Pakistan celebrates first ever full term for democratically elected government

In the days ahead, the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party will sit down with the main opposition party to try and agree upon a caretaker premier, who will oversee an election likely to take place in early May

Islamabad

For the first time in Pakistan's nearly 66-year history, a democratically elected government has completed a full, five-year term.

In a country where the military has ruled directly for half of its existence, and often intervened from backstage, Saturday’s formal completion of the government’s term marked the only occasion one civilian administration stood aside to transfer power to a successor.

The landmark moment was recognised by Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, who on Saturday night spoke to the nation in a televised address. “Despite all the odds, completion of the term is an extraordinary and historic achievement,” he said.

In the days ahead, Mr Ashraf and leaders of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party will sit down with politicians from the main opposition party to try and agree upon a caretaker premier, who will oversee an election likely to take place in early May.

But before the campaigning started, Saturday marked a rare opportunity for Pakistan to bask in the glow of its hard-earned democratic achievement, one that few people back in February 2008, when the country held an election, believed likely.

Many hope this point could mark an end to the days of military dictatorships. “The question of who remains at the helm of power does not remain a question mark but has become an answered question,” outgoing foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar, told The Independent on Sunday, on her last day in office.

“It should be nothing for a country to be proud of that in 66 years, there’s a peaceful democratic transition from one civilian government to another,” Ms Khar said. “But because it is the first time, it shows how much there is to be proud of.”

The credit for the achievement will be shared, in varying degrees, by Pakistan’s different power centres. The government has won praise for managing to steer through a sometimes-hazardous course, holding together a weak, unpopular and sometimes fractious ruling coalition.

The opposition, too, is deserving of recognition. In the past, politicians never let an opportunity slip to see their opponents fall, no matter whom the ultimate beneficiary may be. This included enlisting the support of the powerful army.

But former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the main opposition leader, has been seen to show admirable restraint. When his Pakistan Muslim League-N provincial government in Punjab was toppled, Mr Sharif led marches in protest and in support of the deposed judiciary. When his demands were met, he called an end to the 2009 so-called long march, against the advice of hawks within his party.

In the past, he may have been tempted to proceed to Islamabad and dislodge his arch-rival, President Asif Ali Zardari. There is no love lost between the two squabbling politicians, but they managed to work together to pass three constitutional amendments together in a fiercely divided parliament.

“Politicians seemed to have learned, if not completely, than partly, that when they fight and cross a certain line, then they all lose. This time they have stopped one step short of that line,” said Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political analyst.

Yet the achievement was not reached without dark, difficult episodes.

Indeed, there were several moments when some feared a “soft-coup” unfolding and the government being sent home, to be replaced by a cabinet of technocrats handpicked by the military and the judiciary. Last June, former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was sacked by the Supreme Court for refusing to write a letter to Swiss authorities, urging them to reopen old corruption cases against his boss, Mr Zardari.

The court looked poised to sack his successor two months ago, when it issued an arrest warrant for Mr Ashraf. In the end, the court eased off, allowing the government to complete its term without having to choose a third prime minister. The chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, has insisted that elections take place on time.

Pakistan’s most powerful man, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, notably resisted treading the path of his predecessor, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and promoting himself President. While he asked for, and received, a three-year extension as army chief, he has resisted calls for the military to upend the civilian government.

The military has carved out a role for itself where it calls the shots on foreign policy, national security and even elements of the economy while the civilian government runs day-to-day affairs. Given the grim circumstances Pakistan finds itself in, with unrelenting terrorist attacks, enduring power shortages, a sagging economy, and rising public discontent, the generals would not like to be in direct control.

“This government survived because the army took a clear decision that it will stay away from politics. That decision was not altruistic but was based on rational calculation,” said Ejaz Haider, an author and analyst.  “The period of Gen Musharraf, especially after 2007, had done much harm to the army’s image. As a discerning commander, Gen Kayani realised that the irregular war the army was fighting required a civilian imprimatur and a public buy-in.”

There have been times, however, when the military has intervened to assert its clout. The 2009 march led by Mr Sharif came to an end when Gen Kayani brokered an agreement. When the civilian government wanted to place the head of the ISI under its own control, the move backfired within 24 hours. The ISI also pushed back against the government’s request that its head travel to Delhi in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

The army has also publicly spoken out against the Kerry-Lugar Bill, a piece of US legislation that proposed a tripling of non-military aid, on the grounds that its conditions were humiliating. The army also traded blows with Mr Gilani when he warned that there should not be “a state within a state,” a suggestion that the army still held ultimate sway backstage.

The past five years may end up mattering more in the long term. At the moment, many of Pakistan’s voters appear disenchanted with what democratic rule has yielded, with rising anger at inflation, power cuts, poor law and order, and tales of alleged corruption.

“The main problems facing the new government will be the same as the problems facing the current one,” said Mr Askari Rizvi, the analyst. “One will be dealing with the economy and generating energy, and the second will be dealing with extremism and terrorism.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Robbie Rogers: US former Leeds United footballer, 25, announced he was gay in February 2013, shortly after he left Elland Road. Rogers 'retired' after writing on his blog: 'I'm a soccer player, I'm Christian, and I'm gay.' Has since signed with Los Angeles Galaxy.
people
Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops
films
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'
TVGrace Dent thinks we should learn to 'hug a Hooray Henry', because poshness is an accident of birth
Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt
art

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game