by a majority PML-N party that is almost wholly Punjabi in membership.  of course, the  PML-N rules in Punjab province, too. opposition parties may rule in the sindh and in khyber pakhtunkhwa, hereinafter referred to as the frontier. Baluchistan, through a coalition, may have a PML-N chief minister, although the party that won the most seats in the provincial assembly was the pakhtunkhwa milli awami party (PkMAP).

Fouzia saeed, a pakistani activist from the frontier, who has been paying close attention to baluchistan politics while a visiting fellow at the national endowment for democracy in washington dc, has written this about the Baluchistan result:

I do understand that it is a very ethnically divided province but PkMAP did take 11 seats and is the biggest party. I am already seeing pukhtoon reaction on social media, saying having a pukhtoon CM is our right and they are in a way correct. We made that mistake when East Pakistan won the elections in 1971 and we did not let Mujeebur Rehman become the Prime Minister, though that was the biggest party. We  ended up loosing half the country.

I’m wondering if a Punjabi-dominated center and oppositionist parties ruling in the provinces will strain the bonds that unite them in one pakistan, especially with the demands that a strong 18th amendment will provoke, especially in the allocation of resources.

While so many herald smoother pakistan-indian relations under an strongly elected government, few mention that bone-in-the-throat issue, kashmir, as well as the role of the military — not only the issue of allocation of resources but of leadership. what will Nawaz sharif’s role be in the selection of the next chief of army staff?

In a discussion about the election at the Atlantic council think tank  in DC, former foreign secretary riaz mohammed khan warned of the danger of the center pitted versus the provinces.  panel participants, which included maleeha lodhi, speaking from Lahore via Skype, raised the issue of regionalization of the parties. maleeha did note that Nawaz had some representation in Baluchistan and in the frontier and that polarization was “not really that sharp.” that issue is a wait-and-see matter.

Out of the above-mentioned euphoria has emerged a picture of a Nawaz sharif who, in maleeha’s words, is “accommodative and flexible”. other more generous characterizations have made him about to be a second coming of mohammed ali Jinnah, who will rule with wisdom and authority. Nawaz never has been a brightest bulb in the chandelier, so this renewed version of him must await the test of time and Pakistani politics.

In conclusion, it might be best to quote maleeha lodhi’s advice to the most euphoric: “be careful what you wish for….”

Best wishes, pakistan,  as well as the many friends for whom it is home,  az


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