A New Dawn in Pakistan

15 May, 2013    ·   3931

Shujaat Bukhari on what lies ahead of Pakistan vis-a-vis the victory of the PML-N

Shujaat Bukhari
Shujaat Bukhari
Editor in Chief, Rising Kashmir

It is indeed the time for Pakistan and Pakistanis to celebrate. Braving the threats from extremists to not to recognize the polling booth as a step to empower themselves, the brave electorate of Pakistan have shown the courage and wisdom by reposing faith in the institution of democracy to change their destiny. The fact that around 130 people (24 alone on the election day) lost their lives during the entire electoral process is a high price to pay.

But keeping in view the dark times the country has gone through, it is worth it. By voting the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) to power, the Pakistani people have added a feather to the cap, as this verdict will be another first in its battered history of 65 years. After the PPP led government achieved the distinction of being the first one to complete full term in the office, this will be the smooth transition from one government to another, witnessed in the country for the first time. The unprecedented turn out, though not in few areas, also marked the resilience of the people to stand up against the menace of terrorism and showed the urge for democracy.

Pakistan has last seen democracy till 1958 when first coup was staged and not the Army but bureaucrats such as Ghulam Mohammad who served as Governor General (1951-55) and Iskandar Mirza (President 1956-58) nursed a serious anti democracy sentiment, paved the way for the coup and set a ground for Army’s penchant to rule the country for most of the period of its existence. It was delivered to people in bits and pieces in the intervening periods and could not take its roots in the society.

The Verdict
By sweeping the elections after passing through turbulent times in his political career, which include his forced exile, the PML (N) chief Nawaz Sharief has strengthened the importance of alternatives in a democratic set up. Since democracy is not an event but a deep rooted process, his being on the scene also served as a trigger for people’s large participation since he had ruled the country before as well. However, the emergence of cricketer turned politician Imran Khan cannot be ignored in lending the credibility to the process of elections and pushing the youth into the electoral euphoria. Whether his “Tsunami” helped him or not but surely invigorated a new spirit among the Pakistanis who craved for a change. Imran did not fail in his efforts at all rather he has an opportunity to learn lessons to factor in the process in a more expanded manner. From one seat in 2002 election to 28 in the National Assembly this time, he has covered a long distance in the political space. On the top of it, his party is making a debut in government formation by taking over the reins in highly volatile Khyber Pakhtunkhwa  (KPK) province.

However, the disturbing feature of the result, which could threaten the balance of power, is that the election has by and large regionalized Pakistan. While Nawaz has swept Punjab, PPP and MQM have been confined to Sindh and Imran Khan has majority in KPK signaling that ethnicity has also played a major role.  As rightly put by former PPP law maker Farhanaz Ispahani, the democracy has won in Pakistan but the federation has lost. But for that matter regionalism is also a permanent phenomenon in a strong democracy like India where the regional parties play as king makers in federal set up.

The results have reflected another important reality, which is that the parties, which have been fighting elections purely on religious ideologies, have been routed and rather rejected by the electorate. It is true that that Nawaz Sharief’s proximity with right wing extremists has helped him to romp back but the hard-core religious parties have not been able to register their presence in the electoral battle. For example Jamat e Islami could not get more than three seats and many of its members fought elections in KPK on PTI tickets to ensure their win. At the same time, the parties with nationalist agenda like in KPK and Sindh too have been defeated by the people. It is beyond doubt that PPP lost due to anti incumbency and lack of leadership but the threats issued by Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan forcing it and other two parties – ANP and MQM to restrict their movement have hugely benefited PML (N) and PTI is registering their victory.

The Challenges
While Nawaz Sharif has created a wave of hope and positive movement forward, he will have to deal with plethora of problems. Both on external and internal front, his challenges are manifold. His soft approach towards extremist forces will further complicate his course on fighting back terrorism. It will be a testing time for Nawaz Sharief to ensure internal stability by stamping out the menace of terrorism while continuing to be friends with right wing extremists. He will surely be under pressure to even “compromise” on critical issues. His acid test will be to get Pakistan out of unprecedented energy crisis, which has plunged the country into darkness. Worsening economy is another major challenge he will have to deal with. But all these things are conditioned with the restoration of order and sense of security in the country.

The external front is too heavy for him to shoulder. As the international forces are scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan there is more than a year for that to go and till then the dealing with United States of America will be a precarious situation for him. Stopping the drone attacks will not be an easy task for him as the trust between Washington and Islamabad is at the lowest level and would need a lot of home work before they could stitch the torn patches. The post 2014 situation in Afghanistan also throws up a test for him and dealing with Kabul will not be so easy. Then Indian presence in Afghanistan will be another area, which will be keenly watched by anti India forces in Pakistan. In the backdrop of his repeated statements that Army has to be under the civil authority, his relationship with this most important part of the establishment is not an easy going affair. He might have matured in his thinking and handling the sensitive area like this but the way the Army is deep rooted in the affairs of the country, he may not be able to make them subservient so easily. But Army has shown exemplary sense of responsibility in helping the state to go through this historic transition and to sustain that intent would be crucial to democracy in Pakistan.
India-Pak relations

Both Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh seem to have started the new chapter on a positive note by exchanging the wishes and promises. Nawaz emphatically stated that he was keen to pick up the threads from 1999 initiative when he invited then Prime Minister A B Vajpayee to Lahore.  But there is difference between 1999 and 2013. He extended an olive branch to New Delhi much before his victory was clear. This was reciprocated by Dr Singh who invited him to India and soon followed Sharief’s desire to see the Indian Prime Minister attending his oath ceremony.

This could be the well beginning but to sustain the momentum of the relationship is a herculean task for both the leaders. On the Indian side the level of animosity has not come down as the incidents of LoC skirmishes and the death of Sarabjit Singh are still ruling the minds of the people, “militarized” their minds and have expanded the constituency of “hatred” against Pakistan. Dr Singh is not a powerful Prime Minister who could jump to a new bonhomie as he is under tremendous pressure from opposition for other reasons as well. Nawaz Sharief may get support for opening up the new channels with New Delhi, but the general elections in India next year will put a cap on such an effort and he will have to wait for the next government to bring real change in the relationship. He is keen to push the trade with India to address an important constituency in his Punjab bastion but it will require an equal response from India, which is unlikely to happen in this regime.

On Kashmir, Nawaz Sharief’s party’s manifesto was more than clear when it says on its Page 82 “Special efforts will be made to resolve the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, in accordance with the provisions of the relevant UN resolutions and the 1999 Lahore Accord and in consonance with the aspirations of the people of the territory for their inherent right of self-determination”. But soon after the results he softened his stand saying that he was ready to abandon the UN Resolutions in case India agrees to Jammu and Kashmir as dispute. That is perhaps the right way to begin the dialogue but back home will he be able to sell this preposition?

Then there will be no difference between Musharraf and him. Giving concessions to India will be a big decision and in case New Delhi does not reciprocate that, his trouble is imaginable. But when Nawaz says that he would start from 1999, then he is discounting the progress made between two countries during Vajpayee-Musharraf and Musharraf-Manmohan time. There was tremendous movement forward in the shape of CBM’s and other initiatives and it is not possible to ignore that. For Kashmir those initiatives were remarkable and if Nawaz really means to address Kashmir he will have to start from Musharraf left it.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir