Pride trumps panic

Now, the new Pakistan government must re-negotiate the internal balance of power

Nawaz Sharif is sending out soft signals that neither the Taliban nor the deep state have liked. His overture to India, based on the popularly backed free trade with India, has upset the establishment. The foreign office in Islamabad, known for its India-centric outlook and regular interface with the establishment agencies, has not waited for the next government to replace the PPP ambassador in Washington with retired ex-foreign secretary Riaz Khokhar, a competent but confrontational diplomat.

Pakistan held its 2013 election under threat from the Taliban-al Qaeda terrorist combine and defiantly obtained an unprecedented 60 per cent turnout at the polls. The European Union Election Observer Group nodded approvingly, saying only 10 per cent of the polling stations saw any violation of rules.

The terrorists struck in Karachi and Quetta but the effect was marginal, most probably because the Taliban were able to close down offices of the parties they did not favour; and in Quetta the big blast targeting the inspector general of police was an Uzbek-al Qaeda revenge for damage done by the Pakistan army to an Uzbek madrasa in the tribal areas.

As the results trickle in slowly, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leads in the National Assembly and will form government with the help of a rather large number of independents and its allied parties. It has forged ahead once again, with an overwhelming vote from Punjab, where its rising opponent, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan, has done less well than expected. Even the Gallup surveys that predicted Sharif's victory had expected Khan to do better than the 30-odd seats he has bagged.

Two "secular" parties that the Taliban openly threatened to target — the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Awami National Party (ANP) — have been wiped out. The third party under threat of terrorism, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), suffered three attacks on its headquarters in Karachi, but remains undaunted because of its capacity to return violence with violence. Still, it could not help losing some of its strongholds to the rising tide of the Taliban-exempted PTI.

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