SOME of the world's deadliest terrorists vowed to prevent it;
powerful military figures plotted to rig its outcome. Yet Pakistan's
election went off with minimum violence, producing results whose
legitimacy no one can contest.
The biggest winner is the
Pakistani people - who, given the chance, manifested their attachment
to pluralism and the rule of law. By turning up in millions to vote,
they confounded both the terrorists and the shadowy security agencies.
Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies did all they could to disrupt things,
killing some 300 candidates, election officers and party activists.
Their sinister slogan "From Box to Box" - i.e., anyone who cast a vote
into the ballot box could end up in a coffin - was posted or scribbled
on many walls. The terrorists also destroyed at least 12 polling
stations and stole several dozen ballot boxes.
Still, they failed. And their political allies did no better.
The Unified Assembly for Action (MMA), a coalition of Islamists, saw
its share of the vote drop from almost 11 percent in the last general
election five years ago to around 3 percent. It lost control of the
only one of Pakistan's four provinces that it governed, and all its
main leaders lost their seats. In the provincial assembly of Sindh, the
MMA won no seats.
A Shiite group, heavily financed by Iran's
Islamic Republic, suffered an even bigger rout. If the latest results
hold, it will end up with 1 percent of the vote.
politicians linked with the military and security agencies also lost,
if not as heavily. Their chief party, the Pakistan Muslim League, lost
almost two-thirds of its seats and control of the national parliament
and the three provincial assemblies that it had dominated for years.
The message of this election is clear: The overwhelming majority of
Pakistanis reject both military rule and its political twin of
Those twins started dominating Pakistani politics in
the 1970s, when Gen. Zia ul-Haq overthrew Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali
Bhutto in a military coup. Unable to build a political base, the
general played the Islamist card - reducing religion to a mere apologia
for his corrupt and brutal regime. The Islamists in turn got a share in
political power - and in the looting of the national economy.
With Monday's general election, Pakistan returns to where it was in
1977, before Zia's coup. Two mainstream movements, the Pakistan Muslim
League (PMLN) of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan
People's Party (PPP) of the Bhuttos, have returned as chief players in
national and provincial politics.
The right-of-center PLMN is likely to form the next provincial
government in Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province. The
left-of-center PPP will control Sindh and likely lead coalition
governments in Baluchistan and the Northwest Frontier Province.
There is much talk of the two forming a government of national unity -
a grand coalition. Attractive as the idea is, it may be unwise. With
the main parties in government together, the allies of the military and
the Islamist remnants could cast themselves as the opposition -
peddling the message that non-military, non-religious parties can't
solve Pakistan's social, economic and political problems.
best outcome would be for the two mainstream parties, perhaps
associated with a bloc of independents, to fill out the entire
political spectrum. One party could become the kernel of a coalition
government, while the other leads the parliamentary opposition. This
model has worked in neighboring India for more than half a century.
There's no reason why it shouldn't work in Pakistan.
and the PPP have different historical trajectories, visions and
programs. These should not be blurred through a power-sharing scheme
that may be unsustainable. Better for both, and for Pakistan, if each
retains its distinct identity - offering voters a clear choice.
The formation of a people-based government was always a basic condition
for winning the war against terror in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The
fulfillment of that condition means a strategic turning of the tide
against the terrorists - but not guaranteed victory.
For that reason, the election winners would be unwise to waste energy
settling personal scores with President Pervez Musharraf. If anything,
they owe him a debt of gratitude: He's the first Pakistani military
ruler to organize free and fair elections and accept results that don't favor his camp.
Despite a persistent campaign of vilification against him, Musharraf
enjoys a capital of trust that can serve what is, in effect, a new
system of government based on separation of powers. He has always
claimed his hope for Pakistan to adopt the Turkish political model -
wherein the armed forces act as ultimate guardians of the Constitution,
preventing dictatorship in the name of either nationalism or faith.
The new government must come out with a credible program of social
reform and economic development to give people hope - and also rid the
security services of rogue elements that pursue personal agendas in the
name of Islam.
The outgoing government, needing Islamist
support to compensate for its lack of a genuine popular base, largely
restricted itself to shadow-boxing against the terrorists, especially
near the Afghan border. The new government will have no need of such
tactics. It should create a popular front against terror to meet a
challenge that threatens its unity.
friends - notably the United States, the European Union and the
moderate Muslim nations - must dig deeper in their pockets to help both
economically and militarily.