Pakistan Braces for Presidential Election

Pakistan is preparing for a presidential election on Saturday after former president Pervez Musharraf resigned his post last month to avoid facing impeachment. Security forces are on high alert ahead of the elections, especially after an assassination attempt on Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was foiled on Wednesday.

Sniper fire hit Gilani’s motorcade, but he was not in the targeted vehicle at the time. No one has taken responsibility for the attack, but suspicions lie mainly with Taliban operatives and Al-Qa’ida supporters.

Local and national lawmakers will be able to choose from three candidates who are set to contend in Saturday’s presidential poll, the Pakistani election commission announced.

The first candidate is Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) co-founder Asif Zardari, widower of the late Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated last December. The other two candidates are retired judge Said-uz Zaman Sadiqi from the Pakistan Muslim League-N party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, and Mushahid Hussein Sayed, who represents Musharraf’s party.

Musharraf lost public support after he announced a state of emergency last November and fired judges who challenged the legitimacy of his presidency. Zardari appears to be the most likely victor in the upcoming elections. He will no doubt win because the PPP dominates three of the four provincial parliaments participating in the election, and also has a strong position in the national assembly, according to Samina Ahmed, South Asia director for the International Crisis Group.

In addition the opposition votes will be divided between two parties. “The numbers game works in his favor,” Ahmed told The Media Line. There is growing instability in Pakistan where government forces are engaged in a prolonged battle with armed groups in tribal areas. The government announced a month-long cease-fire for the month of Ramadan, but the truce has so far been a shaky one.

Meanwhile, the United States is facing the heat from Islamabad after American troops raided a base in Pakistan on Wednesday morning. A small U.S.-led unit landed in northwest Pakistan and carried out a ground operation there for the first time since the beginning of the war in neighboring Afghanistan in 2001.

The operation took place in South Waziristan Agency. Four helicopters landed a small commando unit, which reportedly killed at least 20 people, including nine from the family of a local tribesman. The attack was widely condemned by locals and officials, including the governor of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), Oweis Ahmad Ghani, who said the operation would breed more fighting.

The United States’ Air Force has operated in Pakistan before, but Wednesday’s attack was the first time an operation involved the landing of ground troops. Former president Musharraf had said a number of times in the past that should the U.S. enter Pakistan’s northwestern regions, Islamabad would consider the move a breach of sovereignty.

The Pakistani Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution in July 2007, according to which, if the U.S. carried out its “threat” of incursion into Pakistan, the latter would cease any cooperation with the U.S. and the international community in the campaign against terror. The U.S. and other Western governments have demanded Pakistan do more to clamp down on Islamist fighters on its soil. Military officials have announced the U.S. Army would take unilateral action if it had credible information that senior Al-Qa’ida leaders were hiding in a particular place in Pakistan.

Ahmed said Zardari is known for staunch positions with regard to the fight against terrorism. “The PPP government has made it very clear that it believes terrorism and militarism are a threat to Pakistan. It has also repeatedly pledged its cooperation with the international community, including the U.S. in fighting terrorism,” Ahmed said. “I think the PPP government is on the same page as the U.S.” C2008. The Media Line Ltd. All Rights Reserved.