Prof. M.M. Ali, a specialist on South Asia based in the Washington, DC area, is a consultant with the United Nations Development Program.
Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has kept his word. Defying skeptics and critics alike, general elections were held Oct. 10 as promised--and as ordered by the Supreme Court.
The election's outcome--with an alliance of religious parties, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) or united action committee, emerging as a formidable political force--surprised almost everyone. Neither the late Maulana Abul Ala Maudoodi, the preeminent Islamic scholar and leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami for 45 years, nor Gen. Zia ul-Haq during his 11-year reign, succeeded in empowering Pakistan's religious parties. Thanks to the turmoil in neighboring Afghanistan, however, this has been accomplished in less than a year.
While pundits may proffer more sophisticated analyses, the basis for the MMA's ascendance can be found in the region's current geopolitical reality. MMA won a majority of seats in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) assembly, and enough seats in the Baluchistan assembly to form a government in collaboration with other parties. Both areas border Afghanistan.
This political development clearly poses a serious concern to Musharraf in the short run, while he is cooperating with Washington's anti-terrorist campaign against al-Qaeda. The long-term implications are serious as well, as religious elements constitute a sizeable part of Pakistan's present army. MMA leaders such as Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Shah Ahmed Noorani--all of whom come from different religious schools--are seasoned and astute politicians. Down the line, should their present unity remain intact, they will need to befriend the military as a matter of sheer political security and survival. Although the restoration of democracy may provide a renewed opportunity for its politicians to run Pakistan's affairs of state, the army will continue to be a determining force in the country for years to come.
Alarmists--primarily outside rather than within Pakistan--seem to have panicked at the election of mullahs (religious leaders) to the provincial parliaments. An Oct. 15 New York Times story predicted that should the mullahs gain control of the nuclear button, India--with Israel's help--will attack and destroy Pakistan's nuclear installations.
Such preemptive fear ignores several pertinent facts. First of all, Pakistan's nuclear regime has been and will remain safe under all circumstances. Secondly, Pakistan is no Iraq, where a single Israeli strike razed Baghdad's only nuclear reactor to the ground. Should a similar eventuality come to pass on the subcontinent, a Pakistani retaliation would cause a horrendous explosion that would shake the world. Thirdly, the MMA leaders who were elected are all very responsible and educated people aware of the risks of a first strike. It is across the border in India that diehard religious extremists have been running the government, engaging in saber-rattling and threatening Pakistan at every turn.
Pakistan's National Assembly elections have resulted in a fractured parliament. Three political parties emerged victorious, with a good number of independents leaning one way or the other. The major parties in the 272-seat Assembly now are the Pakistan Muslim League (Quad-e-Azam group), which favors Musharraf; the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of self-exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto; and the MMA. As soon as the election results were announced, serious negotiations began among the three factions in an attempt to come up with a winning coalition. At this writing, no political alliance has emerged.
PML(Q) has the largest number of seats, at 78, followed by PPP with 64 and the MMA's 49. Independents control 29 seats. As the PPP traditionally has been the left leaning party, a coalition of the PML(Q)-MMA coalition, with a few independents joining in, would seem to be a workable formula. …