Thursday 21 February 2008

Zardari and Sharif: Uneasy 'partners' (UPIASIA)

M.D. Nalapat

Manipal, India — After the Feb. 18 "peaceful" general elections in Pakistan, where "moderate" candidates overwhelmingly trounced their "extremist" rivals, most international commentators have agreed with the Pakistani analysts nesting in think tanks across the United States and elsewhere that the country's slide into chaos will decelerate and may even be reversed.

No less an expert on third world elections than U.S. Senator John Kerry has pronounced the Pakistan poll to have "credibility and legitimacy," a sentiment apparently shared by his colleague, Joe Biden. In fact, the election results indicate that the poll was less than fair, although conditions on the ground clearly made the manipulation less than completely effective.

While the Pakistan People's Party -- which was expected abroad to secure a majority on the basis of the "sympathy" vote following the killing of Benazir Bhutto -- got 87 of the 287 contested seats, Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League won just 66, a performance at variance with ground reality, which had indicated the party would register a much better performance.

Given the dodgy reputation of Bhutto's widower and newly anointed PPP leader, A.A. Zardari -- plus the fact that her visible eagerness to do the bidding of Washington had cost her much popularity in a society that is, after the Palestinian territories, one of the most anti-United States in the world -- the PPP ought to have come second to Sharif's PML(N), instead of emerging as the largest single party. Clearly, and contra-intuitively, the fact that the PPP has not-so-secretly been in parleys with Musharraf helped rather than hurt, despite the loathing with which most Pakistanis regard their head of state.