Pakistan at the Crossroads
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 19th February, 2008
Early results from the parliamentary elections in Pakistan indicate sweeping gains by several opposition parties, notably the PPP of the late Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif’s PML (N). President Musharraf has said he will abide by the results and so far opposition fears of widespread vote-rigging seem unfounded. Voter turnout was below 40 per cent, however, partly because many electors were afraid to go to the polls, given the violence in the run-up to the elections, but also because many people understandably regard most politicians in Pakistan as corrupt. As the PPP and the PML (N) can’t stand each other, it is hard to see them working together in a ruling coalition.
Last night, Liberal International British Group held a forum at the National Liberal Club on Pakistan at the Crosroads. As the two hoped-for speakers had to withdraw for various reasons, my old SOAS colleague Dr David Hall-Matthews and I led the lively discussion instead. Both of us delivered a fairly gloomy prognosis, whoever technically wins the elections. The army is always a looming presence in Pakistan, and it would be an exaggeration to say that liberal democracy has taken hold. What most people there like are strong leaders and it is anyone’s guess as to how things will play out now. It would be too much to say that Pakistan is a failed state. But it is ominously unstable and there are some dark forces at play.