Pakistan’s Election; The Influence of External Environment



In an earlier analysis, it was noted that while the extensive focus is on who might win the upcoming elections; little attention has gone towards if governance will be any better afterward. The domestic politicking and economy should obviously be the primary concern of voters to decide on their preference. However, it is also important to study if election results will have implications for Pakistan’s foreign policy. Moreover, how much is the external environment influencing the direction of Pakistan’s politics? The assessment reveals the reasons why the conservatives might win. But, will they be any better than the liberals.


The Internal And External Affairs

The domestic environment and foreign affairs of a nation are obviously linked, and one impacts the other. Consider the following example, while international relations may not have been as much a factor in the recent American elections, the outcome certainly is influencing its defense and foreign policy. The principal manifestations of this change were the appointments of Chuck Hagel and John Kerry. The new approach in US policy is a direct result of the economic challenges the super power is presently inflicted with.

In the case of Pakistan, this interlink is even starker. For more than a decade the country has been fighting the war against extremists and assisting NATO forces in Afghanistan, to take on the perpetrators of 9/11. This has brought upon unique costs and challenges for the country, such as the arrested economy, worsening law and order situation, and acute energy shortages. Not an environment in which local or foreign investment would flourish. Moreover, the war has distracted the civilian government from the job of governance and has provided opportunities for corruption. The influence of this single factor, war against terror, is hefty enough that it could very well determine the direction of Pakistan’s elections, just as it did in 2008.

TTP’s Threat And Elections

In a recently issues risk assessment, PoliTact evaluated TTP’s threat to the candidates of PPP, MQM, and ANP. TTP alerted the contenders that they will be targeted and forewarned people to stay from the political activities and gatherings linked to these secular parties. From early signs, TTP intends to deliver on these threats.

Pakistan’s military is certainly not taking the threat lightly. Reportedly the operations being carried out in Khyber and Orakzai Agencies, including those in Karachi, are directly linked with preempting any serious attempts by TTP to disrupt the elections. It should be noted; in the period leading up to the last elections, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December 2007 allegedly carried out by Baitullah Mehsud, swung the sympathy vote in favor of PPP.

While TTP might fail once more from stopping the elections altogether, it can still impact the election results. One of the major implications TTP can impose this time; will be to scare the liberal vote away. This will by default benefit the conservative, nationalist and religious elements in the coming elections. And, consequentially, this may also influence the dynamics of political reconciliation in Afghanistan, including Pakistan’s ties with India, Iran, and the US.

The Conservatives And Pakistan’s Foreign Policy

This connection and the potential outcome have already put Pakistan Muslim League-N, one of the leading conservative contenders in Pakistan’s elections, under considerable pressure. PML-N is known to carry sympathetic stance towards pro-Taliban groups and other jihadi organizations. On April 12, the party announced that as part of a policy shift, the party has already started to distance itself from such groups. PML-N instead wants to create a more liberal perception. Obviously, the party is aware that its traditional posture is unsustainable in Western capitals.

Irrespective of the face-lift, if PML-N is able to form the future government, what would be the consequences of this for the Afghan reconciliation and Pakistan’s ties with US, Iran, India, and the Gulf States. PML-N is known to maintain close ties with Saudi Arabia, where its leadership was exiled during Musharraf’s reign. Due to its closeness with the jihadi groups and ideologues, PML-N led government would be in a unique position to play a prominent role in the Afghan reconciliation, much more than PPP has been able to. This is especially the case now since the winds have decisively shifted in favor of a political solution in Afghanistan. The point is further validated by the fact that in recent negotiations with the government, TTP had asked Nawaz Sharif to act as a guarantor. On the other hand, PPP and other coalition partners such as MQM and ANP, have mostly propagated dealing with the Taliban and other extremists using force.

Pakistan’s Ties With India, Iran

As far as Pakistan ties with Iran are concerned, PNL-N has clarified that it would not oppose any project that benefits the people of Pakistan, to include the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. Nonetheless, this stance will likely put it at odds with Saudi Arabia, but its good ties might help to develop some level of understanding.

Like PPP, PML-N also has a pro-trade approach with India, and its help in Afghan reconciliation, will also further Pakistan’s ties with India and the US. While PPP has struggled with the issue of credibility and legitimacy, PML-N will not have to deal with such issues at the same level, and this can speed up progress on the economic front. Although, a whole lot would ride on how it uses its leverage with the jihadi groups.

PML-N And PTI Dynamics

On the surface, it appears that PML-N and PTI are at odds with each other. Realistically, the two have more in common. As both parties approach the helm of power, more streamlining of their views on Taliban and jihadis are likely to occur. For example, Imran Khan recently admitted that some extremists would have to be dealt with force. On these foreign policy matters, even if it PTI decides to sit in the opposition, it is likely to support PML-N more than oppose it.

However, there is one significant negative outcome if PTI indeed decides to be in the opposition quarters. In this scenario, PML-N then will have to seek the liberal help to form the government, and this will result in more paralysis and an unstable government with governance suffering once more. The role of PTI thus may become paramount. Its decision to join the government or sit in the opposition could very well decide if the stalemate is going to prevail or not.

It is in this context the internal politics and foreign affairs of the country are completely connected. The story of Pakistan and US is not much different; domestic pressures require them to pay more focus on economics but the external environment pulls them in another direction. How the economic and security challenges are reconciled will be critical in managing the future.

The war on terror and external affairs have made it possible for the conservatives, nationalists, moderate Islamists in Pakistan to surge and play an influential role in the upcoming elections. However, if they fail to deliver, as the liberals may have, matters may turn for the worse.

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