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Can Sharif Pull Pakistan Out Of Terrorism Quicksand?

By Gul Jammas Hussain

01 June, 2013

Since 2001, when Islamabad joined Washington’s war on terror against
Pashtuns in Afghanistan, Pakistan has been sinking into the quicksand
of extremism and terrorism.

The U.S. war caused numerous civilian causalities in the Pashtun areas
of Afghanistan which kindled sentiments of revenge in the hearts of
Pashtun fighters in the tribal areas of Pakistan that border

So, they began to infiltrate into Afghanistan to fight against U.S.
troops and their allies. More than forty million Pashtuns live on both
sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan porous border known as the Durand

Washington forced Islamabad to send troops into the tribal areas to
prevent the tribesmen from crossing the border, and in response, they
turned their guns on Pakistani security forces.

Thus, the war in Afghanistan set off a conflagration of extremism and
terrorism throughout Pakistan’s Pashtun belt, whose flames still
threaten to consume the country.

In May, Pakistanis went to the polls and elected members of the
National Assembly (the lower house of Pakistan’s bicameral parliament)
and Provincial Assemblies – Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, and Khyber
Pakhtunkhwa, formerly known as the North-West Frontier Province.

Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s party secured a
resounding victory in the election.

The Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) won nearly half of the 272 seats
in the National Assembly that were contested on May 11.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Pakistan Movement for Justice or PTI)
and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) won around 30 seats each.

Some smaller parties announced their backing for the PML-N, and many
independent MPs joined Sharif’s party. So now, 63-year-old Sharif is
all set to become Pakistan’s prime minister for the third time in his
over 30-year political career.

In the lead-up to the election, most political analysts in Pakistan
and many foreign observers had been predicting a hung parliament – not
a good scenario for a country suffering from a host of problems, and
having weak democratic traditions.

However, the Pakistani voters proved the national and international
naysayers wrong.

How did this come about?

Actually, more than fifty percent of the Pakistani voters live in
rural areas and another 20 percent or so live in small towns and
semi-urban areas. These people, who have been suffering with severe
and prolonged power outages, decided to place their bets on an
experienced and tested horse, Nawaz Sharif, instead of taking a chance
on a relatively new but incorruptible Imran Khan, the PTI leader.

People’s thinking in rural Pakistan is also very different from that
of their counterparts who reside in urban areas. Every village in
Pakistan has two or three so-called headmen who decide for the
villagers for whom they should vote. Usually, these headmen have
long-established connections with their areas’ members of the
parliament — mostly dynastic politicians — and the headmen do not
change their loyalties easily. They are not concerned whether or not a
particular candidate may be better or worse for the country; they only
care about who is good for them and their fiefdoms.

The PML-N candidates, many of them opportunists who quit their parties
and joined the PML-N before the election, have established firm
connections with the village headmen, or village lackeys as many
Pakistanis call them.

However, in big cities, and in the Pashtun belt where people suffered
most because of the U.S. war on terror, the PTI’s candidates

Oxford-educated Khan’s bold stance on the war on terror, which he
calls a war of terror, his struggle for the rule of law, justice, and
equality and the eradication of corruption, and his insistence that
Pakistan must finally change have endeared him to the Pakistani

His vigorous leadership particularly inspired educated people,
especially the youth in cities, who used to consider participating in
the political process beneath their dignity, and voting in elections
an activity for the lower middle classes and rural peasants. But this
time, abandoning their past negative approach and enthusiastically
participating in the process, they came out in their millions on
Election Day and voted for the PTI candidates in their respective

Had it not been for pre-election and Election Day vote rigging,
results would have been very different and the PTI could have come in
a close runner-up. But in spite of all that, the PTI still bagged more
votes than any other party in the country except the PML-N.

There were a number of election irregularities in Punjab province,
home to more than 50 percent of the voters, and in the country’s
largest city Karachi. According to PTI officials, the party was robbed
of more than 20 seats in Punjab by the PML-N and about 10 seats in
Karachi by the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), which has degenerated
from a respected political party into a mafia full of criminals.
According to many reports, members of the MQM have been involved in
murders, kidnappings, land-grabbing and street robberies.

Since May 12, thousands of PTI supporters have held demonstrations in
Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Sargodha,
Gujranwala and other cities to protest against the alleged vote

On May 18, Zahra Shahid Hussain, the senior vice president of the PTI,
was shot dead in Karachi.

PTI Chairman Imran Khan said the MQM was behind the murder.

“I am shocked and deeply saddened by the brutal killing of Zahra
Shahid Hussain, Zahra Apa [sister] to us, in Karachi tonight. It is a
targeted act of terror!” Khan said on the day of the murder.

“I hold Altaf Hussain directly responsible for the murder, as he had
openly threatened PTI workers and leaders through public broadcasts,”
he added, referring to the MQM leader, who has been in self-imposed
exile in London since 1992.

“I also hold the British government responsible, as I had warned them
about British citizen Altaf Hussain after his open threats to kill PTI
workers,” Khan stated.

Besides extremism and terrorism, Pakistan is suffering from a host of
other severe problems, such as an unending energy crisis, sluggish
economic growth, unemployment and rampant corruption

In such an atmosphere, Islamabad will not be a bed of roses for the
Sharif government. And for Sharif, who failed twice to deliver good
governance to the country, it will be a herculean task for him to
deliver it in his third term.

It will be very difficult for Sharif to steer the Pakistani ship of
state away from the troubled waters when it is overloaded with
passengers and has a corrupt and incompetent crew.

But one thing working in Sharif’s favor this time is the support
expressed by all his rivals for him provided he shows a willingness to
solve Pakistan’s key problems, the most pressing of which is
terrorism. As a result, he now has been granted a golden opportunity
to prove himself to be the capable and truly patriotic leader his
supporters claim him to be. Or, he may just remain another
self-seeking industrialist who was pushed into politics by a former
military dictator, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. Only time will tell.

Gul Jammas Hussain is a Pakistani journalist based in Tehran.

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