Musharraf, pro-Taliban party routed in Pakistan's election


The Pakistan People's Party celebrates after news it is set to win the election. Getty image via the BBC.

Pakistan has successfully held elections for the National Assembly and provincial governments, and President Pervez Musharraf and the pro-Taliban Muttahida Majlis-e-Amil, or MMA, have encountered major setbacks. Musharraf has lost his governing coalition, while the MMA lost most of its seats in the National Assembly as well as control of the Northwest Frontier Province. The Pakistan People's Party has won the majority of seats and will form the government, while the Pakistani Muslim League-Nawaz finished a close second. The Awami National Party also won a surprising victory.

Election results

Election results are available for 240 of the 272 seats for the National Assembly, as well as for the four provincial assemblies. The PPP -- the party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto -- is in the lead with 87 seats, followed by the 66 seats won by the PML-N, the party of Nawaz Sharif who is also a former prime minister. The PPP is on track to form the governing coalition.

The Pakistani Muslim League-Quaid, Musharraf's party, has won only 38 seats. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement -- a students' movement based in Sindh province -- won 19 seats and the Awami National Party (a secular Pashtun party) won 10. The MMA only won three seats. Thirty-five seats have been distributed to independents, while results are still being counted for 26 of the seats. Elections were postponed in four districts.

Winners and losers

Monday's elections had three clear winners and two losers. The Pakistan People's Party and Nawaz Sharif have come out on top in the elections, as did the little-known Awami National Party. President Musharraf and his party, and the MMA suffered clear defeats at the polls.

Musharraf's PML-Q encountered a major electoral defeat on Tuesday. The party won a majority and formed the government after the 2002 election, but has seen its political gains dissipated over the past six years. Musharraf's disbanding of the Supreme Court and the imposition of a state of emergency in October 2007 are seen the reason for his party's defeat. These actions this past fall in addition to rounding up his political opposition were seen as efforts to ensure his re-election as president. Musharraf defied the constitution by running for president while serving as chief of staff of the military. Many of the PML-Q leaders, including party president Chaudhry Hussain and the former Speaker of the National Assembly Chaudhry Ameer Hussain lost their seats. The PML-Q does appear to be on track to govern in Baluchistan province.

The MMA also suffered a major political defeat in both the national and provincial elections. The MMA has won only three seats in Pakistan's National Assembly and has lost control over the Northwest Frontier Province. Maualana Fazlur Rahman, the party's president, lost his seat in the national election. The MMA has facilitated the rise of the Taliban in the province and tribal areas by blocking military actions and pressing for negotiations. The MMA has also vocally opposed the US and NATO presence in Afghanistan and has stirred up protests during strikes against Taliban and al Qaeda training camps in the region.

The clear winner is the Pakistan People's Party as it will form the next government, appoint a new prime minister, and will control the Sindh provincial government. The PPP was widely expected to win the election, but the outcome was by no means certain. The Dec. 27, 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the group's popular leader, plunged the party into a leadership and identity crisis. The reins of the party were turned over to her husband Asif Ali Zardari, who faced charges of corruption for embezzling $1.5 billion during Bhutto's time as prime minister, and her 19-year-old son Bilawal Zardari, a student at Oxford. Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, the former Minister of the Interior and leader of the PPP-Sherpao also is a winner within the PPP. He won his seat in Charsadda, where the Taliban made two attempts on his life during 2007.

Nawaz Sharif and his party, the Pakistani Muslim League-Nawaz, were also expected to win big. The PML-N is poised to take second place in the National Assembly polling and will also control the provincial government of Punjab. While Sharif was not allowed to run for political office, he is exercising power through his party. Sharif has opposed military operations against the Taliban and has been accused of accepting bribe money from Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.

The Awami National Party, with its 10 seats, may serve as an influential coalition partner with the PPP. The ANP will control the Northwest Frontier Province, and has stated it will ally with either the PPP or PML-N to form the provincial government. The ANP is a secular Pashtun party that is opposed to military action against the Taliban and promotes nonviolent solutions. The Taliban conducted two major strikes against ANP offices in North Waziristan and Kurram the week before the election, killing and wounding scores of its members.

Security implications

Western watchers who have closely followed the election in Pakistan see the transition to democracy as being key to fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda insurgency that threatens to destabilize nuclear Pakistan and the wider region. Numerous attacks against the West and India have been hatched in al Qaeda training camps in the tribal areas. The US government hoped a coalition between Bhutto and Musharraf would provide the unity needed between the secular political class and the military to fight the rise of the Taliban and al Qaeda in northwestern Pakistan.

It is now unclear what action, if any, will be taken by the new Pakistani government. The PPP will need to align with one or more parties to form a government. A coalition with the PML-N makes action against the Taliban less likely as Sharif is opposed to military action. The PPP indicated is ready to form a coalition with the PML-N, which may push for the impeachment of Musharraf. The MQM and ANP will also oppose military action against the Taliban. A coalition with the PML-Q may be possible, but the PPP would face serious political backlash for aligning with the party blamed for the assassination of Bhutto and the usurping of the constitution.

And while the defeat of the MMA in the Northwest Frontier Province is a welcome development as the party has facilitated the rise of the Taliban by sponsoring peace deals, there is little reason to believe the ANP will fare better against the rise of extremism. The ANP's platform of nonviolence and accommodation play directly into the hands of the Taliban, which seeks "peace" deals that give it time and space to consolidate power. Attacks on ANP political offices, such as the two that occurred just prior to the elections, may change this position over time, but time is on the Taliban's side.

Election results obtained from Dawn's 2008 Election Results page.


READER COMMENTS: "Musharraf, pro-Taliban party routed in Pakistan's election"

Posted by Ilyas khan Baloch at February 19, 2008 1:12 PM ET:

Democracy as a system of governance and interest representation demands respect for dissent and opposition. It recognizes the principle of majority rule and guarantees protection of minorities. Democracy also builds faith in electoral contestation to gain public office and gives legitimacy to political parties as primary instruments for acquisition and transfer of power from one set of individuals to another.
Unfortunately, despite the significance of the above elements only the power full elite are fitted in power and Pakistani are always left at the mercy of circumstances. As this policy is denial of right of Pakistani people to rule their country according to their aspiration and desire to built this country, which can provide equal opportunity to all without any discrimination for the establishment of welfare society.
Only the society base on tolerance, equality and justice can be the real guarantee for the prosperous and strong Pakistan there for your intention is invited to the crucial movement which could be the point of distraction or disaster. change of socio-political system is inevitable to empower the Pakistani at grass route level for rapid development.

Ilyas khan Baloch

Posted by MacZed at February 19, 2008 7:03 PM ET:

I am still waiting for the civil war in Pakistan.

Posted by Neo at February 20, 2008 2:11 AM ET:

I wonder if there will be a temporary coalition between PPP and PML-N to drive Musharraf from power. I realize that it's a bit like putting cats and dogs together in the same pen, but their desire to get rid of the military government may be such that just might do that. Will we be looking at a caretaker presidency and a new presidential vote some time in the near future?

Many things alarm me about Pakistan but the way this vote plays regionally concerns me. PPP has become largely a regional Sindh party with about one-quarter of the Punjab region vote. PML-N is even more regional with about half the Punjab vote and less the 5% in Sindh province. I'm hoping that party affiliations don't break down into regional conflict at some point.

Posted by Neo at February 20, 2008 10:45 AM ET:

" but time is on the Taliban's side."

I'm not so sure about that one. The Taliban is being allowed to freely expand their military forces. In that sense time is on the Taliban's side. They're definitely going to be able to do a great deal of damage.

In a political sense though, the last four months have been a disaster for the Neo-Taliban. They have bombed and antagonized the Army. I still think their chief threat is by undermining the Army from within. They are further from that goal than they were last fall. They could have continued to beat and humiliate the Army up in the mountains. Instead of a relatively straight forward process of humiliating and undermining the Army they have chosen political terrorism and intimidation instead. This has undermined much of the sympathy within both the army and the general populous. They have carried out a few successful assassinations but have only succeeded in rallying their opposition. Their assassination of Bhutto has generated a wave of public sympathy that has brought PPP back into the political scene in a major if not dominating way. They have successfully created a martyr. At the same time much of the populous that were sympathetic only a short time ago have moved to more palatable options. I don't trust Nawaz Sharif much but even he is being forced to distance himself from what the Taliban is doing.

Now that the MMA has done so poorly in the elections this removes much of the political cover the Taliban has enjoyed. Any action by them at this point will further stiffen opposition to them. They must also deal with political opponents in their midst. I doubt they will allow the Awami National Party stand against them. If they press their military advantage this spring they will push the parties away from them. This alienation may even extend to Sharif and the Muslim parties.

If someone had told me last fall that the Taliban would have dug themselves into such a political hole I wouldn't have believed it for even a moment. I did make the point that they were overplaying their hand and making too many enemies in the process. I never imagined they would damage themselves to quite this extent.

How this all plays out is anyone's guess. This election puts everything in flux. At this point I could see any of the major players rising to the top for good or bad. (Well maybe not Musharraf, he is finished)

Posted by Bill Roggio at February 20, 2008 11:25 AM ET:

Nawaz will provide the political cover.And the ANP is an appeasement party. The PPP won't be able to act decisively without the PML-N. And who knows how inclined the PPP really is to take on the Taliban? The Army still risks being broken apart, this is why the PML-Q was needed for a coalition. Time favors the Taliban and al Qaeda because the longer they have to consolidate, the stronger they get.The MMA may be broken, but the Taliban still rules in the NWFP. The MMA just gave them the cover to consolidate from 2004-2908. The MMA has served its purpose.

Posted by David M at February 20, 2008 11:48 AM ET:

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 02/20/2008 A short recon of what's out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.

Posted by Neo at February 20, 2008 4:02 PM ET:

"Nawaz will provide the political cover.And the ANP is an appeasement party. The PPP won't be able to act decisively without the PML-N. And who knows how inclined the PPP really is to take on the Taliban? The Army still risks being broken apart, this is why the PML-Q was needed for a coalition. Time favors the Taliban and al Qaeda because the longer they have to consolidate, the stronger they get.The MMA may be broken, but the Taliban still rules in the NWFP. The MMA just gave them the cover to consolidate from 2004-2908. The MMA has served its purpose."
I understand what you're working at. I'm not sure I completely agree/disagree with all of that. My points had to do with the number of complications that the Taliban has added for itself. From here on in, every violent move will create political resistance. Whether that will translate to armed resistance to the Taliban is an open question.
Once Musharraf is out of the way, PML-N will try to find some way of asserting itself. I'm not so sure Nawaz will be satisfied with giving political cover for a bunch of Pashtoons led by Arabs. I'm sure PML-N would prefer to put themselves in control rather than play second fiddle to the Taliban or Al Qaeda. Newaz is probably thinking more in terms of Pakistan's historical relationship with the Jihadist groups. I doubt the Jihadist groups will settle for that old relationship.
Also, some of the voters PML-N have picked up are from Islamic conservatives who are sympathetic with the Islamist agenda but rather disgusted with Al Qaeda's extreme methods. Al Qaeda & the Taliban risk alienating potential support base with their continued acts of gratuitous bloodlust. I'm just saying that a relationship between PML-N and the Taliban will be a little more uneasy than it would have been a few years ago when the Taliban didn't have ambitions toward ruling Pakistan.
The other question for the Taliban is timing. Pressing their military advantage while all this political maneuvering is going on may also invite a backlash. Naked aggression against the military and members the PPP while a "truce" is ongoing may break any deal between PPP, PML-N, and PML-Q. If Nawaz Sharif wishes to use Al Qaeda to get rid of his political opponents than he had perhaps better start watching his own back.
One can contemplate what the various sides might try to do but the whole situation is so messy it is hard to say. Nawaz definitely has an angle to play in this, but risks being either taken out by his opponents or ultimately discarded by Al Qaeda once they have no longer have use for him.
In the mean time the US will be on the outside looking in. There isn't a whole lot in the way of direct action that is politically feasible here. We can take out the occasional Al Qaeda figure or even contemplate taking out few encampments up in the mountains but any real incursion won't fly with either the Pakistani's or the Peacenicks back home. I'm sure we are in for another season of fighting in Afghanistan where the Taliban throws another round of cannon fodder up against NATO allies in order to further break down active support for Afghanistan. The real question as affects Afgahninstan will be whether we will maintain overflight rights through Pakistan into Afghanistan.


Posted by Bill Roggio at February 20, 2008 4:19 PM ET:


We are not far apart here. Nawaz accepting al Qaeda bribe money (which the media wants to ignore) does not instill confidence here that he will take any action. And that is the key: the Pakistani government doing nothing about the safe havens is a win for the Taliban and al Qaeda, in the short, medium and long term.

Posted by Neo at February 20, 2008 7:07 PM ET:

"The Pakistani government doing nothing about the safe havens is a win for the Taliban and al Qaeda, in the short, medium and long term."

I can't disagree with that, as long as we remember that Al Qaeda has shown a strong propensity to alienate everyone. Also, they haven't come down from the hills yet to really challenge the government. My guess is they will try to start up trouble in the city slums. I'm not so sure their luck will hold up as they try to expand their efforts into the Punjab.

Awami National Party seems to be a left leaning populist party. Their history is much more Marxist than the current party. Considering the Taliban's long love for the left, I am not sure their brand of appeasement will go well with them. The Taliban may have something more along the lines of "The Peace of the Dead" in mind when it comes to ANP members. I'm deeply skeptical about the AMP getting anywhere with their peace overtures.

Posted by Cannoneer No. 4 at February 20, 2008 7:36 PM ET:

neo, overflight rights are important, but it's a long flight from Al Udeid or Ali Al Salem and flat fuel bladders at BAF and KAF will cut way down on the usable payload they can bring in or take out.

Posted by Neo at February 21, 2008 2:39 AM ET:

Well, sometimes I just sound stupid or confusing when trying to make a cute remark.

"Considering the Taliban's long love for the left, I am not sure their brand of appeasement will go well with them."

I probably shouldn't try to be facetious when discussing something as obscure as the Awami National Party. Sorry about that.

No, the Taliban wouldn't care for a left leaning party in their midst. I've been trying to track down the Awami Parties origins and affiliations. The origin of the 'National Awami Party' start with the brothers Dr. Khan Abdul Jabbar Khan and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Dr. Khan Abdul Jabbar Khan was the Chief Minister of the NWFP from 1920 until 1947. Brother Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was a leading member in Ghandi's Indian National Congress. Their views where pacifist, strongly liberal and anti-partition (of India).

After partition the National Awami Party was founded by Ghaffar Khan's son Khan Wali Khan who lead opposition in the Pakistani parliament during it's first years. Wali Khan broke with the father and did not support pacifism and also allied the party with leftist and Marxist parties. The party always opposed the status of NWFP under the direct control of the President of Pakistan. They though it undercut the regions ability to make decisions for themselves and made the NWFP into second class citizens.

The modern Awami Nation Party has dropped much of the former leftist economics for support of market economy reforms but retains it's associations with strong liberal social policies and regional autonomy. The current generation of ANP supports non-violent solutions but may not be strictly pacifist.

Anyhow, it seems that the Awami National Party has no real need to appease the Taliban since the government in Islamabad has already taken care of that. I'll give it about a week before the Taliban starts hunting Awami politicians down.