Eric Margolis: Vote may be rigged for Musharraf as Pashtun uprising grows stronger


Story Transcript

ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER: Eric, parliamentary elections in Pakistan are going to take place on February 18. Musharraf’s popularity is at an all-time low. Over 19,000 polling stations have been deemed sensitive areas. What is the state of things like in Pakistan right now?

ERIC MARGOLIS, THE REAL NEWS ANALYST: Very tense, electric, fraught with danger, and a certain amount of hope. Everyone in Pakistan knows that these elections are going to be vitally important and could well determine whether Pakistan climbs back towards a state of parliamentary democracy and political stability, or whether these elections will accelerate Pakistan’s very troublesome slide into more violence and national instability.

NKWETA: What do you make of the supposed coalition between the PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League (N)?

MARGOLIS: Well, it’s important for the Democratic Parties to work together in this election to try and overthrow the forces of dictatorship. The two main opposition parties are the late Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, which commands somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of the popular support, a lot of which is a sympathy vote. Nawaz Sharif, the former, deposed prime minister, has a substantial following too for his Muslim League. Together, they probably will garner 75 percent of the national vote. There are other smaller parties, including a six-member Muslim coalition, and Imran Khan’s Party, and about twenty other small parties. But the Muslim League and the Peoples Party are the two biggies, and together, if they win, they will command enough power in Parliament to not only probably oust Musharraf but to bring charges against him for many of the crimes that he’s committed in Pakistan, to indict him for crimes, for example, muzzling the press, of savaging the judiciary, of illegal arrests, torture, and so on down the line. Musharraf, on the other hand, is hoping and his US and British patrons are hoping that the opposition parties will end up so deadlocked that Musharraf will remain last man standing and still retain his power. If the opposition parties do not win a substantial victory, and/or if Musharraf ends up with a respectable-size victory, this will be prima facie evidence of vote-rigging. Now, every vote since Musharraf seized power in 1999 has been rigged. The electoral commission has been packed with his henchmen. The press, as I said, muzzled, political opponents intimidated, and the all-important judiciary which would rule on the fairness of this election and in fact was to rule on the legality of Musharraf even running for president, particularly if he was still in uniform, all of this has been suspended by Musharraf. And it will not be a real genuine democratic election unless these democratic institutions [inaudible] preside over it.

NKWETA: And what about the North-West Frontier Province? There’s a lot of instability there. There’s talk of a resurgence of a Taliban spring offensive. From what I understand, the state of play is very precarious going into this election.

MARGOLIS: Yes, there’s growing instability. Two of Pakistan’s four provinces, that is, Baluchistan and North-West Frontier, are in a state of armed insurrection. Very, very worrisome. The American invasion of Afghanistan has ignited an uprising of the Pashtun tribal people, world’s largest tribe. They are 40 million Pashtuns, 25 million in Pakistan, where they play a very influential role in the military and intelligence service, and 15 million in Afghanistan—half that nation’s population. Taliban is really an extension of the Pashtun people. And increasingly the US and its Pakistani sepoys have been attacking Pashtuns, and now the result is a Pashtun uprising, not only in Afghanistan but now spreading into Pakistan through the tribal territories, what we’ve been hearing a lot about in Waziristan, for example. And the Pashtuns in Pakistan are beginning to attack the vital supply lines of US and NATO forces inside Afghanistan. It’s a very dangerous and fraught situation. This is why US Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently suggested that US forces might go into action inside Pakistan against Pashtun militants there. So this is a very dangerous situation. You have war with the US, you have the threat of secession, and behind all this you have mighty India standing there watching, possibly tempted, if Pakistan starts to unravel or disintegrate, to intervene just as it did intervene in east Pakistan in 1971.

NKWETA: Now, there seems to me to be a bit of a wild card element with General Kayani. No one really knows if this thing comes to a head between the opposition and Musharraf what he will do.

MARGOLIS: Musharraf goes, and there’s political deadlock, and a viable parliamentary government does not arise from this election, it’s very likely the army is going to have to step in and restore order, particularly if secession fears grow. And the man to take over is General Kayani. He does not want to get the army involved in politics, but this role may be thrust upon him. And he is Washington’s man. He was approved and vetted by Washington. He’s considered reliably anti-Islamic and pro-American. And he’s also, at least so far, a supporter of Musharraf. But his Pakistan history shows that chiefs of staff in the military often turn against their political masters, as President Zia-ul-Haq did against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and as Musharraf did against his boss, Nawaz Sharif.

NKWETA: Now, I hate to get you to try and predict what’s going to happen, but what do you see happening in the future? How do you see things playing out after 18 February?

MARGOLIS: I think that Musharraf, with strong backing from the United States and Britain, will try very hard to rig this election just as much as they can so that it’s not totally obvious and doesn’t create massive outrage. They will rig things so that the opposition makes some advances but probably not enough to take power and to go after Musharraf. You know, it’s ironic, it’s sad to see the United States claiming to be fighting and occupying Afghanistan to build democracy in that country, as Washington says, while at the same time doing its best to shore up a very crude and crass dictatorship in Pakistan, which is detested by most of its people, as recent polls show, and is really an embarrassment to the outside world.

DISCLAIMER:

Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


Story Transcript

ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER: Eric, parliamentary elections in Pakistan are going to take place on February 18. Musharraf’s popularity is at an all-time low. Over 19,000 polling stations have been deemed sensitive areas. What is the state of things like in Pakistan right now? ERIC MARGOLIS, THE REAL NEWS ANALYST: Very tense, electric, fraught with danger, and a certain amount of hope. Everyone in Pakistan knows that these elections are going to be vitally important and could well determine whether Pakistan climbs back towards a state of parliamentary democracy and political stability, or whether these elections will accelerate Pakistan’s very troublesome slide into more violence and national instability. NKWETA: What do you make of the supposed coalition between the PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League (N)? MARGOLIS: Well, it’s important for the Democratic Parties to work together in this election to try and overthrow the forces of dictatorship. The two main opposition parties are the late Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, which commands somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of the popular support, a lot of which is a sympathy vote. Nawaz Sharif, the former, deposed prime minister, has a substantial following too for his Muslim League. Together, they probably will garner 75 percent of the national vote. There are other smaller parties, including a six-member Muslim coalition, and Imran Khan’s Party, and about twenty other small parties. But the Muslim League and the Peoples Party are the two biggies, and together, if they win, they will command enough power in Parliament to not only probably oust Musharraf but to bring charges against him for many of the crimes that he’s committed in Pakistan, to indict him for crimes, for example, muzzling the press, of savaging the judiciary, of illegal arrests, torture, and so on down the line. Musharraf, on the other hand, is hoping and his US and British patrons are hoping that the opposition parties will end up so deadlocked that Musharraf will remain last man standing and still retain his power. If the opposition parties do not win a substantial victory, and/or if Musharraf ends up with a respectable-size victory, this will be prima facie evidence of vote-rigging. Now, every vote since Musharraf seized power in 1999 has been rigged. The electoral commission has been packed with his henchmen. The press, as I said, muzzled, political opponents intimidated, and the all-important judiciary which would rule on the fairness of this election and in fact was to rule on the legality of Musharraf even running for president, particularly if he was still in uniform, all of this has been suspended by Musharraf. And it will not be a real genuine democratic election unless these democratic institutions [inaudible] preside over it. NKWETA: And what about the North-West Frontier Province? There’s a lot of instability there. There’s talk of a resurgence of a Taliban spring offensive. From what I understand, the state of play is very precarious going into this election. MARGOLIS: Yes, there’s growing instability. Two of Pakistan’s four provinces, that is, Baluchistan and North-West Frontier, are in a state of armed insurrection. Very, very worrisome. The American invasion of Afghanistan has ignited an uprising of the Pashtun tribal people, world’s largest tribe. They are 40 million Pashtuns, 25 million in Pakistan, where they play a very influential role in the military and intelligence service, and 15 million in Afghanistan—half that nation’s population. Taliban is really an extension of the Pashtun people. And increasingly the US and its Pakistani sepoys have been attacking Pashtuns, and now the result is a Pashtun uprising, not only in Afghanistan but now spreading into Pakistan through the tribal territories, what we’ve been hearing a lot about in Waziristan, for example. And the Pashtuns in Pakistan are beginning to attack the vital supply lines of US and NATO forces inside Afghanistan. It’s a very dangerous and fraught situation. This is why US Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently suggested that US forces might go into action inside Pakistan against Pashtun militants there. So this is a very dangerous situation. You have war with the US, you have the threat of secession, and behind all this you have mighty India standing there watching, possibly tempted, if Pakistan starts to unravel or disintegrate, to intervene just as it did intervene in east Pakistan in 1971. NKWETA: Now, there seems to me to be a bit of a wild card element with General Kayani. No one really knows if this thing comes to a head between the opposition and Musharraf what he will do. MARGOLIS: Musharraf goes, and there’s political deadlock, and a viable parliamentary government does not arise from this election, it’s very likely the army is going to have to step in and restore order, particularly if secession fears grow. And the man to take over is General Kayani. He does not want to get the army involved in politics, but this role may be thrust upon him. And he is Washington’s man. He was approved and vetted by Washington. He’s considered reliably anti-Islamic and pro-American. And he’s also, at least so far, a supporter of Musharraf. But his Pakistan history shows that chiefs of staff in the military often turn against their political masters, as President Zia-ul-Haq did against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and as Musharraf did against his boss, Nawaz Sharif. NKWETA: Now, I hate to get you to try and predict what’s going to happen, but what do you see happening in the future? How do you see things playing out after 18 February? MARGOLIS: I think that Musharraf, with strong backing from the United States and Britain, will try very hard to rig this election just as much as they can so that it’s not totally obvious and doesn’t create massive outrage. They will rig things so that the opposition makes some advances but probably not enough to take power and to go after Musharraf. You know, it’s ironic, it’s sad to see the United States claiming to be fighting and occupying Afghanistan to build democracy in that country, as Washington says, while at the same time doing its best to shore up a very crude and crass dictatorship in Pakistan, which is detested by most of its people, as recent polls show, and is really an embarrassment to the outside world. DISCLAIMER: Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Eric Margolis

Eric Margolis is an internationally syndicated columnist and renowned book author. He’s a veteran Korea-watcher who specializes in north Asian military/strategic affairs. He’s been all over the DMZ and produced his documentary there last year featuring a segment from Panmunjom on the DMZ. Two special areas of focus:  1. What would a war actually look like if one erupted?  2. The geopolitics of the region – the Koreas, Japan, China, Russia, the US.  Eric was a regular columnist for Japan's Mainichi Shimbun and is a long-time member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.