Published on May 11th, 2013 |
by Usman Butt
Image © Shahid1024
Pakistan. A Nation Awaits…
Today Pakistanis will be taking to the polls to vote in the country’s general election and, as usual, it has not been without controversy. It will be the country’s 14th parliamentary election and voters will not only be picking a new president but also be deciding the future of the country over the next 4-5 challenging years. Pakistanis have a choice of: the socialist Pakistani People Party (PPP) led by Bilawal Bhutto (son of Benazir); the conservative Pakistan Muslim League (PML) led by Nawaz Sharif; or centre nationalist party-The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led by former cricketer Imran Khan.
The run-up to the elections has already experienced high drama and the voting has not begun yet. Former Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf flew in to stand in the election, only to be arrested. When Musharraf launched a military-coup against the elected government in 1999, he broke constitutional law buut whilst he was in power little could be done to stop him. When he left power he went into exile just in case he was arrested. His arrest over a week-ago is not connected to breaking the constitution though, it is for the alleged murder of Balochi leader Akbar Bugti.
However, most Pakistani are not concerned with the arrest. They are more concerned with the country’s problems and its future. An estimated 85.4 million people out of a population of 180 million are expected to vote. The two main issues that concern ordinary Pakistanis are jobs and corruption-as well as energy. Security is also important but terrorism is not the main issue. Despite the image that exists of Pakistanis abroad, only a small number of Pakistanis are affected by terrorism and the Taliban.
Pakistan is a contradiction and was best summed up by Anatol Lieven, the author of Pakistan: A Hard Country: “Pakistan is divided, disorganized, economically backward, corrupt, violent, unjust, often savagely oppressive towards the poor and women, and home to extremely dangerous forms of extremism and terrorism and yet it moves’, and is in many ways surprisingly tough and resilient as a state and a society. It is also not quite as unequal as it looks from outside.
Pakistan contains islands of successful modernity and of excellent administration-not that many, but enough to help keep the country trundling along: a few impressive modern industries; some fine motorways, a university in Lahore, parts of which are the best of their kind in South Asia, a powerful, well-trained and well-disciplined arm. Lieven wrote his book to argue against the idea that Pakistan is a failing state but at the same time to show what Pakistan’s real problems are, as well as its strengths. His sentiments were echoed by the journalist Robert Fisk and Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow.
Pakistan is a country that matters and these elections matter. Whoever is elected will oversee the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. Pakistanis have endured a NATO presence on its borders for 12 years, only the Afghans have suffered worse as a result of this war. Because of the war the Taliban and Islamist groups have waged war on the Pakistani state which means killing Pakistani civilians. The US responds to this by accusing Pakistan of wrong-doing and launches drone strikes into Pakistan which mostly kill ordinary civilians. The Obama administration claims it is killing ‘militants’ which the Pakistani state is either unwilling or unable to remove. The Obama administration’s definition of a militant is a male over the age of 17 who is in an area that the CIA decides is full of militants. This definition is irrespective of whether the male is armed or not or if he is even known to the CIA. An estimated 3, 308 people have been killed in drone strikes.
How Pakistanis vote in these elections will determine how Pakistan deals with the United States in the future. Beyond the US, Pakistan enjoys a very strong relationship with China-it is from strategic Pakistani sea ports that China has built naval basis giving it access to the Persian Gulf. The key prize is the Strait of Hormuz, which (At its narrow point) is a 21 nautical miles stretch of sea that separates Iran from the United Arab Emirates and connects the Persian Gulf ocean to the rest of the world. Out of this strait, between 20-40% of the world’s energy supplies sail outwards and having a naval base near such a narrow strait means that China has the power to block it.
The size of the Pakistani population, along with it’s industries and natural resources make Pakistan potentially economically very rich. This, coupled with one the world’s largest diasporas, mean that, when Pakistanis vote, they are partially deciding how the rest of the world will look. They vote on geo-political issues without even realizing it. And it is this that makes these elections so important.