March 2008, Vol. 3, No. 3

Pakistan's Political Progress

Pakistan Holds Parlimentary ElectionsPakistan's elections brought major gains to the country's two main moderate parties, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nazwaz (PML-N), and major losses for Pakistan's Islamist parties. Though violence and irregularities were reported, commentators said the results nevertheless reflected the will of the people.

But four weeks later, analysts in Pakistan and abroad are still trying to untangle the results. A functional ruling coalition has been formed, but its terms are not yet clear. And to consolidate this year's political progress, civilian politicians must make advances both against the military and against the violence that has spread from the Afghan border across the country. Articles in this month's feature consider the significance of the polls, and offer insight into the challenges before the incoming legislators.

Read more.

In this Issue:

  1. Feature: Pakistan's Political Progress

  2. Carnegie Events and Analysis
    China's Military Space Strategy Reconsidered; Narcotics in Afghanistan; Bush and Musharraf

  3. Views from South Asia:

    Foreign and Domestic Politics

    The Budget; Sonia Gandhi's Decade; Urban Growth; Jammu and Kashmir; Arunachal Pradesh

    Economics and Energy
    UK-India Trade; Labor Conditions

    General Kiyani; Sindh; U.S.-Pakistan Relations; Pakistan's Trade Deficit; Bombings in Lahore; The Reform Agenda

    Human Rights; Economic Slowdown; The Caretaker Government

    The Madhesi Conflict; Women's Development

    The Threat of Sanctions; Kosovo and Tamil Eelam; Batticaloa's Mini-Elections

Editor's Note

The 2008-09 Indian budget, released this month, contains considerable funding for the poor, including a $15 billion debt-relief package aimed at India's poor farmers. Predictably, the punditry was divided: Mukesh Ambani saw the move as a laudable gesture of progressive populism, while Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar condemned it as a banal and ultimately futile bid for votes in the run-up to next year's national elections. Both columns are featured in the India section.

Nepal made a promising step towards next month's election, when the Nepali Prime Minister struck a deal with Madhesi leaders ending widespread unrest that had disrupted the flow of supplies to Kathmandu. The eight-point settlement includes proportional representation in the parliament for the Madhesi population. In the Nepal section, commentators discuss the terms of the agreement.

In Bangladesh, criticism of the caretaker government's human rights record continues to intensify, with reports of government action against journalists and violation of due process.

This month's feature is dedicated to the February 18 Pakistani elections, which produced major political progress. Pakistan's electorate ousted both the conservative Islamists and the pro-Musharraf parties in favor of the moderate Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). The moderate Awami National Party even secured a victory in the Northwest Frontier Province, a sanctuary for militants.

Sam McCormally
Editor, South Asian Perspectives


Pakistan Holds Parlimentary ElectionsPakistan's Political Progress
The editorial board of the Daily Times expected massive rigging to take place on election day in Pakistan, but they were pleasantly surprised: “Allowing for normal ‘third world’ glitches, the elections have gone well.” The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) managed to grab 10 more seats than they did in 2002: the second-place Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) increased their share from 19 to almost 70 seats. (The Daily Times, February 20, 2008).

"The elections mark a significant decline of the Islamist political parties, rectifying their artificial rise in the 2002 elections," writes Hasan Askari Rizvi. "Nevertheless, they will continue to be a player in the political process and will act as an important pressure group.” (The Daily Times, March 2, 2008)

Immediately after the election, the PPP and the PML-N began negotiating the terms of the ruling coalition. Initially, the PML-N drew a hard line, insisting on a full restoration of the Supreme Court judges who were dismissed by Musharraf. (The Daily Times, February 22, 2008).

The issue of the restoration of the judiciary is crucial, explains Asif Ezdi; “a restored Supreme Court, especially one headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, might hold the NRO to be unconstitutional and nullify the amnesty given by Musharraf to PPP and MQM leaders under the Ordinance as part of the US-brokered power-sharing deal.” (The News, March 13, 2008).

Ejaz Haider views the PPP’s victory as a precarious one. Together, the PPP, PML-N, Awami National Party, and a few smaller parties which may join the ruling coalition make up nearly a two-thirds majority, enough to repeal many of the changes Musharraf made to Pakistan's constitution. The coalition would be under pressure form civil society to revisit the question of “why Mr Musharraf should have got himself re-elected from the previous assembly,” a question the PPP would prefer to ignore. (The Daily Times, March 8, 2008).

As of March 12, writes Amir Wasin, “The Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-N have agreed to share positions in the next cabinet and parliamentary committees according to the proportion of their seats in the National Assembly.” (Dawn, March 13, 2008).

Ikram Sehgal praised Asif Zardari for not appointing his cronies to various positions of power within the government. “One had written him off as a dilettante lightweight interested only in making money, mostly for himself and his friends...It is an irony of fate that the unity of Pakistan now depends upon the maturity of this much vilified person.” (The News, March 6, 2008). 

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Carnegie Events and Analysis

China's anti-satellite testChina's Military Space Strategy, Reconsidered
In the autumn 2007 issue of Survival, Carnegie Senior Associate Ashley J. Tellis argued that China’s anti-satellite weapons test was part of a considered strategy designed to counter the overall military capability of the United States, and that ‘the United States has no choice but to run an offence–defence arms race, and win." The article stimulated a large number of responses, and Survival invited a selection of those who responded, and some other experts, to elaborate on their views. Comments from Michael Krepon, Eric Hagt, Shen Dingli, Bao Shixiu and Michael Pillsbury, and a response from Tellis, follow.
Click here to read the original article by Ashley J. Tellis, and here to read the responses.

GrareNarcotics in Afghanistan
Afghanistan produces most of the opium consumed in Europe and Russia. In 2005, the Senlis Council, an international drug policy think tank, proposed the creation of a licensing system in Afghanistan which would allow the cultivation of opium for the production of painkillers. But, in a new analysis for CIGI, Carnegie Visiting Scholar Frederic Grare argues that the current policies may be optimum given both Afghanistan's present situation and the structural problems inherent in the global war against drugs.
Click here to read the paper.

KurlantzickBush and Musharraf
Carnegie's Josh Kurlantzick sees the Bush administration's stubborn loyalty to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf as emblematic of a larger phenomenon. "One of the chief drivers of Bush's foreign policy has been the president's own tendency to personalize diplomacy," writes Kurlantzick in an article in The New Republic.
Click here to read the article.

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Views from South Asia

INDIA - Foreign and Domestic Politics

The Budget
Indian farmers use a cycle rickshawThe 2008-09 Indian budget includes US $15 billion to cancel the debt of small farmers. Mukesh Ambani praised the step, and hoped that the plan would be accompanied by a “pledge that the Indian farmer will never be allowed to fall in this state of distress again. It should also be the beginning of a process of modernisation and restructuring of Indian agriculture.” (The Hindustan Times, March 1, 2008)

Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar urges India's finance minister not to give in to election year pressures, especially because writing generous budgets seems to have little impact at the polls. All finance ministers try to craft popular budgets, “yet, this does not work - in practice, voters vote out four-fifth of all incumbent governments.” (The Times of India, February 24, 2008)

But an expansion of services for the poor in an election year doesn’t bother Kaushik Basu “The rich get subsidies in numerous hidden ways, in response to lobbying that goes on behind the scene all the time. It is good that the anticipation of elections is one time that the poor make some gains.” (The Hindustan Times, March 1, 2008)

A Decade of Sonia Gandhi
GandhiSonia Gandhi’s entrance into politics in her own right was accompanied by the theory that “only a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family could fetch vote for the party across the many diversities of caste, creed and class,” writes Harish Khare. Under her leadership, he writes, the Congress has been a party based on loyalty rather than ideas or ideology. (The Hindu, March 12, 2008)

Urban Growth
30 percent of Indians live in cities, and that number is likely to rise to 40 percent by 2030. To deal with the incredible strain on municipal infrastructure that this demographic shift will entail, India needs to vest more power in state and local governments, advises an editorial. (The Hindu, March 4, 2008)

“This week, the Muslim clerics at Deoband unambiguously asserted that Islam did not sanction terror,” writes Harish Khare. “This declaration can only be the beginning of a long journey of reconciliation and discovery.” (The Hindu, March 1, 2008)

Jammu and Kashmir
The government of India had found in former General Pervez Musharraf a man willing to work towards resolving the dispute over Kashmir. His defeat at the polls threatens to derail the peace process, warns Praveen Swami. But not all is lost—peace is possible, if the political parties in both countries seize the opportunity, he argues. (The Hindu, February 27, 2008)

In another article, Praveen Swami also notes two other pieces of good news from Jammu and Kashmir—the head of Jammat-i-Islami decided not to participate in the anti-election campaign, and the Pakistani-based United Jihad Council announced it would not kill election activists. (Frontline, March 1, 2008)

Arunachal Pradesh
Although Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has declared that integrating the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh into India is a priority, the state remains disconnected from the rest of the nation. Frustrated by a lack of motivation on the part of the central government, Arunachal MP Tapir Gao remarked recently that if India would not build a railroad line to the state, then perhaps China would be of more help. An editorial in The Indian Express urges more money for infrastructure projects. (The Indian Express, March 12, 2008)
Arunachal Pradesh’s proximity to China makes it of great strategic importance. Despite cordial statements and optimistic agreements, an opportunity for a clash between India and China over the disputed territory of Arunachal Pradesh is a real danger, writes B S Raghavan: “if negotiations and coercive diplomacy fail to produce the desired outcome, China may opt for the use of force.” (Rediff India, February 26, 2008)

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INDIA - Economics and Energy

UK-India Trade
“There is a sense in Indian trade circles that in a number of areas critical to bilateral relations, the British attitude is protectionist,” writes Hasan Suroor. British visa rules are “not conducive to free movement of professionals,” an issue of key economic importance to India. (The Hindu, February 26, 2008)

Labor Conditions
The government of India has requested details on the poor treatment of Indian workers in Mississippi by Signal International. But, writes the editorial board of The Business Standard, the government ought to make similar protests over the treatment of workers within India itself. Many Indians work in the informal sector, and “are outside the purview of India’s tough labour laws and the collective bargaining strength of the unions,” they write.  (The Business Standard, March 11, 2008)

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General Kiyani
Is General Kiyani less likely to interfere in politics than his predecessor? Aqil Shah thinks not: “His recent statement conveyed a rather menacing message: the army is willing to put up with democracy for now. But what is given might be taken away if civilians don’t behave themselves.” (Dawn, March 13, 2008)  

US-Pakistan Relations
The Pentagon presented the government of Pakistan with a list of requests that include allowing American military personnel broad license to operate within Pakistani territory. Abbas Rizvi writes that the “wish-list” would be “unbearable for any sovereign country.” (The News, March 14, 2008)

Arif Rafiq agrees that America’s meddling in Pakistan is overbearing; “The US needs to take a step back and let Pakistan's political process proceed naturally.” (The Daily Times, February 26, 2008)

Ayesha Siddiqa
notes a tricky problem facing the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in Sindh: “the problem of forming a government in Sindh without the MQM in whose absence one cannot conceive of any stability in the urban areas of the province.” The PPP offered the MQM a place within the ruling coalition, but the MQM refused. (Dawn, March 14, 2008)

Pakistan’s Trade Deficit
The editorial board of Dawn notes that Pakistan’s trade deficit is soaring: “Exports are stagnating because our textile and clothing sector has been under-performing over the last two years, and also because the list of exportable surpluses has remained static for several years…Imports are soaring because of escalating international oil and food prices and also because of the insatiable appetite of our rich for luxury items.” (Dawn, March 14, 2008)

Bombings in Lahore
The twin suicide bombs in Lahore on March 11 demonstrate that “the terrorists behind the suicide bombings are extremely organised and have chosen to target security related soft targets,” writes The Business Recorder. “What the people in Lahore and earlier on in other parts of the country have been experiencing, needless to say, is a blow-back from the situation on our northern-western border.” (The Business Recorder, March 13, 2008).

The Reform Agenda
In a two part series, Hassan Abbas details what he sees are the two most pressing issues facing the incoming parliament. First, he recommends reform of the intelligence services, including the creation of an agency in the model of the US Secret Service to protect politicians from assassination attempts. (The News, February 25, 2008).

Second, Abbas also calls for major reforms in the police force, which has displayed little reluctance to carry out illegal and unconstitutional orders. “Besides leading to bad governance and a deplorable law and order situation in the country, police failures also have compounded the threat of religious extremism and terrorism,” he writes. (The News, March 4, 2008).

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Bangladeshi soldiers stand guard

Human Rights
Conditions for journalists have worsened substantially under the military-backed carekater government, according to a new report released by Reporters Without Borders. “A drop in the number of physical assaults and death threats was eclipsed by dozens of cases of arrests, maltreatment and censorship committed by the army against independent journalists. The interim government and the military put an end to political disorder but at the price of serious violations of press freedom.” (Reporters Without Borders, March 2008)

The New Age seconded this criticism: the military caretaker regime has displayedutter disregard for fundamental rights in the treatment of prisoners and free citizens alike and the penchant for placing restrictions on free speech and expression by the media.” (The New Age, March 14, 2008).

Economic Slowdown
In recent months, the Bangladeshi economy has been retarded byerosion of business confidence, extensive flooding and cyclonic damages and sluggish external demands for garments.” With the deregulatory efforts of the better business forum, and a bumper crop to offset inflationary pressures, the Daily Star is optimistic that the economy can bounce back. (The Daily Star, March 1, 2008)

The Caretaker Government
The meeting between Bangladeshi Chief of Army Staff General Moeen and Indian officials indicates that India “considers the army chief to be the man in Dhaka with whom to deal at the moment,” writes NM Harun. Meanwhile, the chief election commissioner expressed doubts that a free and fair election could be held under the state of emergency. (The New Age, March 2, 2008)

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The Madhesi Conflict
Parties from the Terai region, with support from Nepal’s Maoists, succeeded in disrupting the flow of supplies to the Nepali capital of Kathmandu last month. The parties demanded greater autonomy for the southern, impoverished parts of Nepal, as well as proportional representation in the upcoming elections. Dhruba Adhikary suspected a foreign hand a work: “There is a perception that the Terai groups would not have been able to impose a blockade on the capital and the rest of the country if they had not been encouraged and aided by the government in India.” (Nepal News, February 24, 2008)

On February 28, the United Madhesi Demoratic Front signed an eight-point agreement with the government, ending the 16-day strike and the disruptions of supply lines. With Madhesi agitation put to rest, “it is clear now that CA Poll will be held on time,” writes Surya B Prasai. (Nepal News, March 3, 2008)

No doubt the security situation has improved since the signing of the agreement. But the security situation in some parts of Nepal is still bad. “For instance, thirty-five [officials] of the Sunsari district have been unable to return to their villages because of the threats of armed groups there," writes an editorial in The Himalayan Times. (The Himalayan Times, March 12, 2008)

Women's Development
An editorial in The Nepali Times credits the democratic governments of the ‘90s for the great improvements in education and health for Nepali girls: “In Nepal, what is surprising is that gains in health and education have happened despite bad governance, corruption and a devastating ten-year conflict.” (The Nepali Times, March 7, 2008)

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The Threat of Sanctions
Sri Lanka’s human rights violations in its war against the Tamil Tigers may earn it harsh sanctions from the European Union that could badly damage both tourism and garment manufacturing, writes Jehan Perera. (The New Age, March 11, 2008)

Kosovo and Tamil Eelam
Thalif Deen worries that recognition of independent Kosovo by western powers could set “an unmanageable precedent in the conduct of international relations,” and spur on the ambitions of separatist groups around the world, including the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka. (The Sunday Times, February 24, 2008)

Batticaloa’s Mini-Elections
On March 10, The Sri Lankan government held elections in the eastern town of Batticaloa, in a region hit hard by the war between the government and the separatist Tamil groups. The polls were an effort to normalize Batticaloa, but human rights groups and politicians charged that the atmosphere of violence and disorder precluded legitimate elections. The TMVP, a militia group, won 11 of 19 seats on the council. 

Rasiah Thurairatnan, who won a seat on the Batticaloa council said the election was marred by threats of violence and rampant irregularities. “This is a victory for violence, and it'll elicit serious repercussions from the people.” (International Herald Tribune, March 11, 2008)

But many Sri Lankan commentators, including the editorial board of The Daily Mirror saw the polls as a success, and saw the participation of the TMVP as a sign that the group can be brought into the fold. “What pleasantly surprised many,” they write, “is that the violence and violations remained at a low level.” (The Daily Mirror, March 13, 2008)

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Editorial Staff

Sam McCormally, junior fellow, South Asia Program, Carnegie Endowment

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