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Transparent elections crucial to Pakistan
01 March 2013

A free and fair election is critical for Pakistan to face the mounting challenges the country is grappling with, said Mr Saad S Khan, a bureaucrat and scholar from Pakistan, during a discussion on the ’situation in Pakistan’ at Observer Research Foundation on Feb. 26. 2013.

During a session of candid interaction with faculty members, Mr Khan briefly traced several significant structural features of Pakistan’s bicameral legislature, making particular note of its scheme of reserved seats for women and minorities, before turning to a discussion of present political issues in the country. These included the current debate on the division of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provinces along ethnic lines, which he later, in response to a question from the audience, described as likely in the next five to seven years given the difficulties of managing a province of 110 million people (Punjab) with one central administration.

Mr Khan characterised the rise of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) Party (PTI) as a reaction to dissatisfaction with corruption and the family -- based nature of Pakistani politics, although he noted that many of its most prominent members formerly belonged to the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) or Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) - the country’s two largest political parties. The presentation ended with a discussion of Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri’s Long March to Islamabad. Mr Khan argued that Qadri’s demands regarding the enforcement of articles 62 and 63 of the Pakistani Constitution, which require candidates to be of "good character," were very much open to interpretation.

During his presentation, speaker also dealt at length Pakistani politics and society by noting the significance of the country’s upcoming elections and the fact that an elected government would be completing its full five year term on March 16, 2013.

Talking about Pakistan’s interest in Afghanistan, he emphasised the importance of understanding Pakistan’s historical relations with Afghanistan - which have often been rocky. In particular, he noted challenges regarding the Durand Line - the official border between Pakistan and Afghanistan drawn by the British in 1893 - which Afghanistan has long challenged. Relations between the two countries were further strained during the Cold War, during much of which Afghanistan allied itself with the Soviet Bloc. These and other challenges have led Pakistan to desire a government with whom relations can be more cordial.

Mr Khan asserted, however, that the present administration in Islamabad has recognised that any government in Kabul must be "Afghan-led," with enough popular legitimacy and authority to enforce law and order, the lack of which has led to a myriad of challenges for Pakistan. In addition to the insurgent havens that have been allowed to operate in the present power vacuum, Mr Khan noted the devastating impact the drug trade has had on his country, despite the fact that Pakistani authorities have managed to stamp out large-scale production within their borders.

The decrease in drug trafficking through Pakistan into South Asia was noted to be the result of increased law enforcement efforts by Pakistani authorities, although the scourge of drug addiction remains due to continued cultivation across the border in Afghanistan. Afghanistan must also be stable if it is to serve as a transit route for much-needed energy resources. Continuing, Mr Khan stated his support for the 2004 Afghan Constitution, and his belief that elements of the Taliban could be incorporated into the government.

Responding to a question regarding the recent announcement regarding the Army Doctrine of Local Threats, Mr Khan stated that official policies had, indeed, changed to focus greater attention on internal stability and countering terrorism, which have claimed far more lives that all historical conflicts with India put together.

On the status of women in Pakistan, Mr. Khan pointed out that the the situation has been steadily improving, but that the movement for gender equality is still facing the fallout from the backwards slide the occurred during Gen Zia ul-Haq’s reign. One reason for optimism is that sixty seats in Pakistan’s National Assembly are currently reserved for women - approximately 20 percent.

Other questions included the level of independence and power of the Pakistan Election Commission, which Mr Khan pointed out has been granted significant new authority in the last ten years. These include the ability to stop the flow of development funds as political favours during election periods and greater capacity to monitor political activities.

In response to a question regarding the ability of business ties to ease political tension, Mr. Khan stressed the benefits of increasing commerce, particularly with India, saying there was "no question" that expanding trade would not only improve ties, but strengthen regional development as well. He suggested that a free trade zone for the exchange of goods would be an excellent step in improving economic ties, before pointing to the example of trade between major powers after World War II as an example previous enemies emerging as trade partners.

At the close of the conversation, Mr Khan made a number of key points regarding Pakistan’s future in response to audience questions. The spread of international democratic norms have decreased the prevalence of military coups around the world, and have made the likelihood of another in Pakistan quite low. One of the country’s strongest qualities continues to be the freedom of political expression and the ability of the general public to voice discontent, which has made a revolution in the shape of Egypt or Tunisia exceedingly low. Finally, during a lifetime of travels, Mr. Khan shared that he has been struck by the commonality of peoples’ aspirations around the world. In Pakistan, as in India, people seek to live in comfort and peace as productive members of a society. For some time now, Pakistani society has struggled with violence and extremism. This phase, however, will pass, as forces of extremism will be defeated, he said.

(This report is prepared by Louis Ritzinger, Boren Fellowship Intern at Observer Research Foundation)