Pakistan’s October 6 presidential elections, the focus of furious political jockeying in the last few weeks, held little suspense. Despite serious challenges to his authority this year, Gen. Pervez Musharraf easily won a new term (BBC) from parliament and provincial assemblies dominated by ruling parties. But the vote was just the first step in a complicated process aimed at sorting out the country’s leadership in the months ahead. That process will involve a Supreme Court ruling on the legality (BBC) of Musharraf's candidacy; the court threatened on the eve of elections to retroactively label it illegal if Musharraf refuses to shed his military leadership role. Also just before the voting began, Musharraf signed a “reconciliation ordinance” that drops corruption charges (CNN) against former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and sets the stage for a power-sharing arrangement with her.
To protect his future interests, the general named a loyalist, Lt. Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, the former chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy service, to succeed him as the nation’s top military officer. Musharraf’s plan to shed his military role did not come easily, since he derives much of his authority from the post. But in Kiyani, Pakistan gains a skilled commander at a time of demoralization in the army, and a staunch supporter of Musharraf (Newsweek Int'l).
But a Musharraf victory, analysts warn, does not necessarily translate to stability. The army is struggling in its fight against al-Qaeda and Taliban forces, who have aggressively expanded their influence and operations in the tribal and border areas, pushing large parts of the country beyond government control (WashPost). Pakistan’s army, like its population, is deeply divided over the “war on terror,” and analysts see recent incidents of mass army surrenders to smaller groups of militants as a sign that the military will not fight (NewKerala.com) an internal war on behalf of what many of its officers view as Washington’s interests. “This is not our war; Taliban, al-Qaeda are not criminals in our country,” a major from the Pakistani army told the Atlantic. Selig S. Harrison, an Asia expert at the Center for International Policy, warns of a radical “Pashtunistan” (IHT) should events deteriorate further. Others, citing the nuclear-armed country's miserable educational system, its faltering financial institutions (Bloomberg), and an economy which can't keep pace (PDF) with population growth, fear worse.
Unpopular views of the war on terror, already rampant in Pakistan’s ISI, which helped create and fuel the Taliban movement during the 1990s, may be even more widely held among the general public. A new survey (PDF) conducted by Washington-based research institute Terror Free Tomorrow shows that 46 percent of Pakistanis hold a favorable view of Osama Bin Laden. Musharraf and United States remain very unpopular in the country.
Bhutto scores highest in the popularity poll (with 63 percent favorable), and analysts assume (ISN) Washington sees her as the best way to secure a smooth transition to democracy. In this Online Debate, Pakistani analyst Moeed Yusuf argues that, similar to Musharraf, Bhutto has been rallying U.S. support by posing herself as the only hope to save Pakistan from extremists. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters this week the United States regards this election as pivotal in terms of Pakistan’s future but neither he nor other U.S. officials have openly discussed the Musharraf-Bhutto talks.
Still, Pakistanis see Washington’s overt support for Musharraf and the Pakistani army in a different light. Pakistani nuclear physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy sums it up in Foreign Policy: “All countries have armies, but in Pakistan things are reversed. Here, it is the Army that has a country.”
A new report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies notes that, with the exception of earthquake relief in 2005, most of the $10 billion in American aid to Pakistan since 2001 has been directed towards short-term counterterrorism objectives. The report advocates a redefined U.S. strategy where Washington pursues a broader and diversified relationship with various stakeholders including civil society and the private sector in Pakistan.