The apparent front-runner in Pakistan's election campaign, Nawaz Sharif, said that Pakistan should reconsider supporting the US war on Islamist militants in the country and also that he favoured negotiations with the Taliban.
Although supporting the US war on terror has brought billions in US aid, many Pakistanis are resentful. They note that thousands of Pakistan's own soldiers have been killed trying to fight what they consider America's war in the tribal areas. They also oppose US drone strikes as has the government and the Pakistan parliament. However, they continue, perhaps with the tacit support of the government. This was certainly the case in the past.
Sharif, a religious conservative, hopes to become prime minister after the election next Saturday. Sharif told Reuters:"I think guns and bullets are always not the answer to such problems. I think other options need to be explored at the same time and see what is workable. And I think we're going to pursue all these other options."
The US has been urging Pakistan to act even more aggressively in the tribal areas. However, some claim that Pakistani intelligence has connections with and supports some of the militant movements. Nevertheless, Sharif continued: "Someone will have to take this problem seriously. All stakeholders will have to sit down together and understand the concerns of all parties and then take a decision, which is in the best interest of Pakistan and the international community."
While his comments will not sit well with Washington, Sharif has his eye on Pakistani voters. Sharif's party the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) has been able garner votes by pointing out the failures of the ruling Pakistan People's Party which has failed to solve crucial economic problems ranging from chronic power outages, to grinding poverty. Sharif's own estates on the edge of Lahore hardly reflect poverty with manicured lawns over which peacocks meander with his own palatial home in the background. Sharif comes from a family of wealthy industrialists.
Sharif worries about military meddling in Pakistani politics. Sharif's own government was overthrown in 1999 by General Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf returned to run in this election but now finds himself under house arrest and charged with several offenses. Sharif said that the situation of Musharraf should be a warning to the military:"This accountability which is now taking place is itself a lesson to all those who have any such designs in the future. Now Musharraf has come back and look at what he's going through. Everybody is seeing it on TV and reading it in the newspapers and this itself is a lesson to everybody."
Pakistan's generals run industries in Pakistan worth billions, just as in Egypt. Not only are they fighting the Taliban urged on by the US, but they worry about India as well. The army chief recently noted that the citizens are losing patience with corrupt politicians. Indeed, the armed forces have a much higher approval rating than the politicians. Sharif claims to promote free markets as he did in the 1990's. However, Pakistani masses may not favor free markets and huge lawns decorated with peacocks. Sharif will probably need to implement politically unpopular reforms if he is to receive more bailout funds from the IMF to avert an economic crisis. Sharif said that he was in favour of working with the IMF."I'm not someone who is against the IMF. But I am a man who believes that we need to stand on our own feet, that should be our priority. But to work with the IMF until such time, I don't see any harm in that." A second of the three top runners in the election, Imran Kan, of the Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) also calls the war on terror an "American war" even though much violence is caused by militants within Pakistan. He threatens to shoot down US drones if they violate Pakistani airspace. He accused the ruling Pakistan People's Party and also Sharif's PML(N) as serving US interests. Vote percentage predictions can be found here.
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