As the dust settles on Pakistan’s elections, Nawaz Sharif is gearing up to lead the country for a third time, and experts in Washington seem to be feeling cautiously optimistic. Many US-Pakistan experts expressed relief that Sharif won over Imran Khan, weighing Khan’s proposed hardline policy with the US and his lack of foreign policy experience in contrast to Sharif. At the same time, analysts realize that the dynamics of the US-Pakistan relationship will change under Sharif’s administration, as he will be more likely to push back against US demands than the People’s Party. This new dynamic will require the US to pursue a tactical relationship that is cognizant of both the shared and dissimilar interests of the two countries, potentially leading to greater stability.
The Tahir-ul-Qadri show appears to have ended as quickly as it began. After brief talks with the government, a five-point agreement was signed and both sides declared victory. In fact, in many ways it seems that almost everyone came out a winner – Dr. Qadri got the government to agree to give him some input in who will serve as caretake Prime Minister; the PPP-coalition government skillfully defused a potentially messy situation not through force, but through compromise; and the PML-N did not hijack the demonstration or exploit it for short-term gain, but emphasized the importance of following the Constitution and the democratic process. The only group that really gained nothing was Imran Khan. The question is, did the events of the past week actually render him irrelevant?
Over the past few years, Imran Khan has spent significant time and money trying to transform his political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), from a one-man show to a national political player. His mammoth rallies in 2011 promised to do just that. But even at the time, Michael Kugelman saw this as potentially peaking too soon.
Kugelman had an important point. Elections were not expected for almost two years, and there’s a chasm of difference between building excitement about a candidate and actually forcing early elections. And as every political professional knows too well, time management is essential to a successful campaign – with too little time you can’t effectively engage voters; with too much you run the risk of losing their interest.
By coming out so strong so early, Imran Khan took a big gamble. True, he needed the time to not only gather support but to demonstrate that he was a legitimate contender. Politicians at the level of Javed Hashmi and Shah Mehmood Qureshi weren’t going to join PTI unless they had significant reason to believe that it had a chance in national elections. But with so much time before the current administration’s term comes to an end, there was a real risk that something could go wrong or that people would lose interest.
A few months ago, Michael Kugelman revisited his 2011 thesis, suggesting that Imran Khan was “taking some time out to rethink his problematic political strategy and platform.” While Khan was thinking, though, Tahir-ul-Qadri was preparing to act. The Canadian cleric arrived in Pakistan not years, but months before elections were expected. His timing was impeccable.
While Qadri was leading his supporters on a march to Islamabad, Imran Khan was forced to decide if he was going to join Qadri’s march – as a supporting actor. In the end, Khan chose to try to support Qadri’s agenda without actually joining his action.
We are not joining the march by Dr Qadri because until caretaker govt is formed it is premature. However what he is saying is our agenda too
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) January 14, 2013
Khan’s Tweet betrays him, though. Qadri’s agenda was about who had a say in choosing the caretaker government. If that was Imran Khan’s agenda, as he claimed, the march would have to come before the formation of the caretaker government otherwise their demands would be moot.
From the sidelines, Khan held a press conference and issued demands of his own – including that President Zardari resign immediately; that the Election Commission of Pakistan take notice of “pre-poll rigging” in the form of “distributing laptops and through the Benazir Income Support Programme”; and that the sitting Prime Minister be arrested. But by this point, hardly anyone was paying attention to Imran Khan. Tahir-ul-Qadri was the man of the hour.
Two days later, Tahir-ul-Qadri achieved what Imran Khan couldn’t achieve in two years – he got to government to agree to a specific timeline and set of reforms that would help shape the coming elections. Most importantly, Tahir-ul-Qadri – whose Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) party has exactly zero elected seats in parliament – managed to get the extraordinary concession of a seat at the table in the discussion of who will lead the caretaker setup.
Today, Reuters reported that PAT is considering contesting elections after sitting them out in 2008. Despite turning out an estimated 50,000 people to his protest, however, it is unlikely that Qadri has the electoral support to present much of a threat to the PPP or PML-N’s entrenched vote bases. But Qadri may be able to present a significant threat to PTI by splitting the protest vote.
In politics, nothing succeeds like success, and after the events of the past week, some of Imran Khan’s supporters may see in Tahir-ul-Qadri a more viable vehicle for their reformist agenda. That Qadri’s Minhaj-ul-Quran is aligned with a moderate, sufi-informed school of Islam also gives the PAT leader religious credentials without the accusations of being a Taliban sympathizer.
Whether or not Tahir-ul-Qadri does decide to contest the elections, however, it remains to be seen if Imran Khan can recover from a week in which he was relegated to the sidelines during an event that capitalized on what were supposed to be his two major strengths – the ability to mobilize a large number of people, and public desire for a new choice in politics. Tahir-ul-Qadri may have come to Islamabad looking to end the political careers of Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, but as the dust begins to settle, it looks like Imran Khan may be the one who stands to lose.
Following decisions were unanimously arrived at; having been taken today, 17 January 2013, in the meeting which was participated by coalition parties delegation led by Chaudry Shujaat Hussain including:
1) Makdoom Amin Fahim, PPP
2) Syed Khursheed Shah, PPPP
3) Qamar ur Zama Qaira, PPPP
4) Farooq H Naik, PPPP
5) Mushahid Hussain, PML-Q
6) Dr Farooq Sattar, MQM
7) Babar Ghauri, MQM
8) Afrasiab Khattak, ANP
9) Senator Abbas Afridi, FATA
With the founding leader of Minhaj-ul-Quran International (MQI) and chairman Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri.
1) The National Assembly shall be dissolved at any time before March 16, 2013, (due date), so that the elections may take place within the 90 days. One month will be given for scrutiny of nomination paper for the purpose of pre-clearance of the candidates under article 62 and 63 of the constitution so that the eligibility of the candidates is determined by the Elections Commission of Pakistan. No candidate would be allowed to start the election campaign until pre-clearance on his/her eligibility is given by the Election Commission of Pakistan.
2) The treasury benches in complete consensus with Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) will propose names of two honest and impartial persons for appointment as Caretaker Prime Minister.
3) Issue of composition of the Election Commission of Pakistan will be discussed at the next meeting on Sunday, January 27, 2013, 12 noon at the Minhaj-ul-Quran Secretariat. Subsequent meetings if any in this regard will also be held at the central secretariat of Minhaj-ul-Quran in Lahore. In pursuance to todays’ decision, the Law Minister will convene a meeting of the following lawyers: S. M. Zafar, Waseem Sajjad, Aitizaz Ahsan, Farough Naseem, Latif Afridi, Dr Khalid Ranja and Hamayoun Ahsan, to discuss these issues. Prior to the meeting of January 27, the Law Minister, Mr Farooq H Naek, will report the results of this legal consultation to the January 27 meeting.
4) Electoral Reforms: It was agreed upon that the focus will be on the enforcement of electoral reforms prior to the polls on:
A. Article 62, 63 and 218 (3) of the constitution
B. Section 77 to 82 of the Representation of Peoples’ Act 1976 and other relevant provisions relating to conducting free, fair, just and honest elections guarded against all corrupt practices.
C. The Supreme Court Judgement of June 8, 2012 on constitutional petition of 2011 must be implemented in Toto and in true letter and spirit.
5) With the end of the long march and sit-in, all cases registered against each other shall be withdrawn immediately and there will be no acts of victimisation and vendetta against either party or the participants of the march.
This declaration has been entered into in a cordial atmosphere and reconciliatory spirit.
Signatories of the declaration
Prime Minister of Pakistan Chairman Pakistan Awami Tehreek
Raja Pervez Ashraf Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri
Leader of the delegation and former Prime Minister Law Minister
Chaudry Shujaat Hussain Farooq H Naek
Makdoom Amin Fahim, PPP
Syed Khursheed Shah, PPPP
Qamar ur Zama Qaira, PPPP
Farooq H Naik, PPPP
Mushahid Hussain, PML-Q
Dr Farooq Sattar, MQM
Babar Ghauri, MQM
Afrasiab Khattak, ANP
Senator Abbas Afridi, FATA
It’s not often that ISPR and the US Embassy in Islamabad both issue statements denying support for the same group, but that is exactly how 2013 started when both institutions felt compelled to clarify that they are not supporting Tahir-ul-Qadri, the latest Pakistani politician threatening a “long march” to upend the political order. The cleric’s recent return to Pakistan’s political scene has unleashed an entirely new set of questions in an already confusing political scene. The Atlantic asked this week if “this Islamic cleric [can] liberalize Pakistan’s politics.” Based on his political record, there is good reason to believe that he whether or not he can, he has no intention of doing nso.
Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri’s major demand – that a caretaker government be chosen with the oversight of the military and judiciary – is actually nothing new. In fact, Qadri’s 2013 platform sounds very similar to his demand in 2001:
He proposed that elections should be held under the judicial control of the Election Commission and administrative control of the army.
Tahir-ul-Qadri claims that by giving the military a role in appointing a caretaker government he’s looking for nothing more than “consensus,” but his demand suffers from a fatal flaw – it’s patently unconstitutional. Article 224 of Pakistan’s Constitution spells out exactly how a caretaker government is to be appointed, and there is no mention of the military or the judiciary.
Additionally, Tahir-ul-Qadri’s past political efforts suggest that he’s a little more sympathetic to authoritarianism than the political liberalization The Atlantic may hope for. Tahir-ul-Qadri launched his political party, the Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) in 1989 in opposition to then-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s government. PAT participated in elections the following year but made no inroads, and continued as a minor opposition party following the 1990 elections that elevated Nawaz Sharif to Prime Minister.
It wasn’t until 1999, however, that Tahir-ul-Qadri started to really gain traction in Pakistani politics when he chose to support Gen Musharraf’s coup against Nawaz Sharif’s democratically-elected government. In 2002, PAT reportedly praised Musharraf’s dictatorship as “far better than that of the preceding democratic governments.”
Tahir-ul-Qadri’s support for the military establishment in the early 2000s did not translate into much tangible political power, however. Despite being part of a pro-Musharraf coalition in 2002, Qadri’s party actually garnered less electoral support than Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI), a paltry 0.7%.
Tahir-ul-Qadri was elected to the National Assembly from southern Lahore (NA-127) that year, defeating PML-Q candidate Abdul Aleem Khan by just over 4,000 votes, but this was to be the only PAT seat in parliament. Two years later, Qadri’s son, Hassan Mohiuddin Qadri, ran for National Assembly in a by-election from a Lahore district (NA-89) and came in second place with about 30 percent of valid votes cast. Shortly thereafter, Qadri resigned from the National Assembly saying that, though he had supported Musharraf’s coup, he was unhappy with the way the General treated parliament as a “rubber stamp.”
PAT boycotted the 2008 elections and Tahir-ul-Qadri moved to Canada where he lived until his recent return to Pakistan – one that has raised questions about how the relatively minor political player has managed to organize and finance his current political campaign and sparked the rumors which compelled denials of support from both ISPR and the US Embassy.
Today, Pakistani analysts remain divided about what role Tahir-ul-Qadri will actually play in the coming elections. But whether Tahir-ul-Qadri is Pakistan’s new populist hero or “the establishment ineffectually lashing out at its own lack of influence,” his record suggests liberalizing Pakistan’s politics is not part of his agenda.
A lot of dates get bandied about in Washington, DC. In 2011, President Obama has said he hopes to significantly reducing US troop levels in Afghanistan. 2012, of course, will be a presidential election year, and American voters will go to the polls to decide whether or not to give President Obama another term in office. But it’s 2013, actually, that may decide whether peace and democracy will obtain in South Asia.
Throughout Pakistan’s relatively short history as an independent nation, political leaders have been decided by coup more often than ballot. In fact, since it’s birth in 1947, Pakistan has never once seen one democratically elected government finish a full five-year elected term and peacefully transfer power to another.
Despite this tumultuous past, however, Pakistanis today are more than ever committed to democratic government.
Jeffrey Gedmin and Abubakar Siddique wrote for the New York Times that an important shift has come in Pakistani politics.
This spring, Pakistan’s Parliament signed into law an amendment that purged the country’s 1973 Constitution of all democracy-limiting provisions. The work that led up to the agreement — negotiations that included industrialists, landowners and Islamists, as well as Baluchi and Pashtun tribal leaders — was itself a feat of democratic consensus building.
“This is a landmark in Pakistan’s constitutional history,” a leading parliamentarian told one of us at that time. Can Pakistan become a democracy?
Through one lens the picture looks bleak. Terrorism, poverty, crippling energy shortages and weak civilian institutions are reminders that a stable democratic system and a durable democratic culture will be difficult to establish.
Yet seen through another lens, there’s promise. For one thing, many Pakistanis, despite the current turmoil, seem steadfastly committed to representative government.
The importance of 2013 is beginning to register even with Pakistan’s notoriously antagonistic press. A recent editorial in the English-language daily Express Tribune calls for opposition parties to refrain from trying to force mid-term elections not for the good of the present government, but for the long-term success of the democratic system.
At a time when democracy finally seems to be gaining some traction, it is essential that the current parliament complete its term. Any shake-up before the scheduled 2013 elections will result in a reversion to the farce of a democracy that the country lived through during the 1990s. While an immediate return to direct military rule seems unlikely, talk of fresh elections strengthens the hand of the military to intervene in national politics, an arena from which it must firmly be shut out. We understand and appreciate the frustration of the opposition. There is much to be desired in the governing capabilities of the current administration, particularly on the economic front. Yet there are also very real political achievements of the PPP-led government, achievements which will not only strengthen democracy in the country but will also help the PML-N to govern more effectively if and when it wins the elections at the national level. For that to happen, the party must be willing to wait till 2013.
Another English-language daily, Daily Times, echoes these sentiments in an editorial published today.
The SC’s order to the Chief Election Commissioner to take action under Section 78 of the Representation of People Act 1976 against the latest in the line of fake degree holders who resigned from his National Assembly seat NA-184 Bahawalpur II, PPP’s Mr Amir Yar Waran, should set the precedent for similar action against other proven frauds. Instead of taking umbrage or feeling pressurised, the government should see it as an opportunity to reclaim the values of integrity and honesty for the holders of public office. In addition to legal proceedings against them, such members should be barred for life from holding public office, and no political party should provide them protection or support. Parliament, however, should complete its term. The highly expensive option of mid-term elections has never solved any of our problems in the past. Rather, derailing of governments through extra-parliamentary means mid-term during the 1990s severely undermined democracy.
We have witnessed the results of short-term thinking in US policy toward Pakistan. Our walking away from Pakistan when it was convenient and our support for dictators like Zia-ul-Haq and Musharraf have left a deficit of trust in Pakistan’s collective consciousness. Though they continue to be one of one of our closest allies, a lingering doubt remains. We must take a long-term view of our relationship with Pakistan. As Gedmin and Siddique write,
We in the West now need to invest in Pakistan’s people and the democratic society they are struggling to build. Let’s not allow the short-term realist thinking of the past to derail Pakistan’s chance.
This is why 2013 is so important. When the 2013 elections occur, the present government led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) will either have their popular mandate reaffirmed, or they will peacefully pass the torch of power to a new government to carry on. Either way, it will be the people of Pakistan choosing their own leaders, their own future. Then there can be no doubt that Pakistan has come into its own as a modern democratic nation.