Political uncertainty continues to persist in Pakistan even after the recent general elections. Although the electoral process itself was deeply flawed, it is the final outcome that is primarily responsible for the present crisis. Not only has no political party secured a clear majority, but extremist parties have secured a significant presence at the national and provincial levels. In the 272-member national assembly, the Pakistan Muslim League (Qaid-e-Azam) has won 77 seats, which is the highest for any party but it is still well short of a simple majority, despite the party being backed by General Pervez Musharraf. The Pakistan People’s Party has the next highest tally of 63 seats. Although its principal leader, Pakistan’s former prime minister, Ms Benazir Bhutto, was debarred from the election, the PPP’s impressive showing against all odds suggests that the party is still a formidable force.
In contrast, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), which owes allegiance to the former prime minister, Mr Nawaz Sharif, now exiled in Saudi Arabia, could win only 14 seats.The biggest cause for concern is the phenomenal rise of the extremist party, the Muttahidda Majlis-e-Amal, which has won 45 seats compared to the two seats that it had won in the last assembly. The MMA is an alliance of a group of extremist religious organizations. Particularly interesting, but not surprising, is the MMA’s decisive victory in both the North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan. Both provinces are hotbeds of anti-Americanism, and have witnessed considerable opposition to the international presence in Afghanistan. The MMA’s leadership is believed to have had close links in the past with the taliban and Mr Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida network. The hung assembly has now created the strong possibility of the country’s main opposition parties getting together to set up a coalition government. Talks between the PPP and the MMA were initiated at a recent breakfast meeting between Mr Makhdoom Amin Fahim, head of PPP’s parliamentary party, and Jamaat-i-Islami chief and deputy MMA leader, Mr Qazi Hussain Ahmed. But the political instability in Pakistan may serve as a blessing in disguise for Mr Musharraf. Internationally, the United States of America and its allies may be convinced even more that there is no real alternative to the general. This may translate into even greater support for the military regime. Domestically, the public cynicism about political parties may get even stronger as politically expedient deals are worked out. What is clear is that genuine multi-party democracy in Pakistan is still nowhere on the horizon.