Opposition To Musharraf Wins Big In

Opposition to Musharraf wins Big in Pakistan

Early returns available in the Pakistani elections held October 10 reveal a strong anti-Musharraf tendency among those few who could be bothered to go to the polls (turnout was reportedly light, presumably in response to Musharraf’s having made it clear that the army would continue to retain ultimate power without regard to the elected prime minister).

The Muttahida Majlis-i Amal, a coalition of six small religious parties, swept the Northwest Frontier and Baluchistan provinces, gaining a larger percentage of the vote than ever before. The enormous resentments of Pushtuns in Pakistan against the US defeat of the Taliban, and of General Musharraf for having backed the U.S., were expressed in these poll results. The MMA had fielded 31 candidates for the national parliament in the NWFP, and most were winning according to estimates early Friday morning. It also won the population poor province of Baluchistan and will pick up a few seats in Karachi in Pushtun immigrant neighborhoods. The religious parties will also control the provincial governments of NWFP and Baluchistan.

Note that this outcome, while not unexpected, could not have been taken for granted. The religious parties did miserably in the last elections, in these very provinces.

Since these two provinces of Pakistan are where the al-Qaeda and some Taliban remnants are hiding out, the prospect of having highly uncooperative provincial governments there, who are hostile both to the US and Musharraf, has to be a major security concern. The parliamentarians now elected from the NWFP had called for Musharraf’s overthrow last winter and had supported the Taliban. Their numbers in the national parliament, while unprecedentedly large (15%?), are still so small as to given them little power at that level.

The Musharraf loyalist party Muslim League (QA) lost out in the major Punjabi city of Lahore, but may still take Punjab province as a whole.

The Pakistan People’s Party (Parliamentarian) took Sindh province, and is doing better than expected over-all. It may well be in a position to form a government in coalition with another party or parties. Its in-country leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim consulted with the Inter-Services Intelligence (the military intelligence bureau that actually makes or breaks Pakistani governments), a sign he may emerge as PM. He then flew to London to consult with expatriate PPP leader Benazir Bhutto.

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a secular nationalist party for Urdu speakers in Karachi, seemed set to do very well in the city. This trend among the Urdu speakers to nationalism contrasts with the strong Pushtun preference for the religious parties.

The PPP, the Muslim League (N) and the Muslim League (QA) seem likely to get about a quarter of the national vote for the Federal parliament each, with the PPP delegation being perhaps somewhat larger than the other two. This outcome is being referred to as a “hung parliament,” indicating a very weak PM who will be even less able to stand up to Musharraf and the military than would otherwise be the case.

Musharraf has lost big in this election. Three of the four provincial governments are opposed to him, two of them fiercely opposed. The PPP, a populist party also critical of Musharraf, may form the national government. In a hung parliament, the religious parties may emerge as a swing vote. The general is not in for a smooth ride. The PPP has pledged to rescind the 29 amendments to the constitution instituted unilaterally by Musharraf last summer, and to send the army back to the barracks.

There is likely to be trouble about all this, especially in the north, where support for Islamic radicalism seems to be growing.

The implications for Karzai’s Afghanistan are also sobering. In two years will pro-Taliban parties sweep the Pushtun areas there? Will such provincial governments welcome back al-Qaeda?

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