"Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid" - Ronald Reagan

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Fatwa issued against Pakistan President Zardari for “flirtatious” behaviour toward Sarah

From CFP.

Among his other problems, a fatwa has now been issued against “flirtatious” Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari.

“The leader of the infamous Lal Masjid in Lahore, Pakistan has issued a `fatwa’ against Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari for publicly making indecent gestures towards the American Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.” (Watch), (The Times of India, Sept. 29, 2008).

During his first Western mission since his election, Zardari seems to have run afoul of the clerics, who have dubbed his act upon meeting vice presidential Sarah Palin as “un-Islamic”.

The Pakistani elections saw not only the decline of Musharraf's PML-Q party, but also Islamist parties. These two facts taken together can only mean Pakistanis were not only tired of Musharraf's dictatorial tendencies, but also extremists too. To put it simply, Pakistanis did not want a dictatorship, whether headed by Musharraf or the Islamists. They wanted a democracy and voted overwhelmingly for one.

A fatwa issued against President Zardari will only cause more Pakistanis to turn against Islamists, not to mention the full weight of the PPP controlled government too.

For a full read, click here.

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Pakistan minister: govt won't negotiate with 'terrorists' in new counterterror policy

From Yahoo via AP.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Monday that Pakistan's new government will not negotiate with "terrorists" even as it seeks talks with some militant groups....

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has offered talks to militants ready to renounce violence.

But in remarks that could ease concern in the West that the new government will be softer on al-Qaida, Qureshi said that offer excluded groups that Pakistan considered terrorists.

This is the first official word from Pakistan's new government on how it will deal with terrorists. On first apparence, his policy seems similar to Musharraf's. While meeting with British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, PM Gilani stated,

In a separate meeting, Gilani told Smith that Pakistan would follow a "multi-pronged" strategy against terrorism and extremism, his office said in a statement.

Gilani urged the international community to address root causes of terrorism in "unresolved political issues" and economic disparities.

Once again, we hear the term "multi-pronged" strategy. This stategy was first introduced by President Musharraf on 17 January 2008 when addressing PTV’s weekly interactive programme ‘Aiwan-e-Sadr Sey’ on the “Challenges confronting Pakistan and the way forward.” In detailing his new strategy, Musharraf said the country currently faced three major challenges; terrorism and extremism; transition to democracy and need to sustain socio-economic growth.

It seems the new government in Pakistan may not be so different from Musharraf on their approach to terrorism. In addition, the new government may very well realize what Musharraf and the Pakistani people in general are realizing -- namely, they created the Taliban which supported and continues to support Al Qaeda in the tribal regions in Pakistan. Withdrawing support from the Taliban and Al Qaeda is bringing terrorism to directly to Pakistan, not only in the tribal areas, but in Pakistan cities as well.

I have often stated in this blog one of the best approaches Pakistan's new government could take is to lead the charge in socio-economic growth in the Pakistani tribal areas which Musharraf enacted late last year. Most significantly, the bureaucratic machinery for socio-economic growth in the tribal areas was implemented last year with the development and implementation of Tribal Agents, District Coordinaing Officers, and Regional Coordinating Officers under the leadership of the Provincial Governor. This structure would allow the tribal framework in the tribal areas to not only be included in the decision making and financing of growth in this region, but also to maintain this all important tribal alliance which this region has come to depend upon.

Musharraf guaranteed Pakistan's transition to a democracy, even at his own personal risk politically. Musharraf should be allowed to lead the charge on the military front with General Kayani.

If successful against terrorism, the new government could claim credit and reap its benefits. If unsuccessful, the new government could blame Musharraf. This situation is the best of both worlds for the new government.

It appears from the statement above from PM Gilani, he is going to pursue the same course as Musharraf developed later last year. While military action will, in the near term, potentially slow as the new government feels its way in its new position of authority, I expect to see an increase in military action shortly against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The new government will see what they can change with negotiations. The Taliban and Al Qaeda will fail to keep their ends of new agreements, just as they did with Musharraf. This time though, Pakistan has in place a "multi-pronged" strategy to deal with terrorists in the tribal regions. When military action again starts, one will see a revitalized national army ready to take the fight to terrorists.

The battle will come. Make no doubt about it. Extremists lost wholesale in the latest democratic elections. Businessmen won. Sharia law and extremism is bad for business. The two will eventually clash.

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New Pakistani lawmakers flashier, more secular

From Lauren Frayer, AP writer, in the Deseret Morning News.

Parliament's parking lot was crowded Wednesday with new Mercedes and Toyota sports utility vehicles festooned with flashy tire rims and hood ornaments. Women in bright colors clogged past in heels and huge designer sunglasses. Bodyguards fanned out.

The Feb. 18 elections saw a hard-line coalition of religious groups lose control of the country's northwest along the Afghan border, and only six Islamists win seats in parliament, compared to 68 in the previous legislature. Many conservative-minded allies of Musharraf also lost their seats.

In the last parliament, about a dozen female lawmakers from the religious alliance wore body-shrouding black veils that concealed everything except their eyes.

But as parliament elected its first female speaker Wednesday, just a single lawmaker — one of 74 women in the 342-seat house — covered her face with a light beige wrap. Others wore traditional flowing gowns, some with bare heads and others with their hair only partially covered by loose scarves.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban cannot be taking this display as a good sign for their future. One thing this article points out is wealthy businessmen, possibly connected to previous regimes, have taken over the country. One thing is for sure, businessmen do not like turmoil and militancy in their own backyard. Its bad for business.

It will be interesting to see how the cards fall. But given the flashy dress of the females in parliament, I do not believe the newly elected business people will side with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Instead, if anything, they will continue with Musharraf's economic reforms he emplaced just before the recent elections to bring industry to the tribal regions. That's good for business.

In addition to these economic reforms, he instilled Regional Coordinating Offiers, District Coordinating Officers, and Tribal Agents in the tribal regions to administer the new economic reforms. That's good for government coffers, which these folks are now administering.

While Musharraf is not well liked by the PPP nor the PML-N, he is a great military leader and may just be kept in position to fight the militancy in the tribal regions. If Al Qaeda/Taliban militancy is reduced in the region, all the better for business. If the coming war devastates certain areas, Musharraf can always be used as a scapegoat. In many respects, the current status quo with Musharraf as president (with reduced powers) and the PPP and PML-N ruling parliament is a marriage made in heaven. Given the coalition between the PPP and PML-N has a majority of PPP members in it who are anti-militant, they may just keep the current situation in effect, as long as it is good for business.

Reinstatement of deposed judges who only look forward and not backward to Musharraf's emergency rule could do a lot to increase popularity of the ruling PPP and PML-N while keeping Musharraf in power, as long as he keeps miltancy in check.

For a full read, click here.

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Pakistan opposition parties win over independents to tighten grip on parliament

From Dawn.

Parties opposed to President Musharraf have won the allegiance of 11 lawmakers who contested last month's elections as independents, the election commission said Friday. Seven independents have joined Pakistan People’s Party while four have lined up with Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz, according to a breakdown provided by the commission. No lawmakers have joined pro-Musharraf parties. The election commission said 18 parliamentarians will remain independent after Thursday's deadline to sign up for a party. The cutoff also triggered the allocation of additional seats reserved for women and non-Muslims. PPP now has 120 lawmakers in the 342-seat National Assembly, the commission said. The PML-N has 90, while the PML-Q has 51. The election commission said 11 seats in the National Assembly remain vacant. The results in seven constituencies are in litigation, while voting in three places has been delayed by either security concerns or the death of a candidate. One seat reserved for a woman will be decided by drawing lots because two parties - the PML-Q and an alliance of religious parties - have an equal claim on it.

What is significant here is a PPP and PML-Q coalition now has a majority of the seats in a new coalition. Take this together with the Army's backing of Musharraf and the fact that the PML-Q still maintains a majority in the senate, a coalition between the PPP and PML-Q is a likely prospect as is Musharraf's continuation of the Presidency. Musharraf announced the parliament will be convened within 10 days. The next ten days will see interesting political maneuvering in Pakistan.

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PPP, PML (Q) working towards national consensus government

From South East Asia News.

A national consensus government involving the Musharraf-backed Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) appears to be in the making in Pakistan's Punjab province, if the results of the over two-hour long talks between PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and PML (Q) leader Hamid Nasir Chattha on Saturday are anything to go by.

The Daily Times quoted sources privy to the meeting as saying that a thaw in relations between the two parties is in the offing."

The PPP is keeping all its options open. However, it is difficult to say at this time whether it will take the PML-Q on board," the sources added.

A coaltion between the PPP, the PML-Q and the PML-F would give this coalition 187 of the 186 seats needed to form a coalition government. One would ask why would the PPP form a coalition with the PML-Q and not the PML-N. A couple of factors are at work here.

1. The PML-N is supportive of Al Qaeda's/Taliban's presence in Pakistan. If the Pakistani elections tell anything, it is the population is growing less supportive of militants noticed by the loss of several seats by the MMA garnering only 3% of the vote compared to 11% in the last election. While the PML-Q also lost significant seats, it managed to maintain 15% of the electorate.

2. A little know fact is the PML-N's Sharif put Zardari, the PPP Co-chairman, in prison for in 1994. He gained his release from Musharraf in 2004.

3. PML-Q has a majority in the Senate and senatorial elections are two years off. This fact and the lack of a 2/3 majority will prevent the PPP from impeaching Musharraf. In addition, a lot can change in two years and Zardari does not want to burn more bridges after spending 11 years in jail for one thing or another.

4. The PML-Q won a majority in Balochistan Province where the new Gwandar port is becoming fully operational which will allow international trade and access to proposed oil pipelines from Iran and India.

5. The PML-Q threatened to file money laundering charges against Zardari last month. Forming a coalition with the PML-Q will make these charges go away.

6. Mr 10% (Zardari) would have no issue focusing on the economy while letting Musharraf battle militants. In many respects, it is a marriage made in heaven.

7. Musharraf recently delivered an olive branch to the PPP offering to reinstate expelled justices.

8. Maintaining Musharraf in power will ensure continued military support and financial aid from the US.

All of these factirs gives the PPP good incentive to form a coalition with the PML-Q.

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Pakistan: The Light at The End of The Tunnel

From Amir Taheri.

A year ago it was out of the question. A month ago, it looked like a bad bargain for all concerned. A week ago, it loomed on the horizon like a prelude, rather than a substitute, for civil war.

And, yet, last Monday, Pakistanis turned up in millions to confound doomsayers by voting in what now looks like the country's first free and fair general election with results that few would contest.

Mr Taheri goes on to state how the election showed lack of support for Islamists.

The Unified Assembly for Action (MMA), a coalition of Islamists that won almost 11 per cent of the votes in the last general election five years ago saw its share drop to around three per cent. It lost control of the only one of Pakistan's four provinces that it governed. Almost all its principal leaders lost their seats. In the provincial assembly of Sindh, the MMA won no seats.

Worse still, the Islamists' defeat in the Northwest frontier Province came at the hands of the avowedly secularist Awami League Party (ANP) which preaches a form of socialism.

He also notes that the party of the military, PML-Q, Musharraf's party lost.

The message of this election is clear: the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis reject both military rule and its political twin of Islamism. The twins started dominating Pakistani politics in the 1970s when General Zia ul-Haq overthrew the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in a military coup. Unable to build a popular political base, the general played the Islamist card, using religion as an ideological prop for a corrupt and brutal regime.

What does all this mean?

The formation of a people-based government has always been a basic condition for winning the war against terror in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

That condition can now be fulfilled. In political terms, this means a strategic turning of the tide against the terrorists

This election is a nail in the coffin for Al Qaeda.

For a full read, click here.

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Forming Pakistan's coalition government

From Dawn.

Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, the leaders of Pakistan's two main parties, have decided in principle to forge a coalition government following their resounding election victory. If they succeed, it will be the first time the two main parties in Pakistan have come together. As the two parties and their leadership work out the modalities of the coalition arrangement, the Election Commission will be ready to formally notify the election results which is expected by March 1. This will be followed by President Musharraf summoning the inaugural session of the National Assembly. How soon after depends on whether there is a government ready. In 2002, Musharraf convened the assembly session more than a month after the election, to give time to political parties to agree on a coalition. The president will thereafter invite a member of the National Assembly who commands the confidence of the majority of the members to become prime minister and form the government. Before the formal election of the leader of the house/prime minister, the newly elected members will be sworn in, and they will elect the Speaker and his deputy.

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Zardari, Sharif to discuss Pakistani coalition government

From South Asia News via Monsters and Critics.

Pakistani opposition leaders Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif were due to meet Thursday evening to discuss forming a coalition government after their big win in crucial parliamentary elections.

The article continues.

Zardari on Wednesday ruled out a coalition with both Musharraf and the PML-Q, but said he was open to inviting smaller regional parties not linked to the previous government into a coalition.

Earlier Thursday, Zardari met with Asfand Yar Wali, chairman of the Awami National Party (ANP), a secular-left party based in the country's volatile North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).

For a full read, click here.

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Pakistan's ruling party concedes defeat

From Yahoo via AP.

Pakistan's ruling party conceded defeat Tuesday after opposition parties routed allies of President Pervez Musharraf in parliamentary elections that could threaten the rule of America's close ally in the war on terror.

The significance of this fact cannot be understated. Musharraf's party, which came to power through a coup, held free and fair elections which resulted in it losing several parlimentary seats. And it has peacefully conceded defeat.

While Sharif is calling on Musharraf to step down, there potentially is no reason for Musharraf to do so according to the numbers.

Geo TV said unofficial tallies from 229 of the 268 National Assembly seats being contested showed Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party with 33 percent and Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N party with 27 percent. The PML-Q was third with 14 percent.

Thje PML-Q may align itself with the PPP to assist this party in getting a majority through a coalition with other smaller parties effectively pushing the PML-N out of a majority coalition. This idea was surfaced before the election and would allow Musharraf to continue to focus his presidency on defeating the militants while the PPP focuses on the economics of Pakistan. A major sticking point between the PPP and PML-N is that the PML-N supports the Taliban while the PPP is against Islamization of the country, especially in light of Bhutto's assassination by Baitullah Meshud.

Another fact this article brushes over, but is even more significant, is the MMA (pro-Taliban cleric, Maulana Fazl-ur Rehman) won only eight seats or about 3% of the vote. This is a significant decrease from the 11% it won during the last elections. Not only is support waning for Musharraf's party, but so has support for the Taliban.

Musharraf saw the writing on the wall prior to the elections and spoke of his multi-pronged strategy to defeat the insurgents in his country. This strategy included:

1. Countering terrorism and extremism

2. Transition to democracy

3. The need to sustain socio-economic growth

Musharraf has just helped his country make the transition to democracy in free and fair elections resulting in his party coming in third. He has appointed General Kayani head of the military. General Kayani will ensure the fight is taken to the insurgents. He has transformed Pakistan economically by opening up the country to international trade to include several lucrative oil pipeline deals. He is transforming the FATA and NWFP region with the appointments of Regional Coordinating Officers (RCOs), District Coordinating Officers (DCOs), and making the offices of the political agents below Governors.

Pakistan's transition to democracy marks the beginning of the end of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan. The PPP leading a coalition will ensure it demise. The Bhutto assassination assured this fact. Its garnering of only 3% of the vote sealed its fate.

Now it is up to the PPP to convince Pakistanis the battle against the Taliban is not just America's war, but also their own. The over 600 innocent Pakistanis murdered last year by suicide bombers helps the PPP accomplish this mission.

We will soon see if the PPP is up to this task. Aligning the PML-Q with itself will signal its intentions for not only Pakistanis, but also to Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

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U.S.–Pakistan Relations: Assassination, Instability, and the Future of U.S. Policy

From The Heritage Foundation.

Conventional wisdom holds that in this part of the world stability and democracy are mutually exclusive. But in the case of Pakistan, it is increasingly clear that holding fair and transparent elections provides the best chance for stabilizing the country. Ultimately, a popularly elected civilian government working hand-in-hand with a strong military focused on its primary mission of battling extremists will provide stability and security for the Pakistani people.

Lisa Curtis delivers an excellent lecture on the way forward in Pakistan.

For a full read, click here.

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Poll: Pakistanis turn against bin Laden

From Yahoo via the AP.

Sympathy for al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden and the Taliban has dropped sharply in Pakistan amid a wave of deadly violence, according to the results of a recent opinion poll.

The survey, conducted last month for the U.S.-based Terror Free Tomorrow organization, also identified the party of assassinated opposition leader Benazir Bhutto as the country's most popular ahead of Feb. 18 elections, and said most Pakistanis want President Pervez Musharraf to quit.

Later, the article notes,

According to the poll results only 24 percent of Pakistanis approved of bin Laden when the survey was conducted last month, compared with 46 percent during a similar survey in August.

Backing for al-Qaida, whose senior leaders are believed to be hiding along the Pakistani-Afghan border, fell to 18 percent from 33 percent.

Support for the Taliban, whose Pakistani offshoots have seized control of much of the lawless border area and have been engaged in a growing war against security forces, dropped by half to 19 percent from 38 percent, the results said.

Just like in Iraq, when Al Qaeda (and the Taliban) begins its indiscriminate killings, popularity falls. In the case of Pakistan, it is falling sharply and rapidly. Al Qaeda (and the Taliban) are losing popular support in their last unassailable base, Pakistan. Unlike Iraq, where Al Qaeda had an infidel enemy (the US) to focus its insurgent military and propaganda efforts on, Al Qaeda can only focus its efforts in Pakistan on Pakistanis. As such, Al Qaeda (and the Taliban) are losing popular support rapidly.

The elections will show just how sharply popular support for Al Qaeda has dropped. The MMA, the political arm of insurgents, is expected to lose significantly in the election. While Musharraf's support is also suffering, a coalition between the PPP and his PML-Q party may very well happen to form a majority in the government leaving Musharraf to fight Al Qaeda (and the Taliban) while the PPP focuses on the economic front.

For a full read, click here.

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The General’s New Mission

From Newsweek.

Pakistan's latest Army chief holds the key to next week's vote, and to the future of his unstable nation....

He's been tasked with one of the toughest, most urgent military assignments in the world: reforming Pakistan's armed forces and rescuing the country itself from possible collapse.

Later, the article states,

At this point they want basically the same thing: a stable, democratic Pakistan that can defend itself against the jihadists. That goal remains elusive. Kayani has warned publicly that no counterinsurgency campaign can succeed without the public's full support. And yet less than half of Pakistan's people favor using Army forces against Al Qaeda and its allies. The last thing Kayani needs now is a bunch of camouflage-painted American Rambos running around Waziristan. Still, it won't be easy watching him go it alone.

This article gives a rough insight into Pakistani politics, its military, and the upcoming elections, but misses the main point. Namely, Musharraf has set up a multi-pronged strategy to deal with the insurgents in his country that not only involves a military solution, but also an economic and political aspect.

On the political front, Musharraf is ensuring free and fair elections which will undoubtedly result in his party losing the majority to the PPP and the PML-N. In addition, he appointed an Army Chief who is non-partisan, has instructed his military to stay out of politics, and will ensure the fairness of the elections. Finally, he has instituted restructuring of the government in the FATA and NWFP regions.

On the economic front, Musharraf has implemented capital markets and engaged in international trade and treaties which will move his country, and its people, out of poverty reducing enticement to join such extremist groups as Al Qaeda.

It is not about General Kayani and the military as this article implies. He is definitely one of the major players in Pakistan's future and will undoubtedly ensure Pakistan remains unified should the situation worsen. However, Musharraf has laid the ground work on the other instruments of national power to bring his country into the future as a democratic muslim nation, whether or not he personally survives the upcoming elections or its aftermath.

For a full read, click here.

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Pakistan braces for elections amid flaring violence

From KUNA.

A good roll up of activities in the run up to Pakistani elections.

Pakistan is bracing for much-anticipated general elections, expected to be held in the mid-February, amid flaring up violence, political as well as power and wheat crisis.

While, the threats of possible large-scale military operation are looming on the bordering tribal region, the federal government is trying to fight off a new wave of suicide bombers and meet the growing oil, energy and wheat shortages.

President Musharraf embarked on four-nation tour to Belgium, France, Switzerland and the United Kingdom to improve countrys image abroad and clear misperceptions created since he imposed over a month-long emergency in the country in November 2007 and subsequent events including Benazir Bhuttos assassination.

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto opened a new chapter of violence in the major cities of the country including Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi and Peshawar. Near 15 persons including five policemen were killed and about 36 others were wounded in a latest suicide attack in Peshawar.

As I have stated before, democracies become the home of the free, because of the brave.

Pakistanis must be brave in these upcoming, decisive elections in order to earn their freedom. For too long the Pakistan military has protected the populous while at the same time limiting freedoms. Now it is time for the populous to protect itself and the freedoms it is seeking.

For a full read, click here.

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Foreign observers to monitor elections in Pakistan

From the Pakistan Times National News Desk.

Foreign observers will have the freedom to thoroughly monitor the general elections process in the country, Caretaker Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Syed Afzal Haider said.

He expressed these views during a call on with Canadian ambassador David Collins here Friday. He said that the upcoming elections would be held in free, fair and transparent manner while all the political parties have been provided with level playing field.

Syed Afzal said a large number of foreign observers will arrive in the country so that no body can raise his or her eyebrows over the transparency of the whole process.

“Election results will be announced at the relevant polling station and transparent ballot boxes would be used,” he added.

He said caretaker government has released all the political detainees and the remaining few would be released soon.

Expressing Canadian government’s satisfaction over the caretaker government’s steps, the ambassador said they hoped the elections in Pakistan would be held in peaceful and pleasant atmosphere.

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