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May 15, 2013

Pakistan elections do not augur well for President Zardari

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

May 11 elections have drastically changed the political map of Pakistan. At least three surprises sprung from the election result which will have grave repercussions for the political spectrum.

The former ruling party, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), was confined to the province Sindh. The Awami National Party was demolished in Khyber Pakhtunkhwah. President Asif Ali Zardari, who is also the co-chairman of the PPP, will not get a second term in office.

The PML-N sweeps across Punjab (the most populated province of Pakistan), has ensured that Mian Nawaz Sharif will not need any coalition partners, except for the sake of keeping a federal face by including some PML-Functional, Jamaat-e-Islami and JUI-F men in his cabinet.

Mian Nawaz Sharif has been reported as saying in private meetings that he would like to see a president from a smaller province and Sindh is out of the running. However, he has clarified that he will work with President Zardari whose term ends in September this year.

The PPP was routed in the elections with 32 seats in the National Assembly while Pakistan Tehereek-e-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan captured 26 seats and PML-N got about 124 out of 252 seats results announced by the Pakistan Election Commission. The National Assembly has 272 elected seats. And the results of the rest 20 seats are unlikely to drastically change the party position.

Now that the PPP has lost its political clout, it would also be interesting to see how President Zardari is treated by the judiciary and various organizations which carry out accountability, specially National Accountability Bureau, Federal Investigating Agency and others.

Once the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Istaqlal leader Imran Khan and Awami Muslim League leader Sheikh Rashid are in parliament, Mian Nawaz Sharif will be under a lot of pressure to complete the task of accountability that was left in abeyance because of the position President Zardari enjoyed. That situation changed on May 11.

The former ruling party, PPP,  was soundly beaten in May 11 election. The PPP was ahead in contests for 32 national assembly seats, a significant drop from the 91 seats the party won in the 2008 election.

Under President Asif Ali Zardari, the PPP — traditionally perceived as the party of the working classes — has succeeded in what the ruling elite and the two military dictatorships, General Ziaul Haq and General Parvez Musharraf failed to do. It has alienated itself from the working masses.

Nawaz Sharif somewhat more nationalistic

Sharif is expected to be somewhat more nationalistic and protective of state sovereignty when it comes to relations with the U.S. than the outgoing government, the Associated Press said. "He defied U.S. opposition to Pakistan's nuclear test in 1998 and has criticized unpopular American drone attacks targeting militants in the country. But that doesn't mean the relationship will radically change, especially since the army often plays a dominant role in foreign policy issues."

"At the end of the day, Sharif is a businessman, and he looks at these things through a kind of pragmatic analysis," according to Cyril Almeida, a columnist for Pakistan's Dawn newspaper. "I don't see any reason for him to want ties with U.S. to be poor, tense or troublesome."

Meanwhile, the Nation Special Correspondent from Washington reported:

The American print and electronic media is highlighting the election-related developments in Pakistan, with major newspapers pointing out that the two main contenders for power — PML-N’s Nawaz Sharif and cricket legend Imran Khan — had pledged to limit US influence in the South Asian country.

New York Times correspondent Declan Walsh, wrote from Lahore, “Unlike previous elections, in which the military’s Inter Services-Intelligence Directorate (ISI) had been widely accused of vote manipulation and intimidation, there was little evidence of involvement in this campaign by the military, which has ruled Pakistan directly for more than half its 66-year history.”

The Washington Post said in a lead editorial that the outcome of historic polls could cause complications for US. “For all that, there’s not much reason for optimism that the multiple problems that bedevil US-Pakistani relations will get any easier. In fact, some may get worse.”

In this context, the Post said both front-runners were “softer on the Pakistani Taliban and tougher on the United States than is either the military or the current civilian government.

“ Sharif has promised to negotiate with the jihadists, while Khan says he will end ‘America’s war’ against them and shoot down US drones,” the Post said.

The New York Times said that both Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan had promised to “rein in” US influence in Pakistan.

The nation said Washington is watching the election as it relies heavily on cooperation by the nuclear-armed South Asian country in fighting militants and negotiating an end to the war in neighboring Afghanistan. "Pakistan also provides key routes for transportation of supplies Afghanistan-based international security assistance forces as well as pullout of military equipment from its landlocked western neighbor."

President Barack Obama has called Pakistan's incoming prime minister Nawaz Sharif to congratulate him on his election win and to pledge strong cooperation with Islamabad.  "The two leaders agreed to continue to work together to strengthen US-Pakistan relations and advance our shared interest of a stable, secure, and prosperous Pakistan and region," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Pakistan's historic election could bring change to military ties with US?

According to David Piper of the Fox News, Pakistan’s historic election could have immense consequences for the region and the so-called war on terror.

It will be the first time in Pakistan’s 65-year history that a civilian government has completed a full term and passed along power in democratic elections. Previously, the military has got involved either through coups or influencing presidents to dissolve parliaments.

The generals still hold great power in Pakistan, but at the moment they are prepared to stay in the background as politicians squabble over who has the right policies to benefit a country which, some have called, a failed state because of its poor economic performance, political instability and ongoing violence.

The election campaign has raised concerns for the international community as some world leaders have questioned Pakistan’s role in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, Piper said adding:  Opposition leader and leading candidate to be the next prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, has warned he will stop Pakistan’s involvement in the war on terror. Asked whether he would stop military cooperation with the United States in the war, in an interview with the BBC he said, “Yes, we have to.” His argument is that it is necessary to stop the fighting in Pakistan and bring peace there.

Sharif believes the present government’s policy of not stopping the U.S. from conducting operations against terrorists on its territory is only encouraging more radicalism in Pakistan and elsewhere.

Manmohan Singh invites Nawaz Sharif to India  

Congratulating Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaqz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif, who is poised to become Prime Minister of Pakistan for the third time, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Sunday expressed India’s desire to work with the new government. He also invited Sharif to visit India.

“PM extends his congratulations to Mr. Nawaz Sharif and his party for their emphatic victory in Pakistan’s elections,” the Prime Minister’s Office tweeted as it congratulated the people and the political parties of Pakistan for “braving the threats of violence and voting in large numbers.”

“PM expressed India’s desire to work with the new government of Pakistan in charting a new course for the relationship between the two countries,” said another tweet.
The Indian prime minister, in another post invited Sharif “to visit India at a mutually convenient time”.

Sharif has served as the country’s prime minister for two non-consecutive terms from November 1990 to July 1993 and from February 1997 to October 1999. However, his both governments were dismissed before completing their constitutional term.