The Hindu: Farahnaz Isphahani: While Nawaz Sharif has won the election decisively, he faces the challenge of reaching out beyond his main base in Punjab to the rest of Pakistan
Pakistan achieved a historic landmark with the completion of its five-year term by the civilian coalition government led by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the successful completion of elections resulting in the clear victory for Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N). The election results, surprising for many, point to the challenges ahead for the country.
Although the PML won enough seats to be able to form the government without having to bargain too much with too many factions, its success comes entirely through the support of one ethnic group — the Punjabis. Every Pakistani province appears to have chosen a different party to represent it. The overall high turnout nationwide masks the harsh reality that very few people voted in Balochistan, where alienation from the centre has been growing.
There is no doubt that people voted out the incumbents amid questions about their performance. But the virtual wiping out of the PPP in Punjab means that each Pakistani political party now reflects the dominant sentiment of a particular ethnic group. The PPP was the only party that had representation from all four provinces of Pakistan in the outgoing Parliament.
The election result may be a step forward for Pakistani democracy. It is a step backward for the Pakistani federation. Given the history of complaints about Punjabi domination, Nawaz Sharif will have to reach out to the leaders of other provinces. Authoritarian rule has undermined national unity in the past because of Punjab’s overwhelming supremacy in the armed forces, judiciary and civil services. Democracy should not breed similar resentment among smaller ethnic groups through virtual exclusion from power at the centre.
In addition to bringing the provinces other than Punjab on board, Sharif’s other major headache would be to evolve a functioning relationship with Pakistan’s military establishment. Although he rose to prominence as General Zia-ul Haq’s protégé, Sharif clashed with General Pervez Musharraf over civilian control of the military. He might be tempted to settle that issue once and for all, partly because of the sentiment generated by his overthrow and imprisonment by Musharraf.
Changing the civil-military balance in favour of the civilians would be a good thing. But if it is done without forethought and caution, it could end up risking the democratic gains of the last several years. The PML-N’s view of Pakistani national identity being rooted in Islam and the two-nation theory does not differ much from that of the Pakistani establishment. His real difference with the establishment is over his belief that he, as the elected leader, and not the military must run the country.