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According to a pre-polls survey conducted by Research & Collection Services (RCS) on behalf of THE NATION (Pakistan), despite winning 18-20% of the nationwide vote, the alliance of religious parties Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), was not translating this vote bank into seats. This wrong surmise was the only real casualty of the survey with respect to NWFP, MMA confounded skeptics in the Province by sweeping the polls, and doing far better in Balochistan than expected. The alliance was far more potent electorally in these two Provinces than in Punjab and Sindh. Not to say that they did not cause a couple of upsets in Sindh, particularly in Karachi where, despite controlling the Local Bodies in an election boycotted by the MQM, they were not expected to create any dents in the MQM vote bank. Other than their traditional strongholds in the mountains the MMA swept aside the liberal ANP and the PPP-P in their Peshawar valley fiefdom. The local alliance between ANP and PPP-P proved fatal for the two political parties. Only Aftab Sherpao’s faction of PPP survived this onslaught, and that only because of seat adjustment with MMA.

The MMA emergence is a great blessing in disguise for Pakistan. For the first time since 1947, the Shia-Sunni divide has been bridged, they voted for the same cause. And Iran’s model gives us hope, to stay the pace of the modern world, the Mullahs had to come into line, including the treating of women as equal to men. Things went more or less as predicted in the rest of the country, except that in Lahore, PML (Q) was routed because of the clean seat adjustments between PPP-P, PML (N) and MMA. Electorally the results in Balochistan remained as mixed as usual. The MQM lost ground very slightly in Karachi and Hyderabad but was compensated by the almost 30% increase in urban seats. By the time this goes into print, the final results will be in but these are hardly likely to be so dramatic as to change the political kaleidoscope predicted by the THE NATION’S pre-polls.

One thing is clear, despite all the sour grapes about the formation of the King’s Party PML (Q) by pre-polls manipulation, the voting was free and fair. Given the environment of insecurity over the past year, the security forces did an excellent job in preventing any terrorist attacks. The three who were killed, and the dozen or so injured, were due to direct clashes between political opponents. Quite a number of agent provocateurs from India’s RAW were caught by the law enforcement agencies (LEA) in the week proceeding Election Day. Always on the receiving end, the security forces must be congratulated on a job well done. The Sindh Home Secretary, Brig (Retd) Mukhtar Ahmed, broke new ground by incorporating the personnel of private security agencies through All Pakistan Security Agencies Association (APSAA) in guarding polling stations all over Karachi on Election Day. This was not only innovative, it was extremely effective, it bolstered the local security and has become now a model for future public sector é private sector cooperation, in the field of law enforcement. A definitive role for incorporating APSAA in the civil defence structure exists.

The proliferation of private TV channels increased the number of analysts and critics who got a chance to air their views. Most broadcasts being live, some of the assessments were mind-boggling, some channels starting projecting winners within hours of the cessation of voting on the basis of exit polls by an unknown organization and based on unknown sources. One must guard against such speculation, our public being naive and gullible are always ready to accept the first news that comes their way, as the truth and when later the real picture emerges, they are to believe that as a lie. The national penchant for conspiracy theories gets force-multiplied. TV channels must exercise greater discretion in choosing experienced and knowledgeable analysts and critics, avoiding those visibly aligned with political parties. One gentleman went to the extent of saying that people in Pakistan called Pervez Musharraf “General” Musharraf and not “President” Musharraf because they did not accept him as President! The stating of the fact and the logic thereof was not only totally hogwash, it was blatantly politically motivated. A friend of mine who should have known better, repeated the Northern Alliance cum Indian canard about the overnight evacuation of 4500 Talibaan by air to Pakistan from Konduz including “two generals”. The US with all its air-lifting resources, cannot do this even over several nights from an unlighted airfield without proper instrument lauding facilities. Such an operation would be considered a major feat. Why aid the vicious Indian propaganda being directed to tarring and feathering Pakistan in the court of world public opinion?

Given the increase in number of seats in the Assemblies and the disqualification due to any number of reasons, it is surprising how many old faces still turned up to try their luck with the electorate. This was paired down because of rejection of nomination papers and withdrawal of cover candidates but the enthusiasm of the aspirants, if not the voters, was evident in the large number of filings. Despite the dire predictions of the political pundits that the military regime’s period had created a political vacuum, democracy is alive and well in Pakistan. And as much as many would like not to accept it, it is to the credit of the military regime that they nurtured democracy by first bringing in “Local Bodies” for a quantum of self-governance and thus laid the groundwork for the electoral process to come through on devolution of powers to completion through natural evolution.

A lot of former MNAs and MPAs were eliminated because of the “graduation” condition, a number of new entrants into politics came through on the Nazim/Naib Nazim é route to test how the electorate has graded their performance. A lot more than half the incumbents of the Assemblies will be newcomers and relatively free of the scandals tainting a major percentage of our politicians. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has become something of a bogey, if not exactly driving the fear of God into those who have looted the nation’s till at will. NAB has certainly made a dent in the “loot squad”. While corruption rages unabated at the middle and lower levels, at the higher levels it has diminished considerably. No one can accuse Pervez Musharraf or any of his cabinet colleagues of lining their pockets at the expense of the State. This is no mean achievement in a country where anybody among the hierarchy who fails to line his pockets is considered “stupid” and “ineffective”. I reserve my comments about the second/third tiers because I am engaged in preparing the legal groundwork for making an example of at least one of them who survives because the President out of misplaced loyalty chooses to look the other way. This is endemic, what is shocking is that politicians of great integrity, education and knowledge continue to give their loyalties to leaders whom they know to be corrupt to the core.

The military regime was able to carry out its Supreme Court-mandated promise to hold free and fair elections. Despite predictions to the contrary, the October 10 elections are now history. If the polls had been rigged, would the MMA have been able to gain such a sweeping majority in NWFP and the border areas of Balochistan. Moreover faced with the possibility of governance and the “Talibaan” example, why jump to the conclusion that MMA will hold the country’s foreign policy (and some domestic issues) to ransom? Instead of rank pessimism, why not be optimistic about the future? A new crop of leaders has emerged to exercise governance over the country, why not support them wholeheartedly in this great challenge?

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).

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