Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
Never in the history of Pakistan has a democratically elected civilian government served out its full term and then been replaced by another one, also through democratic elections. It is that context that makes the latest political crisis in Pakistan so important.
Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani is scrambling to save his PPP-led government after it lost its parliamentary majority when its coalition partner, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), announced it would go into opposition. A smaller religious party, the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), already quit the coalition last month. If the government falls and elections are held ahead of schedule in 2013, the opportunity for Pakistan to have a government which serves its full term will be lost.
The prevailing view among political analysts appears to be that the government is now less likely to last until 2013, even if it manages to survive in the short term. But given the peculiar nature of Pakistani politics, where the military exerts a powerful role behind the scenes, no one is predicting anything with any certainty.
The main opposition leader, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has shown little enthusiasm for forcing an early election which could propel his Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) into power at a time when the country faces huge economic and security problems. Better to wait it out until an election in 2013 that his PML-N is seen as likely to win. Having been ousted in a coup in 1999, Sharif also remains deeply suspicious of the army, and he has ruled out supporting any moves against the government that might be orchestrated by the military. Giving democracy time to bed down, by allowing the government led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to serve its full term, could set a useful precedent for a future PML-N administration.
Shortly after the Mumbai attacks, I asked whether India faced a trial of patience in persuading Pakistan — with help from the United States — to take action against the Islamist militants it blamed for the assault on its financial capital. India’s approach of relying on American diplomacy rather than launching military action led to some soul-searching among Indian analysts when it failed to deliver immediate results. But is it finally beginning to bear fruit?
Former Indian diplomat M K Bhadrakumar writes in the Asia Times that diplomatic efforts over the Mumbai attacks are entering a crucial phase. ”After having secured New Delhi’s assurance that India will not resort to a military strike against Pakistan, Washington is perceptibly stepping up pressure on Islamabad to act on the available evidence regarding the Mumbai attacks.”
After India last held state elections in Jammu and Kashmir in 2002, the Kashmir Valley witnessed a period of relative peace only to see it shattered when plans to give land to Hindu pilgrims triggered the biggest protests since the Kashmir separatist revolt erupted in 1989.
The latest elections – which produced a turnout of more than 60 percent despite a boycott call by separatists and ushered in a new state government led by Omar Abdullah – have provided a second chance to change the mood in the volatile Kashmir Valley. But do India and Pakistan, and the Kashmiris themselves, have the ability to turn this second chance into a real opportunity for peace?