Elections East and Elections West

Spearhead Analysis – 08.04.2014

Elections East and Elections WestPakistan’s environment is changing and this change needs to be analyzed and understood because the policy to cope with the change needs to be formulated now. The contours of the evolving US-Iran relationship are slowly emerging especially after US expectations from Iran have been discussed by experts. This has implications for West and South Asia. Both China and Iran have concerns about extremism and terrorist attacks that use Pakistani territory and non state facilitators. India and Afghanistan are in the midst of elections that will bring in new governments with new policies towards the middle of the year. Violence levels are seriously down in Sri Lanka and Nepal but Bangladesh faces political turmoil. India continues to single out Pakistan as being in the grip of extremism and terror that threatens it in spite of a discernible change in Pakistan’s policies to promote good bilateral relations with all. This is all taking place against the backdrop of increasing US disengagement from the region.The US-Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement is likely to be signed and up to 12000 troops will probably stay in Afghanistan besides a continuation of economic support. The strategic agreements between the US, India and Afghanistan are of great significance to Pakistan as is the fact that, for the US, India and Japan are the pivots for its Pacific push.

Afghan elections have been held though the final result will come later – probably May. The voter turnout was good – between 58 to 60%. This is remarkable given the Taliban threats and attacks. In a way this is a negation of all the Taliban stand for and it indicates resolve in the Afghans to choose their own destiny. It also indicates that with economic and military support guaranteed the Afghan National Security Forces are likely to ensure security.  There will probably be a run-off vote as no candidate is likely to secure over 50% of the vote. Chances are that Pashtun and Uzbek backed Ashraf Ghani-Rashid Dostum combo will win from the Tajik backed Abdullah Abdullah unless he stands down and joins the new government. The Afghan Taliban will have to choose between mainstreaming themselves politically or continue fighting their own government and security forces. If they choose to fight then they will be looking for allies like the TTP and sanctuaries in TTP controlled areas. Pakistan has very promptly endorsed the Afghan elections, reiterated its hands-off policy and pledged to work with the Afghan government. This will have to be followed up with an outcome of the talks with the TTP that does not meet Afghan Taliban expectations if they plan to continue their struggle in Afghanistan.

The Indian elections are being touted as the ‘largest democratic exercise in history’. The statistics support this assertion – 814 million registered voters with half under the age of 25 and 48% women voting in 930000 polling booths in nine blocks over five weeks starting April 7 and going on up to May 12th. The prediction is that the nationalistic BJP will get most of the 543 Lower House seats but will not get an outright majority. Much will, therefore, depend on the coalition that the new leader can forge. The decline in growth from the 8-10% figure in 2010 to 5% with increased inflation and growing poverty indicates that the economy will be the main consideration for voters especially the youth who have no emotional considerations. Narendra Modi with his ‘gujeratnomics’ success could well be the next leader— in spite of the blot of the Muslims carnage under his rule in Gujerat. The BJP manifesot does talk of good bilateral relations but also indicates a desire to deal strongly with threats. There is very little on foreign policy or for that matter any policy except economics. Pakistan has done well to defer any trade concessions till a new government is in place in India and it will have to forge a policy for future bilateral relations.

Finally it is extremely important for Pakistan to prepare for the coming environment by stabilizing and strengthening itself internally. No one has any doubts that Pakistan has the capacity to do this. Pakistan has to combat increased radicalization and the violence it spawns by exploiting multiple weaknesses. It is up to the political and military leadership to rise to the challenge and orchestrate state power positively.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual)