By Patricia Lee Sharpe
The count’s still contested here and there—and loudly, especially in Karachi, which is no surprise. But the outcome is clear: the Pakistan Muslim League (N) won enough seats in last week’s parliamentary election to form a government all by itself. No need for coalition building in Islamabad.
That’s good. One-party government makes it easier to get things done, especially when there’s a responsible opposition to temper ideological excesses. Such an opposition the out-going People’s Party, whose lackluster performance in power made electoral defeat inevitable, has pledged itself to be. Even so, the PPP won slightly more seats in Parliament than the perky new kid on the block, the Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice Party) founded by ex-cricketeer Imran Khan, which had hoped to win a parliamentary majority. The U.S. should be happy. Khan has been very critical of Pakistan's relations with the U.S.
Before we start looking toward the future via a rather murky crystal ball, let’s pause to note an important milestone. For the first time in Pakistan’s history, the 2013 election will allow a civilian-led government to hand the baton to another civilian government. U. S. President Barack Obama has already congratulated PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif, and maybe this time—having been granted a third go as Pakistan’s Prime Minister—Nawaz will manage to complete a term in office. In 1999, Chief of Army Staff Pervez Musharraf, with whom Nawaz had just waged (and lost) a high-altitude, mid-winter, mini-war against India, staged a coup and sent him scampering into exile in Saudi Arabia.
A New Nawaz?
“I’ve mellowed.” So says Nawaz, but the world around him may have changed more than he has. To name just a few of the more dramatic events of the past decade or so: the Twin Towers catastrophe in New York; U.S. intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq; the rise of drone warfare; the elimination of Osama bin Ladin and Saddam Hussein; the Arab spring and its messy aftermath; the still raging civil war in Syria; the earth-shaking awakening of the Chinese dragon; the death of Kim Jung Il.There's more, but the point has been made.
A New Military?
Nawaz also faces a different Chief of Army Staff.
Many times during the lead up to last Saturday’s polling, I thought that the level of election-related violence—car bombs set off; candidates, party officials and ordinary people murdered; a high-level kidnapping—must surely have reached coup level. The Army would step in, declaring with the usual paternalistic panache that poor old Pakistan still isn’t ready for democracy. It didn’t happen.
Perhaps the Pakistani military under General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, has also mellowed. At the very least, Kayani honored his pledge (or inclination) to keep the Army out of the electoral process, even if that meant the Pakistani Taliban’s selective violence might skew the results toward parties they gauged to be more sympathetic to the Islamist cause. Taliban targets tended to belong to the MQM, the PPP and the AWP, all openly secular in orientation. An interesting note: the PML-N insists that it too was harrassed, as if Nawaz feels some need to show there's air and light between him and the Taliban. Even more important: Taliban threats notwithstanding, people in most constituencies flocked to the polls to exercise their right to vote.