As seasoned Pakistani politician Nawaz Sharif looked set Monday to win a record third non-consecutive term as prime minister, international attention has focused on his plans to tackle Islamist militancy in the region.
With Nawaz Sharif poised to make Pakistani history by winning his third non-consecutive term as prime minister, international attention on Monday was focused on his foreign policy agenda in a region plagued by Islamist militancy.
Partial results of Saturday’s landmark vote suggested Sharif’s party, the PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League), would have a commanding hold on the National Assembly, or lower house of parliament.
As the official results rolled in from across the country, Sharif began talks on Sunday to form a new government even as his main opponent, the cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan, said his PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf) party would investigate reports of irregularities.
Reporting from the capital of Islamabad on Monday, FRANCE 24’s Taha Siddiqui said there were protests in some of the country’s main cities. “Imran Khan’s supporters are protesting right now in Karachi and Lahore and other cities. They’re asking the election commission to look into this issue,” said Siddiqui. “But Nawaz Sharif has a massive lead over Imran Khan so these rigging allegations will not affect the results that much when they officially come out in a few days.”
As world leaders – including US President Barack Obama – congratulated Pakistan on Saturday’s historic vote, attention was focused on the South Asian nation’s Islamist militancy problem.
In an interview with the Pakistani daily, The Express Tribune, on Monday, a close aide to Sharif said the new government would revisit the country’s foreign policy – including all “covert and overt” agreements with the United States.
But, he added, the PML-N did not seek a ‘divorce’ with the US. “Our foreign policy will make sure that it protects Pakistan’s interest without damaging its relations with other countries, including the US,” said the aide, who requested anonymity.
Afghanistan seeks ‘reset’ on Pakistani ties
In the run-up to Saturday’s vote, Sharif criticised US drone strikes targeting militants in Pakistan and called for peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban.
While the Taliban failed to disrupt the election as promised, militant groups did succeed in turning the 2013 campaign into an especially bloody one, with at least 130 people killed in pre-election violence.
The Taliban however did not target the PML-N party – unlike the outgoing PPP (Pakistan Peoples’ Party) – raising concerns that a Sharif administration would be soft on militancy.
But following Saturday’s election, amid growing signs of a PML-N victory, Sharif and his aides have been quick to dispel potential international concerns.
In an interview with the British newspaper, The Sunday Telegraph, Sharif said he would not pull back on the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban.
“What is most important is that we must never allow our soil to be used by anyone to create problems with any country in this world,” he said.
Sharif’s comments came ahead of the 2014 US troop pullout from Afghanistan, with some Pakistani analysts warning of a “blowback” of militancy from across the border and regional leaders apprehensive of the repercussions across their borders.
Speaking to the press on Sunday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai promised “full cooperation'' with the new Pakistani government. But he also alluded to the often tense relations between the two countries and Kabul’s longstanding suspicions that Islamabad has been aiding insurgents.
“We hope that the new elected government provides the ground for peace and brotherhood with Afghanistan'' and cooperates “in rooting out terrorist sanctuaries,'' said Karzai.
Can Sharif handle militancy – and the military?
Reporting from Islamabad, Siddiqui said world leaders were now looking to see how Sharif would tackle militancy.
“This is the biggest challenge that the new prime minister will be facing,” said Siddiqui. “Pakistan has lost over 50,000 people in the militancy since 9/11. The last government could not control the militancy. They did however start a few military operations in the northwest of Pakistan. Now, Nawaz Sharif will have to take such tough decisions.”
A two-time prime minister in the 1990s, Sharif supported the Taliban regime in neighbouring Afghanistan, a policy he later admitted was a failure. Critics also worry that Sharif, who is known to be personally very religious, is soft on Islamic extremism and won't crack down on militants, which could be a potential source of conflict with the Pakistani military.
In a country where the military has historically held the reins of power, analysts are focused on Pakistani civilian-military relations – an issue that has dominated the country’s politics.
On the campaign trail, Sharif promised his supporters that if he became prime minister for the third time, he would ensure the military follows the orders of a civilian government.
But while the Pakistani military is not perceived to have overtly interfered in the 2013 poll – unlike previous elections – there are questions over whether the military would yield to a civilian leader on domestic and regional security.
With the US pullout from Afghanistan looming, Washington will be carefully watching Sharif especially since US-Pakistani ties have deteriorated considerably since the 2011 US killing of Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani army town not far from Islamabad.
But the US nevertheless relies on Pakistan’s help to fight Islamist militants and the Pakistani military in turn relies on US military aid.
Analysts note that once in power, Sharif is likely to build a pragmatic relationship with Washington. In an interview with the AFP, Pakistani political and security analyst Imtiaz Gul noted that Sharif is “likely to approach the US with maturity and dispassionately".
Tight security for a historic poll
The May 11, 2013 election is an historic vote marking the first time a democratically elected government has been in office for a full term in Pakistan's history. But security has been tight as the campaign season has been marred by almost daily attacks. (Photo: AFP)
The 'Tiger of the Punjab'
Former Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif addresses an Islamabad campaign rally ahead of the May 11 vote. His PML-N party symbol, in a country with a 55% literacy rate, is a tiger. Sharif has been able to campaign as his party is not on the Taliban's hit-list.(Photo: AFP)
Bhutto’s party braves the campaign trail
Elections are a particularly violent period in Pakistan. Former PM Benazir Bhutto was killed at a campaign rally ahead of the 2008 polls, which her party won. Her son Bilawal Zardari Bhutto inherited the party leadership, but has kept a low profile in the 2013 campaign.
Target MQM (Muttahida Quami Movement)
Tight security at the Karachi headquarters of the MQM party following another attack on the secular party. The MQM is one of the three secular parties targeted by the Taliban, seriously hampering the party's campaigning efforts. (Photo: AFP)
Target ANP (Awami National Party)
ANP candidate Sadiq Zaman Khattak and his young son, Naseer, were gunned down in Karachi on May 3. The ANP, a liberal, nationalist party that represents Pakistan’s Pashtun population, was particularly targeted by the Taliban. (Photo: AFP)
Musharraf out of the running
Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf returned from self-imposed exile to participate in the May 11 elections. But he was disqualified from contesting the polls and has been put under house arrest. (Photo: AFP)
Imran Khan's furious pace on campaign trail
Former cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan has emerged as the wildcard in the 2013 race. Since his party has not been targeted by the Taliban, Khan kept up a furious pace of rallies and campaign events. (Photo: AFP)
Wooing the urban middle class
Imran Khan’s party symbol, the cricket bat, is brandished at a Lahore campaign rally. Khan has drawn his support from young, urban middle class Pakistanis – an influential base in a country where almost half the 80 million registered voters are under 35. (Photo: AFP)
Christians and other minorities face brunt of radical Islam
In contrast to Imran Khan’s large rallies, Pervaiz Masih, a Christian candidate, greets residents of a Peshawar neighbourhood. Christians and other minorities have been targeted by Pakistan’s increasingly violent radical Islamist groups. (Photo: AFP)
A hardline, anti-Shiite candidate
Maulana Ahmad Ludhianvi, head of the country’s largest anti-Shiite party, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), leaves his party office in Punjab province. Some of the fiercest Islamic extremists are candidates in the May 11 vote.(Photo: AFP)
Influential cleric, powerful politician
Maulana Fazalur Rehman, chief of the Islamic party Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (JUI), an influential cleric and powerful politician, addresses supporters at a campaign rally in the northwestern town of Mansehra on May 6. (Photo: AFP)
Khan rushed to hospital
Pakistani politician Imran Khan is rushed to hospital after falling from a forklift that was raising him and three guards to the stage at a Lahore rally on May 7. Khan fractured a vertebra in his neck and two in his back in the fall. (Photo: AFP)
Down, but not out
Hours after his fall, Imran Khan gave an interview from his hospital bed asking people to vote for his party. Khan's fall could result in sympathy votes for his PTI party. (Photo: AFP)
Election fever despite the threats
Despite the muted campaigning ahead of the May 11 polls, election fever has gripped the country over the past few months with candidates, volunteers and supporters braving the odds to rally around the country’s historic vote. (Photo: AFP)
Date created : 2013-05-13