2/19/2008 Lahore, Pakistan:
Today Pakistan awoke under a spell of relief. The electoral results seem, at least for the time being, to have been accepted as a sounding defeat by the ruling PML-Q. Rather than people taking part in mass civil violence, it was business as usual in Lahore's Old City while the occasional throng of PML-N supporters cheered for their candidates and held small rallies yelling "Nawaz Zindaband" (go Nawaz Sharif)! It was widely predicted by experts in both Pakistan and the West that wide spread unrest was likely if Musharraf's party won thereby fulfilling vote rigging conspiracy theories bubbling among the opposition. Here in Pakistan is often speculated that, rather than being spontaneous outbursts of hostility, much of the violence is actually organized by clever political actors in order to exact concessions from their opponents. An additional effect of creating the appearance of urban anarchy is to humiliate the country's rulers via the media in front of donor nations and trade partners. But the aftermath yesterday's vote was nothing of the sort.
U.S. Senators Joe Biden, John Kerry, and Chuck Hagel were in Lahore yesterday as the American delegation among a slew of international poll observers. In a press conference here, Senator Biden remarked that while he could not say with confidence that the process had been free and fair, it could be counted as a "credible election" in which Pakistan could lurch forward toward civilian rule which has been absent since 1999's post-Kargil war coup and the then PM Sharif's exile in the Saudi kingdom. It appears that a majority of Pakistanis are ready to move forward even if it is with the godfather-like, discredited, former ruling elites Zardari and Sharif. The death knell for Musharraf's popularity began with the eruption of the lawyer's movement here last March and was accelerated by the General-cum-President's handling of the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) siege in Islamabad in the July heat.
While undoubtedly there was a certain degree of ballot stuffing, voter intimidation, and procedural inconsistencies, many people here in Lahore displayed jubilation at the overall result. As the election hype was drowned out by the hum of commerce, families relaxed with picnics, children played in the Old City's dusty warrens and revelers vandalized ads for the slumped PML-Q.
If the PML-N and the Pakistan People's Party can agree to coalesce, they may be able to depose Pervez Musharraf without the use of force. Whether the president is willing to cooperate with the men he helped depose will determine whether or not the country can right itself from sliding into expanding mayhem. For now, the tea is boiling and the tablas are thumping into the night.