A Palestinian family reacts after Israeli bulldozers demolished their home in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, Feb. 5, 2013. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Newly elected Israeli Knesset member Yair Lapid (l), leader of the Yesh Atid party, speaks to Naftali Bennett, head of the hard-line national religious party the Jewish Home, during a Feb. 5 reception in Jerusalem marking the opening of the 19th Knesset. (URIEL SINAI/GETTY IMAGES)
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Then-Vice President Dick Cheney (l) and Likud chairman Benyamin Netanyahu, out of office at the time and serving as the official Israeli opposition leader, at a March 23, 2008 breakfast meeting at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
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Emad Burnat views his five broken cameras in his documentary of the same name. (PHOTO COURTESY KINO LORBER)
Washington Report, July 2006, pages 47, 51
Pressure Mounts on Pakistan’s Musharraf To Hold Fair Elections on Schedule
By M.M. Ali
In its May/June 2006 issue, the American journal Foreign Policy presented its second annual “Failed States Index,” compiled in conjunction with the Fund for Peace. This year’s FSI ranks 146 states “in order of their vulnerability to violent internal conflict and societal dysfunction.” Both India and Pakistan appear on the list—the former at number 93 (more stable than its ally Israel, which came in at 67), the latter among the top 10.
Right on the heels of the list’s appearance came the election of the two countries to the newly constituted U.N. Human Rights Council. New Delhi termed this a “recognition of its democracy and plurality,” while Islamabad described it as evidence of the world’s acknowledgement of Pakistan’s “democracy and respect for human rights.”
However confusing the signals may be, India seems to be ignoring them, while Pakistan has been defending its record. Parallels are being drawn with developments in tiny neighboring Nepal, where public demonstrations have forced the king, after ruling for four years, to restore the country’s elected government and once again take a back seat. Whether this reversal was engineered externally (e.g., by India) or was wholly homegrown, the story has played out on the front page of major newspapers in both India and Pakistan.
Also the subject of considerable attention in Pakistani political circles was the visit to India in mid-May by a Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) delegation led by National Assembly member Makhdoom Ameen Faheem, and Faheem’s meetings with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and with L.K. Advani, leader of India’s opposition BJP party. Insiders in Islamabad speculate that, with pressure building, President Pervez Musharraf may allow exiled PPP leader and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to return home and run in the elections in order to counterbalance the growing influence of the right-wing religious parties. No one, however, predicts that such a strategy can be executed smoothly and clinically. The reaction of the army rank-and-file must be factored in, and it is not known what guarantees Bhutto will seek.
For his part, Musharraf has rushed to close ranks in his own Muslim League party, which is sharply divided in every region of the country. If things get out of hand and the politics of open defiance turn vicious, Musharraf, who is no great admirer of democracy, can hand over the reins of government to another military general of his choice and step down. After all, there are any number of aspirants waiting in the wings.
Taking his cue from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s statement that she expects President Musharraf to hold “fair and free” elections next year, Richard Boucher, the new U.S. assistant secretary of state for South Asia, stressed during his April 5 visit to Islamabad the importance of free elections in 2007. Encouraged by recent public statements from Washington favoring civilian rule, several opposition politicians have been demanding even more—that Musharraf remove his military uniform and establish a caretaker government prior to the elections. From overseas, former Prime Ministers Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, her fellow exile, met for the first time in London on March 1 to chalk out a joint strategy to return home and contest the elections.
To keep the heat on, opposition leaders such as Kazi Husain Ahmed of Jamaat-e-Islami and Maulana Fazlur Rehman of Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) called for a nationwide strike on Friday, May 26 to force Musharraf to announce dates for next year’s elections and to end military actions in Baluchistan and Waziristan, the two trouble spots that have defied the army. Evidence of Taliban cum al-Qaeda control over Waziristan, which borders Afghanistan, could be seen when theyannounced a cease-fire during the May 8 to 10 convening in north Waziristan of the Tableegi-Jamaat (the religious groups’ missionary wing). Not a bullet was fired during the entire three-day period. At any other time there is a daily exchange of fire between the Pakistani army and al-Qaeda groups.
To add insult to injury, the Afghan government, and now even U.S. commanders in the area, have been accusing Pakistan of not doing enough. Islamabad has countered by leveling similar charges against Kabul.
India-Pakistan Confidence Building Measures
While there has been no breakthrough on any major issue, India and Pakistan continue with their Confidence Building Measures (CBM) via bilateral talks that enjoy U.S. support. This dialogue has succeeded in deflecting the rival nuclear neighbors away from military action, and in opening up new road connections which have paved the way to increased trade between them. The Kashmir dispute remains untouched, however, except for Indian Prime Minister Singh’s mid-May meeting with the moderate faction of the Kashmir Hurriyat Conference, led by Mir Waiz Omar Farooq. Farooq has opposed Singh’s subsequent suggestion for a conference of all Kashmiri groups, arguing that it would be impossible for the factions which support the Indian Constitution to sit opposite Singh and claim their loyalty to Kashmir.
But Delhi has a very pragmatic reason to continue with the CBMs, and that is to satisfy Washington. Congress must ratifiy President George W. Bush’s decision to share U.S. nuclear technology with India, for non-military purposes. The Bush administration has demonstrated further support for Delhi by allowing NASA to collaborate with India’s space program.
Electoral Outcome in India
Traditionally India is known as a land of contradictions. It certainly has shown an ability to thrive under conflicting conditions. However, many find the Communist party’s success in recent elections in West Bengal and Kerala as cause for serious concern for the ruling centrist Congress party. While the outcome does not help Prime Minister Singh’s Congress government in Delhi, it is unlikely to topple the ruling coalition. To stay in power Congress depends on the support of left-wing parties—including the Communists, who prefer the secularist Congress to the BJP’s right-wing religious extremists. Nevertheless, the seventh consecutive Communist victory in the powerful state of West Bengal, and their return to power in the southern state of Kerala could be worrisome to Congress. True, today’s Communist party of India is a much more sober group than the left leaning extremists of the early 1950s. Indeed, the current West Bengal government supports foreign investors and backs the globalization trend already underway in the country. It is too early to predict which course the new government in Kerala will take, however.
The election of Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Rae Barelli, Uttar Pradesh—a state that in recent years has swung to support regional socialist trends—augurs well for Congress. Her successful campaign, managed by her children Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka, resulted in her victory by a margin of 400,000 votes, and reflects the magic of the Gandhi dynasty. Speculation is rife in Delhi that Rahul Gandhi may be asked to lead the Congress, or be offered an important cabinet post in the Singh government.
Prof. M.M. Ali is a specialist on the subcontinent based in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.