Is Pakistan misunderstood?

The two main opposition parties in Pakistan have a clear majority after yesterday’s parliamentary elections – and it looks like they’ll may be putting aside their differences to try and form a coalition.

Meanwhile, the jihadist parties received very little support – and observers say the elections appear to have been free and fair.

So is the perception of Pakistan as an easy home for Islamic militants with little interest in functioning democracy a long way from reality?

We asked two people ‘in the know’ for their opinions, and you can hear what they’ve got to say on today’s programme. Here’s a brief outline of what they said.

Kamila Shamsie, novelist based in London and Karachi.

“Right now I’m in Karachi watching the election results come in. I know that a lot of people who live outside Pakistan think that Pakistan is a militant place across the board, that there is strong support for extremism and the religious groups. In fact that’s not true, and one of the frustrations of being away from Pakistan for the last few years has been hearing that point of view. Typically, Pakistanis have rejected the religious parties when it is time to vote. The only exception was in 2002, when the religious parties did well. This was partly due to a successful anti-American campaign, because of the American presence in Afghanistan. But these elections are a good reminder that Pakistanis do not want militancy and extremism, but a better, democratic set up”.

Professor Iftikhar Malik, senior lecturer at Bath Spa University.

“Pakistan is one of those sad cases where you don’t often get a good press. The news is always bad. But Pakistan is also rare among post-colonial Muslim countries, because it has a long tradition of political parties. Pakistanis have used their right to vote, and they’ve shown that they’re optimistic about their future. They’ve gone to the polling stations and conducted their democratic right, and all of a sudden there’s a good feeling, a sense of achievement, and a feeling that perhaps that’s the way to fight religious extremism”.

7 Responses to “Is Pakistan misunderstood?”

  1. 1 Christopher
    February 19, 2008 at 18:24

    The results of the election are clearly a step in the right direction, and the USA should applaud what would appear to be a free exercize of democracy, but keep a weather eye to what develops. The USA’s foreign policy has too-often complacently supported unpopular leaders and thus borne the burden of that association. The world is much smaller now, and in order to have any influence in world issues, the USA has to learn to guide, rather than mandate, democratic reform.

  2. 2 Syed Hasan Turab
    February 19, 2008 at 18:46

    Though Pakistan Peoples Party win but no one can pullout roots of Islamic extreemism, no doubt they are small & are part of USA & Pakistan stratigic partnership.
    Infact public from Punjab supported Pakistan more then PPP, this was requirement of time & been done in accordance. No doubt Mr. Musharaff’s top priority is & was First Pakistan then any thing else.

  3. 3 Robert in the U.S.
    February 19, 2008 at 18:59

    I agree. The idea that our government has been propping up Musharaff is not without merit. Is Osama Bin Laden hiding in Packistan? What will happen next may determine the future of peace in the Middle East.

  4. 4 Thomas Murray
    February 19, 2008 at 22:44

    I’m most concerned that the Bush administration blindly pushes democracy when clearly not every country in the world can safely benefit from it.

    We have seen that by removing a dictator from Iraq, we’ve turned it into the wild west.

    Musharraf might have been politically insensible, but he held things together. Bush simply doesn’t realize that backwater democracies such as Pakistan attracts opportunists and demigogs as presidential candidates, and they do no one any good.

    We shall see.

    –Regards, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.

  5. 5 Syed Hasan Turab
    February 20, 2008 at 07:52

    What do you think about Black Water Democracy in USA, might be a great adventure after Watergate scandle along with great jobs been taken by Mr. Clinton. Any way US Democracy can swallow all kind of liquids at the name of impeachment, this is what Pakistan’s Democracy may not tolerate.

  6. 6 A.R.Shams
    February 20, 2008 at 08:19

    Hello, Ben Tobias!

    I agree with you understanding and realizing what you say that both the Pakistani most popular political parties PPPP and PML (N) should form a combined democratic government in the country, otherwise, the nation shall be disappointed repent as an after effect of what they would do.

    This is a golden opportunity for the people of Pakistan to enter through the gateway of democracy in reality by condemning and rejecting dictatorship in the country that kept the nation cooped since long.

    May Pakistanis be happy and blessed!

  7. 7 Dennis
    May 14, 2008 at 01:58

    I think that Pakistan is very misunderstood….

    Dennis~Madrid, U.S.A.

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