Pakistan & the 2013 Elections

April 19, 2013 | By Isaac Kfir

Pakistan Elections 2013On May 11, 2013, Pakistanis will potentially head to the polls to elect a new government. The importance of the election stems from the fact that the new administration will need to address many structural problems that Pakistan faces, from power shortages and pervasive insecurity to water politics to relations with its neighbors and the US, all of which undermine Pakistan’s stability and democratization.

Historically, violence has always accompanied the pre-election period. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto on Dec. 27, 2007 mired the 2008 elections, which saw enormous bloodletting directed largely against the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N),[1] leading to a low voter-turnout that may also affect the May elections.[2] With weeks to go before the election, the country is also grappling with a wave of violence.[3]

Concomitantly, the Pakistan Election Commission (PEC) has become an important battlefield, as Pakistanis attempt to bar certain candidates from running in the election, as seen with the PEC decision to disqualify Pervez Musharraf from running by accepting the claim that he did not meet the standards laid out by the constitution for candidates standing for parliament.[4] The decision, which Musharraf has promised to appeal, and the increasingly visible role played by the Pakistani Taliban and other violent groups[5] emphasize how divisive and violent the pre-election period is.

Thus, as we look towards May 11, a number of issues emerge.

First, the forthcoming election will be an historic event; this will be the first time in Pakistan’s history that a democratically elected government will have seen out its term of office. Throughout the 1990s, the governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were removed from power due to the intervention of the army.[6]

The current army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, has arguably played an important role in facilitating the ability of the Zardari presidency to fulfill its term, because as he has served as a mediator between the government and its opponents.[7] In addition, Kayani has focused on restoring some of the army’s reputation, tarnished by Pervez Musharraf, whose decision not to relinquish his position as chief of the army in 2004 coupled with his ill-fated decision to challenge the judiciary in 2007, led to enormous enmity towards the army.

The anger at the army grew due to such incidents as the Raymond Davis case, the bin Laden raid, the killing of 24 Pakistani troops by NATO, and “Memogate.”[8] These events not only challenged the army’s competency but undermined much of the message that the army has sought to promote, since the creation of Pakistan, that it is the only true national institution in Pakistan that truly has Pakistan’s interest at heart.

Thus, Kayani, as Christine Fair points out, “masterfully restored the people’s confidence in the army” while allaying fears of another military coup,[9] something that he has continued to do and that explains his unusually long tenure. Finally, Kayani has also changed the way the army has addressed the Taliban menace, which Mullick claimed, “help[ed] sell the war to the soldiers”.[10] This policy has help restore stability in the army.

With a newly restored reputation, the question that naturally emerges is whether the army feels that if it should wish to intervene in the political system, it would not lead to widespread public opposition. This question is why the recent survey by the British Council is significant because it indicates that young Pakistanis (18 to 29 years old) have a very low opinion of democracy and the civilian polity, while the army and the religious polity are most popular. It was found that more than 90% of those polled believe that Pakistan is heading in the wrong direction, with responsibility for this result laid on the shoulders of the civilian institutions.[11]

Second, there is increasing evidence of Pakistani Taliban activity against secular parties, especially in the tribal areas. On April 14, 2013 a suicide bomber struck in Yakatoot, Peshawar soon after Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, a senior leader of the Awami National Party (ANP), attended a rally. The attack, which the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) claimed responsibility for, killed 16 people and injured many others.[12] Since last year, the TTP has adopted a policy of targeting members of the ANP,[13] and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM),[14] which the TTP regards as secularists.[15] In addition to attacking political leaders in the tribal areas, the TTP also has taken its campaign of terror to Karachi, which highlights how brazen they have become.[16]

The attacks, which are becoming more frequent and more lethal, undoubtedly affect the pre-election process, making individuals weary of attending rallies while also discouraging political leaders from meeting constituents and engaging in open discourse. The attacks are also an indication of a change of tactics, with the TTP opting to focus on civilian leaders as opposed to public installations.[17] Thus, if the actions of the TTP lead to low voter turnout, the religious parties may benefit, as historically Pakistanis do not vote for religious parties.[18] However, if these parties do well, they may end up playing an important role in shaping government policies, especially if more young Pakistanis view the religious polity as a positive force. From the TTP perceptive, should it believe that its actions can help swing the election toward the religious polity, it may encourage the TTP to continue its policies of targeting senior leaders of political parties whom it opposes.

The third key issue affecting the election is the role of such people as Imran Khan, founder and chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI, Pakistan Movement for Justice). Khan’s message—which focuses on nationalism, anti-corruption, and anti-Americanism, based on opposition to the US drone campaign and its involvement in Afghanistan, which Khan links to the growth of jihadi groups in Pakistan—resonates with many, particularly the young.[19]

In a speech in March 2013 in Lahore, Khan—the former captain of the Pakistani cricket team—made a number of pledges to speak the truth, end oppression, remain in Pakistan, and keep his wealth in the country. He also emphasized the need to ensure the supremacy of the rule of law, the prevention of nepotism, the protection from misuse of taxpayers’ money, and the championing of the rights of the Pakistani diaspora.[20]

Thus, although one is uncertain how well the PTI will do in the election, because it is unlikely that the PPP or the PML-N will win outright control of parliament, Khan and the TPI may end up serving as kingmaker, even though he has ruled out any potential agreements with either of the main parties. This role may lead to changes in Pakistan’s foreign relations, in particular its relation to the US because Khan has focused much of his message on US drone policy[21] that many in Pakistan oppose.[22]

Fourth, the situation in Afghanistan is affecting Pakistan and vice versa. Relations between the two countries have been turbulent. Afghans consistently claim that Pakistan is supporting anti-government forces and is not a true partner,[23] which only serves to exacerbate relations.[24] With the anticipated foreign troop withdrawal, accompanied by enormous doubts as to the ability of the Afghan security services to counter anti-government forces, Afghanistan will continue to worry regional and international actors, which are concerned that this country once again will descend into violent civil conflict, as was the case in the 1990s.[25]

An unstable Afghanistan, particularly one where there is rising Iranian and Indian influence, will be of major concern to Pakistanis, encouraging further Pakistani meddling in Afghanistan. Pakistan has always feared Indian presence in Afghanistan because it challenges its strategic depth, whereas growing Iranian involvement makes Pakistanis weary because they fear it would coalesce into Pakistan, which has the second largest Shi’ite community in the world after Iran.[26]

Concomitantly, Pakistan also will need to come to terms with the loss of revenue that would come with the end of the foreign presence that has provided enormous financial gain to Pakistanis because Pakistan was the major transportation conduit for the international presence in Afghanistan.[27] Moreover, Afghanistan itself is heading toward what is likely to be a very challenging election in 2014. Hamid Karzai is expected to stand down because he is ineligible to run for a third term. Islamabad will surely play a major role in this election, albeit surreptitiously, which may create even more tensions in Afghanistan because no agreement has been reached with the Taliban. This situation has lead one Pakistani foreign official to claim, “I have absolutely no doubt that there will be complete chaos in Afghanistan if a settlement is not reached by 2014.” This sentiment may explain why Pakistan is seeking relations with opposition figures, including the pro-India Northern Alliance, the Taliban, Washington, and other parties.[28]

Therefore, as we head toward the next Pakistani election, there is much uncertainty and concern. Questions remain as to how a new government, if there is a peaceful transition, will address the many internal problems affecting the country from unemployment to sectarian violence to poverty to foreign relations. What is undoubtedly clear is that the road towards peace, security, and stability in Pakistan is a long way off.

[1] “Ballots and bombs in Pakistan,” The Economist, February. 18, 2008, p. 1.

[2] Jamal Shahid, “Pakistan among Countries with lowest Voters turnout,”, April 14, 2013. <>

[3] “Blast at ANP rally kills 16 in Peshawar,”, April 16, 2013.

[4] Article 62 lays out the qualification for membership in the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament), which demands that the person be a citizen of Pakistan, be above the age of twenty-five and most importantly: “of good character and is not commonly known as one who violates Islamic Injunctions” (Art. 62(1)(d)); “has adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings and practises obligatory duties prescribed by Islam as well as abstains from major sins” (Art. 62(1)(e); “is sagacious, righteous and non-profligate, honest and ameen,” (Art. 62(1)(f); “as not, after the establishment of Pakistan, worked against the integrity of the country or opposed the ideology of Pakistan.” (Art. 62(1)(g)).

[5] Ashraf Khan, “In Karachi, life is cheap,” Le Monde Diplomatique, April 2013. <>

[6] Benazir Bhutto, after winning the 1988 election was removed from office in 1990 by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in August I990, claiming that her government was unable to deal with the heightened level of violence in the Sindh and for engaging in corruption and malfeasance. In 1990, Nawaz Sharif became prime minister and his government lasted for three years before he was removed from power for promoting Lieutenant-General Abdul Waheed Kakar as head of the army. In 1993, Benazir Bhutto returned to office, but the violence in Karachi in 1994 and 1995 and her clashes with President Leghari in 1996, once again brought her downfall. In 1997, Sharif was once again reelected only to be toppled in a bloodless coup by Pervez Musharraf in 1999. John Bray, “Pakistan at 50: A State in Decline?” International Affairs, Vol. 73, No. 2 (1997), pp. 315-331.

[7] See for example, Jane Perlez, “Pakistan avoids pitfall, but path ahead is unclear,” New York Times, March 16, 2009, p. A1; C. Christine Fair, “Why the Pakistan Army is Here to Stay: Prospects for Civilian Governance,” International Affairs Vol. 87, No. 3 (2011), p. 580.

[8] Memogate refers to a 2012 incident whereby a Pakistani businessman, Mansoor Ijaz, alleged that in May 2011, soon after the bin Laden raid, Husain Haqqani Pakistan’s ambassador to the United State at the time, dictated to him a memo, in which President Zardari pleaded for American help against the army. Saeed Shah, “’Memogate’ scandal deepens as American accuser threatens to tell all,” The Guardian, January 12, 2012. <>

[9] C. Christine Fair, “Why the Pakistan Army is Here to Stay: Prospects for Civilian Governance,” International Affairs Vol. 87, No. 3 (2011), p. 579.

[10] Haider Ali Hussein Mullick, an adviser to General Petraeus on Pakistan in 2009 and 2010 notes Kayani’s decision to form a special inquiry commission at General Headquarters (GHQ) that looked as to why the army had been unsuccessful against the insurgents in the past. The Commission, whose finding are not public, seemed to have recommend a number of reforms ranging from confidence measures building for the population and the troops, improvement in training and equipment synchronization among military organizations, and significant intelligence reforms. Haider Ali Hussein Mullick, “Recalibrating U.S. Pakistan Relations” The Washington Quarterly, Vol. 35, No. 3 (2012), p. 95.

[11] The poll showed that 71% had an unfavorable opinion of the government, 67% of parliament and 69% of political parties. Conversely, 77% approve of the army and 74% towards religious organisations. Jon Boone, “Pakistan’s young voters view democracy with despair, finds survey,” The Guardian, April 2, 2013. <>

[12] “Blast at ANP rally kills 16 in Peshawar,”, April 16, 2013. <>

[13] In December 2012, a suicide bomber linked to the TTP killed nine people including senior provincial minister Bashir Ahmed Bilour, the son of Ghulam Ahmed Bilour. “Suicide attack kills senior minister Bilour, eight others in Peshawar,”, December 22, 2012. <>

[14] “Taliban kill MQM election candidate in Hyderabad,”, April 11, 2013. <>

[15] Zahir Shah Sherazi, “TTP Threatens Attacks on ‘Secular Parties’ as Blast Targets ANP Rally,”, December 10, 2012. <>

[16] On April, the TTP launched an attack in Karachi that left four Rangers dead and several others injured. “Blast near Karachi checkpost kills four rangers personnel,”, April 3, 2013. <>

[17] Ehsanullah Ehsan, the spokesman of the TTP has stated in relation to the attack on the WAPDA grid station in Peshawar that the TTP would no longer be attacking public interests buildings and civic organisations, and in fact condemn such attacks. Zahir Shah Sherazi, “Pakistani Taliban claim responsibility of Karachi rangers attack,”, April 3, 2013. <>

[18] In 2002, Pervez Musharrf struck a deal with the Muttahida Majilis-e-Amal (United Council of Action, MMA), a conglomeration of six religious parties that serves as a counter-weight to the PPP and the PML-N. The MMA secured a majority in the North West Frontier Province (now known as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and was the second largest party in Baluchistan.

[19] Jason Burke, “Imran Khan: the man who would be Pakistan’s next Prime Minister,” The Guardian, March 3, 2012. <>

[20] “Weather interrupts ‘Tsunami rally’; Imran makes six promises,”, March 23, 2013. <>

[21] In 2012, US immigration services in Toronto detained Imran Khan prior to him boarding a flight to New York. Khan has claimed that the US immigration questioned him over his views on drone strikes and jihad. Sometime before his flight, Khan had organized a high-profile march into South Waziristan to protest against drone strikes. Peter Beaumont, “Imran Khan detained and ‘interrogated over drone views’ by US immigration,” The Guardian, October 27, 2012. <>

[22] In April 2013, Pervez Musharraf in a television interviewed admitted that when he was president, he gave the CIA permission to launch drone attacks inside Pakistan if the “target was absolutely isolated and [there was] no chance of collateral damage.” Jon Boone and Peter Beaumont, “Pervez Musharraf admits permitting ‘a few’ US drone strikes in Pakistan,” The Guardian, April 12, 2013. <>

[23] See for example, Joshua Partlow, “Karzai Accuses Pakistan of Supporting Terrorists,” The Washington Post, October 3, 2011, <>

[24] A top Pakistani foreign official recently claimed, “Right now, Karzai is the biggest impediment to the peace process… In trying to look like a savior, he is taking Afghanistan straight to hell.” “Pakistan sees Afghanistan’s Karzai as obstacle to peace with Taliban,”, March 25, 2013. <>

[25] Richard Norton-Taylor, “MPs fear Afghan Civil War after troops leave,” The Guardian, April 9, 2013. <>

[26] Vali R. Nasr, “International Politics, Domestic Imperatives, and Identity Mobilization: Sectarianism in Pakistan, 1979-1998,” Comparative Politics, Vol. 32, No. 2 (2000), pp. 171-190

[27] Khyber Transport Association chief Shakir Afridi noted in 2011 that his association owned approximately 2,000 oil tankers and 3,500 trailers. The association handled around 90 per cent of the Afghanistan-bound supplies for the allied forces. A trailer carrying a 40-foot container cost between Rs3.5 million and Rs4.5 million and charged a fare between Rs200,000 and Rs250,000, whereas an oil tanker with a capacity of around 50,000 to 60,000 litres cost between Rs4 million and Rs5 million with the transport fare was charged at a rate of around Rs12 per litre . In addition each trailer has a crew of two or three people who receive a monthly salary of (around RS35,000 for the driver and around 20,000 for the supporting staff). “300 Trucks carry supplies to NATO from city daily,”, November 28, 2011. <>

[28]Mehreen Zahra-Malik, “Pakistan sees Afghanistan’s Karzai as obstacle to peace with Taliban,” Reuters. March 23, 2013. <>

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