More On Pakistans Elections I Just

More on Pakistan’s Elections

I just wanted to emphasize that I was not at all critizing the

moves for restoration of democracy in Pakistan in my op-ed.

What I was criticizing was the contradictions in the process. General

Musharraf unilaterally amended the constitution 29 times last summer. He

placed extreme constraints on campaigning. Pakistan People’s Party

campaign workers were arrested for doing whistlestop campaigning from a

train. The European Union observers report that the government polling

officials rigged the process so as to attempt to favor the pro-Musharraf

party, the Muslim League (QA). The government poured heaps of scorn on

the two major mainstream parties, the PPP and the Muslim League (N), the

latter of which had been overthrown in a military coup by Musharraf in

1999.

I do not believe that the fundamentalist parties would have done nearly as

well in a free and open election. It seems to me that in the Pushtun

regions in particular, the electorate felt that the PPP and the ML (N)

were being so determinedly marginalized by the military that one would be

throwing away one’s vote in choosing them. And, the Draconian

restrictions on canvassing prevented these two parties from mobilizing

their grassroots effectively there. These had been the dominant parties

in the NWFP, after all. So, the Pushtuns, prevented from mild protest,

chose a much more extreme form of fundamentalist protest against

Musharraf’s policies.

I think open democratic processes would have marginalized the religious

extremists, and that by playing Ahab to the great white whale of the

PPP/ML (N) status quo, Musharraf shot himself in the foot and produced a

hung parliament with a substantial fundamentalist representation. And, I

don’t think the US put enough pressure on Musharraf to hold free and open

elections.

The theory may have been that such pressure might destabilize a valued

ally in the War on Terror. But the PPP had supported the latter effort,

and marginalizing it just allowed parties that opposed it to step into the

breach.

And, from what I can tell, the Bush administration policies of pursuing an

Iraq war, of only tepid engagement in resolving Kashmir, and of almost

complete neglect of the Israel/Palestine issue contributed heavily to the

protest vote against Musharraf, who was willy nilly yoked to those

policies.

There wasn’t too much democracy this round in Pakistan. There was too

little. And, for Musharraf to try to continue to rule as a mere strongman

would have set the stage for massive protests. At least this way, Pushtun

discontent can be worked into parliamentary maneuvering instead of

violence, as Najeeb Jan rightly intimated.

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