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Pakistan After Bhutto

PJM Islamabad: The question of who will lead Pakistan - and when that person will be chosen - is shrouded in uncertainty as the country tries to recover from the slaying of Benazir Bhutto, writes Ghalia Aymen.

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Ghalia Aymen

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January 1, 2008 - 12:22 am

The situation in Pakistan is limping back to normalcy following the shock of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

What’s in a name? To supporters of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) – a great deal. The party held a press conference to announce that the late party leader’s son, Bilawal Zardar, would succeed her as chairman. But because Bhutto loyalists refused to accept the name Zardari, the family changed the 19-year-old’s name to Bilawal ‘Bhutto’ Zardari. At the press conference, they informed the world that they are ready to take part in the parliamentary election, which is scheduled for January 8. Makhdoom Amin Fahim, a prominent PPP leader, would be the likely candidate for prime minister if his party were to win the upcoming election.

Pakistan’s former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who had earlier showed solidarity with the PPP by announcing that his Pakistan Muslim League-N (PMLN) party would not take part in the election, on Sunday agreed to the PPP’s request to participate.

There are several warring points of view as far as the scheduling of the election is concerned.

The government clearly wants to delay the election for as long as possible, which is why rumors started from within the government have started to spread. Polling stations being set ablaze by miscreants over the past week is one of the reasons cited for postponing the election.

Opposition political parties (mainly the two largest parties, PPP and PMLN) want the election to be held on time. This is because they think that the government simply wants to delay it in order to buy time in order to try and rescue its sinking popularity and manipulate the rules of the election in a self-serving manner.

The election commission was set to decide the fate of the election on Tuesday.

Defense analysts publicly warn that until or unless security forces get mentally and physically ready to face any unwelcome scenario, there is a great risk that a chaotic situation over all the country would prove to be impossible to handle.

A serious lack of trust exists between the government and the general public. Even before Bhutto’s assassination, credible reports of pre-poll rigging were coming in. This included transfers of desirable officers to oversee elections and heavy use of government resources by Musharraf’s supporting parties, PMLQ and MQM. PPP and PMLN had earlier decided to go into the election to assert their popularity as well as expose the government’s rigging effort.

On the streets, it is always assumed that government can never be a reliable and trustworthy organization in Pakistan, no matter who runs the country, and that power corrupts any elected leader.

Much of the Pakistani public wants Musharraf to resign because it holds him responsible for the current situation in Pakistan. Political analysts also think it is a better, and still honorable, way out for Musharraf. They suggest that if he wants a smooth and fair election he should hand over the responsibility to a neutral government to avoid problems and accusations that there was dhandli (cheating).

The world is surely wondering why the people of Pakistan are so opposed to the government when they, presumably, need a strong regime to fight against terrorism.

To understand, people have to know the political history of Pakistan. Right now, a tremendous number of Pakistanis perceive the War on Terror to be not its own fight, but that of the United States.

Certainly, Pakistanis believe that any terrorist must be caught and dealt with according to the law. But the public hesitates when they witness what they view as brutal and blind killing generating collateral damage.

The backlash against the military regime’s methods is real. Therefore, the world should not be swift in judging Pakistan or the way in which its people will vote, whenever the election ultimately takes place. The international community, and the United States in particular, must stand for and by the people of Pakistan – not a single leader.

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