Pakistani hardline Islamists spit at the mere name of America. They want Islamic law imposed. Yet even they have been condemned by the Taliban fundamentalists… for condoning the electoral process. It’s expected that the Islamist parties could attract more votes than five years ago.
This could effect Pakistan’s future direction, and that of the Taliban.
The approach taken by the government that comes out of these elections towards the Afghan-aligned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) rebels will be closely watched.
The Taliban have terrorised the ballot; many are questioning how those who are elected will deal with them.
The TTP are based in the northwestern Federally Administered Tribal Areas, yet they have gained strength recently in the south as well, notably in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi.
This is the country’s economic capital, and yet by some estimates the TTP have as many as 8,000 armed and organised men here. Gradually, they have imposed their order in Karachi: Koranic schools, recruitment and courts dispensing Islamic justice.
In the TTP bid to undermine the elections, many people have been killed in bomb attacks. But this has not stopped the momentum towards change, and hopes for a credible transition of power from one civilian government to another – without the army deciding – which would be the first time in Pakistan.
British Council poll findings, however, suggest that nearly 40 percent of under 30-year-olds would favour a government based on religion, one third preferring a military government and fewer than one third a government based in democracy.
Former cricket star candidate Imran Khan has promised his supporters a new vision of reform away from debilitating corruption. Every level of the country’s police forces and government are thought to be afflicted. In a world corruption ranking, Transparency International places Pakistan in 139th place out of 176 countries. Health, education and the courts come out badly, too.
With the people, foreign interests would also benefit from stability here, notably the United States, which would like to reduce its security commitment in neighbouring Afghanistan next year. The Pakistan-US partnership is uneasy, and yet the anti-extremist cause makes it very hard for Islamabad to ignore the Americans.