Comment: Pakistani Elections as a Rehearsal for Central Asia

At first glance the parliamentary elections in Pakistan are a classic example of "an American kiss of death for an ally." We can recall, for instance, the historical fate of Indo-China. The consequences of the political and military chaos that reigned there in the 1960s-70s can still be felt to this day. The scheme worked without a hitch: the USA starts to support a politician or even brings one to power for military-strategic considerations. One point of this support is enough to leave him vulnerable, which then leads of him being overthrown and the country returning to chaos. The most obvious example of this is Cambodia, when the pro-American regime of Lon Nol was replaced by the Khmer Rouge.

Could this happen in present-day Pakistan? It's obvious that President Pervez Musharraf's backing for the US war in Afghanistan, as well as the repression of Islamic fundamentalists, has inflicted serious political damage on him, and this could be seen in the results of the parliamentary elections.

On the whole, Musharraf's supporters emerged triumphant from the poll. However, an alliance of six virulent anti-US and Musharraf Islamic extremist parties - the United Council of Actions - received a powerful voting bloc in parliament and, moreover, were outright winners in the most sensitive provinces of Pakistan - on the northwestern border and in Beluchistan. Essentially, this area could be called an epicentre of global terrorism, as this is where the vanguard of the ousted Taliban was and continues to be based, as well as harbouring the remnants of al-Qaeda.

Prior to the elections, Musharraf attempted to guarantee complete control over the situation, regardless of the outcome of voting, by means of a referendum and presidential decrees. He now has the right to dismiss the prime minister and to dissolve parliament. The government is supervised by the national security council made up of military commanders and chaired by the president. Foreign and defence policy, in other words the fight against terrorism that Washington, Moscow and the whole world need, is in the hands of Musharraf and not parliament.

Where, then, does the problem lie? It can be found partially in the fact that Pakistani advocates of a jihad achieved far better results that most experts predicted. And this is a dangerous trend. Everybody knew long ago that the situation in Pakistan was far from perfect, as a nest of Islamic terrorists is based there, especially near the border with Afghanistan (if there is one) and the Indian frontier. Now this situation has been translated into figures. Democracy has to be thanked for this.

Another thing to be grateful for is that the "six" advocates of a jihad are now demanding a seat in government, and are ready to influence it through parliament, i.e. fitting snugly into the political system. Can one really entrust extremists with the task of overcoming extremism? It is a risky idea, but not the worst.

The problem with the election results and with the situation in Pakistan as a whole now lies somewhere else. The authorities, or to be more precise the army, earlier spread bellicose Islam as a weapon (mainly against India). What is now being created in Pakistan is a matter of concern for everyone involved in the fight against terrorism. It concerns them to the point of entirely different opinions.

The European Union, for example, harshly criticised Pakistani democracy last Saturday, citing candidates being removed from voting lists, amendments to the constitution that left he military in power. Washington, on the contrary, gave its tacit approval, proceeding from the basis that the regime, which has handed over 422 prominent al-Qaeda members and provided the US with bases for its war in Afghanistan, could continue to rule. Pakistan as a patron of terrorism was the source of threats both in the Caucasus (Chechnya) and in all of Central Asia. And now Central Asia is reflecting on the fact that the choice between democracy or the fight against terrorism is not as easy as it first appeared.

In the former Soviet Central Asia, there is a highly popular argument that if you start to introduce democracy (according to EU standards) then it will only serve the Islamic extremists. What kind of democracy could there be in republics where 70-80% of the population lives in poverty? The matter in hand concerns UN data in regard to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, where in individual regions unemployment tops 805 in the Fergana Valley.

The advocates of a jihad in Pakistan got 49 seats in parliament in the not-so-free elections. What influence does the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (these terrorists and Taliban allies took a very serious blow in the war, it remains unclear as whether they were completely destroyed) retain? How many votes would the presently underground Hezb-al-Tahir (party of Islamic Rebirth) get? It was left unscathed only because no open link with Osama bin Laden was uncovered.

No one knows the real extent of its influence, but it is clear that it is a strong party in four out of the five Central Asian republics and it calls for a jihad against the USA, Russia and, particularly, against the present-day authorities ruling in Central Asia.

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