Islamist Parties Suffer Heavy Losses in Pakistan

Islamist parties in the volatile Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan lost seats on Monday to secular parities. Tarek Fatimi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, talks to Steve Inskeep about the implications of the vote.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let's move next to the aftermath of an election in Pakistan. That's where a newspaper, The Daily Times, declared in a headline, All the King's Men are Gone. The refers to the allies of President Pervez Musharraf. They lost in Monday's parliamentary election, and so did Pakistan's religious parties. That result may tell us something about the U.S. war on terror, for which Pakistan is a major battleground.

So to learn more we called Tarek Fatimi. He held that job. He's a former ambassador to the United States from Pakistan, a job he held in the 1990s under the last government before a military coup. He's now in Islamabad.

Now let's talk about the Northwest Frontier Province, this is an area where it was said that al-Qaida and Taliban militants had a certain amount of support, but when religious parties, Islamist parties put their candidates up for election, they didn't do very well at all.

Mr. TAREK FATIMI (former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States): Well, I'm not surprised at all. Pakistan's track record of the religious parties has not faired well. There presence in the Frontier Province, as well as in the National Assembly in the 2002 elections was primarily because of a number of unusual factors. First and foremost, the American invasion of Afghanistan had created a certain backlash in the tribal areas of northern Pakistan.

Secondly, President Musharraf looked upon the religious right as his trusted allies. In the political confrontation that was then taking place with the mainstream political parties. And finally, the fact that the religious right was able to exploit the sentiments in favor of the resurgence of Islamic beliefs, especially in the rural areas. Now this particular election that has taken place, that has brought back the equation to what it always has been in Pakistan. The overwhelming majority consists of people who are liberal, who are moderate. In fact, people may not know this, but the version of Islam has promoted a liberal, accommodating spirit.

INSKEEP: Well, now, if these religious parties suffered this big defeat in this week's elections after their gains as far back as 2002, is that good news for the United States?

Mr. FATIMI: I think it is first and foremost, I think it is good news for Pakistan. We can see the moderate parties come into their own, take charge of this state of affairs, and engage in a dialog with the United States and with the Western world that will bring back normalcy to the country.

And I think the that United States had, over the past many years, failed to recognize that the religious presence in the frontier and in the national parliament had taken place because of the extraordinary circumstance prevailing at the time of the 2002 elections. So I think in that sense, the results should be very reassuring to the United States and to Western Europe.

INSKEEP: Is the reassurance that Pakistan's voters have said to the essentially saying this, you don't have to worry, people in the West, about an Islamic takeover of Pakistan's government because they're no where near electoral success in Pakistan?

Mr. FATIMI: With a deep regret I have to say that this was a propaganda lying sold with great skill by the people in Islamabad, primarily in order to retain support for their own repressive policies, takeover by radical extremist, terrorist forces in Pakistan, I would have never taken that seriously. And therefore if the election results is a reassuring factor, then of course, it should be taken as such. But I want to assure your listeners that in Pakistan, extremist sentiments and extremist beliefs have never found favor with people across the county.

INSKEEP: Do you think given all his defeat the President Pervez Musharraf is still going to be the man in charge in Pakistan in a few months?

Mr. FATIMI: It should not be the case. Pakistan is a parliamentary democracy and if the president insists on maintaining power that he has enjoyed since 1999, that would present an artificial state of affairs and not something that the people of Pakistan would very much be willing to tolerate.

INSKEEP: It should not be the case. Do you think it will be the case, though?

Mr. FATIMI: If it is the case, then sadly, we will be seeing serious confrontation.

INSKEEP: Tarek Fatimi is a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States. He's in Islamabad. Thank you very much.

Mr. FATIMI: Thank you, sir, you're most welcome.

INSKEEP: And we should mention that he served as ambassador under Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister who was deposed in the military coup and is now a leader of Pakistan's opposition.

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Pakistan's Musharraf Vows to Stay in Office

Asif Ali Zardari, widower of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, addresses supporters. i i

Asif Ali Zardari, widower of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, addresses supporters prior to a party meeting at his residence in Islamabad. Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images
Asif Ali Zardari, widower of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, addresses supporters.

Asif Ali Zardari, widower of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, addresses supporters prior to a party meeting at his residence in Islamabad.

Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf vowed Wednesday to serve out his full five-year term, despite a resounding defeat for his ruling party during recent parliamentary elections.

Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, was not on the ballot, but the poll was widely seen as a referendum on his eight-year rule - including his alliance with the United States in the war on terrorist groups based in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan.

Asked by The Wall Street Journal if he had considered resigning, Musharraf replied: "No, not yet. We have to move forward in a way that we bring about a stable democratic government to Pakistan."

With the ballot count nearly complete, the parties of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif - the leader Musharraf ousted - had won enough seats to form a new government. They were expected, though, to fall short of the two-thirds needed to impeach Musharraf.

President Bush said Wednesday that he hoped the sweeping defeat of Musharraf's party won't end the Islamic nation's cooperation in fighting radical extremists.

"It's now time for the newly elected folks to show up and form their government," Bush said during a news conference in Ghana, the fourth of five nations he's visiting in Africa. "The question then is 'Will they be friends of the United States?' I certainly hope so."

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