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International American Council
Middle East and North Africa

New Pakistani government must grapple with extremism

In Pakistan’s general elections on May 11, the center-right Nawaz Pakistan Muslim League, or the PML-N, obtained 32.8 percent of the seats in the National Assembly of Pakistan, winning a plurality for the first time since 1997. In Pakistan’s first-past-the-post voting system, where the candidate with the most votes wins, this plurality was enough to place Nawaz Sharif, the three-time former prime minister, as the head of government once again.

A return to the PML-N was a return to form and consistency for many, as the previous 11 years were dominated by the center-left Pakistan Peoples Party, or PPP, as well as the Pakistan Muslim League Quaid e Azam Group, or PML-Q (an offshoot of the PML-N).

However, many are anticipating struggles between the PML-N government and rogue extremists and rebels within the country’s borders. Since getting elected one month ago, Sharif has not given a full plan to combat all of Pakistan’s extremist elements, but at least regarding the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Pakistani branch of the Taliban, Sharif has asked, why not “talk to the Taliban to make our country peaceful?”

But it is unclear whether or not this moderate policy of negotiating with radical players rather than militarily striking will actually prove successful. On the one hand, the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), a province on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, has had some success stabilizing what has been a very violent area, through negotiations between KP’s ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and the TTP.

Despite this success, Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who has been fighting extremist suicide attacks since the early 2000s, has rejected appeasement policies, insisting that the entire country join together in a “war against extremism and terrorism.”

With the incredibly extensive work the central government must do to combat these extremists, it is not difficult to understand Kayani’s stance. Despite a recent period of relative peace in the KP, many other regions of Pakistan are overrun with radical militants. The region of North Waziristan, southwest of the KP but also along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, is one of several that remain lawless, with jihadists facing little to no opposition from the Pakistani central government.

To the south, Balochistan is another Pakistani region suffering from severe attacks against the central government’s authority. Last Saturday, extremists from the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group blew up a bus of female students from Sardar Bahadur University and later the convoy taking the wounded to the hospital in the city of Quetta, the provincial capital, killing at least 23.

These extremists all have different motivations—the TTP is fighting NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has been battling diverse ethnoreligious groups in the country, including Shi’a Muslims—but all are ultimately working to undermine the authority of the Pakistani central government. Their diversity of aims and methods, although rendering each group individually ultimately unthreatening to the PML-N’s regime survival, may actually make it more difficult for Sharif and the PML-N to battle the collective problem of extremists in Pakistan.

By Laura Gates

Source: The Economist, Foreign Policy, New York Times

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