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Pakistan Elections

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Dennis Kux
Woodrow Wilson Center Senior Policy Scholar
Tuesday, February 19, 2008; 11:00 AM

Woodrow Wilson Center senior policy scholar Dennis Kux, a former State Department South Asia specialist, was online Tuesday, Feb. 19 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the results of Pakistan's elections and what's next for the troubled nation.

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The transcript follows.

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Woodrow Center is known for its anti-Pakistan spin: The Woodrow Center is known for its anti-Pakistan white papers and predictions of eminent doom. Why repeat your predictions of gloom and doom?

Dennis Kux: You are misinformed. The Wilson Center is neither pro- nor anti-Pakistan, and our sessions on Pakistan and the reports reflect our very best effort to get at the facts, to present the ground realities. Indeed, we are -- as far as I know -- the only research center in Washington that has a program dedicated to Pakistan. We have a Pakistan scholar here every year and we have a substantive conference each year for which detailed reports are published. So far these reports have dealt with Islamic banking, education, energy and trade. The report on trade will appear shortly; the others are already available.

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Washington: Although there is the looming threat of more instability in Pakistan, it is refreshing to see images of Pakistanis celebrating in the streets after the opposition's victory in the parliamentary elections. Can you see the PPP and Sharif's party (PLM-N) emerging with a unified stance on how to counter extremism and the degree of future military cooperation with the U.S.? If so, what will their position be?

Dennis Kux: Yes, it is refreshing to see Pakistanis celebrating what appears to have been a largely free and fair election, maybe the first since 1970. We will see shortly if the PMLN and the PPP can work together. For the good of Pakistan, I hope they can. They do agree essentially on opposing terrorism and on cooperating with the U.S., but whether they can cooperate with each other to form a Grand Coalition remains to be seen. I hope they can, so that Pakistan can enjoy a period of political stability and can work on firming up its democratic institutions.

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Lahore, Pakistan: It is a welcome change that, given the high voter turnout, the PPP and PMLN have come out victorious. But is a coalition of the two parties sustainable in the long run, considering their long and intense history of enmity and conflicting priorities?

Dennis Kux: As I just wrote, I hope the PPP and the PMLN can work together and form a national consensus on key issues. Perhaps they should agree to share power as the Congress and PDP have done in Indian Kashmir by having one group lead for half the term and the other party for the second half. The largest party should start. There is also the experience of successful Grand Coalitions in Germany and above in Austria for many years after World War II -- so why not Pakistan? Personalities more than policies differentiate the PMLN and the PPP.

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Fairfax, Va.: With the victories of moderate parties, shouldn't it prove to the West that Pakistan is not an extremist country, that the people are moderate?

Dennis Kux: Yes, the results certainly show that Pakistan not only has rejected the supporters of the pro-Musharraf PMLQ, but even more so the religious extremists of the MMA. In 2002, the MMA won 59 seats; yesterday it won 3. That is a resounding victory for "moderate Islam."

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San Antonio: My question is about U.S. policy. Given this electoral outcome and American commitment to democracy, will the U.S. administration withdraw its support for Musharraf?

Dennis Kux: U.S. ties with Pakistan are with the country, not the president. Washington will deal with the new government when it is formed. Clearly, the people of Pakistan have repudiated Musharraf's supporters, the PMLQ, and implicitly him. U.S. policy will not change, in my view. If the new National Assembly decides to impeach Musharraf (its constitutional right), the U.S. will accept this. If it leaves Musharraf in office, Washington will accept this. This is a decision for the elected representatives of the people of Pakistan. That is what democracy is all about.

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Grand Rapids, Mich.: Given that the U.S. now has to adjust to its ally dictator Musharraf's greatly weakened position, will it now jettison the dictator to forge a strong relationship with the parties like PPP and PMLN that will be calling the shots along with the new Army chief, or will Washington prefer a lame-duck dictator to keep the newly victorious opposition parties in check so as to keep the war on terror going?

Dennis Kux: As I just said, I think the U.S. government will accept the will of the people of Pakistan now that they have spoken in what seem to have been free and fair elections. Personally, I think the democratically elected government will do as good and probably a better job of dealing with terrorists. This is particularly true in the Northwest Frontier Province. where the pro-Taliban MMA government has been defeated badly by the ANP and the PPP.

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Boston: Is there any scenario under which Musharraf would have to leave Pakistan as an exiled former leader?

Dennis Kux: Yes, it is possible (but not clear) that he may be impeached by the National Assembly if there is a two-thirds vote against him. If so, he may or may not decide the leave Pakistan.

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Lahore, Pakistan: Hi. The common perception here in Pakistan is that the government will rig the elections. Can Pakistan survive such a jolt?

Dennis Kux: Apparently, they did not rig the actual voting or the vote count -- otherwise, the results would have been different. True dictatorships are not known to lose elections.

Now that the "moderate" parties have won, the challenge is for them is to do a better job than they did in 1988-1999. For the sake of the people of Pakistan, I hope and pray that they have learned from their past poor performance. Above all, I hope that the PMLN and the PPP work together as a united front for tackling the many problems that Pakistan faces.

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Bethesda, Md.: How will the new government affect the hunt for bin Laden?

Dennis Kux: I hope they will do a better job than the previous government.

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Islamabad, Pakistan: How much do you agree that the failure to settle Pakistan's boundary disputes with the neighboring countries is the main cause of its volatile instability? There doesn't exist any de-facto boundary line between Pakistan and Afghanistan after the expiry of of the Durand Line. The Kashmir dispute is also a question of the settlement of boundaries with India. Even the provincial boundaries inside Pakistan are a cause of friction among the people of this country. Doesn't Pakistan need a fresh settlement of its boundaries to avoid further martial law in the future as well as to quell its condition of instability forever?

Dennis Kux: For the stability of Pakistan and so that it can focus on dealing with its many domestic problems, it would be very helpful if the frontier problems with India and Afghanistan were resolved. In the case of India, this concerns the Kashmir dispute, and I hope that Islamabad and Delhi can continue to make progress toward a resolution of this long-standing dispute. In the case of Afghanistan, Pakistan already accepts the Durand Line as the frontier. It is in the interest of Afghanistan that it also accept this border.

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Irvine, Calif.: Democracy never has solved Pakistan's problems before and it never will, as Dennis Kux has to know. It was the democratic government of Pakistan that facilitated relocation of Osama bin Laden from Sudan to Afghanistan. It was the democratic government of Pakistan that created and nurtured Taliban movement and installed the Taliban government in Afghanistan.

Zardari, Bhutto's husband, is known as Mr. 10 Percent for demanding 10 percent of any industry to start a business when he was in Benazir Bhutto's government. And Nawaz Sharif -- he is as fundamentalist as they come. Sharif personally has met Osama bin Laden at least three times and got 500 million Pakistani Rupees in campaign contribution from Osama in 1990s, which helped him win the elections. The realpolitik of Pakistan would not allow either Mr. 10 Percent or Nawaz Sharif to destroy Islamic fundamentalists, even if they continue Musharraf's half-hearted efforts to do so, just to assure that gravy train of U.S. aid continues.

Despite knowing full well the past sixty years of Pakistani history, the American government and news media continue to be under the delusion that democracy is the solution for fundamentalist state of Pakistan! Even if Zardari-Sharif coalition is to win next week's elections, form a government and throw out Musharraf, it will not change the fundamentalist character of Pakistan, and Pakistan will continue to be the "terror center" of the world, milking Uncle Sam just, as it has until now.

Dennis Kux: It is true that in the past democratic governments have not solved Pakistan's problems, but then neither have the military governments. Pakistan's curse is that both have performed poorly. In the 2008 elections, Pakistan has turned the page and has spoken again for the democratic parties. To its credit, the military does not seem to have rigged this election and seems to be eager to stay out of politics. Let us hope it does so and let us hope that the PMLN and the PPP have learned from the past and do a better job than when they were last in power.

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Lyme, Conn.: What is the reaction of the Indian government to these elections? Does this signal any possible change or new avenues of discussion between these two countries?

Dennis Kux: The Indian government will be pleased with the conduct and result of these elections. It will hope that the new government will continue the composite dialogue that President Musharraf began in 2004.

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Princeton, N.J.: I have heard many reports that because of our slavish support of Musharraf and other policies (Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, etc.), the U.S. government is hated and feared by the Pakistani people. Is this true?

Dennis Kux: Public opinion polls indicate that the U.S. is very unpopular in Pakistan. There are many reasons or this. A number deal with past U.S.-Pakistan relations and the perception (with which I do not agree) that the U.S. has used Pakistan when it needed the Pakistanis and then dumped them when they became less useful. The facts are much more complicated, and both the Americans and Pakistanis are to blame for the rollercoaster character of our relationship. Other reasons relate to U.S. policies elsewhere (Palestine-Israel and Iraq, most especially). These have created the impression that the U.S. is anti-Muslim -- not a selling point in a country with a 98 percent Muslim population. Finally, some Pakistanis are unhappy with U.S. role in Afghanistan. Also, George Bush's outspoken support for Musharraf has hurt the U.S. image by tying us to an unpopular leader as a person rather than to Pakistan as a country.

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Dallas: How can the U.S. secure the long term safety of their nuclear arsenal? And what will India's response be?

Dennis Kux: Recent statements by senior U.S. military and intelligence officials indicate their full satisfaction with the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons arsenal. I would imagine that is also reassuring to the Indians. It is important for people to realize that the Indians and Pakistanis are intelligent and rational people and do not want "loose nukes" any more than we do.

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Tel Aviv, Israel: According to Pakistan's constitution, what is the power balance between president Musharraf and the national parliament? Can the two Houses of parliament impeach Musharraf, or can he dissolve them? What are the legal procedures for these acts?

Dennis Kux: Under the current constitution, the president and the parliament share power. Ultimately, the president has the upper hand and can dismiss parliament if he wishes. But parliament also has the right to impeach him by a two-thirds vote. Musharraf made a number of changes to the constitution by what amount to executive orders. The new national assembly may challenge these and can override them if it has sufficient votes. Also, Musharraf fired the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and a number of his colleagues. They may well be reinstated, and the constitutional situation may change to reduce the president's powers. We will have to see.

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Grand Rapids, Mich.: Mr. Zardari has said the new government will not work with anyone from the previous regime and will change the definition of war on terror. "The whole war on terror has been defined wrongly. It is a war of terror against Pakistan and we have to fight it as our own war. We have lost our leader, Benazir. We know there are agents within the government who have been plotting against us," he said today. What does this mean for U.S. and the rest of the world?

Dennis Kux: Many statements are made in the heat of a hot election campaign. We will have to see what happens. The late Benazir Bhutto, whose husband is her political heir, was for a stronger and more sustained effort to rid Pakistan of the terrorists. I would think Zardari will follow this approach also.

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Wokingham, U.K.: If moderate Islam is now in power, what will it expect of the West? Is the recognition of Muslim Kosovo a good start? Will progress be expected in the Middle East?

Dennis Kux: "Moderate Islam," i.e. the PPP, PMLN and ANP (and maybe MQM), will expect the West to support democratic institutions in Pakistan, to work with the civilian leadership to strengthen these institutions and to assist Pakistan in addressing its education, health and other problems. This means more assistance in these areas and relatively less military help.

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External Forces destabilizing Pakistan: There is the widespread belief among Pakistanis that the British were training "British Taliban" in Helmand to send the mercenaries into Pakistan. The CIA also is destabilizing Pakistan. The U.S. established an anti-Pakistan regime in Kabul. Don't you think these actions will exacerbate Anti-Americanism in Pakistan?

Dennis Kux: Quite frankly and with due respect, I do not believe your comments are based on fact. It is unfortunate (but true) that many Pakistanis feel the CIA, the British MI-5, etc. are trying to destabilize Pakistan. In fact, I believe the U.S., the U.K. and other democratic countries want to see a Pakistan at peace with itself and its neighbors and not a haven for terrorists -- in other words, that Muhammad Ali Jinnah's dream be finally realized.

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