People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 20

May 19, 2013




Pakistan Elections:

Challenges Ahead


PAKISTAN has, indeed, created history. For the first time in 65 years, a new civilian government will replace another civilian government after winning a democratic election. Though many questions have been raised and will continue to be raised regarding the free and fairness of these elections, the European Union election observation mission has endorsed these elections and expressed their confidence that these were, by and large, free and fair.  These elections were marked by the terror campaign conducted by the fundamentalist forces particularly against the relatively more liberal and secular parties like the People’s Party of Pakistan, the National Awami Party and the MQM. Mr Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (N) which won the election, though short of a few seats for a simple majority and the former cricketer turned politician Imran Khan’s PTI were less of a target of the fundamentalists. 


Mr Sharif returns for his third stint as prime minister after a gap of fourteen years.  He was displaced in an army coup, imprisoned and later exiled for years in Saudi Arabia.  He rode back to power on a strong anti-incumbency against the incumbent Asif Ali Zardari’s PPP.  With the economic situation deteriorating marked by severe power shortages, the mounting hardships on the people have obviously found a reflection in this election. 


While our prime minister immediately congratulated Mr Sharif on his victory, he received a response that Pakistan’s new government would be very happy to have Dr Manmohan Singh attend its swearing-in ceremony.  Though democracy seems to have taken deeper roots in the fields of Pakistan, there is a long way to go to establish better relations between India and Pakistan.  Key aides of Mr Sharif have made public pronouncements soon after  his victory that “cross border interference is against Sharif’s policy”. Only time can confirm this.  Mr Sharif has always claimed the authorship of a peace process with India which led to the first ever official visit by an Indian prime minister to Pakistan and the Lahore Declaration which contains a roadmap for resolution of differences through dialogues. Mr Sharif’s aides assert that Pakistan’s new prime minister wishes to pick up these threads. 


Apart from Indo-Pak relations, Pakistan has formidable challenges that this government inherits.  With its economy in a bad shape, it needs to get an economic package from the IMF and initiate a new package of economic reforms. This is only possible through the active support of the USA.  However, all through the election campaign, the US `drone’ attacks have come under strong criticism.  This is a difficult balance that Mr Sharif has to achieve.  Further, how the ongoing war in Afghanistan is going to resolve and what happens from now to 2014 when the US led forces are scheduled to pull out will be crucial for Pakistan. What would be the future dispensation in Afghanistan and will US led foreign interference really end are questions whose answers will impact upon Pakistan.  The Taliban in Afghanistan have asserted that they shall not have any talks or negotiations with the Karzai government; this has its natural impact on the Pakistani Taliban.  Mr Sharif has pronounced during the election campaign that the answer to extremist militancy lies in talking and not fighting.  However, there are several sections of Pakistani Taliban who reject the very concept of democracy, ie, the very exercise that the people of Pakistan have chosen to endorse in these elections.  It has to be seen how persuasive Mr Sharif would be in bringing the Pakistani Taliban to talk.  This would be crucial to reduce, if not end, the string of terror attacks that continue to plague Pakistan. 


The enthusiasm shown by the Pakistani electorate in these elections naturally puts the burden of strengthening the democratic process and its institutions on the shoulder of this new government led by Nawaz Sharif.  The civilian leadership’s equation with the Pakistani army and with the judiciary are crucial for strengthening the institutions of a democratic State.  Of course, most crucial would be the equation that this civilian government would have with the ISI which will determine if the declarations such as “cross border interference is against the declared policy of this democratically elected government” is implementable. 


In the final analysis, Mr Nawaz Sharif’s call  for “a new Pakistan” seems to have enthused  considerable sections of youth and women.  Mr Nawaz Sharif, indeed, has formidable challenges that have to be met and resolved if he were to deliver his promise of “a new Pakistan”. While we, in India,  cannot afford to lower our guard, we can only wish Mr Sharif all the best in meeting these tasks at hand.  As he is sworn-in as Pakistan prime minister for a third time, perhaps he will be third time lucky. 


(May 15, 2013)