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To Be or Not to Be: Pakistan Goes to the Polls on February 18

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On Sunday more than 20 innocent people were killed at Charsadda, in the Northwestern Frontier province of Pakistan.The blast devastated a hall where about 200 people had gathered for the upcoming election campaign. The rally was organised by the Awami National Party (ANP), a secular organisation that competes against Islamist parties for support among the ethnic Pashtun community.

The government agencies promptly labeled the attack as a suicide mission and declared that they had found the head of the bomber. The very next day Mr. Asfandyar Wali, the leader of ANP, vehemently denied the government claims and told the press that it was a planted bomb and an attempt to kill the top leadership of his party.

Elections in Pakistan are scheduled to be held on February 18, but the entire nation is uncertain about it. The military rulers of Pakistan from Gen. Ayub Khan (1958-69) and Gen. Ziaul Haq (1977-1988) and now Pervez Musharraf (1997 to date) are notorious for delaying elections and not allowing political freedom to flourish. This is one reason that institutions have gradually been destroyed and the average Pakistani is at a loss to understand anything about his own country's ruling elite. The present regime already postponed the elections once, after former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on December 27, 2007. In October of last year there was a massive series of blasts when she appeared at a large political rally in the port city of Karachi. Hundreds of innocent people died in those blasts but the government agencies failed to apprehend the culprits and the carnage thus goes on unchecked. The bomb attack on the NWFP is the latest of the series of these brutal murders.

The blame game continues as various political parties hurl accusations at each other for the rapid deterioration of law and order. In November of last year, Gen. Musharraf sacked an active supreme court by declaring an emergency in the country and held the constitution in abeyance, a decision which he later withdrew under immense Western pressure. Nonetheless, the judges and senior lawyers remain in perpetual captivity. It is a dilemma that European countries in general and the USA government in particular see him as a useful warrior against terrorists of Afghanistan (and Pakistan), but he has increasingly become unpopular as the country suffers under his regime with price hikes, shortages, stock exchange scandals, and power shortages which have crippled the economy. Millions are suffering due to extremely bad governance.

General Musharraf is taking sides with the Muslim League (Q), which consists of his handpicked politicians, but their chances of success in the upcoming elections are diminished significantly. This situation may spur another postponement of elections by the all-powerful general, which will be catastrophic to the political process and democracy in the country. Only time will tell how wisely the general reads the writing on the wall and takes the steps necessary to pull the nation out of these hazardous, abysmal depths.

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  • Pablo

    A well written article. I hope very much that Pakistan does not follow the model of voting that happens here in the USA or you can kiss democracy goodbye.

  • Roger

    An interesting article! I’m wondering about the sourcing for the statement that “hundreds of innocent people” died in the bomb blasts in Karachi in October. NY Times and BBC report “at least 139 deaths” which is different from “hundreds”.

    Either way, of course, it was horrific.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    I concur with the above two commenters that this is an excellent piece.

    I note that Pakistan has had three military rulers since independence, each of whom (including, so far, Musharraf) has ruled for 11 years. I wonder if that is in effect the shelf life for these guys, and whether Musharraf has that at the back of his mind… especially with what happened to Zia.

  • Ms. Keighley (qing-jao)

    You write with great clarity and passion.
    I read your articles and leave feeling informed, and touched by their contents.
    Thank you for doing this, please keep writing!!