By Mustafa Qadri, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Mustafa Qadri is Amnesty International’s Pakistan researcher. The views expressed are his own.
Saturday was a milestone is Pakistan’s short history – for the first time since the country’s creation in 1947, one elected civilian government will be followed by another after seeing out a full term in office. Up until now, every democratically elected government’s term in office has been cut short by an intervention from the powerful military. But this historic moment was overshadowed by a wave of coordinated attacks targeting election candidates, their supporters and election officials. More than 100 people were killed and many more injured countrywide.
The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the majority of the attacks, which have mostly targeted secular political parties, especially the Awami National Party and Muttahida Quami Movement. The Pakistan Peoples Party also had to drastically scale down on campaigning in the face of threats.
By Richard Wike, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Richard Wike is associate director at the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project. You can follow him @RichardWike. The views expressed are his own.
Last Saturday, three people were killed and more than 30 injured when two bombs exploded near the headquarters of the Muttahida Quami Movement, or MQM, a leading political party in Karachi, Pakistan. It was yet another tragic incident in a campaign season plagued by violence that has seen dozens killed. As the country prepares for this weekend’s elections, the Taliban has significantly stepped up its attacks. And no matter which party emerges victorious from the May 11 poll, it will have to answer to a public that is increasingly worried about the threat extremism poses to the Pakistani state.
Pakistani fears about extremism had actually been on the wane over the last few years. The high mark of concern was 2009, when the Taliban gained control of the Swat Valley and neighboring areas within 100 miles of the nation’s capital Islamabad. In a spring 2009 Pew Research Center poll, 57 percent of Pakistanis described the Taliban as a very serious threat to the country. But after the Pakistani military forced a Taliban retreat, fears declined, and by 2012 a little more than a third of Pakistanis held this view.
GPS readers ask William Milam, a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and currently a senior scholar on the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, about the implications of upcoming elections, terrorism and ties with America.
“Elizabeth Shanaz” asks on Facebook whether you see anything undermining a smooth election and transfer to power?
No. Elections in South Asia always have a few rough patches, but I see nothing that will undermine the election or prevent a peaceful transfer of power. It’s likely, of course, that neither major party will win an overall majority of seats in the National Assembly, and the party with the greater number of seats will need to form a coalition to govern. This might require an extended period of time as often there’s a good deal of bargaining and haggling necessary to get a coalition together.
“Bonnie Geffen” asks what the differences are between the leading candidates?
In a sense the leaders of the two major parties are more alike than different, and their political parties are the same, grouped around one family or clan, based mainly on patronage. These parties are neither ideological nor issue oriented. Their goal is political power for its own sake. The leaders of the two major parties are both the scions of rich and powerful families. There are a few smaller regional based parties that are structured similarly, but the dynastic character of Pakistani politics remains intact.
Still, some parties have broken out of this mold. The first has drawn much attention in the past year, the PTI, of former cricket star Imran Khan. Last year, Khan caught a lot of media attention by drawing immense crowds to rallies, partially because of his celebrity, but mainly because of his effective attacks on the government for its corruption and especially for its foreign policy of cooperation with the U.S. on counter-terrorism and for its seeming acquiescence in the U.S. drone campaign. However, his crowds have dwindled this past year, and it’s now unclear how much popular support he really has. There’s often a large gap between the candidate Pakistanis say they like best and the one they vote for.
But will the election really run smoothly? Who are the key players and what do they stand for? And what does it all mean for Pakistan's relations with its neighbors, especially India?
William Milam, a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and currently a senior scholar on the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, will be taking questions from GPS readers. Please leave your questions in the comment section below.
By Michael Kugelman, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Michael Kugelman is the senior program associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. You can follow him @MichaelKugelman. The views expressed are his own.
Will Pakistan experience an Arab Spring? The question has been on many minds since revolution swept across the Middle East and North Africa in 2011 – and especially since a major anti-government rally took place in Islamabad this month.
It's easy to understand why. Pakistan, like the Arab Spring nations, boasts a young and mobile communications savvy population. Its masses are victims of the same indignities that incited revolt in the Middle East: corruption, oppression, and injustice.
However, the similarities end there. Let’s stop talking about a revolution in Pakistan, because it’s not going to happen.
By Hassan Abbas, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Hassan Abbas is an academic and a senior advisor at the Asia Society. The views expressed are his own.
Pakistan is only months away from a first: a democratically elected government is slated to hand over power to another democratically elected government. Too bad few in Pakistan are in a celebratory mood.
The lack of excitement is due, in part, to a worsening economic situation and rampant corruption. Today, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf over fraud related to power plant deals. The previous day, Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, a former elected parliamentarian and an important religious figure who just returned from Canada, led tens of thousands of people in a protest against political corruption in the capital of Islamabad.
Taking control of the reins of government after a long military rule is never easy. Often people expect quick results and don’t fully realize the damage done to both the polity and society by dictators. They dream of jobs, justice and security, but it takes decades to build foundations of systems that deliver such goals in a progressive fashion. That said, if the transition can happen without any extra constitutional step, elections expected between April to June this year could be an important move toward a more successful Pakistan.
By Polly Truscott, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Polly Truscott, Deputy Asia-Pacific Director for Amnesty International. The views expressed are her own.
The Taliban’s brazen assassination attempt on brave teenage human rights activist Malala Yousafzai grabbed the world’s attention, shining a rare light on the ongoing cycle of violence in Pakistan’s insurgency-hit northwest Tribal Areas.
Malala miraculously survived the October shooting, but the incident is but one of many in a region locked in a climate of lawlessness where perpetrators of human rights abuses act with impunity.
In an extensively researched report released last week by Amnesty International, a disturbing pattern of violations by Pakistani forces – from torture and other ill-treatment to enforced disappearance without access to family, lawyers, the courts and with no information about their fate and whereabouts – reveals the failure of Pakistani authorities to address the fundamental lawlessness of the Tribal Areas.
This is the third in a series of entries looking at what we can expect in 2013. Each weekday, a guest analyst will look at the key challenges facing a selected country – and what next year might hold in store.
By Michael Kugelman, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Michael Kugelman is the senior program associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. You can follow him @michaelkugelman. The views expressed are his own.
Four years ago, the U.S. Congress announced the findings of a bipartisan investigation into weapons of mass destruction.
Chillingly, the study predicted a nuclear or biological attack by the end of 2013 – with a high likelihood that it would originate in Pakistan.
Could this prediction come true next year? The risk of Pakistani nukes falling into the wrong hands is certainly high. Last August, militants attacked an air force base near Islamabad thought to store nuclear weapons. Several weeks later, security officials acknowledged a “serious” threat from the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) to assault one of Pakistan’s largest nuclear installations. All this in a country where, according to an unsettling Atlantic report, assets are frequently exposed: “[N]uclear bombs capable of destroying entire cities are transported in delivery vans [by the military] on congested and dangerous roads.”
By Moeed Yusuf & Thomas Lynch, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Moeed Yusuf is the South Asia adviser at the U.S. Institute of Peace and Thomas Lynch is a distinguished research fellow at National Defense University. The opinions expressed here are theirs alone, not those of their institutions or the U.S. government.
U.S. peacemaking efforts in Afghanistan ultimately depend on a holistic, regional approach that mostly involves India and Pakistan.
In 2014, Afghanistan faces both the drawdown of American forces and the election of President Hamid Karzai’s successor, both significant transitions. The bid to create a stable post-2014 Afghanistan can only go so far without dealing directly with the intense rivalry between India and Pakistan – vested neighbors and nuclear regional kingpins. Yet despite recent positive overtures between the two sides, Pakistan continues to be deeply troubled by an increased Indian presence on its western border, while India is adamant to prevent Pakistan’s complete hold over Afghanistan.
By Gareth Price, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Gareth Price is senior research fellow on the Asia Program at Chatham House. The views expressed are his own.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s visit this week to India highlighted the strengthening relationship between the two countries. While India has invested heavily in a range of development projects in Afghanistan since 2002, its emergence as a political player is relatively new, considering that as recently as January 2010, and under Pakistani pressure, India was excluded from a conference in Istanbul discussing security in Afghanistan. Deteriorating relations between the United States and Pakistan, and the subsequent announcement of 2014 as the year of “transition” changed the West’s attitude towards India’s role. By June of this year, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was urging India to play a more active role in Afghanistan.
While there had been speculation prior to Karzai’s India visit that the two countries would agree to scale up training of Afghan army officers, in the end the main focus was on economic engagement. Under the Istanbul process of regional engagement, India had already agreed to lead work on increasing regional interaction among chambers of commerce, and on commercial opportunities in the region. It has also hosted an investment summit for Afghanistan. On the trip, Karzai reiterated that Afghanistan was open to Indian business.
By CNN Global Public Square
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Earlier this month, the Pakistani Taliban opened fire on a school bus. Two girls were shot. At first, it seemed a familiar story. The Taliban, after all, has bombed hundreds of schools, especially those for girls.
But here's what's new: Mass protests ensued against the Taliban, and in favor of women. That's startling and refreshing in Pakistan.
This past week, thousands of demonstrators thronged to the streets to protest the Taliban's brutality towards women. They're rallying around one person, 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai. Malala was one of the girls who was shot on that school bus. She was not an accidental target. The Taliban directly sought her out and shot her in the head. They wanted to kill not only Malala, but what she stood for. Here's why:
Editor’s note: Javid Ahmad, a native of Kabul, is program coordinator with the Asia program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Mashail Malik, a native of Islamabad, is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Javid Ahmad and Mashail Malik.
By Javid Ahmad and Mashail Malik, Special to CNN
Tensions that flare between Pakistan's ineffective civilian government and influential judiciary reached an all-time high last week when the country’s Supreme Court disqualified Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani from holding office.
The unprecedented ruling came less than two months after Gilani was charged with contempt for his refusal to ask the Swiss government to reopen corruption charges facing President Asif Ali Zardari. It was followed days later by parliament electing a replacement, Raja Pervez Ashraf, who has also been accused of corruption in the past.
These recent developments signify the deep rift between Pakistan's different internal institutions. Pakistan’s civilian government, the powerful military, the increasingly active judiciary, and the many opposition groups in the country are juggling varied and often deeply conflicting agendas.
One thing these internal forces have in common is that each wants to be at the center stage of Pakistan's political structure, and each wants to win the frustrated population's support. The cost of this power struggle, however, seems to be given little consideration by the players involved.