The parliamentary elections in Pakistan on 18. Feb. 2008 surprised many observers. Contrary to the fears, the results were not manipulated as had been the case in previous elections, and the supporters of President Pervez Musharraf were forced to accept a humiliating defeat. The overall winners, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) formed a coalition government under Yousuf Raza Gillani. One year on, the results of a year of democracy are not very convincing.
PML head Nawaz Sharif and PPP head Asif Zardari -- lack of consensus among parties poses a great challenge to Pakistani democracy
Great expectations accompanied Pakistan’s return to democracy a year ago after almost a decade of military rule. Not only Pakistanis themselves but the international community as well had lost faith in Pervez Musharraf with his increasing desire to hold onto power at any cost.
Many hoped the democratic government would finally manage to mobilise popular support for the fight against militant extremism.
But one year on, there are great doubts as to how far the army has distanced itself from politics. Each time the civilian government has tried to put the army and the military secret services, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), in their place, it has had to climb down -- especially in sensitive policy areas such as relations with rival neighbour India or the domestic fight against insurgency.
A “defective democracy”
The Berlin-based political scientist Wolfgang Merkel considers Pakistan a “defective democracy” and is especially critical of the fact “that the army has claimed this territory for itself although there were free elections, and that it has taken these central policy areas literally out of the hands of the elected representatives.”
However, most of Pakistan’s politicians insist that the democrats forced the army to retreat -- and not the first time in Pakistani history. “Every military dictator was forced by the people to surrender before the democratic voices. There were elections, which every dictator had to hold. It was not his choice. Ultimately, every dictator was fought back by the civil society and either forced to resign or gave up power,” said Ahsan Iqbal, the general secretary of the country’s second largest party, Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League.
After the elections, the Muslim League and the Pakistan People’s Party formed a coalition. The unusual unity of the two rival parties also created new hope at first. But the Muslim League walked out when PPP head Zardari blocked the reinstatement of the chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who was sacked by Musharraf. Ahsan Iqbal from the Muslim League defends the decision to leave the coalition.
“This is not a partisan politics! It is about ensuring that regardless of whosoever comes in government, if we have an independent judiciary in Pakistan, then it will guarantee rule of law, good governance and accountability,” said Iqbal.
Growing influence of Taliban is great challenge
The lack of consensus among the parties is one of the greatest challenges to Pakistani democracy -- the other is the growing influence of the Taliban. Last year, the poor results of Islamist parties were met with relief by the international community.
“One shouldn’t just look at who won the elections but also at who lost them. At those who definitely received no mandate from the citizens of Pakistan and at the fact that the extremists, in whatever region, completely lost the elections. This is in actual fact a great sign of hope,” said Detlef Dzembritzki is a German Social Democrat MP.
But right now it is the fight against extremism that is creating most doubts as to the eventual success of democracy in Pakistan.
Time needed to stabilise democracy
First, the new government chose to negotiate with the Taliban; later it launched military offensives in the tribal regions on the Afghan border and in the Swat Valley. Neither strategy was successful. Quite the contrary: The Taliban now control most of Swat and have just managed to convince the local government to agree to Sharia law.
For many analysts, however, the increasing instability in Pakistan comes as no surprise. They say it is typical for young democracies, which need a time of transition before they are finally consolidated.
The question is whether Pakistan, Afghanistan’s neighbour and a militant stronghold, will have the time to consolidate its democracy.