Elections in Pakistan


Mian is a scholar and activist on South Asian and disarmament issues
at the Center for Science and Global Security at Princeton University
in New Jersey and teaches there in the Woodrow Wilson School of
Public and International Affairs. He was interviewed about the implications
of the first national and provincial elections in Pakistan under
the military order established by General Pervez Musharraf.


Who won the elections in Pakistan?

MIAN: General Musharraf thinks he did. There are a couple of factors
that make that more than just a funny answer. First, after these
elections Musharraf is able to legitimize his government, which
is actually a government that took power after a military coup in
October 1999. He has legitimized the result of that coup and the
referendum that followed in April 2002 and has gotten away with
it. Second, he has created a new political formation in Pakistan,
a structure that is loyal to him and dependent on the military,
with less autonomy and less capacity to represent any interests
other than the military.

referring to the Pakistan-Muslim League Quaid e-Azam.

party of Nawaz Sharif, whom Musharraf ousted in his 1999 coup, was
the Pakistan Muslim League (PML). The party of Benazir Bhutto, who
is in exile facing corruption charges, is the Pakistan People’s
Party (PPP). What Musharraf did was create a new party, the Pakistan-Muslim
League-Quaid e-Azam [PML-Q] by peeling away people from these parties
through inducements and intimidation.

much coercion and intimidation are we talking about?

are reports of unprecedented arm-twisting by the military and the
intelligence agencies like Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence
or ISI. These intelligence agencies are not above bribery and blackmail.
They know the skeletons that are in the closets of some of these
politicians, and offered to bury them. They also probably offered
to create new skeletons.

Musharraf’s principal secretary went from Islamabad, the capital,
to Lahore in the Punjab (Pakistan’s most populous and powerful
province) to line the politicians up, to make sure Musharraf won
in the Punjab.


, Pakistan’s leading independent
news magazine, reported in September that “heavy arm-twisting
by the ISI, as well as the administration…forced many to switch
their loyalties. Never before had the spy agency, despite its notoriety,
been used so rampantly for political manipulation.”

encouraging some and intimidating other candidates, preventing certain
candidates from even running, you don’t have to stuff ballot

this strategy worked?

strategy was to make it so that the PPP and PML could not win a
majority of parliament either singly or in coalition with one another.
Both of these parties would be likely to challenge General Musharraf’s
authority if they gained power. In the event, the Pakistan People’s
Party emerged (with 62 seats) as the second party after the PML-Q
(with 76), and the PML was decimated, with 16 seats out of 272 total
contested seats in Parliament. The Islamists, on the other hand,
won a total of 53 seats of the 272.

are additional seats reserved for women and religious minorities,
which are allocated to each party in proportion to its share of
the contested seats—after these are included PML-Q has 118
seats, PPP has 81 seats, MMA has 60, and PML has 19 seats. The total
number of seats in parliament, after General Mush- arraf increased
them, is 342.]

the PPP and PML were stopped from running in all these different
ways, those who would have voted for these more centrist (and more
anti- Musharraf) parties, either abstained or ended up voting for
the Islamists. In many seats, the Islamists would otherwise be the
third choice of the electorate. By removing the first and second
choices, Musharraf cleared the way for them.

there any parallels in Pakistan’s history for a situation like

Pakistan’s creation in 1947, there were a series of very short-lived
governments with forgotten leaders, people like Nizamuddin and Bogra—they
ruled for two to three years at a time. They had no independent
political base and they got to be leaders because of “court
politics.” This was the situation until the military coup of
1958 that brought Ayub Khan to power, and ten years of dictatorship.

you look at Ayub Khan’s speech when he took power it is almost
the same as Musharraf’s when he staged his coup. The same arguments,
the same claim that he would stay in power only as long as it takes.
In Ayub’s case it took ten years and he had to be thrown out.
General Musharraf has already had three years and has given himself
another five—for now—and may decide he needs who knows
how many more.

was toppled by massive popular mobilizations in 1968-1969. In the
elections that followed, in 1970, (the first, and perhaps so far
only, truly free and fair elections in Pakistan’s history)
what was interesting was the size, scale, and character of choices
made by the Pakistani people. In that ten years of dictatorship
there was the creation of new identities, challenging the center.
In East Pakistan, that a year later became Bangladesh, you had the
emergence of the Awami League. These were Bengali nationalists who
won a majority of seats and won the elections. This was a particular
identity though, and the Awami League did poorly in West Pakistan.
That’s because Pakistan was a centralized country with its
center in West Pakistan, in the Punjab, that treated East Pakistan
as a colony.

West Pakistan there was also a reaction to the centralization of
power. It wasn’t an ethnic mobilization, but a populist response
to a dictatorship that over 10 years had created the conditions
where 22 families owned 70-80 percent of the industrial and financial
wealth. This movement was for changing that, and for breaking the
system of alliances that Pakistan had built to subordinate itself
to the West.

go forward. Between 1988 (after the death of another Pakistan dictator,
General Zia-ul-Haq) and Musharraf’s coup, you had Benazir Bhutto
and another series of short-lived prime ministers, followed by the
military stepping in. Now you’ve had elections, that Musharraf
has won, but not without creating some major contradictions.

the emergence of the Islamists.

This is the one that is most discussed in the West. The large share
of seats won by the MMA, the coalition of Islamist political parties,
is partly attributable to Musharraf’s rigging as discussed
above. It’s also because they were the only party that was
campaigning on an anti-Musharraf, anti-U.S. platform. Their showing
was strongest in the North West Frontier Province (the border province)
and Baluchistan and in big cities with large Pathan and Afghan populations.
So voting for them was an expression of resistance to Musharraf
and the U.S. “war on terror.”

you think that the Islamists are going to use this space that they
have won in the elections or are they going to flounder?

the Islamists are in a new position as a major political movement.
Their role traditionally has been that of a client of the military.
They have always done politics by trying to incite the military
to overthrow elected governments—for their weakness, for their
capitulation to the West and to India. But now they see the military
under Musharraf as pro-Western, and even anti-Islamist, which means
the Islamists have to confront their own patrons.

that they have won such a large, unexpected share of seats they
probably are unsure what to do. Should they try to look like serious,
moderate politicians and adopt a gradualist approach—go out
of their way to present themselves as sensitive, sympathetic, moderate

are doing this. In the Pakistani English-language press, the


for example, there have been a series of interviews with
some of these Islamist leaders, like Maulana Noorani from the Jamiat–i-Ulema
Pakistan, one of these parties with a power base on the Afghan border
and in Baluchistan. Journalists asked them: you’ve said you’re
against Musharraf, you’re against the alliance with the U.S.,
what will you do if you’re in power? They’ve answered:
we won’t do anything to harm the national interest. We have
to go slowly, think things through, decide in parliament. They asked
Noorani, when you form the government in the Northwest Frontier
Province, where the Taliban and al-Qaeda have taken refuge from
the U.S. bombing, will you end the effort to chase them down? They’ve
answered that they’ll wait and see, make a decision based on
the evidence.

leader of Pakistan’s strongest Islamist party, the Jamaat-i-Islami,
is Qazi Hussain Ahmad. When he was asked what Musharraf should do,
he answered that while Musharraf shouldn’t be president and
chief of army staff at the same time, he understands that the transfer
of power is delicate.

they are meeting Western diplomats in Islamabad, they are promising
not to break any of Pakistan’s commitments to the World Bank
and the IMF, and that they’ll be responsible with the nuclear

their own constituents, in the Urdu press, the Islamists are talking
about a revolution. About eradicating Western influence, and so

tension between these two positions can’t be sustained. From
here there are two possibilities. There is now a process of formation
of coalition governments and if the Islamists are left out of the
government, they will end up in opposition and have less incentive
to be moderate. If they come into a governing coalition, this gives
them a share of the spoils, the legitimacy that office brings, and
a chance to start to carry out their long term agenda.

is that agenda though? Is it essentially one of social control?

the Islamists end up in a coalition government, they will have been
told by Musharraf that there is no question of touching the economy
or the commitment to the World Bank, IMF, structural adjustment,
and so on. They will have been told that there is no question of
changing the relationship with the U.S. If they try, Musharraf will
use his powers as president to dissolve Parliament. So the Islamists
will go for a social agenda, the kind of agenda the military won’t
care about, that other politicians won’t oppose. An agenda
of oppressing minorities and women and Islamizing public and private
life. This is the past pattern.

difference between now and the past is that Ayub Khan was a dictator
and also a modernist. But after Ayub, politicians who have needed
some advantage, who have felt the heat on something, have sought
to placate the Islamists and the easy way to do this has been by
letting them have their way on social policy.

the politicians did this, including Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto—Benazir’s
father. But it was another dictator, Zia-ul-Haq, who introduced
Islamism in a systematic way into the education system in the 1980s.

a result many of the young voters of this last election—Musharraf
lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 to try to bring people in who
weren’t predisposed to voting for established parties like
the PML and PPP—are people who have been brought up in an education
system that has been systematically Islamized. It will be interesting
to see what percentage of the younger voters voted for the Islamists
because that will show what we can expect for the future.

if Musharraf was the winner, who was the loser?

people of Pakistan, and especially the poor, for several reasons.

because Musharraf has ensured his own rule and the rule of the military,
which means a continuation of high military spending, a continuation
of the confrontation with India. It means a continuation of the
commitment to IMF structural adjustment that has caused the poverty
rate to go from 18 percent to 33 percent, a near doubling, in the
past 10 years.

is likely to continue and escalate, because there’s very little
incentive for domestic or international capital to invest. Without
serious social change, which seems unlikely in the near future,
and without any prospects for capital investment, it’s hard
to imagine how poverty could get anything but worse in the next
few years.

loss for the poor has to do with politics. In the decade after General
Zia’s death, a generation emerged that was able to start to
learn about how to deal with elected officials, how to deal with
democracy and accountability. That’s all been crushed now.
This new government might have the vote, but everyone understands
that their existence is owed to Musharraf’s blessing and not
any support or platform or constituency in the population. Democracy,
the mechanism where the poor turn their aspirations into entitlements
that carry power, has been eroded. The Islamists also erode secular
politics and open the door to religious sectarianism and bigotry.
Women and the poor lose when this happens.

have suffered terribly—it was Afghan and also Pakistani women
who paid the blood price of the U.S. jihad in Afghanistan in the
1980s. They must not be made to pay the price of the “war on
terror” as well.

is in the future for Pakistan?

is a growing crisis of legitimacy. Slowly all the institutions of
the Pakistani state and elite have lost their legitimacy. The political
parties are weak and corrupt and lack principles and commitment
and organization. The supreme court has shown that it is not independent.
The taxation system is completely unconnected to any notion of justice
or law. The military is an instrument for seeking its own position
and privilege.

are the implications of this loss of legitimacy?

institutions end up looking for external support. So Pakistan has
tied itself to an American project for the third time in the century.
The first was the war on communism in the 1950s and 1960s, when
the elite and the army found a red under every bed. Then it was
the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Now there is the war on terrorism.
They will find a radical Islamist under every bed.

this way, the Islamist success in the elections serves Musharraf
and the elite. They can say look, the radical Islamists are winning,
you need us, please send us guns and money. We are all that stands
between you and the deluge. The guns and money are coming—Musharraf’s
been rewarded handsomely, the coup has been forgiven, the façade
of elections has been rubber-stamped, the arms are flowing freely
again after the embargoes due to Pakistan’s nuclear program
were lifted.

are the implications of this relationship with the U.S. for Pakistani-Indian

has tried to use the language of the war on terror to paint Pakistan
into a box, saying that Pakistan is a terrorist state and pointing
to evidence of Pakistan-supported atrocities in Kashmir. But in
this situation I think that Pakistan will be able to claim the upper
hand. Pakistan can use its weakness as a lever to say to the U.S.,
you have to deal with us, or we’ll go under and the Islamists
will come to power.

the short term at least the Pakistanis and the Indians would like
to shift their gaze away from one another so they can try to cultivate
their relations with the U.S. and set their economies in order.
They won’t be looking to resolve the problem, but for a temporary

a domestic crisis in either country make them play the Kashmir card

may flare up again because of a domestic crisis or because of the
passage of time. Both countries have huge military programs and
they need Kashmir to justify them. It’s a successful tool for
political reasons and will recur.

Kashmir is increasingly a problem for India as much as Pakistan
when they deal with the rest of the world. India’s economy,
for example, is growing at 5-6 percent a year, with lots of foreign
and domestic investment. In Pakistan that isn’t the case. In
India, high-tech, computer-oriented industries are seen as a strategic
sector of the economy. This matters a lot in aspirational terms—it
is what India’s elite wants India to be seen as (rather than
the desperately poor agricultural country India is for most of its
people). For this elite economy, confidence is critical, and there
are Indian capitalists who are pressuring Delhi saying, how are
we supposed to get software contracts when investors are afraid
of nuclear war?

about Pakistan’s other neighbor? What will Pakistan do in Afghanistan?

is no longer in Pakistan’s hands. Afghan policy is made by
the United States. It’s all but a colony now. It’s not
a colony in the sense that there are resources there, but it is
a place that needs to be pacified.

the U.S. is there, sponsoring the warlords, with President Karzai
at the head because he has no constituency of his own, handing out
guns to make people happy. When you believe, as the U.S. does, that
power flows from the barrel of a gun, you talk to the people with
guns, and you deal with them, make friends with them, by giving
them what they want—which is more power, which means more guns.
Years later you find there are all these people with guns everywhere
and some of them will turn these guns on you.

there pressure from the Islam- ists to act in Afghanistan?

Islamists in Pakistan are going to form the provincial government
on the border with Afghanistan. The North West Frontier Province
is the province that also has most of the Afghan refugees. It is
the province where the Taliban and al-Qaeda are, right now. So it
will be a battleground. The question for the Islamists there is,
will Musharraf make it worth their while to let the U.S. and the
Pakistani military continue the crackdown against them.

is another question though: even if the U.S., the Pakistani government,
military, and Islamist politicians, all agree—will they be
able to stop terrorism? Will they be able to stop things like the
recent bombings in Karachi?

this discussion focuses on the Islamist groups that have won in
the elections. But there are many Islamists, Jihadis, who have no
interest in elections and have already adopted armed struggle. What
role do they have? Until now the Pakistani military has played a
shell game with them—rounding them up, to show the U.S. they
are doing something about terrorism, and then letting them out because
they lack evidence to convict them for anything.

institutional legitimacy erodes and Parliament shows its incapacity,
the space opens up for ever-more radical Islamist politics and movements
that will actually look to seize state power in an armed struggle.

the U.S. goes to war with Iraq, the Islamist parties and the Islamist
underground will be having conversations and debates as to what
kinds of interventions they can make. This is possibly a grave risk
to Pakistan.

about social movements that aren’t part of the institutions
of the government? There is a peasant movement in Okara, for example,
and others.

is a third Pakistan. The first Pakistan is the military, Kashmir,
nuclear weapons, and the relations with India. The second Pakistan
is the Islamists. But the third Pakistan is also very active, and
important, and hardly ever talked about.

is the Pakistan of movements and campaigns. In the Punjab, there
is a struggle over state land that was leased to peasants and worked
by families, in some cases for 100 years. The state promised them
these lands in order to get them to move there and farm and the
leases were supposed to become permanent. Now the government wants
to introduce corporate agriculture, probably to grow flowers or
something that has export value, so Pakistan wants to lease the
land to multinational corporations. The government is trying to
change the leases so as to take the land back from the peasants.

has triggered the largest peasant movement in decades. Several hundred
thousand are involved now and communities are under siege. The Pakistani
military and paramilitaries have surrounded villages, cut water
and electricity to them, in some cases, to pressure farmers to sign
leases that have no right to renewal.

peasants have received considerable support from human rights groups
and women’s groups, but they are struggling not only against
the state, but also against the military since some of the land
in dispute is administered by the Pakistani military.

is a determined, sustained struggle and the outcome isn’t clear.
In a different circumstance the elections could have been a great
vehicle for making this an issue, for forcing politicians to take
a stand one way or another. But Musharraf tried to make sure that
this was an issue-free election.

students and teachers are struggling against the privatization of
education. There have been marches, protests, and sit-ins that have
been put down by the police with force. One hopes that the students
and peasants can make links against a pattern of economic policy
that privileges the market and profit over people.

Podur maintains ZNet’s South Asia Watch section. He lives in