Pakistan Elections: The Way Ahead


At the time of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, one thought on everyone’s mind was, “Where does Pakistan go from here?” A couple of months later, Sharif and Zardari’s plan to form a coalition Government may indeed get Pakistan back on track.

First Musharraf needs to be lauded for ensuring what he had promised; Free and Fair Elections at least in most parts of Pakistan, either that, or Musharraf simply had no way of making his party win. The PPP was the clear favourites as they were riding on sympathy votes. But, the surprise package of the elections and the one man who has benefited the most is clearly Nawaz Sharif. His first visit to Pakistan after exile has not lasted long, but this time he could well become Pakistan’s new Prime Minister and be at the helm of affairs in this Coalition Government.

Benazir Bhutto had ended her Autobiography, “The Daughter of the East” with, “As I prepare to return to an uncertain future in Pakistan in 2007, I fully understand the stakes not only for myself, and my country but the entire world. I realize that I can be arrested. I can be gunned down on the Airport Tarmac when I land. But I do what I have to do, and am determined to fulfill my pledge to the people of Pakistan, to stand by them in their democratic aspirations”. Bhutto might have gone, but her words echo throughout Pakistan. All of Pakistan wants to end this turmoil. The tidal wave that brought about radicalism and jihad needs to be controlled. And during the reign of Musharraf, things have gone from bad to worse. The only safe way of moving forward was to revive democracy. But, no one was sure as to who could lead the nation. It was believed that to save his skin, Musharraf would get the election rigged but fate had other plans. The two biggest names in Pakistan have come together setting aside their differences to ensure that democracy emerges as the winner in these elections. Every nation in the world has an Army, but it is only the Pakistani Army that has a nation. Unless President Musharraf steps down,, neither the Army nor the Nation can be stable. The Pakistan Army has seen more Generals becoming Presidents than most other countries in the world. It is time for this trend to stop, and for the army return to its normal duties. Most of Pakistan wants the military to stay out of the governing body. The Army’s justification of its presence saying that it wants to avoid a scenario similar to that of Hamas in Palestine is entirely flawed, as Pakistan has seen increased radicalism and terrorism in the past few years under the rule of the General. America has taken special interest in Pakistan and its aid to the Pakistan Army almost equals one fourth of its entire budget. The Pakistan Army is currently the fifth largest in the World and its growth can be attributed to this munificent aid given by America. The biggest challenge that lies ahead for Zardari and Sharif would be how to undo the damage done by General Musharraf. During his tenure, including the emergency period, Musharraf seems to have put more civilians and activists behind the bars than Jehadis or terrorists. The ouster of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary, the judges of the Supreme Court being imprisoned, social activistists and political commentators all losing on their jobs are just a few instances to prove this point. It is up to this coalition government to ensure that the judiciary functions in an independent manner. Chaudhary must be reinstated as Chief Justice, and the former Judges of the Supreme Court also be brought back. Further, to ensure freedom of speech of the citizens, restrictions on the functioning of the media, as well as restrictions on the internet need to be removed. It is important for Zardari and Sharif to realize that they are not really fighting Musharraf. Musharraf on the other side may have lost the elections but is certain not to accept defeat. This coalition Government will have to strive to take Pakistan forward. And the greatest threat to that is the internal strife which is plaguing Pakistan today. The ongoing training of Jehadis and terrorists in North Pakistan with the Taliban moving in are all ominous signs for Pakistan. If the Nuclear Arsenal of Pakistan were to fall in the wrong hands, it could spell doom not only for India but for the entire World. And as for Musharraf, he might have sent many a great leader into exile, but it is time that the new government ensures that he too faces the same fate.

Shishir Shrivastava

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