Pakistan's Elections

Does the electoral defeat mean the end of President Pervez Musharraf’s rule? How will it affect the war on terror?

This assessment from Jehangir Tareen, a former member of Pervez Musharraf's cabinet, sums up the biggest lesson from Pakistan's parliamentary elections. "The lesson for the United States in this is to listen to the will of the people. We cannot nod automatically to the United States. We would like to participate in this if it is in our interest. We will not be ordered about."

While the results in total represent a defeat for and repudiation of Musharraf-Boston University's Husain Haqqani told the Asia Times that, "In the end, Pakistanis voted against the arrogant Pakistani establishment"-and a number of leading political figures in the "King's Party"-the Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-i-Azam (PML-Q)-lost their seats, the final results are still unclear. The balance of power in Parliament is split between the two principal opposition parties-the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) now headed by Benazir Bhutto's husband, and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. These two parties have to decide how they will join together in coalition and whether the goal is a unity government that includes President Musharraf, or instead to push forward to completely dismantle what remains of Musharraf's political base. If all opposition forces come together-and they achieve a two-thirds majority-they might be in a position to impeach Musharraf; another option would be to restore the dismissed Supreme Court justices and declare Musharraf's election as president to be invalid.

Hasan Askari-Rizvi, a political analyst, told the Indo-Asian News Service, "It is clear that the two major opposition parties have got the lead everywhere except in Balochistan. The electoral process was flawed but still the pro-Musharraf elements lost. The making of the governments and reversing the changes made by Musharraf will be a complex affair but, in any case, the possibility of confrontation with Musharraf cannot be ruled out. Political uncertainty will continue for some time." That is a prediction Washington may not particularly care for.

Some other interesting developments. The first is the extent to which anger over the raid on the Red Mosque back in 2007 played a decisive role in the defeat of Musharraf's party in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The second was the victory in the North-West Frontier Province for the Pashtun Awami Nationalist Party. This indicates a decrease in support for pro-Taliban elements in the region, but does not signal support for a robust U.S. presence. Sharif has continued to maintain that dialogue with extremist forces is preferable to taking military action, and the head of the Awami Party, Afrasiab Khattak, made clear that he does not believe "that a military solution will work," and added that his party "will never support American forces coming here [to the NWFP] and operating."


Nikolas K. Gvosdev is editor of The National Interest.