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.
Any press might be good press for aging rock stars and actors, but not for politicians. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan is learning that lesson the hard way following a statement earlier this week that seemed to suggest he was opposed to reserved seats for women in Pakistan’s parliament.
Speaking on Sunday at a women’s rights seminar organized by PTI, Khan reportedly told the audience that:
“Legislators in assemblies are representatives of the people. How can some women be representative of women when they haven’t even contested elections? In some areas it is not possible for women to contest elections, but political parties should hold elections within their ranks and promote women into higher leadership positions.”
The immediate and unintended effect of Khan’s remarks was to unite parliamentarians across party lines – against him. Women in parliament were quick to respond, calling Khan’s remarks “highly prejudiced, biased, discriminatory and alarming.”
Khan later clarified his original statement, explaining that what he really meant was that women should compete in special elections for reserved seats, though he did not explain how that would work considering his earlier claim that “in some areas it is not possible for women to contest elections.”
The clarification, however, did not stop the outpouring of responses from women concerned that their current level of representation was under attack.
Bina Shah, a Pakistani author and journalist warned that “forcing an already tiny pool of qualified women to compete against one another for a small number of seats will damage the gains that women are making in our fragile democracy,” and Dr. Farzana Bari, Director of the Department of Gender Studies at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad noted that Khan’s remedy, while possibly well meaning, overlooked the historical context of women in Pakistan’s political history.
Imran Khan must understand that women’s formal involvement in politics does not automatically lead to their substantive representation. Rather, their ability to effectively perform and represent women’s interests depends on the larger context of democracy; how they enter the political arena and to whom they are accountable. The PTI is absolutely correct in suggesting that political parties should hold elections within their ranks and promote women into higher leadership positions. However, he should not forget that political parties in this patriarchal socio-economic set-up and as gatekeepers have deprived women in general, and female party workers in particular, for the last 65 years from attaining decision-making positions.
This is not the first time that Imran Khan’s remarks about women’s rights have raised eyebrows. Speaking to reporters last year, Khan offered confusing and seemingly contradictory statements about whether he believed women should be required to follow a strict dress code in public. And in 2006, Imran Khan campaigned against a Protection of Women’s Rights Bill which he claimed was intended “to introduce a made-in-Washington Islamic system in the country.” The bill amended the infamous Hudood Ordinance promulgated by Gen. Zia-ul-Haq which criminalized adultery and made rape victims liable to prosecution for adultery if they could not produce four male witnesses.
The charismatic cricket hero has made an expansive media campaign central to his party’s election strategy. With national elections anticipated in just a few months, Imran Khan would like to keep his name in the press. But the PTI chief is learning a hard lesson this week: When the cameras are on, anything you say can, and will, be used against you in an election.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) released new voter rolls last week after extensive review and comparison against national databases. The ECP claims that during the process it removed 35 million unverifiable voters and added 36 million new voters to a national electronic database. Civil groups and the media have expressed concern that the voter rolls do not include a significant number of eligible voters, especially women and the rural poor.
These concerns notwithstanding, the government of Pakistan does appear to be making honest and transparent efforts to reduce vote fraud and increase legitimate voter participation in the upcoming general elections. That this process is being carried out transparently and in cooperation with opposition political parties suggests that, while the outcome of next year’s elections may be hard to predict, their legitimacy will likely be difficult to question.
Two Supreme Court cases have dominated headlines in Pakistan recently, the judicial commission investing claims about an unsigned memo, and the ongoing hearings about decades old corruption cases against president Asif Zardari. But there is a third case set to begin next month that could have equally important ramifications for democracy and justice in Pakistan. Unlike the better-publicized cases which center on alleged acts by government officials, this lesser reported case centers on allegations of election interference by the country’s premier intelligence agency, the ISI. And the outcome of this case could significantly strengthen the democratic process.
The case, alternately known as the Asghar Khan case (after the former Air Marshal who originally filed the case in 1996) and the Mehran Bank scandal (after the bank where bribe money was kept), centers on allegations that Pakistan Army and ISI officers bribed politicians, journalists and public groups in an effort to prevent the re-election of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) candidates in the 1992 elections.
Both Altaf Hussain, leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, a former Prime Minister from the Pakistan Muslim League – Quaid (PML-Q) party recently admitted to being offered millions by the ISI to oppose the PPP, though both claim they refused the offers. But others are alleged to have accepted the bribes. According to former Director General of the ISI Asad Durrani, funds were distributed to the following groups and individuals:
Nawaz Sharif got Rs3.5 million; Mir Afzal Khan Rs10 million; Lt. Gen. Rafaqat got Rs5.6 million for distribution among journalists; Abida Hussain Rs1 million; Jamat-e-Islami Rs5 million; Altaf Hussain Qureshi Rs500,000; Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi Rs5 million (Sindh); Jam Sadiq Rs5 million (Sindh); Muhammad Khan Junejo Rs250,000 (Sindh); Pir Pagara Rs2 million (Sindh); Maulana Salahuddin Rs300,000 (Sindh); different small groups in Sindh Rs5.4 million and; Humayun Marri Rs1.5 million (Balochistan).
While such blatant electoral interference may seem shocking, such acts were not previously unheard of in Pakistan. In 2009, Gen. Hamid Gul admitted to having organized a political party, the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), while he was head of the ISI in 1988 as part of his efforts to prevent the PPP from winning a decisive electoral victory. According to the former Pakistani spy chief, under his leadership the ISI actively supported politicians “who had affiliation with the GHQ (Pakistan’s military headquarters)” against the PPP.
Nor did the ISI’s political machinations end with the turn of the century. Another former ISI official, Maj. Gen. Ehtesham Zamir, told the media that he had been personally responsible for manipulating elections in 2002 at the direction of Gen. Musharraf.
After Watergate exposed possibile illegal intelligence activities by the CIA and FBI, the Senate convened the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities to investigate how American intelligence agencies were operating. Chaired by Senator Frank Church, this committee has come to be known as the Church Committee. The committee’s work resulted in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to provide guidelines and civilian oversight to American intelligence agencies.
Americans tend to think of intelligence agencies as working at the behest and under the oversight of their respective governments, as if all nations operate in a post-Church Committee environment. But the relationship between Pakistan’s civilian government and its ISI is quite different. In fact, in many ways the ISI operates not just independently of civilian oversight, but often in in direct opposition to it.
Shortly after Pakistan’s present civilian government took power in 2008, Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani announced that control of the ISI would be shifted to the portfolio of the civilian Interior Ministry. It was only a matter of hours before Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told the media that no such change would occur. The civilians promptly retracted the decision.
As Pakistan prepares for its next general elections, the cloud of past electoral manipulation by the ISI continues to cast a shadow over the democratic process. Former cricketer Imran Khan’s party is openly accused by the PML-N of receiving funding and logistical support from the ISI, and Pakistani news reports suggest that “more than half of the PTI top leadership now comprises either retired military, ISI officials or those politicians known as men of the establishment”, lending to the appearance that Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party is the latest in a long line of ISI front parties. Imran Khan insists that his is a populist, not an establishment party, but these rumors continue to surround his sudden rise in popularity.
Next month, Pakistan has the opportunity for its own “Church Committee” moment, ensuring that the next elections are carried out without freely and fairly, and without interference from the ISI or any other institution. With the Supreme Court, and not the parliament, overseeing hearings into the ISI’s interference in past elections, the process has the potential to avoid being politicized. The Chief Justice, who currently enjoys a high approval rating in Pakistan, has the opportunity to set clear limits for the involvement of military and intelligence agencies in political affairs, and to establish a transparent process of oversight to ensure compliance.
The Court’s guiding principle should be, as always, to allow the people of Pakistan the opportunity to choose their own leaders and define their own future without interference by any military or intelligence agency, foreign or domestic. By establishing an effective oversight regime for American intelligence agencies, the Church Committee strengthened the democratic process in the United States. Pakistan deserves no less.
Pakistani human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir discusses U.S.-Pakistan relations and the fragility of the Pakistani democracy. Jahangir criticizes the United States for sending mixed messages to Pakistanis, saying “the U.S. has to be very clear on what it wants from us.” Jahangir also emphasizes the need for the U.S. to prioritize Pakistani interests in order to improve cooperation. “As an individual ordinary citizen of Pakistan, I want to hear from them that what they want us to do is for the benefit of larger humanity rather than their own, or alone their, security concerns,” she says.