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Analysis by Aijaz Ahmad: Emerging political forces in Pakistan resist US pressure

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AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR NEWS ANALYST: The incoming Parliamentarians who have been elected are to take an oath of office under the constitution. If they take this oath, according to this new constitution that has been printed by the Musharraf government, and which includes all the changes that Musharraf has included, will then be bound by their oath to treat that constitution as the real constitution of Pakistan, whereas all the political parties have been committed to the idea of not accepting these changes and in fact bringing the constitution back to the shape it had in 1973, before the two military dictators Zia-ul-Haq and now Musharraf made so many changes in it. The other big problem that has already emerged is the whole issue of the judiciary. Musharraf had fired sixty senior judges of the Supreme and high courts of Pakistan, virtually the entire senior judiciary. It has been the demand of the popular movement that these judges be restored, that this judiciary be restored, and that movement is picking up again. The lawyers’ movement has said openly that they are going to give the new parliamentarians until March 9 to restore the old judiciary. Otherwise, there will be a lawyers march from all over the country leading and converging on Islamabad. And the political parties are in a quandary. Nawaz Sharif had said very, very clearly that the judiciary has to be restored before a legitimate Parliament and a legitimate government can actually begin to function. Asif Zardari was less clear about this, but had in some way or the other committed himself to that position. Musharraf is adamant that that judiciary cannot be brought back. The US foreign policy is still very much in crisis. Bush administration —and indeed it’s some sort of a bipartisan consensus in Washington—seems to be backing Musharraf in a way that the Pakistani political class, Pakistani people, Pakistani masses in general are not willing to accept. The time for the US in the Afghanistan war is running out. Therefore the pressure is going to only mount. But now the forces are emerging in Pakistan, which will resist that pressure even more than they ever have. A very, very interesting issue is the government of the frontier province, North-Western Frontier Province, where most of the Islamicist insurgency is located. The Islamicists have been routed out during these elections. And ANP, Awami National Party, led by Asfandyar Wali Khan, has won the largest number of seats, followed by the Peoples Party. ANP is a doggedly secular, somewhat left-of-center party, which has in the past also represented Pashtun nationalism, and is asking for a very high degree of provincial autonomy. They are deeply opposed to American policies in Pakistan. They are not going to give Islamicists the kind of sanctuary they had under the previous governments, but at the same time, they’re not going to allow the United States the kind of free hand that the US wants in that province. That itself is going to be a source of very great turbulence, I would say, so far as relations between the United States, the central government in Islamabad, and the provincial government in Peshawar, in the province bordering Afghanistan. It is quite possible that sooner than most people expect, these two issues of the judiciary at home and the entire relationship with the United States, the kind of pressure that the US is exerting on the Pakistani political parties to work with Musharraf, these two issues will create a great deal of turbulence in Pakistan even before the Parliament really begins to function in a proper manner. So in short, then, the democratic upsurge in Pakistan goes on. The elections have been not the climax but the beginning of that great democratic turmoil that has gripped Pakistan.


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Based in New Delhi, Aijaz Ahmad has appeared many times on The Real News Network; he is Senior Editorial Consultant, and political commentator for the Indian newsmagazine, Frontline. He has taught Political Science, and has written widely on South Asia and the Middle East.