Pakistan Vote Comes in Shadow of Violence, Military

A Benazir Bhutto PPP party campaign billboard is displayed above a busy bazaar in Peshawar. i i

A Benazir Bhutto PPP party campaign billboard is displayed above a busy bazaar in the old city in Peshawar, Pakistan. Tensions are high following a suicide bombing in which 47 people were killed at PPP campaign rally in the northwestern tribal town of Parachinar, bordering Afghanistan. Paula Bronstein/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
A Benazir Bhutto PPP party campaign billboard is displayed above a busy bazaar in Peshawar.

A Benazir Bhutto PPP party campaign billboard is displayed above a busy bazaar in the old city in Peshawar, Pakistan. Tensions are high following a suicide bombing in which 47 people were killed at PPP campaign rally in the northwestern tribal town of Parachinar, bordering Afghanistan.

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Pakistanis vote in a parliamentary election Monday, ending a campaign that has been overshadowed by violence. The most obvious sign of that violence was the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in December. But only Saturday, another suicide bombing killed dozens of Bhutto's party supporters.

The elections are supposed to mark the final step in Pakistan's transition from military to civilian rule. But Pakistan's army has ruled the country for half of its 60-year history. And few people there believe the military can keep away from politics.

In late November, when President Pervez Musharraf resigned as military chief, it was supposed to mark a new era for Pakistan. Having ruled for eight years, Musharraf was seen as the latest in a long line of military dictators. And by the time Musharraf relinquished his post as the country's top general, there was a deep, widespread anger towards him.

And that anger extended to the military, according to Roedad Khan, a former top bureaucrat who has worked under six Pakistani leaders. Khan says people in Pakistan are fed up with military rule.

"There is only one core issue between the people of Pakistan today," Khan said. "And that is how to get rid of army rule. Because until you do that, Pakistan is not going to progress."

Khan says that because Pakistan's political process has been interrupted so many times, a stable democracy has been unable to evolve. And as a result, he says, the military is pervasive in the country's politics.

"Even when they're not directly in power, they control the politics of Pakistan," Khan says, "and some of the crucial decisions, crucial issues are really determined by the army."

Often, those crucial issues include foreign policy. Pakistan's relationships with India, Afghanistan, and the United States are determined by its army. And the decision to become a nuclear-armed state was made by Pakistan's military.

Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy, a security analyst, says that even the economy is controlled by the army.

"The Pakistan army makes everything from sugar and cement down to corned flakes and bottled water," Hoodbhoy said. "So, as a consequence of this, the economy has also been subverted. And so the normal competition you would expect in an economy is not there, because the army has so big a share of the pie."

Many people feel the army now may be moving away from that kind of dominance, under Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, the man who replaced Musharraf as the army's chief of staff.

Over the past month, Kiyani has made some key — and bold — steps.

First, he declared that no military officials could have any dealings with a politician unless it is cleared through him first — a provision that includes President Musharraf.

Then Kiyani called back scores of military officers from plum civilian positions that were handed out as perks by Musharraf, powerful positions in ministries such as transportation, communication and the water and power authority.

Nasim Zehra, a security analyst, says Gen. Kiyani appears aware that he needs to roll back some of the military's power.

"I think [it's] the mother of necessity in this case," Zehra said, "because it's a question of the institution's reputation, institution's well-being, and the country's well-being at stake."

But Kiyani must move slowly in order to prevent any backlash. Many generals have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Professor Hoodbhoy thinks Kiyani may make some positive changes in the short term — but he says the army has no intention of going back to the barracks permanently.

"The army just wants to be away from the public eye at the moment," Hoodbhoy said, "because it's being held responsible for all the ills of the country.

"But they have no intention of surrendering power; they don't believe that the people of Pakistan are capable of running the country. They think that they are the rightful owners of this country. And that kind of attitude will take a long time to change."

Pakistan's national elections may bring a new civilian government into power. But there is little doubt that the country's army will still be hovering on the horizon.

U.S. Could Lose 'Indispensable Ally' in Pakistan

Pres. Pervez Musharraf i i

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf gives a speech at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in central London, Jan. 25, 2008. AP Photo/Alessia Pierdomenico, Pool hide caption

itoggle caption AP Photo/Alessia Pierdomenico, Pool
Pres. Pervez Musharraf

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf gives a speech at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in central London, Jan. 25, 2008.

AP Photo/Alessia Pierdomenico, Pool

Pakistan is preparing for parliamentary elections on Monday that could have far-reaching implications for the United States and the struggle against terrorist groups.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf won't face the voters directly — his re-election was confirmed in November, after a vote that his opponents say was blatantly rigged by the government.

Instead, Musharraf may find himself saddled with a parliament that could challenge his decade-long rule or even try to impeach him.

The Bush administration has hailed Musharraf as a partner ever since he agreed to support the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. As recently as November, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte called Musharraf an "indispensable ally" in the struggle against terrorism.

At the same time, though, President Bush urged Musharraf, who was then Pakistan's Army chief, to quit the military and hold parliamentary elections. Those elections were set for early January, but postponed amid the turbulence that swept the country after the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December.

One question now is whether Monday's election will be seen as legitimate, amid allegations that the government has been working to rig the outcome by limiting who can run, who can vote and who will supervise the vote count once the balloting is over.

"The U.S. made a big mistake by not insisting that Musharraf and his government accept a massive deployment of international observers," says Zia Mian, at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Mian says the Bush administration was unwilling to push Musharraf on the issue because it fears losing him as an ally.

Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, says it's too late for the U.S. to rely on Musharraf alone. "The question is, how do we position ourselves, not toward one man, but toward the whole country?" Riedel says. "The problem we face is that the Pakistani people feel that the U.S. is tied to a military dictator who has lost their support."

A new report from the International Republican Institute bears that out: An IRI poll conducted in late January found that more than 80 percent of Pakistanis feel Musharraf's government is headed in the wrong direction; only 9 percent believe the government should cooperate with the U.S. in the war on terrorism.

A recent editorial in the Los Angeles Times suggested that the U.S. is signaling to Musharraf that it will accept something less than free and fair elections in Pakistan. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher told a congressional panel earlier this month that what the U.S. wants are "credible" elections; the Times editorial interpreted that as "just good enough to enable some degree of post-election power-sharing."

At this point, there will be relatively little independent monitoring of the elections. Lisa Gates, a spokeswoman for the International Republican Institute, said her group had decided not to send a monitoring mission, "because security just isn't good enough. They wouldn't have the freedom of movement they'd need to do an effective job."

Senators Joseph Biden (D-DE), John Kerry (D-MA) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) planned to observe the election and meet with leaders of the government and the opposition. Biden said before leaving that if Pakistani moderates don't get a voice in the system, "there's a real danger they will make common cause with extremists."

Biden is calling for an approach that would triple U.S. non-military aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion a year for at least 10 years as a way to strengthen civil power in the country. He would provide an additional billion-dollar bonus in non-military aid to the country in the first year after democracy is restored there.

Biden has also argued for a U.S. policy that's aimed at the entire country and not just at an individual personality such as Musharraf.

The Woodrow Wilson Center's Zia Mian says of Musharraf, "There never were any indispensable men."

He says the struggle against extremists in Pakistan has been tainted in the public mind because it is associated with Musharraf and his alliance with the U.S. In Mian's words, "Your indispensable man has become part of the problem."

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