In an election campaign marred by charges of pre-rigging and legal irregularities by President Pervez Musharraf in the dismissal of the Chief Justice and other judges and his own re-election, and the horrific death of a resurgent and popular former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto as a result of terrorist action, the people of Pakistan have not had an opportunity to hear much about the real issues confronting the country today. The campaign has been marked by rhetoric, bombastic promises, or calls for revenge.
Most politicians are running against each other or against Musharraf and not on platforms that differentiate them from the rest. The vague party manifestoes that are crafted in back rooms somewhere end up being filed and forgotten. And the fear of terrorist actions, such as the bombing over this weekend of a non-religious party’s meeting in Charsadda in the North West Frontier Province, has reduced the number of large meetings and processions that have traditionally helped muster support for individual parties in this vast country.
Before Pakistanis go to the vote on February 18, they deserve answers to some questions from their political leaders, the high command of the army, and the United States government.
• What specific policies would you adopt to reduce and remove terrorism from the North West Frontier and the rest of Pakistan?
• How would you ensure that Pakistan’s economy continues to grow and inflation is kept under control?
• Do you support a free market economy or greater governmental regulations and controls?
• Do you support the imposition of Shariah Law in place of the current legal system or parallel to it? If the latter, where would you draw the line separating the two systems?
• Do you believe the Kashmir dispute with India should be settled peacefully or with force? Would you set a deadline for reaching an accord on Kashmir?
• Do you, like Bangladesh, support reverting to the Warrant of Precedence circa 1947 that established relative civil-military rankings and civilian supremacy?
• Would you reinstate the judiciary and remove control over the private mass media by restricting the regulatory power of PEMRA, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority?
The Army High Command
• Will you re-enter the political arena if the elections do not produce a clear winner or produce a stable political outcome?
• Should the army have a constitutional role in the country’s governance? Why?
• Would you accept a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute with India?
• Do you support the integration of the Federally Administered Tribal Area with Pakistan proper and the merger of the Frontier Corps with the Pakistan Army? If not, why?
• Do you accept the political supremacy of the elected representatives of the people over the armed forces, even if you disagree with particular policies of a civilian government?
• Would you accept a reduction of the perks and privileges of senior army officers (e.g. land at reduced costs) in return for market-oriented salaries?
• Do we need a conventional army at its current size to fight external enemies or do you see more of a need for fighting internal insurgencies in the future? Is this a false choice?
The United States
• Is the United States a friend of the people of Pakistan or of its rulers? Why does it even make this choice?
• Is the US committed to staying in Afghanistan with adequate troops till the insurgency is wiped out or will it leave in a hurry again?
• Why does the US accept India’s nuclear program and not accept Pakistan as a nuclear power that has adequately protected its nuclear assets?
• Why doesn’t the US trust Pakistan’s leaders?
Clear and concise answers to these questions will help the people of Pakistan make the right choices for the long term. Otherwise, the issues facing the country will not be discussed openly, and power politics, internally and internationally, will continue to dominate decision making thus producing more tumult and uncertainty.
Posted on The Huffington Post, 13 February 2008