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From the desk of Chief Editor

Dear Readers,
Pakistanis surprised themselves and the rest of the world on Feb 18, 2008. By all accounts it should have been Doomsday (D-Day in military parlance), it turned out to be a "Dream Day". From a nightmarish situation on
D minus ONE, we have to pinch ourselves to confirm we were not dreaming The Day After. Expecting violence across the country, everyone was braced for bad news. The foreign media in their thousands thronged the country like ghouls at a wake. Trouble did take place but far less than election-related violence that is normal in South Asia. Given the figures, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal beat us by miles in having more incidents and for more casualties during elections. Expecting widespread electoral rigging we were stunned by a fairly fair and free elections with only a few aberrations of fraud and manipulation. One must give credit to the Army, and to the Army Chief, for having taken two actions of note to ensure this, viz (1) recall of all Army officers on deputation in civilian posts and (2) restricting the Army officers doing intelligence work from inter-acting with politicians. This knocked the stuffing out of election rigging plans. As the Supreme Commander, the President must get due credit, this could not have been done without his tacit consent. Now the ball is in the court of the politicians, there is likely to be a coalition between the major political parties, the best thing to happen to Pakistan for a long time. I am taking the liberty of re-producing my article "A POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES" for the benefit of readers.
Cold weather and logistics problems as well as apprehensions about possible terrorist attacks caused a very low turnout during the morning of Election Day. With security forces concentrated around the more sensitive polling stations providing deterrence and no major incidents throughout the country, voter turnout picked up around midday, building up substantially by mid-afternoon.
On Jan 3, 2008, I had written, to quote, "from all information available, the rigging mechanism has been programmed to win nearly 90-100 of the 148 NA seats available in the Punjab, about 50 more than PML (Q) would really get. The bloc of seats will see him (Pervez Elahi) safely in a coalition with both like-minded MQM and JUI (F) as well as unnamed others into the PM's seat The uniformed Army will not be a party in this fraud but the involvement of some of its personnel in the intelligence agencies is more than possible. With nothing to do with the malpractices at the polling stations and in the country thereof the Army will still get all the blame. Will "civilian" President Pervez Musharraf subject the Army that he loves so much to be so outrageously defamed as "electoral cheats" for the sins (and benefit) of others, particularly Mr Pervez Elahi? Loyalty is a two-way street, for having him elected as a "civilian" President, Musharraf owes the Army loyalty in return. What better way for him to express this loyalty than to ensure free and fair elections so that Army's image and reputation is not sullied anymore", unquote. As it turned out, things were moving in that direction.
The short 60 days period of election campaigning, was meant to ensure that the aura of power would not wear off, every day out of power loosened their grip on the bureaucracy and meant losing more and more seats. After Benazir's assassination on Dec 27 the "Pervez Elahi Rigging Machine" (PERM) started unraveling. The first setback was the postponement of general elections from Jan 8 to Feb 18. Their second major setback was the recall to the Army of all serving officers seconded to the civil administration, further accentuated by the third setback, the COAS directing in writing that no army personnel, meaning mainly intelligence personnel, would have any contact with politicians. This knocked the prop out of electoral rigging, as elucidated quite eloquently on prime-time TV by the master manipulator in 2002, (than ISI's) Maj Gen Ihtesham Zamir. The explicit instructions of the COAS Pakistan Army were symbolic and effective in creating a distance between the Army on the one hand and politicians and civil administration on the other, the writing was on the wall. Bereft of uniformed cover for committing electoral fraud, the civil administration virtually ran for cover, safety first!
To quote the article further, "The mathematics of seats is quite clear, out of the 272 NA seats being contested, at the very least about 55 will be taken by MQM, JUI (F), ANP, Balochistan Nationalist parties, Independents, etc. That leaves 217 seats. Without any rigging whatsoever PML (Q) will get at the very least 45-50 seats. Let us take the minimum of 45 seats, leaving a balance of 172 seats. At the maximum PPP will have 85 seats plus minus 5 seats ie a maximum of 90 seats and PML (N) 80 seats plus minus 5 seats ie a maximum of 85 seats, the gain and/or loss at the cost of each other" unquote. Having been derided and vilified from pillar to post in the media (and elsewhere) for making such "outlandish" predictions (including the high voter turnout), one feels justified in claiming due credit. Flour, sugar and oil shortages meant long queues and growing disenchantment, the misery being force-multiplied by electricity and gas shortages. Programmed to roll over and play dead, in the face of the govt's ineptitude, inefficiency and just plain corruption, a large turnout of voters shocked themselves, friends and foes alike by voting out of office the incumbents.
As things stand today, PPP, with its nearly 90 seats, has the first right to try and form a government in the Centre. If the rhetoric is to be believed PPP is looking to make a "national unity" government including the PML (N) to equally shoulder the responsibility of a worsening economic situation. Zardari's cosy relationship presently with Mian Nawaz Sharif notwithstanding, ideologically PPP and PML (N) will remain the main contenders for power in Pakistan. If not today, tomorrow there will be political confrontation. Furthermore can Nawaz Sharif abandon the "restoration of the judiciary" promise in the presence of Zardari-specific National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), a black law which Asif Zardari needs very badly, and which the restored judges will certainly throw out. Or will a deal be done so that the restored judges compromise their conscience and allow the black law to stay because of "the doctrine of necessity"?
PPP is in a position to cobble a national alliance in the Center with (a very willing) MQM, ANP, Balochistan nationalist parties and some independents. PML (Q) supporting PPP in Punjab can make a coalition govt, keeping the PML (N), the largest party in the Province, out in the cold. While PPP can form a government of its own in Sindh, it will do so with MQM. With a coalition also in Balochistan, PPP can be part of ANP's forming the govt in NWFP. Including PML (Q) will give PPP the govt in Punjab (and also additional comfort for staying in power in the Center). This is a better situation than in 1972 when PPP was not in the governments of NWFP and Balochistan. Also PPP's inclusion of elected PML (Q) elements will keep them from defecting to PML (N) knowing that economic conditions are deteriorating and can get worse, the ousted PML (Q) leaders gameplan will attempt to keep their colleagues elected on their own steam from joining the PPP or PML (N) with street protests in the coming hot summer forcing another elections several months down the road.
The PML (N) could also be in a position to form the government in the Center with the elected PML (Q) representatives joining an all-PML coalition. With the PML (Q) hierarchy ousted, Mian Nawaz Sharif is already attempting to enlarge the PML. Can the PML (N) can reconcile with the stated ANP demands? I also do not see the MQM supporting PML (N) in making the Federal Government. It could well be 1988 all over, with PML (N) electing to remain confined more or less as a regional party to the Punjab.
While Ashfaq Kayani must be given credit for the courageous initiatives which led to a historic Feb 18, and went a long way in restoring the Army's image in public perception, this could not have been done without (at least) the tacit permission of his Supreme Commander, the President. As much as Pervez Musharraf may be vilified presently, his legacy will record that the most free and fair elections in Pakistan's history were held during his watch. Will he be tempted to make a graceful exit on a high? Or will the demands for his resignation bare his stubborn self and coerce him to hang onto power come "hell or high water"?

M. Ikram Sehgal

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