Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
Subdued. That is the best word I can come up with to describe the Pakistan blogosphere on election day. In a country used to the unexpected, the overwhelming sense is not over who is going to win but about what is going to happen next.
All Things Pakistan kicks off its own election-day debate with a prognosis, reproduced from an op-ed in the New Straits Times, that things will get worse before they get better. The Pakistan Policy Blog examines the potential for vote-rigging and post-election manoeuvring and concludes that “these elections are an exercise in managed competition.”
The Web site PKPolitics has put together a straightforward front page promising full details of the election results, although this appearance of normality is belied by two of its sub-headings — “violence reports” and “rigging reports”. Only a couple of blogs sound genuinely passionate about the poll. Chowrangi urges people to go out and vote, as does The Pakistani Spectator .
So far, the turnout has been fairly low. So what happens next?
The Pakistan election campaign has been so muted until now that from the outside it can be hard to believe it’s really happening. So plaudits to Pakistan Politics for posting the TV ads of the main political parties. The Pakistan Policy Blog provides a summary of the ads, though you don’t need to understand the language to get the drift.
The Pakistan Muslim League (N) of Nawaz Sharif relies heavily on projecting his personality, the footage of the former prime minister interspersed with pictures of a lion.
An important question in the Pakistani general election and provincial elections coming up on Feb. 18 is how the Islamist parties there will fare. These parties, which usually scored below 10 percent in the past, shot up to a total 17 percent of seats in the National Assembly at the last election in 2002. They also won power in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and shared power in Baluchistan -- the two provinces that border Afghanistan and have been most destabilised by the Taliban and Al Qaeda operating in the region.
Zeeshan Haider, senior correspondent in our Islamabad bureau, visited the NWFP capital Peshawar to gauge the voters' mood. Here's what he found :
Reports last week that the Pakistani Taliban fighting the Pakistan army had declared a ceasefire have raised speculation among analysts of division among the militant ranks. In particular they focus on challenges to Baitullah Mehsud, the Pakistan Taliban leader blamed by the government for the killing of Benazir Bhutto.
The Asia Times Online says the ceasefire in part reflected efforts by the Afghan Taliban to isolate Mehsud, bring in new local leaders and pave the way for the annual spring offensive in Afghanistan. “Most of the new appointments are Afghans, to signify the importance of fighting a war in Afghanistan rather than in Pakistan,” it says.
For us journalists, old stories never die. So with all the talk about what is going on in Afghanistan right now, I was grateful to the Internet for letting me retrieve a piece I was asked to write two days after 9/11 about previous superpower bungling there.
It was a tense time, so I had to scramble through my history books to find the following quote: “In addition to the natural hatred which every Afghan feels toward a foreign invader, there is a strong underlying current of fanaticism. Unless promptly checked, (it) becomes at times, and especially against a Christian enemy, uncontrollable.” That was about Afghanistan in 1880, written by British Field Marshal Lord Roberts, after British invaders had been massacred in Kabul.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the world's Anglicans, has said the introduction of some aspects of sharia, Islamic law in Britain, was unavoidable. Other religions enjoyed tolerance of their laws in Britain, he told the BBC, and he called for a "constructive accommodation" with Muslim practice in areas such as marital disputes.
Williams stressed that "nobody in their right mind would want to see in this country the kind of inhumanity that's sometimes been associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states; the extreme punishments, the attitudes to women as well.
The Islamic finance industry has grown rapidly as Muslims around the world seek investments that comply with their religious beliefs. A tripling of oil prices over the past five years has flooded the Islamic finance sector with petrodollars, accelerating that expansion. So what are the issues facing the industry now? Of special interest for this blog are questions about how religious principles and business practices interact. For example, is some Islamic banking too Islamic for its own good? Do some types of murabaha contracts actually violate sharia law?
These religious issues and major deals in Islamic finance have been discussed during a Reuters industry summit on Islamic finance this week. There's a conference website here with text reports plus video interviews with leading players in the world of business by Islamic principles.
I’m assuming there must be a problem with my search function since I can find very little out there about Pakistan and the U.S. primaries. After all, everyone was happy to mock George W. Bush for being unable to name the leader of Pakistan in his own campaign. And that was before 9/11. Surely this time around it will be different?
Well, no (unless it really is the search function). The financial crisis has driven American foreign policy out of the media coverage of the primaries. Even the blogosphere is quiet.
It’s interesting to note the issue that attracts the most comments from Pakistani bloggers is not Islamist militancy, certainly not its nuclear weapons, but its lawyers.
On Jan. 25 I wrote about how the lawyers’ movement had a special resonance in Pakistan not easily understood elsewhere. Now the release and fresh detention of opposition lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan has everyone ploughing in again.
Why send in American troops, when a drone will do? Reports that al Qaeda leader Abu Laith al-Libi was killed in North Waziristan by a missile launched by a CIA-operated Predator aircraft (see file photo, right) have spawned a fresh batch of analyses about U.S. involvement in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Here are some of the more insightful ones:
In Pakistan’s The News, Peshawar-based Rahimullah Yusufzai says the American policy of hitting targets inside Pakistan has now become the norm rather than the exception. “In a way, the latest missile attack by the US military in North Waziristan has rendered meaningless the need for permission to the Americans to hit targets in Pakistan. Their troops may not enter Pakistan but they can always use their superior air technology to attack positions and suspected hideouts of the militants in our tribal areas bordering Afghanistan,” he writes.