World | Pakistan

Nation heads towards historic polls

But rising violence is still a threat, analysts say

  • AFP
  • Published: 18:43 January 18, 2013
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Reuters
  • Supporters of Sufi cleric and leader of the Minhaj-ul-Quran religious organisation Muhammad Tahirul Qadri carry their belongings as they prepare to leave the capital after Qadri reached a deal with Pakistan’s coalition government in Islamabad on Friday.

ISLAMABAD: Islamabad has brokered an end to a protest challenging its rule that paves the way to historic elections, but rising violence is still a threat, analysts say.

After another week of profound instability, Pakistan’s civilian politicians are arguably more resilient than ever, credited with averting fears of a rumoured military-judicial plot to subvert a democratic transition of power.

Charismatic preacher Tahirul Qadri brought the centre of Islamabad to a standstill for four days in the largest rally seen in the heavily guarded capital for years, but retreated overnight after winning few concessions.

Qadri secured only a vague date for parliament to dissolve by mid-March and a promise that he would be consulted on the appointment of a caretaker prime minister in the run-up to polls, as well as a 30-day period for candidates to be screened.

“We are moving in the right direction. It shows Pakistan is not as fragile as people think,” said political analyst and retired general Talat Masood.

It fell far short of his call for an Egypt-style revolution and the immediate collapse of the government to make way for an administration of technocrats to introduce sweeping reforms before elections.

For the moment, an order from the Supreme Court to arrest Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf over corruption allegations has been left hanging and even if he is detained, he can continue on the job until and unless he is convicted.

President Asif Ali Zardari’s government looks more certain now of holding on to become the first civilian government in Pakistan history to complete a term in office and achieve a democratic transition at the ballot box, by mid-May.

Analysts and newspapers fell over themselves to congratulate politicians for showing maturity and uniting against Qadri, regardless of the lack of evidence that the military was engineering a fourth coup from behind the scenes.

“This time we surely have moved on,” Raza Rumi, director of policy at the Jinnah Institute think tank, told AFP.

“Because all political parties that have a stake in the democratic system stood together and resisted the attempt to derail the constitution. And that is a major development in the Pakistani context,” he told AFP.

But Qadri’s protest also underscored deep frustrations.

The economy is in a worse state now than when the government was elected in 2008, Taliban attacks are on the rise, Shiite Muslims are suffering record levels of violence, as is Karachi, the country’s business and economic hub.

Appalling gas and electricity cuts are getting worse, making the lives of millions of people unbearable and hammering industry.

Educated Pakistanis, men and women, are increasingly fed up with a corrupt elite that seems either unable or unwilling to stem the violence, and provide jobs, and an adequate education and public health service.

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